One of the most controversial aspects of breastfeeding in today’s world is the discussion over when a mother should wean her child. While there will be people who judge the decision and claim that breastfeeding into toddlerhood is “weird” or “gross”, it is not a new fad or trend amongst so-called “helicopter parents”.
Breastfeeding into toddlerhood is a process that has been seen as natural and beneficial throughout human history. It is only in recent years that breastfeeding has been considered odd or out of the norm. Below we will discuss the benefits of breastfeeding into toddlerhood, with some tips to help you continue to breastfeed your child until both of you are ready to wean.
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Benefits of Breastfeeding Toddlers
The busybodies who go out of their way to tell you that breastfeeding your toddler just isn’t the right way to parent will often tout that the benefits accompanying breastfeeding an infant disappear once the child has transitioned into toddlerhood. This is silly. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that breastfeeding should continue past year one for as long as the mother and child are comfortable with it. UNICEF and the World Health Organization take this advice a little further by advocating for women to breastfeed their children past two years of age. The benefits for continuing breastfeeding are great!
While it is true that most toddlers will be getting most of their nutrition from other sources, such as solid foods, cow’s milk, etc., breastmilk can still provide a lot of added nutrition into their diet. Some experts even believe that the chemical composition of the mother’s milk will change into a formula that is more beneficial to toddlers. Breastfeeding is also great for children who may be picky eaters and are not getting all the vitamins or caloric content they need from solid foods.
Recent studies into the effects of breastfeeding show that toddlers who continue to breastfeed gain more omega-3 fatty acids, or DHA, that are unique to breast milk. This is important as these fatty acids are correlated to an increase in cognitive function.
Many people will try to tell you that children who are breastfed past a year of age will become fearful, clingy, and spoiled children who cannot do anything on their own. This is the opposite of the truth. Studies have shown that children who have the security of knowing they can return to the comfort of their mother’s bosom are far more likely to explore the world around them without fear. The child is having their dependency needs met, which allows them to grow emotionally. Pushing a child into independence too quickly is what normally results in clingy and desperate behavior.
One of the most important benefits toddlers gain by continuing breastfeeding is added immune system support. This can lead to fewer ear infections, cold, sinus issues, or allergies in your child. Toddlers are explorers, often exploring with their mouths, which can lead to an uptick in disease. However, the immunities present in your breastmilk can help your child avoid these ailments. Breastmilk is also soothing to upset stomachs when your child does become ill.
A longer breastfeeding period has been correlated to healthier futures moving forward. Adults who were breastfed as toddlers often show signs of lower cholesterol and lower blood pressure. They are also less likely to develop type-2 diabetes or be obese.
With how busy and on the move toddlers can be, they can also become overwhelmed by their busy actions. Breastfeeding can provide these children with times to simply relax and bond with mom, allowing them to recharge their batteries before they inevitable zoom off to their next activity.
As toddlers explore their world, comfort might be necessary. When the child is feeling anxious, unsure, or is upset or injured, breastfeeding can help to create a soothing moment for them. This is similar to encouraging independence mentioned above, but also to help support the knowledge that mom is always around and able to calm any upsets.
Benefits for You
That’s right! Breastfeeding into toddlerhood is not only beneficial for your child, but it’s a great option for your own health as well. Breastfeeding for over a year can help reduce the mother’s risk of certain types of cancers such as ovarian and breast cancer. In addition to helping you avoid developing cancer, breastfeeding into toddlerhood can also help you maintain a healthy weight. Your body burns calories breastfeeding and this can help you avoid unhealthy weight gain.
Tips for Breastfeeding a Toddler
Ignore the Naysayers
You will encounter this a lot from both your friends and family and also from random strangers. Breastfeeding in public is a controversial topic for many people, and this weird social taboo increases as the age of the child increases. Ignore them; you are making the choice that you feel is best for your family.
Toddlers are an active bunch for sure! They love to wiggle and move, and this extends to breastfeeding time in which they may try to breastfeed upside down, on one foot, or switching positions constantly. You can try to calm this by giving them a toy to fidget with, singing a song or reading a story, or even by using gentle but firm reminders to teach discipline.
To ensure less embarrassment in public, and just to teach your breastfeeding toddler manners, you might consider teaching them to either sign and ask for nursing, or ask them to use an appropriate term like “milk, please”, “Nursey” or others. This can help your child still express their desire to nurse and use their ever-increasing language skills.
Toddlers are often impatient, but they can wait for something if they have to. If breastfeeding your toddler in public is not worth the hassle for you, teaching your child the meaning of the term “wait” may be beneficial. Be sure to give them a timeline, however. “I understand you would like to nurse but first we need to pack up our picnic, walk to the car, drive home, and then we will nurse.” This gives them a checklist to work off, and helps them delay gratification for a little longer.