Adventures in Toddler Breastfeeding!

When I read Jessica’s post a while back about becoming a lactivist, it brought to mind my own journey as a breastfeeding mom. I started out with the twins, with whom I greatly struggled to breastfeed, hoping only to make it to one year. With Sienna, I worked harder and actually did make it past a year, but didn’t really set goals for going much further (we made it to 18 months). However, with Adele, I knew before she was born that I was going to let her self wean. Breastfeeding has been easy and truly enjoyable with her from the very beginning, so I have never questioned our goals.

Now that she is nearly 17 months old, we are officially in the ย midst of toddler breastfeeding fun. And for the most part, I completely stand by that statement. Don’t get me wrong, there are times where nursing a toddler is less than fun, more along the lines of challenging, shall we say, but typically things are pretty great. I am so thankful that I have now been able to nurse two toddlers, and I look forward to continuing this wonderful breastfeeding relationship with Adele for quite some time. I am often asked questions about nursing a toddler, and even more often given strange looks when people notice that I’m nursing a toddler. I thought it might be nice for those of you wondering what it’s like, wondering why we do what we do, or for those considering extended breastfeeding to read a little bit about toddler nursing.

Unlike nursing a newborn, toddlers need no help letting you know what they want. Although there are times where I don’t necessarily relish having a small person shouting MiMi!ย while ripping my shirt up/down and furiously signing MILK,ย I do love that I no longer have to guess when she wants to nurse. Often she just wants a quick little sip, sometimes because she is just slightly thirsty, other times because she needs a quick reconnect with mama. In a sense, her nursing sessions are a chance for her to refocus.

One of my favorite aspects of toddler breastfeeding is the way it comforts them like nothing else. When Adele is hurt, nursing snuggles and whispers of love are the very best fix. When she’s tired, nursing soothes her to sleep. When we are in a new situation, nursing gives her the confidence that she needs to venture out away from mama for a little bit. The bond that develops while nursing your baby continues on through toddlerhood, growing as the months pass.

Ever since Adele was about 6 months old, she has been a wiggly nurser. We like to say that she likes to practice her yoga moves while she’s nursing, since it seems she has perfected downward dog without breaking her latch! She loves to nurse sitting up, has stood and nursed, and is nothing short of a contortionist while she nurses. Although hilarious at times,and definitely cute, it can also be annoying and even painful. There are many times where I have set her down and told her no nursing until she could be still. She may not completely understand what I’m saying, but she does understand that something ended her nursing and separated her from her beloved mimi’s, so she generally becomes very sad and becomes still when I let her resume nursing. The same technique works when dealing with a biting baby or toddler: say no firmly but gently, set baby down and walk away for a minute or two. This worked quickly with Adele, who hasn’t bit mama in months. It’s a good idea to initiate some ground rules when nursing a toddler, letting them slowly become accustomed to being a polite nurser, so that mom and baby continue to enjoy nursing. It quickly gets tiresome to have someone attempting to rip off your nipple (and if you think that sounds like a gross exaggeration, you clearly haven’t experienced toddler breastfeeding)! So if you are interested in extended breastfeeding, start early working on breastfeeding manners.

I had one mom ask me the other day if letting Adele nurse as often as she likes was going to make her nurse forever. First of all, I haven’t heard of many adults who are still nursing. I haven’t even heard of any middle schoolers who are still breastfeeding (although I could be wrong). Toddlers typically wean sometime between 2 and 4 years old. It is rare for a child to wean before 18-24 months of age. All children, however, will self-wean eventually. Children go through nursing spurts, often nursing frequently between the ages of 12-16 months (Adele has nursed like a newborn for the last several months) but eventually tapering off to fewer nursing sessions as the grow. Some toddlers work their way down to one or two sessions per day and stick with that pattern for months or even years, depending on what works best for mama and baby.

No matter what your nursing relationship with your toddler looks like, it really is one of the sweetest relationships I’ve experienced. Every child varies, thus their nursing tendencies are going to vary, but the special bond is more than worth the few hassles. If you have never planned on breastfeeding your baby into toddlerhood, I hope you will reconsider. I don’t think you will ever regret the extra time spent snuggling and bonding, and the benefits to your baby are many!

5 Comments

  1. Jenny -  June 28, 2012 - 9:57 am

    I love this post!! Thank you so much for sharing it. I know some people give me weird looks and judge when I tell them I still breastfeed my son, Cameron, who is only 13 1/2 months. But I love. nursing him. He is a big snuggler. My goal was one year, but I plan on sticking with it until he decides to stop. This is such a great post for moms who want to continue nursing past one year, but aren’t sure. It definitely shows that there are other moms out there doing it and it’s really nice to know you’re not alone. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Susan S -  July 14, 2012 - 9:47 pm

    My youngest daughter was born in 1983. I nursed her until she was a little over 2 years. I was working outside the home and at that time she was only nursing at bedtime. She self-weaned one night by saying, ” I want my milk in a cup”. And that was it.

    Back in the early 80’s it wasn’t very common thing, but it was something I felf pretty strongly about. Not only the health aspect for her, but the bonding was really incredible. It was also relaxing for me. I always got to sit back and relax for a bit every evening ๐Ÿ™‚

    My most embarrasing moment was in the line at the grocery store and she started climbing down my shirt yelling “mama’s milk, mama’s milk”. I wish I had thought about your “manners” advice.

    Good luck, and hope you both continue to enjoy toddler nursing.

  3. Devina -  September 17, 2012 - 6:18 pm

    Great post! I am currently nursing my 7mo., 3yr and 5yr olds. People are fascinated with the fact that my 3 and 5 yr old still nurse. They enjoy cuddling and getting a little “booboo milk” when they are tired. They are the healthiest kids ever!

    • Kelli -  September 17, 2012 - 10:57 pm

      That is SO RAD Devina! I wish I were still nursing my third child in addition to Adele, to be honest. ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks for sharing!

  4. Ami -  September 19, 2012 - 11:46 pm

    I nursed my first child till 18 months. She weaned herself and though it made me sad, I respected her choice. My son went a bit longer, I think he was just about 2. Then I had our youngest 2 years later and my son wanted to nurse again (personally I think it was just to be close to me) and I let him. It lasted about 2 minutes and he decided that he liked his “milky” (a combo of cow’s milk and yogurt) better than “Mommy Milk”. But I was open to him beginning to nurse again.
    My youngest only made it 6 months, was a fussy nurser from the start, and when at 6 months she started sucking and screaming over and over, I knew that something was wrong. Turns out, she had low muscle tone in her jaw muscles and she was actually not getting nearly enough milk to grow.
    But I would have gladly nursed my children until…well, until whenever. It was some of the most joyous time spent with them each as they grew.

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