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Breastfeeding your toddler

Feeling pressured to wean your toddler?

 

 

It's entirely normal and natural to breastfeed an older child.

older baby 2

Well done!  You have made it to 12 months (or more) of breastfeeding your baby.  The two of you have a good relationship and have enjoyed it.

But perhaps you’re wondering whether to keep on going. People may be advising you to stop and you may be doubting whether your child still needs your breastmilk.    

Why keep breastfeeding your toddler? 

Research shows that breastfeeding is still important for you and your child during the toddler years.

Distracted toddlers are sometimes too busy to eat.  Knowing that in the short feeds they have a high kilojoule food packed with nutrients makes for peace of mind. 

It's entirely normal and natural to breastfeed an older child.  

  • In Australia, 28% of children are still breastfeeding at 12 months. 

  • The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that children be breastfed for at least 2 years.    

  • Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) recommends that breastfeeding continue once solids have been introduced for as long as mother and baby desire. 

Breastfeeding your toddler can provide:

  • 29% of daily energy needs 

  • 43% of protein requirements 

  • 75% of Vitamin A requirements 

  • 60% of Vitamin C requirements. 

  • 76% of folate requirements

  • 94% of vitamin B12 requirements

  • 36% of calcium requirements

With these nutrients, breastmilk still protects your toddler from illness.  As the number of feeds they take reduces, the concentration of immune factors increases.     

The longer you breastfeed your child, the more you reduce the risks in your child of 

  • gastrointestinal infections 

  • respiratory infections 

  • ear infections 

  • dental malocclusions 

  • overweight and obesity 

  • lower IQ. 

More than just the health benefits

There are other reasons to keep breastfeeding if it suits you and your child.  

  • If your child is sick, they will tolerate breastmilk more easily than food. 

  • If your child is hurt, breastfeeding can soothe their discomfort. 

  • Your child is able to outgrow being a baby at their own pace. 

  • The emotional security of breastfeeding is very important for many toddlers. 

  • Your child can be weaned onto a cup instead of a bottle.  

  • Breastfeeding gives time for both you and your toddler to have a rest during the day.  

Indigenous baby and mother

It's good for your health too

The benefits are not only for your child but also for you. Mums who breastfeed longer (over one or more lactations) have a reduced risk of  

  • breast cancer 

  • ovarian cancer 

  • type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.  

Breastfeeding has a positive effect on the relationship you have with your child. Breastfeeding releases oxytocin, a love hormone. It is hard to breastfeed and feel cranky at the same time, no matter what difficult behaviour your child has shown! 

  • It’s convenient and time-saving. 

  • For some mums it continues to delay return of fertility. 

How is breastfeeding a toddler different to breastfeeding a baby? 

For a toddler, breastfeeding can be more about reconnecting with mum, rather than a straight source of food. Here's what breastfeeds might look like:  
 

  • Feeds are usually quite short and may only take a minute. Don’t worry, you still have milk! Your child can just take a large amount of milk in a short time. 

  • Feeds might be very frequent one day and the next day they may only have a couple of feeds. Some mums say when their toddler is starting to walk, they go back to a newborn feeding pattern as they learn to balance being able to move away from mum with needing to be near mum. 

  • Toddlers can be quite wriggly, and love trying out different ways to position themselves at the breast. They are heavier to hold and you may need to try different positions to see which is the most comfortable for you.  

Managing the comments

Many friends and family members (and society in general) think that mums shouldn’t keep breastfeeding as their baby gets older. Everybody understands that new babies need breastmilk yet some don't realise how important it is for a toddler too.   

You may need to choose who you talk to about this. Some people will be happy to learn more, others have closed minds. For these people you may need to find a short statement that closes the topic and moves on to other areas of discussion. If you need support, you will find like-minded people at ABA gatherings.  

Lisa, mother of three

Breastfeeding is the most powerful tool a mother of a toddler has. With a few quick sucks you can soothe a sore knee or a tantrum, or get an overtired child off to sleep in minutes. We'd be mad to give it up too quickly.  

Maria, mother of Sam, 3

 I couldn't bear to get up when Sam woke at 6:30 on those cold winter mornings. By breastfeeding we could stay cuddled up together in our big, warm bed for another half hour or so. It was a lovely way to start the day for both of us.

If your child has celebrated several birthdays, you can say with confidence 'Yes, we're still doing that and it's still good for both of us!'


© Australian Breastfeeding Association April 2022