Why do they nurse so long?? - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 3 Old 02-25-2003, 05:31 PM - Thread Starter
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Just curious after Caleb's enormous meltdown we just overcame...

At 2, why do toddlers choose to nurse? They generally eat a great diet, consisting of solid, filling food... Mommymilk is a tasty treat, but more of a snack, but there comes a point when having a cookie to munch on is better than having a boobie to much on...

What emotional ties lie with the breast? I know that I enjoy nursing him, still, and usually feel some level of comfortability/happiness during a nursing session, and can understand it from my point of view, thinking as an adult, but what satisfaction do toddlers get?? How do they feel about nursing... even when the mom isn't really paying attention to the fact that they are there??

Babies that don't nurse, what do they do??? Is that emotional need there for non-nursing toddlers? and if so how do they meet that need???


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#2 of 3 Old 02-25-2003, 05:48 PM
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I think there are probably a lot of reasons why toddlers nurse, and it will be different for different toddlers. I do suspect, however, that most toddlers nurse because it makes them feel safe and loved.

I know that my toddler always wants to nurse when she doesn't feel well, or if she's fallen and hurt herself - or if I've been away for a few hours and she feels the need to reconnect.

Sometimes, she just seems to want to nurse - and I can't find a 'reason' why.

I do think that babies/toddlers/young children have a need to suck, and this is met by nursing. Those children who aren't nursed, often have bottles, pacifiers, etc. Or they suck thumbs, that kind of thing.

Often, as well, children who don't nurse will have a 'comfort' object that they need to feel 'safe'. For nurslings, I think that comfort object is mummy's breast! Of course, non-nurslings can also have mummy as a comforter without nursing. I see this in my older nursling, who is down to really only nursing at bedtime. She's become much more physically affectionate with me as she's (recently) dropped nursings. She'll often just come up to me and hug me and tell me that she loves me. Then she's content just to sit and cuddle for awhile.

Interesting question, though...thanks for asking it! I'll be interested in what others have to say...
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#3 of 3 Old 02-25-2003, 08:52 PM
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Whether by nature, science or God, I believe children are designed that way.

It is a survival instinct:

As pediatrician Dr. Jack Newman says, although it may not be the norm to nurse so long in the industrialized world, the human immune response is not mature until about age five.
This is from a Scientific American article from the 1990's called "How Breastfeeding Protects Newborns" you can read at

And in Our Babies Ourselves, Meredith Small says that in traditional cultures, the fussiest children may be the ones most likely to survive childhood in places with high childhood mortality
(they demand the most attention and therefore thrive.)

Those babies who nurse the most and the longest get more immunities (which last as long as any child nurses. ) For most of human history and still in many cultures today, nursing in terms of years is the norm. In Mothering the editor once said the worldwide average weaning age is 4 years.

The action of sucking at the breast (or other things like pacifers) has been found to physically relax a child and slow down their heart rate. And natural substances in mother's milk can relax and calm a cchild down, and make them sleepy, as well as lessening physical pain. I never saw a cookie that could kill pain and fight illness!

And this is just the chemical/biological part of it...not even getting into the love and the warmth and the emotional importance of the physical bond with mom.

In our culture young children are sometimes encouraged to use objects other than mom for physical comfort: pacifiers, blankies, teddy bears and other "lovies" are sometimes recommended as more "age appropriate" for toddlers than nursing....and the question is, does this make for a more materialistic society, if we teach them from an early age that things offer more emotional comfort than people?

I am not saying moms who don't nurse their toddlers don't cuddle them, but sometimes our mainstream culture gets in the way of a mother's loving instincts, with parenting books telling us NOT to comfort our children at bedtime because it's a bad habit. Just yesterday on the Early Show they were recommending Ferber's Cry-it-out book....

And human milk is very nutritious even past the first year. I keep quoting references here for http://www.kellymom.com that talk about how even in the second year human milk is loaded with calcium, brain-building fats linked to higher IQ's in toddlers who nurse, protein, and vitamins such as folic acid and vitamins A, B12, and C.

Take the time to heal from your marriage before you move on with someone else. Make a list of all the qualities you would like in a new partner and then work on growing that way yourself. ~mandib50
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