Breastfeeding Is Not Just For Babies! The Benefits of Breastfeeding a Toddler

by jennifer on March 11, 2009

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I loved breastfeeding my daughter when she was a newborn. Her tiny body fit within the crook of my arm, and I treasured the feeling of cradling her there as she nursed. I loved seeing her take such immense comfort from me and my milk; nursing both soothed and sustained her. It was so peaceful . . . slow summer afternoons spent with her gazing softly up at me, hands clasped at her chest as though she was holding on to the most important thing in the world.

Nineteen months later, she’s as likely to be nursing standing on her head as in any other position. Attempted eye contact while she’s nursing now leads to a sly smile eventually erupting in giggles. It’s hardly peaceful, but it’s definitely still sweet.

I love how much she still loves to nurse. As soon as we get home in the evenings, she leads me to our spot on the couch, giddy with anticipation as I prepare her access. She’s just as excited when it’s time to switch sides. I also love that she can tell me when she wants to nurse now – it was the first sign she used consistently, and though she has recently been able to say “nurse,” she still signs for it, especially when she’s upset. Nursing beyond infancy has done nothing but strengthen the amazing bond between us that began with her curled against my chest, latched on for those early, languorous nursing sessions.

But nursing isn’t just healthy for our relationship – it’s still so good for her growing little body. Breastmilk continues to provide significant amounts of protein, fat, and vitamins long after the first year. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends nursing for two years or more, and the American Academy of Family Physicians notes that children weaned before two are at increased risk for illness. Some immune factors actually increase in concentration in breastmilk after the first year, and extended breastfeeding can also help prevent allergies and asthma. Extended breastfeeding even has health benefits for me, including reduced risk of breast, ovarian, uterine, and endometrial cancers.

All of the above are excellent, even compelling reasons to continue breastfeeding. But at the end of the day . . . all we’re interested in are the snuggles. And that’s more than enough.

Jennifer blogs about her AP family at Postcards From the East End.

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jennifer (8 Posts)


{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Nykole March 13, 2009 at 9:20 am

Jennifer,
I couldn’t agree more! I still nurse my 21-month-old baby girl, and while it’s still a wonderful bonding experience, it’s certainly changed. She now asks for a specific side and when she’s done nursing, she pats me and says, “Put it away, Mama.”

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Kate March 14, 2009 at 10:34 am

Hey Jennifer,
Interesting post. I agree about the snuggles — they are the best. I weaned mine after about a year, and it seemed like kind of a mutual project; ie., mine were interested in stopping nursing around then. Did you have to do anything in particular to keep your toddler breastfeeding?

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Lacey March 15, 2009 at 12:20 am

This story made me laugh :) I so connect with the “giddy with anticipation” part of it. My daughter is 21 months and I too enjoy nursing her now just as much as I did the first days of her life. Thanks for sharing.

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Annette March 15, 2009 at 6:57 pm

Great post! I feel very much the same way. We are going on two years here (end of month). The breastfeeding relationship has definately changed. I love how she can tell me when and where she wants to nurse (ni-ni bed, ni-ni lap, etc). She’s also big enough for me to be able to say, not now (like if we are riding in the car) and will accept that we can nurse later.

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east end jenn March 16, 2009 at 3:36 pm

Kate, I can’t say that I did anything in particular to sustain her interest, other than allowing her to nurse pretty much whenever she asks. Every kid is different, and mine happens to be very committed to breastfeeding! There’s no way she’d have weaned voluntarily yet. If she hadn’t been so gung-ho, though, I might have tried to prompt her by offering more often. It’s easy for toddlers to get so busy they forget about it.

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Melanie March 19, 2009 at 9:13 am

I also have a 19 month old boy who loves to nurse. He too gets excited after a long day to relax on the couch with the pillow while daddy fixes dinner. My only problem is w/ the outside world. His doctor told me recently he needs to stop nursing and that I need to be tough. Why when he is so happy & it really only affects me? He is on the smaller side, but there is plenty of time to grow.

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Esther March 23, 2009 at 11:03 am

Currently at work but I wanted to add my two cents right quick before I get in trouble. I’m so glad to see more and more articles like these because I have 13 month old son in which I’m still breastfeeding and it definitely has a special bonding moment. I also love the fact that he can calm down so quickly when he’s having a little meltdown. So I hope to continue as long as I can because I thought that I was only going to BF until he was 6 months…..proved myself wrong.

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Michelle March 31, 2009 at 12:11 am

I am so glad you posted this article! Its so cute and really very inspiring. I am still nursing my 15 month old and am (to be completely honest and blunt) very sick of hearing negative remarks about it from people around me. My family and husband are very supportive but alot of my friends (especially those with kids) say the most negative things about it. I just tell them if it bothers them to not look, and that Jace will stop when he is ready and I wont push him to stop at all. I love that he still nurses. He spends all day running around like a mad man and we play and play its nice to have some time to just relax together. Thanks for posting this, its really great to read :)

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Isabela April 14, 2009 at 2:08 pm

Hello,
I found this blog on other and i found this subject,I read your storyes and let me tell you that my daughter si 2 years and 3 months old and I still nursing her….I still like to do it and I don;t think is something bad to nursing your own child even at this age…also my doctor told me to stop nursing her…she allmost convinced me to to it….in the end i decided that no, i will continue to do it…when i saw her that she’s surcing my breast and asking for milk, my milk…i couldn’t do it:) and i’m happy.
Wish you to everybody milk ,as much as you can and when you’re nursing your child, try to not do other things (reading or watching tv) look at your baby face and you will see how happy and realx is at your breast, in your arms….
best regards to all the mothers…

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Melanie April 15, 2009 at 10:11 am

Do you have any advise for sleeping thru the night w/ a 20 month old who wants to nurse all night long.? Not so much for eating, but as a pacifer.

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east end jenn April 15, 2009 at 2:39 pm

Melanie,
I don’t know how much advice I can offer, but I can definitely sympathize! Violet is also 20 months old, and I’ve struggled with her wanting to nurse all night long a lot. About a month ago, we went through a several weeks stint of nonstop night nursing and it was really wearing on me. So we decided to try transitioning her to her own bed. We’d had her crib converted to a toddler bed for a while (since she never slept in it as a crib!), so she’d had time to see it, explore it, sit on it and read, things like that. One night we asked her if she’d like to sleep there and she said yes, so we gave it a shot. I nursed her to sleep in her bed, and when she woke up a few hours later I came back and climbed in with her and we nursed again. She never seemed upset about being in her bed, and never asked to come back to ours, she just wanted to nurse when she woke up. So we did that a few times a night for three or four nights, and then she actually slept through! First time I’d slept for such a stretch since I was 28 weeks pregnant. It was heaven.

Of course that doesn’t happen every night. She still wakes, but not nearly as often now that she’s not in our bed as much. When she does wake and want to nurse, I’ll either go and nurse her in her bed, or bring her back to ours if I’m too tired. She doesn’t seem to mind much either way. Lately I’ve been bringing her back to our bed most nights around 2 or 3. Some nights she’ll nurse there and then roll over and go back to sleep, but more often recently she wants to nurse for hours at a time, so I’m thinking about trying to keep that session in her bed and not bring her back to ours until she wakes up closer to 5 or 6. It’s a constantly evolving arrangement. Sleeping apart at least part of the night has definitely improved the amount of sleep we’re all getting, but only because Violet was at a point where she was comfortable with that. And it feels a little like the best of both worlds because I still get to wake up to her whispering “hi mama!”

Hang in there! I’m confident we’ll all sleep someday. ;)

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Isabela April 15, 2009 at 4:30 pm

My baby is sleepping with me and my husband in the same bed….so,when she needs to eat, she takes alone,she;s searching me and taking my breast….we are like a clock, at the same hours we have the meals:) but she doesn’t need all night long….only once,two times at the night….in the morning she takes a lot and before to sleep…

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Melanie April 22, 2009 at 10:57 am

Thanks a lot Jenn! I’ll try putting him into the crib once we turn it into the toddler bed. I know that this is just a small part of my total lifespand & it will all be over way too fast. Its comforting to know that he still needs me, unlike my 14 year old son.

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diana October 13, 2010 at 6:49 pm

i have 4 children and have nursed all 1st untl 14 months#2 til 9months(stopped completley on her own) #3 til 16 months and # 4 still going mostley at night and when i get home from work just for a moment i get the mama i want nene night night and he loves to nurse anytime i let him i dont now how long it will last but its okay with me i tell people that does agree with nursing a toddler thats okay hes my baby and its our chose when hes ready he will stop remember its your baby and your body happy nursing enjoy the time togather it end way to soon

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