Breastfeeding a toddler can be challenging, but there are so many benefits of breastfeeding a toddler and it is important for the health of both mom and baby.
Some moms are not able to breastfeed past infancy because they feel nursing a toddler is too difficult or time consuming. There are many reasons why breastfeeding beyond 1 year can be beneficial for mom and baby alike!
Here are 17 benefits of breastfeeding your toddler!
1. It provides nutrition for the baby
Breast milk provides a ton of nutrients to your baby. For example, it contains antibodies that can lower your baby’s risk of infections that are passed through breast milk. Breast milk continues to provide essential nutrients to your child as long as they are receiving it.
2. Breast milk decreases the risk of ear infections
Since breast milk contains antibodies to help fight infections, it can help prevent ear infections. This can be especially helpful if your child has a history of ear infections.
3. Breastfeeding enhances the bond between mother and child
When you breastfeed your toddler, it strengthens the emotional bond between you and your child. This is one reason why breastfeeding toddlers decrease instances of behavior problems in school age children.
4. It provides many immunities to fight off diseases
Breast milk is also filled with antibodies that can give your baby protection against harmful germs that could cause serious illnesses.
5. It reduces the risk for your child to develop asthma
Extended breastfeeding can reduce the risk of asthma. A population study in Canada shows that the longer you breastfeed your child, the lower the risk of them developing asthma later on. The results suggest that breastfeeding for at least 9 months and beyond can significantly reduce the risk of developing asthma-related symptoms in early childhood compared to those who only breastfed for under 2 months.
6. It reduces the risk for obesity
Breastfeeding can reduce your child’s risk of being obese. A new study reports that children who were breast-fed for longer than 7 months had a lower body mass index (BMI) than their formula-fed counterparts. Researchers also say there was a dose response relationship between breastfeeding and obesity risk- meaning the longer the duration of breastfeeding, the more protected from obesity the baby was.
7. It helps prevent chronic conditions
Children who are breastfed have a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes, childhood cancer, Crohn’s disease, celiac disease and more. Babies who are not breastfed tend to have higher rates of type 1 diabetes. They also have increased risks for sudden infant death syndrome, respiratory infections and asthma. Parents should also be aware that breastfeeding can affect their own health as well because it decreases the mother’s chances of developing high cholesterol, breast cancer and many other diseases. When you think about it this way, breastfeeding truly is something that provides protection for both mother and child.
8. It provides an ideal source of nutrients for the immune system to develop
Breastfeeding has some great immune factors and is considered one of the best ways to introduce beneficial bacteria into a newborn child’s digestive tract, which helps strengthen their immune system.
9. It makes moms healthier
Research shows moms that breastfeed are at a lower risk of developing cancer. In particular, these cancers have been studied: breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and endometrial cancer. There is a cumulative effect as well, so the more children you breastfeed, the lower your risk of cancer becomes.
10. It contributes to brain development
Babies that have been breastfed the longest are known to have great brain and cognitive development. Breastfeeding also contributes to brain development in older children, right up until the age of two.
11. It’s soothing to your baby
This is a great fix when your child is upset and needs help calming down. It can be especially helpful when they are sick or have just woken up from a nap.
Breastfeeding is a chance for Mom and baby to connect, but it’s also a way of calming young children in a stressful situation. Weiss says she’d rely on breastfeeding when her children fell down and hurt themselves. It gave her a way to distract and soothe the child, while also checking him or her out for cuts and bruises.
12. It’s good for oral development
Breastfeeding can help your baby’s oral development in an easier way than formula-fed infants because the movement while breastfeeding.
13. It boost your toddlers social development
Meeting your toddlers needs encourages them to have a sense of self-efficacy. This means they are more likely to meet the challenges life presents to them in an optimistic way. It also helps them become well adjusted socially when you consider breastfeeding toddlers.
Giving your child lots of skin-to-skin contact gives them lots of psychological benefits and helps them be well adjusted for the future. Breastfed babies are usually very interested in people and seem quite sociable.
14. It’s gives rests for moms
Sometimes moms need a reason to stop and rest. This is a great reason to stop and bond with your child. Breastfeeding is a wonderful time for mom and baby to calm down from the busyness of the day.
15. It leads to long term weight loss for mom
Studies show that moms that breastfeed for an extended period are shown to keep the weight off years after you finish breastfeeding.
Related article: Can You Diet While Breastfeeding? 9 Tips on How to Lose Weight
16. It creates an even stronger bond for mom and baby
There are many ways to bond with your child but there is something special snuggling close with your toddler while breastfeeding them. It’s a way to really connect with your little one and the closeness they feel when breastfeeding is something you both cherish.
17. Long term health benefits for mom and baby
Between the lower risk of cancers, cardiovascular disease, weight loss, and reduce high blood pressure, extended breastfeeding can benefit both you and your baby for life.
What is Extended Breastfeeding?
Extended breastfeeding can mean different things to different people or different cultures. In the United States extended breastfeeding might mean something completely different than in Europe. Some cultures consider breastfeeding an infant at least 2 years of age to be perfectly normal, while some cultures don’t even consider that extended. It can also mean different things depending on who you ask.
The current “Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk ” policies published by The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend breastfeeding infants for at least the first year of life. They also state that it is perfectly normal to breastfeed an infant past the age of 24 months of age, and continue breastfeeding for as long as mother and baby desire.
Many health professionals agree that breastfeeding a toddler is healthy and normal.
Regardless of what culture or society you live in, extended breastfeeding comes with many benefits for mother and baby. From helping mothers return to their pre-pregnancy weight faster, to reducing the risk of illness in both mother and child, breastfeeding a toddler has many health benefits for both the child and the mother.
Is breastfeeding beyond infancy recommended?
The Academy of American Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that mothers exclusively breastfeed their baby for 6 months and continue to breastfeed for at least the first year of life. The AAP also recommends breastfeeding as long as “mutually desired by mother and infant.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends exclusively breastfeeding for the first 6 months, and then continuing to breastfeed for “up to 2 years and beyond.”
Like both The AAP and WHO, American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) recommends continuing to breastfeed for at least 1 year.
How long a child should be breastfed is a very personal choice, and there is no right answer. The important thing is that it’s beneficial in both the short term and the long term.
Tips for Extended Nursing
Nursing a baby is easy, but nursing an older infant or young child entails a set of additional difficulties. Here is some breastfeeding advice for parents.
Breastfeeding when your baby eats solids
The amount that your toddler will breastfeed when they are eating solid foods will vary from child to child. For some, it might be a few sips once or twice a day. Others may breastfeed more regularly throughout the day. If your toddler is breastfeeding less often than they used to, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they are getting all their nutritional needs from their food.
Related article: Breastfeeding & Solids Schedule for a 6 Month Old
Nursing positions and tips for breastfeeding your toddler
Breastfeeding a toddler can be a little different than breastfeeding an infant. Your little one might like to nurse in different positions and be more independent than a younger baby.
As long as breastfeeding is going well and you and your little one are happy with it, you don’t have to make any changes. But if your child is having problems with nursing, these tips can help:
- Help him relax. Although some toddlers are independent, relaxed feeders, others need help to relax and open their mouths wide. Hold your toddler with one arm around his chest and the other under his bottom. Gently stroke or rub his back until he begins to relax into the nursing position. If you like you can sing a little song softly in his ear.
- Nurse in a comfortable position. You might want to nurse your toddler sitting up on your lap. Or he might like to be cradled in your arm, leaning against you with his legs straddling your waist. Another option is for him to sit on your lap with his legs stretched out, or sitting cross-legged.
- Find somewhere quiet and away from distractions. Toddlers can get distracted easily so finding a quiet place will help them settle down long enough to nurse.
What You Need to Know About Breastfeeding Beyond Infancy
Breastfeeding your toddler past infancy is completely normal. Children were designed to anticipate 2.5 to 7 years of nursing. So not only is it normal to breastfeed beyond a year but that’s how we are designed.
What role does breast milk play in an older baby’s diet?
Continue to breastfeed on demand or whatever is working for your family but try to have a dedicated time eating complementary foods in a high chair for a snack or a meal. This will build healthy habits for later in life.
Is there any benefit for the child to extend breastfeeding, or is it only for the parent?
We know that there are a lot of benefits for the mother but there are so many benefits for your child as well. Breast milk is packed full of nutrients that are essential for growth and development, especially during the first year of life, but also throughout childhood.
Breast milk is known to be a valuable source of nutrition in the toddler years. These include protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins A, D, E and K as well as certain minerals. Nature has designed it to be the perfect food for babies and young children.
The best thing is that it’s also known to have a positive impact on children’s mental health rather than babies that were fed infant formula.
What Are The Concerns About Extended Breastfeeding?
You might have some apprehensions on breastfeeding your toddler and beyond. Here is a deeper look at some concerns.
What to do if you get criticized for breastfeeding your toddler
Others might have opinions on how long you breastfeed your child. If you feel the need to respond to negative comments, then you might have some rebuttal prepared. Feel free to share the benefits of extended breastfeeding and that it is working for your family.
Try to not let other opinions get to you. Others can do what works for their family but you are doing what is best for yours and that is all that matters.
Will extended breastfeeding make the weaning process more difficult?
That will depend. A slow weaning process that is child lead will be extremely easy. An abrupt weaning process will be difficult.
A child’s natural state is to want to breastfeed, so if he or she has extended breastfeeding on his own accord there won’t be any tension in the home. If you pull away suddenly it can give your child feelings of loss and could be a bit more difficult.
In some cases though, a child might actually wean himself with no guidance from the parent at all. Some children just naturally reduce and then stop breastfeeding on their own. Usually this happens when they are around age 2 or 3 — but it can be earlier or later than that too.
Can extended breastfeeding affect your child’s emotional development?
Some are concerned that extended breastfeeding can cause a child to be needy but there has been no evidence to prove or even suggest this. When nursing mothers meet the emotional needs of their children while breastfeeding, it has been found to reduce conflict between parents and toddlers and has evidence of psychological benefits.
Extended breastfeeding is associated with better social adjustment in school age children.
How to create boundaries when breastfeeding your child
There might be a point when you want to continue to breastfeed but just not “on demand” and that is ok. It’s normal to feel like you want some boundaries as your child gets older. It’s completely understandable, and it won’t hurt their feelings if you don’t want to nurse all the time. Toddlers will understand what is going on and may even be upset at first, but then they’ll adjust just fine once they know that this is how things are going to be.
You can set specific times in your routine when you will breastfeed such as before quiet time and before bed. Once they adjust, they will be able to rely on this routine. If they want to nurse outside the times that work for you just communicate that “mommy is all done nursing right now” and find another activity to distract them.
Related article: For how often to breastfeed a toddler read this
What about nursing at night?
Nursing at night is common for toddlers. If this is working for you and your family then feel free to continue. If you would like to wean your toddler during the night or if it’s not working for you and your family, consider one of the following:
- Water at Night: If your child is thirsty before bed, offer her a big drink of water instead.
- Find other comforts: Give her a rubdown with lotion instead of nursing. You can also rock them side to side while rubbing their back so soothe them.
- Have the other parent comfort: If the non-breastfeeding parent is available, have them comfort your toddler. This way they are able to get the comfort that they need but they also know that breastfeeding isn’t an option.
- Nighttime cup of milk: If you are formula feeding, try offering a sippy cup at night. Some toddlers are happy with sippy cups of water or milk instead.
Related article: 15 Best Sippy Cups for Breastfed Babies
When You’re Ready to Wean Your Toddler
Most toddlers will wean on their own. But if you want to speed up the process, try some of these tips:
Don’t pull away while nursing. Remain calm, even if your toddler is tugging at you or hitting you while she nurses. Don’t give in by pulling her off of you or punishing her for these behaviors. She has a very real need to nurse and acting shocked or surprised by her behavior can make it worse.
Offer other ways to meet your toddler’s needs for comfort, security and nurturing. Instead of saying, “Sorry you’re upset,” give her a big hug and say something like, “I know it’s hard when we can’t nurse. I’ll always be your mommy and you will always be my little girl.”
When should you wean?
There is never a set age where you need to wean your child. Do so only when you are ready. Just because your child is over a year or two doesn’t mean she’s ready to stop nursing completely. Many children nurse until their second year of life and even their third year of life and beyond.
It’s up to you whether you wean gradually or all at once. You can gradually shorten sessions and eventually stop offering the breast altogether, or you can stop cold turkey. Sometimes it can be easier to gradually ease your child off of the breast instead of abruptly ending the nursing relationship.
Breastfeeding is a natural and healthy way to provide your toddler with nutrients, emotional security, and comfort. It also benefits mom as it lowers your risk of breast cancer as well as other cancers. If you are considering weaning from breastfeeding or know someone who may be interested in doing so, feel free to check out this article for more information on the benefits of continuing to breastfeed. There are so many benefits to breastfeeding a toddler. The decision whether or not to do so should always remain up to mom!
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