A breastfeeding toddler is something that you won’t see very often. This is not because no one breastfeeds their toddler, but because when a child reaches that age, people are more discreet about doing it.
The question is, is breastfeeding a toddler really something to be embarrassed about? I’m inclined to think not, but at the same time, I don’t think I would feel comfortable breastfeeding my toddler in front of people, because I’m aware that other people might feel uncomfortable with it.
This won’t ever be a dilemma for me because sadly both of my babies weaned themselves at around 10 or 11 months old. They just weren’t interested in nursing any more and so I stopped.
But some babies can be very attached to mummy’s milk and want to continue breastfeeding way past their first birthday. We all know that breast milk is extremely good for babies, and this doesn’t change after a baby is 1 year old. Breast milk is still really good for your child, so if they want it, and you are happy to give it, there is no reason to stop.
More recent research has led professionals to advise mothers to keep breastfeeding until the child is 2 years old to give the best start in life. There is no question that if this can be done, it should. But what are the challenges that can come with a breastfeeding toddler?
1. When and where? – While most people don’t mind seeing a mother discreetly breastfeeding her baby in public, more people would be bothered by seeing a breastfeeding toddler, who can walk and talk. So it may be something to save for when you are at home and in front of family and close friends.
2. Toddler behaviour – Whereas a baby will cry when it wants feeding, a toddler will likely have other ways of communicating this, such as pulling your top up or down, asking loudly for ‘booby milk’ or even having a tantrum to get what he or she wants. Toddlers don’t have an inbuilt sense of propriety, and so they do not understand straight away that you don’t want them to be doing this in public. A breastfeeding toddler therefore needs to be taught what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour when it comes to wanting to nurse, and this could take some time.
3. Independence – If you are breastfeeding your toddler then you may run into issues when it comes to wanting a bit of time off, say, letting your child stay with grandparents for a night or two or having them looked after by someone else for the day. If your toddler is too dependent on you for comfort then they could become clingy, not giving you a break and this can be stressful. It is nice to be needed as the only person who can give what a mummy offers, but there is also nothing wrong with having a little break from your children, and it is really good to know that they are not distressed without you there.
A breastfeeding toddler can also bring lots of joy and there are benefits to both mother and child.
1. The bond that a mother has with her baby continues to be strengthened through nursing.
2. Toddlers have lots of fun when they breastfeed and it often involves games and cheekiness.
3. If a child becomes ill and doesn’t want to eat, they will often still take breast milk as it is a comfort to them and it is less of a worry for a mother because she knows her child is receiving some form of nourishment.
4. Money that would be otherwise spent on formula milk is saved.
5. Women who have breastfed for longer are statistically less likely to develop breast or ovarian cancer.
Whatever you decide to do, let it be the best thing for your child and for you. Don’t stop breastfeeding just because you think it isn’t socially acceptable to have a breastfeeding toddler. If your child wants to continue and you do as well then carry on.
Just bear in mind the issues that may arise, they may need attention, but none of them are insurmountable if you are determined to do it.
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