There’s been a lot of mums with babies turning one in the breastfeeding group I facilitate — now that they’ve reached this milestone, these mums are reluctant to wean, yet are finding themselves under scrutiny now that their ‘baby’ is growing up. They feel increasingly uncomfortable when feeding a larger baby in public or even in front of extended family, are told by anyone who feels the need to comment that their child doesn’t ‘need’ their milk anymore, advised to cut down to one or two feeds a day to make more room for food — no wonder not many Australian mums continue feeding beyond this. According to the World Health Organization, breastmilk is the main source of nutrition until a child is 12 months old, but the area beyond that is a bit fuzzier in terms of definition, ‘they should be given nutritious complementary foods and continue breastfeeding up to the age of two years or beyond’. So how do you go about that?
The emergence of the toddler means that breastfeeding enters a new phase. These little people become much more demanding and sure of what they want. Sometimes this means they want more, shorter feeds – a cuddle and a cold pack just doesn’t cut it when there’s a scraped knee, but a quick feed can calm the crying in seconds flat. Overnight feeds, while not ‘necessary’ for nutrition and development, may just help a lonely night waker to resettle quicker, and get everyone more sleep in the process. Yes, this may create a ‘habit’, and mums I know who do feed toddlers overnight often find themselves under criticism for it but why should they? It’s their child, their home, their routine. In terms of how often to feed, some children are only interested in one or two feeds in 24 hours and really hoe into family foods, other boobie addicts want five or even 10 and just pick at what parents and siblings are eating — all extremes are normal and healthy, there is no one right way. My theory is that they are only little once. Before you know it, they are at school and all big and grown up and raring to race away and play with their friends rather than stick around for a cuddle.
Many mums take 12 months maternity leave and then go back to work. Some childcare centres assume children are weaned at this age and requests to come in to feed your child at lunchtime or at pickup can be met with puzzled looks. If this has happened to you, encourage your centre to become a Breastfeeding Welcome Here venue. In case you’re worrying your child has never gone all day without feeding, or always feeds before naps, I have chatted to many mums about this, and often it’s a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’ — once breasts (and mummy) aren’t there, they don’t expect them. Just like a partner or Grandma can put children down for naps without boobs, so can childcare workers, it’s what they do.
The other day, a mum in one of my Facebook groups came away elated after a doctor’s appointment. When he found out she was still breastfeeding her 2-year-old, he said how rarely he comes across this in Australia (less than 1 per cent of Australian children are breastfed at this age) and that he was 'stunned and so pleased'. He went on to say his mother fed him in India until he was 3 ½ and told her what an 'amazing start' she was giving her child. His external validation 'really spurred me on', this mother told me, and made her realise how little support she’d received so far because 'most people’s reaction is surprise rather than congratulations.' Doctors, child health nurses, keep it up! Let’s encourage, not cut back on feeding beyond the first year.
For more information on Breastfeeding Welcome Here venues, check out https://www.breastfeeding.asn.au/services/welcome
Info on breastfeeding a toddler: https://www.breastfeeding.asn.au/bf-info/general-breastfeeding-information/breastfeeding-your-toddler