The Benefit of Breastfeeding Toddlers

Posted on August 25, 2009. Filed under: Breastfeeding, extended breastfeeding | Tags: , , |

I am still nursing my almost 17 month old. He generally nurses twice a day, sometimes only once  and sometimes three times but average twice. He HAS to have his morning nursing to start his day. It’s his morning coffee. During the day he may ask to nurse once or twice more depending on how busy we are and he if he thinks about it or not. He sleeps through the night and hasn’t had a night feeding since he turned one with the exception of a few nights where he was teething or not feeling well. I have no intention of weaning him until he is at least two and hope that he doesn’t self wean before then as he has a lactose sensitivity and I have no intention of giving him cows milk, especially while we are in Korea because the organic kind isn’t always available and I refuse to use the other kind plus I generally believe cow’s milk was intended for calves and not my toddler.  If he chooses to drink a little milk here and there later on (if he outgrows the lactose sensitivity), I won’t mind, but I certainly am not going to get into this whole idea of requiring or forcing him to drink a preset number of ounces of it daily. I feel confident in our very veggie heavy, very low processed food diet that he will get the proper nutrition and healthy fats without supplementing with cow’s milk.

People are often times surprised to learn that I am still nursing. The response ranges from ‘oh wow’ (as in ‘that’s cool!’) to ‘ooooh wow’ (as in ‘you freak!’). I have learned that the more shocked one is the less likely it is that they ever breastfed or they breastfed only a few short months. I am surrounded by mostly mainstream moms so it is not surprising to me and I actually enjoy telling them  because I hope that I am planting seeds in their minds for their own babies.  That said, I do enjoy sharing the information with them on the benefits of breastfeeding and extended breastfeeding.

Because my toddler nurses about 2 times a day off both sides for a total of about 15 minutes, I am estimating that he gets about 12-15 ounces of milk. I am not really sure as my breasts do not leak or get engorged and haven’t in months. I haven’t pumped in over a year so I probably couldn’t use that as a reliable way to tell what kind of supply I have either, I am pretty sure that I wouldn’t get much out if I tried. But just based off every thing I know about breastfeeding, I think I have a pretty fair estimate.  Below is a breakdown of what the nutritional value is of that amount of milk.

  • In the second year (12-23 months), 448 mL (15 ounces) of breastmilk provides:
    • 29% of energy requirements (calories)
    • 43% of protein requirements
    • 36% of calcium requirements
    • 75% of vitamin A requirements
    • 76% of folate requirements
    • 94% of vitamin B12 requirements
    • 60% of vitamin C requirements

    Dewey KG. (2001) Nutrition, Growth and Complementary Feeding of the Breast-fed infant. Pediatric Clinic of North America

These are amazing numbers, especially considering how tough it can be to get a toddler to eat sometimes! This is also way better than an artificially made vitamin as the vitamins from the breast milk are better assimilated by the body and the mother would never have to worry about vitamin toxicity. It’s perfectly made and balanced.

In addition to dietary benefits, there are many other health benefits.  Nursing toddlers have fewer allergies and  are sick less often.

  • The American Academy of Family Physicians notes that children weaned before two years of age are at increased risk of illness (AAFP 2001).
  • Nursing toddlers between the ages of 16 and 30 months have been found to have fewer illnesses and illnesses of shorter duration than their non-nursing peers (Gulick 1986).
  • “Antibodies are abundant in human milk throughout lactation” (Nutrition During Lactation 1991; p. 134). In fact, some of the immune factors in breastmilk increase in concentration during the second year and also during the weaning process. (Goldman 1983, Goldman & Goldblum 1983, Institute of Medicine 1991).

Some people think that nursing a toddler will create a clingy child. I completely disagree. My little guy is so independent that it drive me insane sometimes (like in the parking lot when he won’t hold my hand!). La Leche League’s statement for this is:

Breastfeeding a toddler helps with the child’s ability to mature. Although some experts say a toddler who is not weaned will have difficulty becoming independent, it’s usually the fearful, clingy children that have been pushed into situations requiring too much independence too soon. A breastfeeding toddler is having his dependency needs met. The closeness and availability of the mother through breastfeeding is one of the best ways to help toddlers grow emotionally.

Breastfeeding can help a toddler understand discipline as well. Discipline is teaching a child about what is right and good, not punishment for normal toddler behavior. To help a toddler with discipline, he needs to feel good about himself and his world. Breastfeeding helps a toddler feel good about himself, because his needs are being met.

The research is out there and the data proves it true: extended breastfeeding is healthy and beneficial. The American Academy of Pediatrics currently recommends that “Breastfeeding should be continued for at least the first year of life and beyond for as long as mutually desired by mother and child..”  The World Health Organization and UNICEF recommend that babies be breastfed for at least two years.

I think it’s important to have maternal instinct validated at times. I would nurse to at least two or beyond anyway but it is nice to know that the facts and data are on my side.

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27 Responses to “The Benefit of Breastfeeding Toddlers”

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Still breastfeeding and my son is almost 3. We are down to twice a day, though.

I am open to nursing well beyond two but with being down to twice a day at 17 months, I am not sure we would make it. Of course, he is very attached to that morning feeding so I don’t see us abandoning that any time soon. I will not cut him off cold turkey at two but I may (if we have another baby on the way) gently encourage weaning but I won’t force it. How did yours do when you were pregnant? Did your supply change? How did he do with sharing with a new baby?

He nursed many times a day until he was 23.5 months old and I was about 12 weeks pregnant. He suddenly dropped down to 2-3 times per day and didn’t really drink anymore. Sometime in January, he stopped completely and then E was born in March. He started again a few days after I came home from the hospital. I let him start again but only before bed and nap and only for 1-3 minutes on one side. The reason I let him start again was that it doesn’t bother me and we had a lot of change ahead of us: going back to Korea, potty training, moving to his own room. This past summer has been much rougher than expected because we had to change apartments and were “homeless” for a few weeks between apartments. Nursing has really helped. He knows that the baby can only drink milk and she gets milk first.

1-2 times a day won’t interfere with the needs of a newborn as long as he is old enough to understand that he has to wait for the baby and if he is 17 months old now, he will be old enough by the time baby #2 comes.

I second that- Maggie understood, at 13 months, that “little babies nurse first”. We practiced when I was pregnant with a baby doll!

Allow me to give a very unprofessional “heck yeah”. And by that I mean, oh were we supposed to stop by now? Kai is going to preschool all day starting next week so we’ll be down to probably only two times a day. But here we are.

Well two times a day sounds perfectly adequate as far as the nutritional perspective is concerned. Congrats for going this long!

Thank you for writing this, Amy. The general public is so uneducated on the benefits of nursing toddlers, it really is ridiculous! Yesterday, I was at an imaging place at a clinic in Seattle to have a scan of my thyroid done, and it is kind of a long story, but Genna ended up having to come along and was sitting with me in the waiting room at 5pm – her normal nursing time. She was getting whiney, so I let her nurse. When the tech came out to get me, she let out a disgusted sigh, and though she never commented, she was totally obnoxious to me for the duration of the test… Fabulous. Anyway, I hope your post opens some minds to the fact that nursing into the toddler years is a normal and healthy behavior!! 🙂

I have heard people ask “why is it such a big deal to get a baby off the bottle at one but no one says anything about the boob?” And I can’t help but laugh and shake my head but then it really is lack of knowledge so I do understand where it is coming from. And LOTS of people make comments about babies still nursing past one, that’s for sure. It is also cultural in the US and I am hopeful that there is a shift in thinking as far as breastfeeding toddlers is concerned. You and I have discussed the AAP revising it’s recommendation and there is a movement going on now to get formula samples out of the hospitals. It will all help.

Sam is still nursing at 20 months (6-8+ times/ day! Yow!), and last week someone asked me, “So, is that a religious thing, or what?” I do like when people are taken aback and THEN ask- it gives me an opportunity to educate them. It’s when they quickly move away and say nothing that our society remains stuck in it’s own ignorance.

Learning more about the benefits of continued breastfeeding makes me so happy! I am doing what feels natural for Leila and me. My mommy instinct says that we are meant to breastfeed until at least 2. Personally breastfed until I was nearly 4, I know the health benefits of long-term breastfeeding. Now I am reaping the health rewards for being a breastfeed-er! It lowers risks of different types of cancer! Yay for breastfeeding!!!

I am with you on doing what feels natural and reaping the benefits for both mom and baby are bonuses!

Our pediatrician is very pro-breastfeeding and said to nurse Alex as long as he wants… we were going strong until an awful, awful case of thrush two weeks ago that weaned us. I just didn’t catch it until it had been going on for 3+ weeks (I should have talked to you, Amy – it started while I was in Korea but I didn’t know what was wrong!) Now we have weaned… it’s sad that an era ended.

This is quite impressive, I am pleased to read this post, keep posts like this coming, you totally rock!
Cheers

Thanks!

Thank you so much for all of the great information about the benefits of breastfeeding!! We are thinking about trying to concieve again within the next year and I am trying to educate myself on nursing and trying for VBAC next time and your blog is so informational!! With my first I only nursed until he was 5 months and I am wanting to do everything I can to nurse much longer with my next child. So all of your information has been great for me to read!! Thank you! 🙂

You are welcome Jeri. You say ‘only’ five months but culturally, that is a good long time and your baby reaped many benefits from that five months of nursing. Be proud of yourself! And good luck with your future VBAC. It’s good to start now before you even TTC, the more educated you are the higher success rate you will have.

Hooray for nursing toddlers! My daughter is 16 months old and – get this – still exclusively breastfed. She’s nibbled a few grapes from time to time, but hasn’t really eaten any solid foods yet. We offer, she ignores. Breastmilk is amazing stuff, and is capable of far more than we tend to believe, including being enough to nourish not just a tiny baby, but a big, energetic toddler.

Hi Darlene,

I have heard of severe histories of food allergies that led to exclusive breastfeeding past two. It is definitely amazing stuff. I think the big rush to feed our babies solid foods is ridiculous and ultimately led by ‘baby food’ makers. I have seen several new moms stress when their six month old isn’t interested in rice cereal and wish these moms believed that their breast milk was sufficient and the cereal unnecessarily. My own experience was that we waited until after six months to offer homemade foods and by nine months my son was refusing to be spoon fed and only interested in what he could pick up and eat which was typically fruits and veggies. He has always been a big eater but will not eat processed foods (yay!) and will only eat fresh fruit or veggies. I still depend on the two nursings he gets a day as anyone with a toddler knows that balance and quality in the diet can be difficult at times.

hi!! thank you for this informative post! i’ve been breastfeeding my daughter for 14months now. she started solids when she was 7months and she’s eating well now. But my paed says she’s underweight and I should introduce formula to her. she’s only 8.7kg now. does your toddler have any weight issues? I’m quite worried bout the weight issue and was wondering whether i should give her formula (by the way, she detest formula milk).

My son was always 90% for both height and weight until 12 months. At 12 months he was 90% for height and 50% for weight. At 18 months he is 95% for height and 45% for weight, tall and skinny. The main thing when looking at growth charts is to be sure that they are growing on a curve. Have you seen a copy of her growth chart or do you know how to read them yourself? I don’t worry about % as far as my son compared to other babies because he is breastfed, doesn’t eat or drink any dairy, never had formula and eats very little processed food. Comparing him to other American kids would be unfair as few Americans breastfeed this long and most use cows milk by this age and eat more processed food. When I see his growth chart, I ignore the percents and look to see how the plot points line up. As long as there is a upward curve even if only slight, I don’t worry. If the curve is flat or starts moving down then there is more reason for concern but it doesn’t necessarily mean that something is wrong.

I am also curious as to how tall your daughter is and how it compares to her height, maybe she is just small? Personally, before I added formula to her diet or even cows milk, I would get a second opinion, especially if she eats a fare of amount of balanced solids. I have a friend who’s daughter was always small and had doctors tell her to give her french fries to gain weight, she changed doctors 🙂

I am still nursing twice daily working full time and after a very traumatic start. My son has been in daycare and has never been sick except for rare occurrences and is very independent

That’s great Prachi. We also had a very traumatic start. My son didn’t latch on until 8 days old but we stuck with it and made it happen and here we are almost two years later. Good for you though, most full time working moms don’t stick with it, that’s awesome!

I enjoyed reading this. I am also breastfeeding my toddler who is now almost 21 months. Good for you..keep up the good work we need more people like you.

Thanks Michelle. Mine is 21 months now as well but he is self weaning. it’s bittersweet but I am beginning my 2nd trimester of this pregnancy so really it’s working out for us timing wise. I really did want him to reap the benefits of breast milk until 2 but I am definitely not complaining about 21 months either.

[…] and weaning him at two, which will be in April, but I suppose if he is done then great. There are so many benefits to breastfeeding through the second year and I was hoping to continue those benefits. I believe child led weaning is the best method but I […]

Ahhh… great article, thank you, linking you…

I was looking for information online related to the benefits of nursing toddlers and came across this post. I am 36 years old and still nursing my 24 month old, who is my only child. Breastfeeding has been a wonderful experience for both of us and it seems that neither of us is ready to stop the breastfeeding, which is really ok with me, but I find it very challenging to deal with the many friends and family members who hassle me about how I should have stopped nursing her long ago. By the way, I have been a Registered Nurse for 13 years and have done a lot of reading about breastfeeding to educate myself. I firmly believe it is a healthy and worthwhile endeavor. My experience has been that even when I try to educate people about it, they typically are not open to hearing it. Their preconceived ideas are very entrenched. It hurts me to have people who I am close to try to shame me into quitting breastfeeding my daughter. She has been very healthy with very few mild, isolated illnesses, and has never had an ear infection. She started eating soft table foods at 6 months and since then her appetite has waxed and waned, but I feel that in general she eats a healthy, well-balanced diet along with nursing. At 2 years old she still nurses very actively. It varies, sometimes she nurses 2-3 times a day, other times much more than that for shorter periods of time, and she sleeps with me so she still nurses a lot at night, but it doesn’t seem to interfere with our sleep, as she nurses while asleep. At this point I am thinking that I’d like to keep nursing until 3 or until she self-weans. I am just looking for some support, as I have had very little of that.


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