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Pros and Cons of Nursing a Toddler



My second child is nearly 2 and starting to wean.  I weaned my first child around 20 months (when I was 4 months pregnant). In honor of World Breastfeeding Week, here is my honest discussion of what it’s like to nurse a toddler.

The Pros and Cons of Nursing a Toddler

Cons (let's end on the positive, shall we?)

Nursing acrobatics. Nursing a toddler sometimes feels like nursing a monkey.  While some moms may be calm and sanguine about this, I do not find it particularly amusing.  Especially if my breast gets pulled.  Then I am really not amused.

Fidgeting.  If I forget to grab my daughter a toy to play with before she begins nursing, she is tugging and pulling on my shirt and bra, or poking my face, or grunting until I name whatever she is grabbing/poking the entire time she is nursing.  If I am not in a patient mood (which is about 97% of the time), this drives me nuts. 

Lots of teeth.  My daughter has not bit me on purpose since she was very little.  But if your child gets distracted and looks away, or you try to unlatch her before she is ready, or the two of you just have a mis-coordination, you might get slightly bitten by a mouthful of teeth.  Honestly, it hasn't happened more than a couple of times in many months, but even a little bite can be quite memorable. In general, I find unlatching an unwilling or sleeping toddler difficult and unpleasant.  Now I often tickle my daughter or unveil an exciting book to get her to unlatch on her own.

More vocal and demanding.  Some moms say they wean because they don’t like their kids verbally asking to nurse or tugging on/ lifting up their shirts in public.  Despite the fact that my children are vocal and demanding, I have not had a problem with this.  My kids only occasionally ask to nurse while we are in public, and any request is easily deflected, so this isn’t really a con for me, but it is a reason I’ve heard friends give for wanting to wean. 

More comments and criticism.  Even those (like your spouse, mother, or best friend) who think it’s normal and beneficial to nurse an infant may not be very positive about you nursing a toddler.  I've often heard that a child should not nurse if they can walk or if they can ask for it (i.e., talk). I have not had a huge problem with criticism, mainly because I don’t nurse a ton in public, although I often nurse around my friends.  Click here for more information on the normality of breastfeeding past a year.

Pros

Continued benefits of breastfeeding for the child.  These benefits include fewer and shorter illnesses, fewer allergies, and higher intelligence.  In many cases, research suggests that the benefits of breastfeeding are greatest for those children who breastfeed the longest. Breastmilk composition changes as your child gets older and toddlers continue to get nutritional benefits from breastmilk as long as they nurse.  My sister-in-law told me that she likes to breastfeed until at least two because then she feels like she doesn’t have to stress so much about what her toddler does or does not eat.  My first child was a very picky eater, and it did make me feel better to know he was getting lots of good stuff from my breastmilk at least. Click here for more on the benefits of breastfeeding past infancy for children.  

Continued benefits of breastfeeding for mom, including reduced risk of breast, ovarian, utermine, and endometrial cancer, as well as decreased chance of osteoporosis and rheumatoid arthritis.  The mother may also continue to lose weight.  Also, delayed ovulation and menstruation (yippee!).  How much breastfeeding will delay your ovulation varies from person to person.  I’ve gotten my period back around 12-15 months with both of my kids.  But for me, the biggest benefit of breastfeeding is being able to comfort a sick, teething, or hurt child who is in pain.  After I weaned my first child, I dreaded his next illness, knowing I would no longer be able to offer him added immunity nor the unique comfort of breastfeeding.  Being able to offer my child the comfort of breastfeeding has helped me get through the anxiety and stress of having a child in distress.  Click here for more on the benefits of breastfeeding past infancy for moms.

Easiest way to wind-down a wound-up toddler.  What a pain it has been to get my toddler to sleep at naptime and bedtime now that I have dropped those nursing sessions.  Breastfeeding can make a lazy parent out of you.  No matter how delayed naptime was, or how wound up my toddler was before bed, I used to be able to count on breastfeeding to calm her down and put her out with no other routine.  I also could get her to sleep pretty much anywhere.  Now I feel like the stars have to align for me to get her to sleep. 

Probably not as time-consuming as you think.  Many of my friends have been surprised to learn that toddlers usually do not nurse as often as infants.  If you imagine that nursing an 18-month-old is just like nursing a 9-month-old, only the kid is bigger, that can be a pretty daunting prospect.   Although the frequency and duration of nursing varies widely from child to child, in general toddlers nurse much less often and for shorter periods than infants.  By 18 months, my kids were probably only nursing three times a day: first thing in the morning, before or after naptime and bedtime.  This could also mean that you won’t have to ever nurse your toddler in public if you don’t want to.

Easier to wean a toddler than a baby. My two babies have been very demanding nursers, day and night.  But both have been quite easy to wean as toddlers.  Toddlers are busy people and easily distracted, in my experience.  Personally, I can’t imagine trying to wean a one-year-old, because when my babies are one I still hold them a lot and spend most of my day with them on or next to me.  It seems like you’d have to say “no” all day long.  Although night-weaning a toddler was certainly not been a piece of cake for me, dropping daytime feedings one at a time has been very easy with both of my kids.  With my current toddler, we have been down to one nursing session a day for over a month, and in recent weeks my toddler has been asking to nurse only every other day or so.  Even though my daughter still visibly really really enjoys nursing, I think she's going to wean herself with little encouragement from me.

Related Resources
Extended Breastfeeding (Beyond One Year) by La Leche League

This post is part of

For additional posts on breastfeeding, check out the links below from Natural Parents Network's Celebration of World Breastfeeding Week:

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I’m celebrating World Breastfeeding Week with Natural Parents Network!
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