Breastfeeding a Toddler: Truths and Myths

If you’ve made it over the one year milestone of breastfeeding, congratulations mama, you’ve done an amazing job! As you now know, every stage of breastfeeding is met with its own triumphs and challenges and breastfeeding a toddler is no exception. Many moms feel pressured to wean at one year but that should be a personal decision. Today we’re exploring the truths and myths of breastfeeding a toddler to help you make the healthiest choice for you and your baby.

Truth: Breastfeeding a toddler continues to benefit your baby’s health.

Your breast milk changes to meet the needs of your little one throughout your breastfeeding journey. That’s why the AAP and other health organizations across the globe encourage continued breastfeeding beyond one year. Your toddler is now getting more robust nutrients, especially those required for brain development and physical activity. The antibodies in your breast milk also adapt to protect your toddler from a range of foreign substances that are now in her daily life.

Myth: Breastfeeding a toddler leads to emotional and social problems.

Being a source of comfort and security for your toddler only bolsters her self-confidence. Studies show that breastfed toddlers do not form unhealthy attachments to their mothers, but rather a loving bond built of trust and respect. And they also develop a normal sense of independence within this special relationship.

Breastfeeding a Toddler: Truths and MythsTruth: Toddlers may be wiggly and touchy while nursing.

Your toddler is probably a bundle of energy so sitting still to nurse may not be in her repertoire. This can make breastfeeding difficult or uncomfortable for moms, even when both mom and toddler want to continue breastfeeding. If your little one tends to tug at your breasts, skin or hair, move her hand and ask her to be gentle with mommy. A long necklace that your toddler can play with while nursing may also be useful. If your toddler wants to do acrobatics while breastfeeding, stop the session and explain that you cannot give her milk until she can sit still. Other forms of distraction such as telling a story or singing may engage your toddler for long enough to enjoy her milk. You’ll probably notice that your baby’s positioning and latch have changed in toddlerhood. This relaxed state is normal and completely fine as long as it works for both of you.

Myth: Toddlers who nurse for short periods of time are ready to wean.

All the breastfeeding you’ve done for the past year or more has taught your toddler to be very efficient at the breast. She may nurse briefly but still be able to get plenty of milk because her suckle is stronger. Additionally, as your toddler eats more solid foods, she may not want quite as much breast milk. Any breast milk she gets is fantastic for her body though so weaning due to short feedings is not necessary.

Truth: Breastfeeding in public may be more difficult.

Toddlers are keenly aware of the world around them and may be particularly challenging to breastfeed in public due to their inability to stay still and the environmental distractions. You may find it easier to breastfeed before heading out and after coming home, or you can do it in your car. Bring along a snack to tide your toddler over until you can get to a less distracting spot to breastfeed. Also, others may be quite critical of you for breastfeeding a toddler in public. This is no reason not to do it, but do be prepared with a quick polite response for those with negative comments.

Myth: You’re well past sore nipples.

Sore nipples can rear their painful heads again while breastfeeding a toddler. The emergence of teeth is usually the culprit, not only because they may bite you but also because your baby has to latch differently with a few new additions in her mouth. Food residue can also lead to sore nipples. Use the same lanolin-based cream you used when your little one was a newborn to soothe the pain.

Truth: Using respectful words to request breast milk is wise.

When left to their own devices, toddlers may come up with their own ways to ask for breast milk, some of which may be a little crude. If you want to control how breasts and breastfeeding are addressed, start using the words you prefer early to set a positive example for your toddler.

Myth: You’ve graduated from nighttime nursing.

Teething, nightmares and separation anxiety are all legitimate reasons your toddler may wake up in the middle of the night. Nursing is a great way to calm, reassure and soothe your toddler back to sleep.

Truth: Your breast milk will fluctuate with your menstrual cycle.

It is common for your milk supply to be low just before and at the beginning of your period, and your milk may taste different to your toddler as well. Allow for extra nursing during this time to ensure your little one gets as much as she wants.

Myth: You must wean if you get pregnant with another baby.

In most cases toddlers can breastfeed throughout your pregnancy and even once the baby has arrived. Your breast milk will change to meet the needs of both your toddler and the new baby.

Sources: KellyMom and Today’s Parent