Toddler Nursing

In the United States, mothers who practice extended nursing are those who breastfeed their child an average of 2.75 years. How many women nurse beyond their child's first year? Sources vary on this, but a range of 10 to 15 percent is reported. Those same sources indicate that 5 to 10 percent of U.S. moms breastfeed their children to or beyond the child's third birthday. Why nurse a toddler? The benefits of breastfeeding a toddler are the same as they are for younger children.

  • Breastmilk continues to be a wonderful source of nutrition, regardless of anything else your child eats.

  • Antibodies in your milk continue to protect your toddler, even if she nurses just once a day.

  • Breastfeeding comforts children.

  • Toddler nursing might be the only snuggle time you get with your busy child while he's awake.

  • Breastmilk can be tolerated by sick children who are unable to stomach other foods.

The more you meet your child's needs, the more independent and confident she will grow. That may seem to run against common sense, but knowing that you're there for her as she continues to explore gives her the courage to take on a huge, exciting, and unknown world. Every successful mission will bolster her confidence and increase her sense of independence. Breastfeeding helps.

What do you do with a toddler's roaming hands?

Hold your child's hand and kiss her little fingers, or keep a special toy or book nearby that she can hold only while nursing. A textured rattle is sometimes a good choice. The name of the game is distraction.

Styles and Tips

Nursing a toddler presents some unique challenges, but they're usually no problem if you know how to deal with them in advance.

First, how will your child let you know when she wants to nurse? A one-year-old who announces that she wants “boobies” might be cute around the house, but when she says the same thing in public, it can leave you glowing red with embarrassment. This is a problem you can prevent by choosing a good code word for breastfeeding early in your relationship.

If you master the name change, your next hurdle will be explaining that you won't be feeding in public so much anymore. With such a general misunderstanding of toddler nursing in America, public feedings can leave you feeling humiliated by the stares and whispers of uninformed strangers.

Your child is probably used to nursing whenever she wants, so any new restrictions are bound to evoke a tantrum in a headstrong toddler. Be ready for it. This is a good time to begin explaining the difference between “public” and “private.” Or you might choose to confidently nurse in public, knowing that you are doing the best for your child.

Once you have that handled, there is another challenge: Toddlers like to move. They've only recently mastered walking, running, and climbing, and they love to find new ways to use their bodies. Unfortunately, constant motion and breastfeeding don't go well together. Your little gymnast might decide at some point that nursing would be more fun if she could twist, turn, and climb all over you while suckling away. Ouch! Some kids go from standing to hanging upside down over your shoulder in a single feeding session.

Essential

As a child spends less time feeding at her mother's breast, she can spend more time with Dad. This is a great opportunity for early literacy! Dad's lap can be a great refuge, a place to cuddle and read a good book. Choose colorful board books with lots of action and simple stories.

If your child's acrobatics are more than you can take, the best solution is to end the breastfeeding session. Don't get angry, but rather announce firmly but gently that nursing time (or whatever you two call it) is a time to lie still. This is the same kind of strategy used to stop nipple biting, and it's usually effective after a very short while.

Your Child's Individual Needs

You are an island of security for your toddler in an unexplored world. Your little adventurer will travel away from you for ever-increasing amounts of time and distance, but she needs to know she can return for protection, comfort, and anything else she needs. She's also eager to share what she's experienced with you and let you help her understand it.

It's important that you treat your child as an individual. At the same time, pay attention to your own feelings. You're the mother, and you know what's best for your particular child. If you go at the pace that's right for both you and your child, you can continue to enjoy the breastfeeding experience. This is, in fact, what most moms who nurse beyond their child's first birthday report. They say that they did not necessarily plan to breastfeed so long, but it just continued to seem right for their child. Remember, this is a personal decision.

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