Editor’s note: This guest piece was written by Summer about nursing a toddler. Summer is the stay-at-home mother of two monkey boys, a breastfeeding supporter, and never shy when it comes to talking about her breasts. You can read her voicing her opinions on parenting and life at Wired For Noise.
One day you’re curled up on the couch, baby nestled sweetly in your arms, nursing his as he drifts softly off to sleep. The next day your baby is hanging over your shoulder, trying to nurse upside down and eat a cookie at the same time. Welcome to breastfeeding your toddler.
Once your baby becomes a walking, giggling, climbing toddler breastfeeding will never be the same. Commonly referred to as the “Breastfeeding Olympics” by moms who have been there, there is rarely a calm moment anymore. All those hours spent in the soft light of nursing a cuddly baby are now replaced by flashes and darts, cartwheels and somersaults, and the silly joy that toddlers emit everywhere. With that bundle of energy bursting through out the house some parents see their baby turning into a child and feel that it is time to put breastfeeding behind them. However, nursing a toddler still has many benefits.
According to Kellymom, during the second year of nursing 15 ounces of breastmilk contains 43% of the required protein, 36% of the required calcium, 75% of the required vitamin A, 76%of the required folate, 94% of the required vitamin B12, and 60% of the required vitamin C. Any mom with a picky toddler knows how hard it can be to get food into them. Being able to provide all of that extra nutrition for a picky eater is not only healthy for your toddler, but also can make mom feel better about how much food is getting in verses how much is being thrown under the table. After the first year your milk also becomes more fatty and rich to provide more energy for dancing in circles for hours.
Breastfeeding a toddler also has emotional benefits for both mom and child. Breastmilk has a calming, soothing effect. Anyone who has had to struggle with a 30 pound toddler throwing a fit needs all the calming help they can get. Not just the milk but also the sucking action calms even the most upset toddler. Falls, bumps, tantrums, and over-tired meltdowns have all be smoothed over by a few minutes of cuddling and nursing. And, best of all, it has a soothing effect on mom too. Taking the time to sit, relax, and feel the frustration wash away gives me enough energy to get up and do it again.
Sometimes it’s lonely being the mom still nursing her toddler. Breastfeeding rates go down as the age of the nursling goes up. Sitting at the park with a newborn nursing in the sling was accepted, there were often other moms doing the same thing. But when it’s a two year old running up after falling off the slide people tend to be less than accepting. Though figures show that more moms are breastfeeding toddlers, it is still not seen as normal in most areas. Which, in a catch 22, makes moms more reluctant to nurse their toddler and thereby making it even less common. Despite the benefits, nursing a toddler is still a cultural taboo. One that, hopefully, is lifting.
There is no magic number that all children hit that makes breastfeeding suddenly wrong. Each child will take as long, or as short, as they need to be ready, and like other parts of parenting their schedule might not align with mom’s. Given the chance many infants naturally transition into nursing toddlers, just as naturally as they transition from crawling to walking to running. Breastfeeding a toddler once seemed incredibly odd to me, and now it feels like the most normal thing I could do. As he slowly changes into a child he is slowly moving past nursing, but there are still moments when only mama’s milk will do. I’m proud to be able to offer him what he needs to grow now, even if that means offering it as he runs past on his way to the next adventure.