Breastfeeding through toddlerhood isn’t a parenting fad or a new craze. In fact, it’s a totally normal and natural part of child development.
The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, and that breastfeeding continues (in conjunction with solids) for up to (and beyond if desired) a child’s second birthday.
There are plenty of benefits to breastfeeding past infancy that aren’t widely publicised and therefore known.
Unfortunately, this is because no-one stands to profit from breastfeeding, whereas they do from toddler formula.
Therefore, breastfeeding is rarely promoted.
One of the most difficult things about breastfeeding a toddler, aside from the mid-feed acrobatics that two year olds are quite partial to, is the reactions you may encounter from friends, family and strangers. Breastfeeding past infancy is not an established ‘norm’ in Western culture. It may not have been something that you even consciously planned on doing; many women simply wake up one morning with the realisation that they are breastfeeding a toddler. You’re just following your baby’s lead, listening to your baby and meeting his basic needs.
Your baby is still your baby no matter if they are 9, 10, 11 or 12 months old. There's not a huge distinction to make when they wake up one morning looking like a baby to a full blown toddler, and don't need or want the breast any more.
Like everything else parenting, breastfeeding is a journey. And that can be difficult to explain to friends and family when they question your choices. One of the questions you are likely to be asked a lot is ‘Why are you still breastfeeding?’, usually asked with an edge of judgement, sparked by a reaction to it not being a comfortable ‘norm’, rather than from a place of genuine curiosity.
So, why should you continue to breastfeed your toddler?
#1: Because Breastfeeding Toddlers Is Normal
Okay, maybe not here right now in this room where you are being looked at like a beast with two heads, but forget that! There are women all over the world feeding babies, toddlers and beyond. It’s normal and natural, and you are not alone.
#2: Because It’s Good For Immunity
Your breast milk is full of antibodies and living cells that help to strengthen your child’s immune system. The immune system doesn’t fully mature until around age four or five, so your toddler will still be benefiting from the immunity offered through your breastmilk.
The American Academy of Family Physicians states that children who are weaned before the age of two have an increased risk of illness. Breastfed toddlers have been found to get ill less, and recover faster than toddlers who are not breastfed.
#3: Because It’s Good For Healthy Brain Development
Numerous studies have highlighted the links between breastfeeding and intelligence. You may be interested to hear that the length of breastfeeding also affected the outcome, and that longer breastfeeding was associated with higher cognitive ability. One New Zealand study found that breastfeeding past 12 months reduced the risk of behavioural problems in children aged between six and eight years old.
#4: Because It Provides Comfort
There is nothing wrong with breastfeeding simply to provide comfort. Comfort is so important, especially to toddlers who are developing, changing and growing on an almost daily basis. Breastfeeding provides a quick and easy way to help your toddler calm down and reconnect. A bump or fall can easily be soothed with a feed. Breastfeeding even has the benefit of offering pain relief, so breastfeeding could even ease your child’s discomfort after a fall or during illness.
Read 5 reasons why comfort feeding is good for mothers and babies.
#5: Because It’s Nutritious
Your breast milk changes as your child grows, and the milk you produce after your child’s first birthday will be very different to the milk you produced for your newborn. Toddlers need a higher fat content in their diet, and to meet this demand, the fat content in your milk will increase. Clever, isn’t it?
According to a 2001 study, 448 ml of breast milk can provide a 12-23 month old with:
- over a quarter of his energy requirements
- over a third of his protein and calcium requirements
- three quarters of his vitamin A and folate requirements
- over half of his vitamin C requirements
- over 90 percent of his vitamin B12 requirements
Breast milk is full of nutrients, and these continue to benefit your developing child long past infancy. Many mothers who continue to breastfeed past infancy find that the benefit of this is most obvious when their children are ill. Having a poorly child who hasn’t eaten for days can be scary, but if you’re breastfeeding then you at least know your toddler has been getting some fluids, germ killing cells, and essential nutrients through breast milk.
If you want to see something truly remarkable and be even more amazed by your booby milk, see the impressively long list of ingredients in breastmilk.
#6: Because Weaning Hasn’t Happened Yet
Whether you’re waiting for your child to self-wean, or slowly introducing weaning at a pace your child is comfortable with, the real reason you’re still breastfeeding is simply because weaning hasn’t happened yet. You don’t need to rush this process, you can take as long as your child needs. You might choose to set a date to work towards, or simply slowly start to reduce feeds to kickstart the weaning process.
When you decide to start to weaning your toddler is up to you and your child. Simply put, it’s nobody else’s business.
More Great Breastfeeding Information?
For more fantastic breastfeeding information, check out BellyBelly’s recommended breastfeeding books here.