I can well remember the first time I saw a toddler breastfeeding. It was at a La Leche League meeting, and the child must have been about 2 years old. I remember feeling surprised and curious. I had no idea that anyone would breastfeed a child of this age. Why would anyone want to? After playing a pushing game with another child where he was the most recent recipient of a shove, the little boy came and sat on his mother’s lap, lifted her top then turned to look at me as he latched on. I recall that one-eyed stare, and my own feelings of surprise as I watched. The mother seemed so relaxed, as though this was normal!
Many years later I understand that it is normal.
I don’t think I have ever met a mother of a newborn who woke up one day and decided that she would breastfeed her baby til he turned three, or four, or whatever age. When I was breastfeeding my first baby many people asked, “How long do you plan to breastfeed her?” I hadn’t thought about it. After climbing the Everest of so many breastfeeding struggles I wasn’t about to stop now that we had found a calm, happy nursing relationship. Weeks turned into months and soon I found that my baby was nearing her first birthday with no evident intention of weaning!
And this is how toddler nursing happens– it just happens. Babies turn into toddlers and neither the mother nor the baby sees the need to wean. In fact, nursing becomes even more important as a mothering tool. Tantrums, two-year-old molars, boo-boos and owies… all can be magically calmed through nursing. Another pregnancy, the arrival of a sibling, mama returning to work… breastfeeding through these changes becomes a rock for a toddler to cling to. A mobile toddler comes into contact with germ after germ, and his mother’s milk continues to play an important role in supporting his immunity. As the amount of milk a baby drinks reduces, the immunity-boosting qualities of her milk actually become more potent. And let’s not forget that many benefits of breastfeeding for both mother and baby are dose related, i.e., related to the duration of nursing.
Many mothers find that as their babies grow older they are ‘nursing in the closet,’ that is, trying to keep their breastfeeding relationship a secret from others, both strangers and family members. It can be a tremendous support to know even one other mother who is nursing a toddler. It is a different experience from nursing a young baby, with its own joys and challenges. There are some brilliant resources out there for mothers curious about toddler nursing. Have a look at La Leche League International’s help pages about toddler nursing, here and here, where there is an excellent selection of articles. If there is no LLL group near you, it can help to talk to a local LLL Leader. Whatever you do, know that breastfeeding a toddler is normal and yes, weaning will come. More about that in another post….
About Lisa Hassan Scott
Lisa Hassan Scott is a stay at home mother of three little ones, age 2, 6 and 9. An American living in Great Britain for over 15 years, Lisa is a Yoga teacher certified by the British Wheel of Yoga, and a La Leche League Leader. She blogs about mothering, breastfeeding, Yoga and the mind at http://www.lisahassanscott.co.uk. Follow her on Twitter: @lisahassanscott