Your breastfeeding toddler is ever changing and growing in so many exciting ways from day to day. But maybe he is like my little guy who from day one has been and still is a die hard fan of mama's milk.
Extended breastfeeding moms everywhere celebrate this privilege to nurture their toddler breastfeeding. We also happily meet the challenges, if you see them as such, for the benefits of breastfeeding.
The breastfeeding toddler scenario raises some questions though and raises some eyebrows too. What kind of changes or challenges should you expect? And, how can you deal with them?
First of all, why would you want to continue?
Right from the start I knew I wanted to breastfeed my babies. It's cost effective and it's convenient but that's not why I wanted to breastfeed.
Breast milk contains proteins, fat and immune factors that protect a child even beyond 6 months but that was not my greatest motivation for extended breastfeeding.
I delighted at the idea of cuddling my babies and providing them with something that only I could give.
As I started with my first baby it was incredibly difficult for both my daughter and I. In fact, I don't think we actually got the hang of it completely until she was about 6 months - the time when many stop.
I really didn't know how long I would breastfeed - I had no real plan. But having done the research I knew it was really good for her and, as we continued, I also knew it was good for me - more than just physically.
I have found breastfeeding to be incredibly emotionally gratifying, it has made me feel "complete". For this reason I breastfed my daughter for 2 1/2 years (when I was pregnant) and my son has been nursing for almost 3 years and is still going strong.
The satisfaction is mutual. For an ever changing and learning toddler who isn't a baby anymore but isn't a big kid yet there are challenges - many of them self-imposed. Nothing fixes things better at this stage than mama's milk!
How do nursing sessions change?
Generally speaking sessions get shorter and frequency decreases but ....
Children differ, and just as the nursing styles of infants differ, the nursing styles of toddlers differ also.
My daughter even as an older toddler wanted long sessions of relaxed nursing as in her infancy - nursing was her favorite pastime.
My son's breastfeeding sessions though had always been shorter although he got just as much. As he grew older he got distracted more easily - so he was more on and off, a random few minutes here and a few minutes there.
At one point I thought my little boy was starting to wean himself but when the distractions of that stage decreased he returned for his milk with renewed interest.
How does a breastfeeding toddler sleep at night?
Breastfeeding toddlers generally wake more than their bottle-fed peers.
My son was up to nurse, on average, 3 times a night when he reached toddler hood. I can't even begin to describe how incredibly sleep deprived I was - ready to fall over!
My almost 3 year old now wakes up once to nurse between 7:30 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. That is a great improvement and is completely okay with me.
Am I sleep deprived? Yes, a little, but not nearly as much as before.
On a positive note - my daughter started sleeping through the night at 20 months and never regressed although she breastfed just as much during the day. As an infant she was up every two hours for the first year!
You will one day get your well deserved sleep!
Will your toddler be too dependent because of extended breastfeeding?
Dr. Jack Newman, MD, FRCPC, consultant to UNICEF for the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative and author of The Ultimate Breastfeeding Book of Answers: The Most Comprehensive Problem-Solving Guide to Breastfeeding from the Foremost Expert in North America
"The child who weans himself (usually from 2 to 4 years), is generally more independent, and, perhaps more importantly, more secure in his independence. He has received comfort and security from the breast, until he is ready to make the step himself to stop."
Well said. I have found this to be very true with both my kids. They are both happy and very secure in working towards achievements and reaching milestones.
What other physical changes can you expect with extended breastfeeding?
Menstruation can be delayed although it's definitely not a reliable method of birth control and is different for every woman. Some ladies say 6 months, some 12 months, but mine returned at 18 months for both my kids.
Teething around the year or just after mark can present a problem, especially the eye teeth and the one just in front of it. My kids, I think, were trying to sharpen the corners of their teeth on me - it was extremely painful. I've heard from some women that they felt forced to stop breastfeeding at this point because they just couldn't take it.
There are ways of limiting the problem to a degree though. First of all, creating an awareness in your child that this is really hurting by firmly telling him to stop if he would like to continue nursing. Also, using a lanolin ointment helped me. Lastly, it really doesn't last that long.
Because you are giving so much of yourself, another change you may experience is weight loss.
What kind of reactions from others can you expect?
People are becoming increasingly accepting to breastfeeding infants but a breastfeeding toddler throws many for a loop. WHO (World Health Organization) encourages breastfeeding till at least 2 years old now and when I tell people that many are surprised but more accepting. Pass 2 years old and most range from uncomfortable to thinking it's ridiculous!
Interestingly, some who think it's ridiculous still give their 4 year old's a bottle of milk. How is that different? hmmmm......
You can try defending your breastfeeding toddler scenario by telling them how many the benefits of breastfeeding are, or just ignore the comments.
The most difficult is when your family thinks you're crazy! They know how sleep deprived you are and they just don't understand why you would continue putting yourself through this torture! There is a beautiful reason that they just don't get.
I continue because as my toddler is breastfeeding, we both treasure the emotional closeness we have. It is very special and worth the sacrifice of sleep!
My breastfeeding toddler and I love the unique close attachment that will change soon enough. My little boy will wean himself when he is developmentally ready. In the meantime we both continue to enjoy the extended breastfeeding whether you call it a tranquilizer, a happy pill, comfort or therapy - it's welcome cuddle time.
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