Breastfeeding a toddler
I read a lovely quote by Alanis Morissette the other day “I see my body as an instrument, rather than an ornament”, it made me think about breastfeeding and it fits just perfectly how I look at my body and its ability to feed JJ, who is now 20 months old and still breastfeed.
First of all, what made me want to write another blog post about breastfeeding? To see my first breastfeeding blog click here. I wanted to write about breastfeeding again, because much too often I hear this sentence “When they are old enough to ask for it that means it is time to stop!”. Why would someone even say that? I have heard it from mothers and non mothers, from breastfeeding mothers and non breastfeeding mothers. Regardless of how old your child is they will still benefit from breastmilk, and no one has the right to tell a mother when to stop breastfeeding. No one!
In this post I am going to talk about our breastfeeding routing, touch upon the advantages for toddlers and mothers from breastfeeding, and later also tell you why I still feed JJ and intend on continuing, until he does not want it anymore.
Our daily breastfeeding routine
JJ has been breastfeed since he was born and eating solid meals alongside breastfeeding since he was a 6 months old. Now at 20 months he eats at least 3 meals each day and snacks in-between. On top of the solid meals he breastfeeds when he wants to. He typically starts the day with a feed before getting out of bed, then one before his afternoon nap, one when waking up from his nap, one between nap and dinner, and one when he goes to bed. He sleeps in our room and feeds during the night too. That is at least 5 feeds each day (not counting the feeds during the night), this can vary quite a bit depending on what we are doing during the day. If we are out and about it might be less, if he is not feeling well it might be more. It takes up a lot of time, but I do not mind. To be honest, I enjoy him enjoying it. The duration of his feeds vary a lot, some can last up to 30 minutes and some are just a few minutes long.
As he is not a baby anymore he is able to tell me when he wants milk. He will say bop bop and sometimes pull at my top. He sometimes has toys in his hands whilst feeding and he does not mind sharing the milk with them. Yes I have breastfeed toy cars, lego people and teddies. JJ also likes to try different feeding positions, luckily he mostly does this at home. People in a cafe would maybe find it a bit strange if they saw him trying to feed whilst almost doing a roly poly. If you ask me, breastfeeding a toddler is much more fun than breastfeeding a baby.
Breastmilk still has value after 1 year
To some breastfeeding a baby is one thing and breastfeeding a toddler is another thing. To me this is not the case. The needs of a baby and a toddler are different, but the greatness of the milk is still the same.
As a breastfeeding mum I have several times been told, that after 6 months (some say 1 year) breastmilk has no nutritional value. I find this so strange. Why would there all of a sudden be no value to the breastmilk, it is milk after all and still contains proteins, fat and other nutritional components which babies and children need and benefit from. As adults we know that milk is good for us too and we are encouraged to drink it. The same goes for toddlers. Breastmilk is made by the human body for humans, so surely it would still be good for them.
There are many scientific studies, books and articles which provide information about the health advantages of long-term breastfeeding. (I will not go into too much detail, but have instead included a list of relevant reading at the end of this post). The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of a babies life and continued breastfeeding until 2 years of age or beyond. Research has shown that breastfeeding babies and toddlers can be linked with lower blood cholesterol and blood pressure later in life. Breastfeeding has also been associated with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes and less likelihood of being overweight or obese. In addition to this research has shown a positive relationship between cognitive development and breastfeeding.
Not only is it nutritional, it also has great emotional benefits. Breastfeeding is a safe place. By breastfeeding a toddler you are giving them comfort, love, security and a means of communication from a place which they have always knows. It is consistency. I sometimes call it a home away from home and it can be very calming in stressful situations.
Dependent vs. independent
We have all heard it, breastfeeding your toddler will make them dependant on you. Well of course toddlers are going to be dependant on us parents and they will continue to be so for a very long time. What I do not agree with is that breastfeeding will affect their independency later on in life. By letting the child self wean, I believe that they will be more independent and also more secure in their independency. When the child self weans it will be a big step for them. It is their own decision and making such a decision is a true milestone in their life.
What is the rush with making children independent? If a need is met, it will go away on its own, when the child is ready. I have never heard anyone say, that they are happy that their child grew up so fast, it is usually the other way around. I want to encourage JJ to make his own decisions and support him along the way.
What is in it for the mother
It is not uncommon to hear someone say that mothers who breastfeed toddlers are doing it for selfish reasons. Guess what, I do not agree! I can only speak for myself, but in many cases it would by now be easier for me if JJ was not breastfeeding. During the day I spend around 2 hours (minimum) breastfeeding, it would be easier if I could just give him a cup of milk (which he by the way also gets!). We do not breastfeed for easiness or selfishness, we breastfeed because of love.
In addition to all the benefits for the child, there are also a number of benefits for the mother. It is a win win situation really! Breastfeeding reduces the chances of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, uterine cancer and endometrial cancer. It also reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease. Last but not least, it helps mothers loose weight after pregnancy. The benefits are cumulative, which means that the more children you breastfeed and for longer, the more you benefit.
Fed is best
I feel a need to make it very clear, that I am not against formula or bottle feeding babies. I know that there are many articles out there trying to normalise breast feeding (#normalizebreastfeeding), and that some people automatically think that being pro breastfeeding means that your are anti formula, bottles and the likes. Not me. Every mother has their own unique situation, (some are not able to breastfeed, some choose not to) but I know that a mothers love is incomparable and that they all do the very best they can for their baby.
Why am I breastfeeding JJ into toddlerhood
I realise that by still breastfeeding JJ at 20 months I am treading outside the norm. Breastfeeding is a choice any mother can make (if able to) and how long you do it for is up to the mother and her child. I have chosen to carry on doing it until JJ lets me know, that he is ready to stop. I have no idea when this will be, but something tells me, that it will not be this week or maybe not even this year.
I have chosen to still breastfeed JJ because we both enjoy it and benefit from it. It gives both of us a break from what ever else we are doing. For him it is a break from learning through playing, for me it is a break from doing the dishes. It is like having a little place which only we know and can escape to. Whilst he breastfeeds we cuddle, I talk to him and as funny as it sounds he tries to talk back with his mouth full, it is beyond cute.
These moments of closeness through breastfeeding are what I imagined motherhood would be like. Getting to hold him so close, whilst everything else is put on hold, makes me incredibly content and fills me with a feeling of gratefulness.
Reading list for those interested
Does initial breastfeeding lead to lower blood cholesterol in adult life? A quantitative review of the evidence. Christopher G Owen et al, Am J Clin Nutr August 2008.
Infant nutrition and blood pressure in early adulthood: the Barry Caerphilly Growth study. Richard M Martin et al., Am J Clin Nutr, 2003.
Does breastfeeding influence risk of type 2 diabetes in later life? A quantitative analysis of published evidence. Christopher G Owen et al., Am J Clin Nutr, 2006.
Duration of breast-feeding and adiposity in adult life. Perrie F O’Tierney et al., J Nutr, 2008.
Advances in our understanding of the biology of human milk and its effects on the offspring. Lene Schack-Nielsen et al., J Nutr, 2007.
Infant nutrition and stereoacuity at age 4–6 y. Atul Singhal et al., Am J Clin Nutr , 2007.
Combination Formula/Breastfeeding and the Newborn. William T. Basco, Jr., MD, Medscape, 2011.
Of Bottles, Babies and Obesity. Lydia Furman et al., AAP News, 2016
Breast-feeding and cognitive development: a meta-analysis. Anderson JW, Johnstone BM, Remley DT. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 1999. .