Extended breastfeeding is defined as breastfeeding beyond the first 12 months of life. Here in the US, breastfeeding past one is still kind of a “new” thing, but throughout the world it is very common to continue into the second year. In fact, the WHO actually recommends breastfeeding until at least 2 years of age.
Breastfeeding can also help comfort toddlers as they go through the developmental leaps, transitions, and bumps and bruises that come with, well Toddlerhood.
But, breastfeeding a toddler can be tough! They are wiggly and demanding, learning how to communicate and that makes for some long days as parents. As a breastfeeding mom and Lactation Counselor, I have picked up some tips for breastfeeding toddlers along the way. I am currently breastfeeding my 18 month old, and am having to apply many of these techniques.
As toddlers grow out of infancy, they begin to understand and communicate more and more. With that, they start testing boundaries. As parents, we see this in so many different aspects of their little lives. So, its a great time to set boundaries with nursing. Since Breastmilk is no longer the main source of nutrition, you don’t have to worry so much about feeding on demand.
Setting boundaries can also help prevent nursing aversion. If you are feeling overwhelmed or burnt out or some type of nursing aversion, know that you are not alone and that is normal! It is hard being needed by a little person all the time. Personally, once my kids hit 13 mo, I turn to a “don’t offer, don’t refuse” method. For my kids, if they are distracted and playing during the day, they don’t ask to nurse a ton. For naps and bed, and maybe a couple other times during the day. I realize all babies are different, and that method may not help as much. You may have to try different things to find what works best for you. You can say no, set certain times of day or time limits on nursing sessions, if that helps you.
Stop frustrating habits
Toddlers can be really curious, and like to explore their surroundings. They may be distracted or want to continue playing while nursing. They may want to fiddle, pinch, talk, scratch…or whatever else they can think of. In general, these things are not bad or wrong, but when you are nursing, the last thing you want is to be slapped or fiddled with. It can really make nursing sessions uncomfortable, and lead to aversion.
It is perfectly okay to tell your older baby or toddler, “no” and that you do not like those things. Using a nursing necklace, blanket, small fidget toy or just discontinuing nursing when they do one of these things, can help to prevent and stop them. As an example, my daughter like to pinch, but if I offer her my shirt or a blanket to fidget with, then she stops pinching. If she continues pinching, I will give her a warning and let her know we can’t nurse if shes going to hurt mommy and then if necessary, I end the session. It usually only takes once for her to catch on and remember to stay focused.
I use a NursElet to keep my shirt up, where my daughter can still grab a play with it, but it is not falling in her face. It also acts as a bracelet to remind you which side you nursed on last (super helpful in the itty bitty days!) and its so nice for nursing in public, so everything is up and out of the way.
This is obviously a very personal choice, just because your child is over one does not mean you HAVE to stop nursing during the night. But, after 13 mo, they are old enough and should be getting enough nutrients throughout the day that they do not rely on night feedings for growth and again, crucial nutrition. Night time wake ups and feedings can be one of the hardest parts of breastfeeding, it is a common frustration I hear from moms. And I get it! We don’t need to talk about all the things making moms tired,because I know, you know. There are many different ways you can go about this, but a method I like is from Dr. Jay Gordon, you can check it out here.
Introduce other Milks
After 12 mo, your child is no longer relying on breastmilk as their main source of nutrition. Of course there are still tons of nutritional benefits, as I shared in the graphic above. But once they hit that year mark, they get more nutrients from food and you can start to introduce other milk. It is important to discuss what kind of milk is best for your child, with their pediatrician, but their are many options out there like cows milk, nut milks, or soy milk.
How can this help keep you breastfeeding? It can eliminate the need to pump when you are away from your child, and insure your baby is getting the nutrients they need without nursing as frequently.
Do what feels best for you
This is the best advice I can give anyone. Every breastfeeding journey is going to look different. And what works for one may not work for another. Doing a self check, a making sure that you are continuing on for you and your baby, and no one else, is so important. If you choose extended breastfeeding. Or for how long you continue is completely up to you and there is no right or wrong answer.
My goal as a fellow mama and lactation professional is always for moms to feel empowered. My hope is that this gives you a confidence boost and helps you reach your goals, whatever they may be!
If you have a question about extending breastfeeding, that I didn’t answer in this post please reach out to me, I love to help!!
Nurselet provided me with their product, in exchange for my honest review