Ten Reasons I Choose to Nurse My Toddler

April 10th, 2011 by Dionna | 30 Comments
Posted in Breastfeeding/Lactivism, Carnival and Special Series, Compassionate Advocacy, Feed with Love and Respect, Guest Posts, Healthy Living, Joys of Breastfeeding Past Infancy, Just for Fun/Miscellaneous, natural parenting

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Today I am happy to host a guest post by Kim. Kim is a recent stay at home mom who is passionate about breastfeeding and enjoys her nursing relationship with her two year old little lady. She has found the journey into parenthood inspiring, exciting and life changing. She blogs about natural, child led learning, toddler activities and other AP topics at life-is-learning. Here is her breastfeeding guest post, number 33 in our “Joys of Breastfeeding Past Infancy” series:
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When I was pregnant, it seemed like everyone wanted to know if 1) I was going to nurse, and 2) for how long. I don’t think I even knew humans breastfed prior to becoming pregnant; I had never seen it, but for some reason, my answer to the questions was always “Yes, I’m going to give breastfeeding a try for at least six months and then it depends on how it goes after the baby gets teeth.” For some reason, I was doubtful and kept those free formula samples in the cupboard “just in case” (never did use them). I had read about the risks of feeding babies with formula and I knew I wanted to try breastfeeding. What I didn’t know was about the amazing aspects of a nursing relationship *other* than food. We have blown past 6 months, 12 months and 24 months. I definitely didn’t plan on extended nursing, but why stop a good thing? We wean when she is ready. Gumby still nurses very often and we both absolutely love our special time together.

1. Bonding, Cuddling and Snuggling Time

As your little angel gets more and more mobile, you may find that the little baby that wanted held and snuggled and rocked begins to change into a little toddler that can’t stop moving! Gumby is always on the go, and nursing the little squirmy critter that seemed to somehow grow eight eight-feet long legs is how she got her nickname Gumby the Octopus. But sometimes, that little octopus of mine retracts her extra legs and just wants to lay and nurse. Sometimes she runs her hands over my face; sometimes she wants me to sing to her; sometimes she wants me to hold her and hug her as tight as I can while I’m mooching her; sometimes she just gazes lovingly into my eyes. And at all times, I melt and am so grateful for our special time together.

Christmas Morning Cuddles, Gumby age 27 months

2. A Soothing and Calming Experience

When I nurse Gumby, there is a certain calm and peacefulness that enters into both of us. Science will tell you that it is because of the hormone prolactin that is released during nursing and that the act of nursing blocks stress receptors, but I think it is so much more. Nursing a toddler continues to be about, not just feeding, but also about nurturing the relationship between mother and child, just as it was with an infant.

3. A Way to Reconnect

Anytime I am gone from Gumby, when I return, I am greeted with a vivacious “I need nummies!” Whatever it is she was doing is immediately stopped. Whatever thoughts or negativity that I returned with are put aside. Our focus is solely on each other. It is almost as if we were never apart. With mamma’s milk flows the hormone oxytocin which releases feelings of love and nurturing.

Nursing also helps promote reconnections during the day. Sometimes toddlers and mamma’s do not quite see eye to eye on everything; sometimes the two of us have what I call an “off” kind of day where we just can’t seem to get on the same page with each others. Whatever the case may be, nursing serves as a wonderful time for us to stop what we are doing and just remind each other and ourselves that we love each other.

4. Finally Confident Enough

It took me until Gumby was threemonths old to stop hiding to nurse. I spent so many of her early days hiding in the bedroom when visitors would come. Not because I was embarrassed, I have always been proud of breastfeeding my baby. But, I have also been a very private person. I don’t even like V-neck shirts. But, as Gumby grew, I, too, grew; and got tired of sitting in a room alone. I finally realized that I could nurse discreetly, protecting my privacy, but also any time and any place in order to meet my baby’s needs. Okay, so maybe it didn’t take me until she was considered a toddler, but the longer we nurse, the more confident I am, both in my actions and my decisions.

Nursing Gumby at 22 months on a bench at a Zoo

5. Dental Benefits

Breastfeeding itself requires the use of different facial muscles than sucking on a bottle or pacifier. The exercising of these muscles results in better jaw alignment and a lowered need for future orthodontic work.1 Breastmilk contains lactoferrin, which kills the bacteria that causes tooth decay. In addition, the milk proteins coat and protect the enamel. I am not saying this is a substitute for regular brushing, but I am saying that toddlers have teeth and this can’t hurt.2 As a side note to anyone who may be worried about nursing a little one with teeth, it is physically impossible to nurse and bite at the same time.

6. No Other Lovies Needed

Gumby doesn’t really have a favorite toy, blankie, etc. If we go somewhere, while we do pack things (and sometimes it feels like the entire house), there isn’t any one item that we really need to remember to take with us. Whether she asks or not, “Nummies go too.” I have never left home without them.

7. Health Benefits for Mom

Besides the fact that Gumby was over two years old when my ol’ Aunt Flo came to visit for the first time in a long time, breastfeeding lowers the risk of several cancers (breast, ovarian, uterine, endometrial), rheumatoid arthritis, and protects against osteoporosis.3 Often, the health benefits continue to increase the longer nursing is continued.

8. Health benefits for toddler

The same reasons that mother nature designed breastmilk for infants still applies for as long as the child nurses. They will continue to have less illnesses, fewer ear infections, fewer allergies, lowered risk of asthma, lowered risk of obesity, lowered risk of diabetes, lowered risk of heart disease, lowered risk for central nervous system degenerative disorders, lowered risk of digestive diseases, lowered risk of multiple sclerosis, lowered risk for sleep apnea, better eyesight, and increased cognitive development.4

Still happily nursing at 29 months

9. In Times of Sickness

Breastmilk is alive and changing all of the time. As toddlers become more active and social in the word, they are exposed to more germs and potentially illnesses. Should a toddler pick up a virus, it will be transferred to the mother while nursing. Not that mom will get sick (though she may through any of the close contact that comes with having a little one), but her body will make the antibodies *on the spot* and pass back to the toddler via breastmilk. This could happen before your nursling even shows signs of illness. Breastmilk is very gentle on the stomach and intestines. It provides a protective lining against germs in the intestines. It could be the only thing your little one wants to consume and/or can hold down. All of this, in addition to the emotional closeness and comfort.

10. Comforting an Upset Toddler

Over the summer, we were on vacation and staying at a hotel. We had just finished swimming, but Gumby still had some energy to run off, so we were in the common area playing and she was running around. And then, it happened. She took off at full speed and turned, smacking her forehead right into the corner of a table. It grounded her instantly and she screamed like I had not heard before. We sat right down to nurse, while Deeda tried to figure out what to do next. She was so upset; and, have you ever seen forehead bumps swell? They swell right before your eyes and look horrible. But, she latched on. The screams turned to whimpers and the whimpers turned to calm . . . within *minutes.*. I was grateful to be able to sooth her when she was so upset and in so much pain. Toddlers fall. The comforting aspects of nursing are still very necessary at this age.

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Breastfeeding past infancy is full of laughter, joys, and heartbreaking tenderness. I am publishing a series of posts dedicated to the beauty of nursing toddlers in an effort to normalize this healthy and beneficial nursing relationship. But this isn’t just about me – I want to hear YOUR joys. If you are nursing a child who is older than one year, please contact me and tell me about your favorite moments. I will include them in the series and credit you, your site, or post it anonymously if you so desire. (This series was formerly called “The Joys of Breastfeeding a Toddler.” I changed the name to reflect the fact that we are celebrating women who breastfeed past infancy, regardless of the age of the nursling.)

30 Responses to:
"Ten Reasons I Choose to Nurse My Toddler"

  1. Alicia C.   amccrenshaw

    This is a great post. I think I may just print a couple of copies to hand out to disapproving friends and family and the opinionated public! I never thought I’d still be nursing a 2-1/2 y.o., but I am and I’m fine with it. He’s only been sick with a cold once – no other health problems – EVER!

  2. Fawn

    Great post!!! I would love to nurse ds into his toddler years. The only problem is that I am only able to nurse on one breast. I want to have another child and I don’t think I can nurse two on one breast. It’s been hard nursing one on one breast. Do you have any insight to this delima?

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Fawn if you want to give me a little more information on why you have only nursed with one breast, I’m happy to post your question on the NursingFreedom.org Facebook page – I bet you’ll get some helpful advice!

      • Fawn

        Some of the milk ducts are scarred on that side. I tried my hardest to increase supply, the most I ever got it to produce was a half an ounce (based on before/after weighing of DS). It was a struggle to get DS to eat from that side, he’d scream and fuss until I moved him to the better side so I gave up after four months of trying and have nursed exclusively on one breast since. Thank you for offering to help, I appreciate it!

    • Kim

      Fawn, I think it’s amazing that you have continued to nurse with the challenges you have faced. I hope you enjoy as long of a nursing relationship with your ds as you both want and find some suggestions from mamma’s who have been in your position.

  3. Lovely post!
    Soooo true especially the no lovie part. All the non breastfed kids that I personally know need this constant teddy they alway have no matter where they go. And I’m not saying if you are nursing a toddler that every single one won’t have that need for a security item. My experience with my child is she doesn’t have one and even if she’s playing with a toy and I say “you wanna go to town with mama?” she drops her toy and runs to me to go. She doesn’t have a security item.
    19 months and going strong. Thanks for the post!
    Katie

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Interesting tidbit – on my research for a “cosleeping past infancy” post I did for NPN awhile ago, I also found research that supports the proposition that kids who cosleep past infancy are less likely to need a lovey. Now, they didn’t say this in the research, but I’d be willing to bet that many of those mamas were also breastfeeding – maybe it’s the combination. (And of course there is nothing wrong with a child who does use a lovey – there are also many breastfed children who do have one!)

  4. karyn   kloppenmum

    I breastfed all three of our kids into toddlerhood. One until 15 months, one 19 months and one until 3 years and 8 months of age. It was one of the things I absolutely wanted to do before becomming a Mum that I didn’t change or want to change with experience.
    Great Post.
    (I have a post coming up on worldmomsblog in a week or two about the end of my time – 10 years – sharing my body with my kids. I can let you know when it is published if you want to reblog it.)

    • Kim

      karyn, thanks for reading. your post on sharing your body with your kids sounds interesting – i like the way you word that!

  5. Gomthong

    Good for you if that works for you and your child. Breastfeeding is a not a cure all. I was breastfed and from birth until 7 I had chronic and constant ear infections. I had to have tubes put in my ears. As long as breastfeeders respect my decision on how I feed my child, I will respect however long you choose to breastfeed yours.

  6. Christine

    Thank You for this post. I have just recently been struggling to rationalize why I am continuing to nurse my 16 month old. I have been getting the “looks” and the questions as to when I will wean him. Honestly I had no intentions of nursing him this far either…..it just happened and it is great. My first son weaned around 18 months (when I got preggers again)and I am going to just follow this ones lead. I love your reasons and feel the same. Thanks Again!

  7. Beth

    This is absolutely moving. It gave me goosebumps. KUDOS to you mama!!!!!

  8. FanTAStic post! Nursed my son to 22 months (wish i would have gone longer) and still nursing my now 14 month old with no intention on stopping. Every single thing in this post I can relate to. People have tried to tell me that nursing to sleep is bad for teeth…and I had never really thought about it the way you put it, but my kids have never had a lovey either!!! I guess I’m their lovey! YAY! As it should be.

  9. CJ

    My partner thinks we should stop at a year! I’m going to share this post with her! GREAT points!!

    • Kristen

      CJ – Have your partner do some research on their own. My husband felt the same until he spent some time at the library by himself. He came back fully supportive of me nursing our toddler and then HE was the one telling everyone how awesome I was for doing it, whether people asked or not :)

  10. My five month old has ben going through a rough patch where he doesn’t like to eat at the breast long enough to sleep through the night. He is constantly latching and then letting go. I’ve had to pump to get him enough food, because he’ll take it from a bottle just fine. I hope this passes and we are even considering breastfeeding as a toddler.

  11. Vanessa   jewelsntreasure

    I LOVE this! I breastfed my oldest until she was 2 years, 8 months, and 8 days. Although she has nursed since then and she is almost 4. My second child is 22 months and we are still going strong! My third is 9 months and obviously nursing. So there have been times I have triandem nursed and I LOVE it! :)

    • Kim

      Vanessa,
      very neat on triandem nursing! i think it would be sweet to tandem nurse two kids … i tandem dd and a stuffed animal often, lol .. if she is still nursing when number 2 comes along i plan to do that.

  12. Jessica | Cloth Diapering Mama   clothmamajess

    GREAT guest-post!! I nursed my oldest until 23 months…I REALLY wish I went just a tad longer because that special cuddle time ended right then and there :( My little one is 10 months and people always ask when I’ll stop nursing and I CRINGE at the thought of stopping!!! No time soon is my answer ;)

  13. ioana

    Nice post, it’s great that it’s working for you and your child, but seriously, with a major injury, I would just hold my children (I have two girls) kiss and caress them, talking to them and put something cold on the bump, I would never think of sticking the nipple into the child’s mouth when falls down and it’s painful.

    My girls are the world for me, I love them to the moon and back and they love me and daddy the same. We have a great relationship, we hold and look into each others eyes, they caress my face and we share lots of love, but that has nothing to do with having the nipple in their mouth or not.

    Antibodies, the baby/toddler’s body should, and it is, creating antibodies for the illness, the body doesn’t wait for the mom to take the virus, to create antibodies and then give it to the kid, it is possible, like this too, but the child’s body is already creating antibodies on it’s own.

    It is not really true that health benefits tend to increase for as long as continued. That would mean that regardless of age, breast milk would be the universal cure for everything or to help at any age. And this is not true, nor should replace regular feeding.

    A lot of things relate to immunity in childhood and not only. There are tests to show how one’s immune system works, try to read about MBL, Immunodeficiency, Immunoglobuline A, G, M, Complements and other important factors for the immune system, unfortunately milk has nothing to do with this. But since brings happiness to both mother and child, as long as the child is comfortable, I believe it should go on.

    Hahve a nice and pleasant evening!

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Ioana – I’m so glad that you stopped by, read, and responded to this post. I wanted to respond to a few things that you said:

      First – as far as “major injuries,” if your children are soothed in the way you described, that is wonderful. But breastfeeding mamas have one other tool at their disposal: not only does breastmilk contain chemicals (endorphins) that help to suppress pain in the child, but nursing for most children is an incredibly calming moment that helps them recover from their injury. Many times has my son scraped knees or bumped his head and the first thing he asks for is “mama milk.”

      Second – of course a child’s body is creating antibodies, but the breastfed child enjoys the added benefits of extra antibodies from mom. And what’s even more incredible? “Antibodies are abundant in human milk throughout lactation. In fact, some of the immune factors in breastmilk increase in concentration during the second year and also during the weaning process.” See Extended Breastfeeding Fact Sheet (citing Goldman AS. et al., Immunologic Components in Human Milk During Weaning, Acta Paediatr Scand. 1983 Jan;72(1):133-4; Goldman, A., Goldblum R.M., Garza C., Immunologic Components in Human Milk During the Second Year of Lactation, Acta Paediatr Scand 1983 May;72(3):461-2; Hamosh M, Dewey, Garza C, et al: Nutrition During Lactation. Institute of Medicine, Washington, DC, National Academy Press, 1991, pp. 133-140)

      Finally – So the above is evidence that some health benefits actually increase with the child’s age (although I couldn’t find where Kimra made that specific statement after a quick re-read of her piece).

      Regardless of the many benefits of breastfeeding and breastfeeding past infancy, by publishing this series of posts we’re really just hoping to help normalize the practice – not bicker over benefits or whether practice A works better for this family or practice B for that family. We simply hope that more people come to understand and respect the nursing relationship.

  14. Charise@I Thought I Knew Mama   ithoughtiknewma

    Great post! We’re so lucky to be breastfeeding mamas!

  15. Holly

    I have to say this piece says so much of what I experience :) We have no lovies (other than momma) to remember to take with us or lose. We have seen health benefits, including that dangerously high fever that never required anything except baths, cool towel, the one time I panicked and gave him some motrin and TONS of momma milk. Or the time he was vomiting and wanted more food… he would nurse, vomit, nurse vomit.. but the milkies made him feel better in a comfort way and in filling his tummy right back up (he was starving) when he wanted something in it.. when I didn’t want anything else in it. He recovered SO quickly! THANK GOD! Also, #10… that’s the clincher for me! We may continue nursing until adulthood for that one alone ROFL :) He falls, he hits his head, he gets his feelings hurt, his brother takes something from him, ANY upset at all can be cured by a 20 second nursing session :)

    I don’t think anyone agrees that this should be the *only* thing a child over 1 is getting.. but it should be as big of a part of the child’s life as the child wishes! I mean SERIOUSLY! If cancer patients are drinking momma milk and getting benefits I know my healthy toddler is getting benefits from it:) I LOVE that we are able to nurse and enjoy this time together :) We get a lot of the Lovin’ time too.. He is SOO BUSY!!! But when he wants his milkies he will drop EVERYTHING to come get some :) It’s a great distraction too! :) Very few temper tantrums when you can simply lift your shirt and make everything right with the world once again :)

  16. Hannah   HaRae

    So true! I just nursed my 21 month old son through his first illness. We were both sick with a nasty 24 hour flu (followed by a few days of diarrhea for my son) in a foreign country on a holiday (nothing was open in the tiny town we were staying in). I am pregnant and I was exhausted. It took us a few days to get rehydrated and back to normal. I think that if he had not been nursing, he would have at least needed to be checked out at the ER, probably in a neighboring town, for dehydration, and we both would have lost a day of actually resting and recovering if we had to travel, wait, be seen, travel home.

  17. Amy

    Beautiful post. But I must disagree with one of your points in the “dental” section; my 8 mth old son now has 5 teeth and he actively bites while nursing at every session. He just chomps down so hard, I have bite marks all around (4 of the 5 teeth leave serious marks). It does hurt. So. Much. But I love him and am doing what is best for him. He has once broke the skin while nursing. So, not true, biting while nursing is possible.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      I think Kimra is talking about *actively* nursing – when a child nurses, their tongue goes over the front of their bottom (I think!) teeth – so while it is possible for them to bit with the top teeth, they can’t bite with both top and bottom while actually getting milk out. But yes, during nursing sessions biting is definitely possible ;)

      • Kim

        yes, that is what I meant! :)

        i hope you are able to get through this biting stage and continue and enjoy your relationship! :)

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