Breastfeeding Toddlers and Older Children
Breastfeeding and chest-feeding parents are often asked how long we are going to continue. This is a very personal question, and the answer is not always a clear one. Whilst having the best intentions, this question can often put pressure on parents, and leave them uncertain about their answer.
Breastfeeding is an isolating and invisible journey. We experience our struggles and emotions in private, often dark rooms during the middle of the night. As parents we want the best for our babies and have dreams about feeding them until they are a certain age or in a certain way. For something so personal, society has a whole host of opinions and exerts them upon mothers without reservation.
For example, a mother may wish to breastfeed longer than she thinks she is able. Other parents may feel pressure to be vague as their goal is to continue until their little ones are toddlers.
And then there is the murky answer about how long we actually should feed our babies breast milk from a biological and medical standpoint. The WHO, CDC, and AAP recommend that infants should receive breast milk exclusively until they are 6 months of age.
Benefits of Breastfeeding Past Six Months
These sources, the WHO and the CDC recommend that infants can begin trying solid foods at about six months. However, as we discuss in this blog post, some are recommending that foods be introduced around four months. This is from the belief that it will lower an infant's potential sensitivity to foods later in life. This includes common allergens.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that infants from six months to two years of age or longer should continue receiving breast milk in combination with foods. Did you read that? Children up to and even beyond age two are recommended to continue receiving breast milk.
Breastfeeding Past the First Six Months
We said it before and we’ll say it again (and again, and again) breastfeeding is immensely personal. Therefore, any decision related to it or any of the involved parties is also extremely personal. You ultimately know what is best for your family, and have the power to make the right decisions. You know your baby, your body, and what the two of you need.
That doesn’t make breastfeeding, let alone breastfeeding for extended periods of time easy by any means. We’re here to be your breastie and provide any information, helpful tips, and resources that we can to help you make it to your breastfeeding/chest-feeding goals.
Do some research on breastfeeding, nutrition, and educate yourself to help aid in your decision making. Once you do that, you can pick what is right for you and your family. Setting a longer goal like breastfeeding to some extent for two years can sound daunting, especially when you are in the thick of it. When you hit a bump in the road, or are tired and tempted to quit, two years can sound like an excruciatingly long time.
The key is to take any big goal like this day by day, one feeding at a time. When you focus on the long run it becomes daunting. But if you can simply make it through the next feeding, it turns that huge goal into a series of bite size chunks.
When days get challenging, or you doubt whether you can keep going, remember the reason why you are doing this. You are giving your child the optimum building blocks for a healthy life. It’s a gift no one else can give them.
Prepping for Success
We highly recommend taking a prenatal breastfeeding course. These courses cover so much helpful information about how to breastfeed, when and how long your baby needs to eat, how to help manage your breast milk supply and more!
You wouldn’t try to run a marathon without first learning about how to train, and putting in the ground work. Breastfeeding might feel like a marathon, but with the proper education and preparation, it can feel a lot better. In fact, studies show that prenatal breastfeeding education really helps improve your chances of making it to your goal.
Tips for Breastfeeding a toddler
Prepare for the Long Haul
If you are planning to breastfeed into the age where your children can talk, it can be helpful to consider what words you are going to use early on. While it might be cute to use words like boobies early on, a two year old running up to you screaming boobies in public might not be your favorite. You might simply use the word Milk, or something else that is seemingly innocuous but also works for you and your child as they grow. You might also decide upon a hand signal and teach it to your child as a discreet way of asking to nurse. Sign language is really helpful in those stages before kids are really talking.
Prepare Your Family and Friends
When someone asks you how long you plan to breastfeed, let them know that you plan to go longer than what they might expect. They may have questions, or they may totally respect the queen that you are for the gift that you are giving your child. Regardless of their reaction, having these conversations earlier on will help to manage their expectations, cut down on how frequently you have to face questions like this, and more.
Supply and Demand
Breast milk is produced as your baby drinks what you currently have in your breast. There shouldn’t be a worry about supply if the two of you are able to effectively empty your breasts. So as your child grows, so can your milk supply. If you are going to be apart from your child, you will need to continue to empty your breasts as often as they would in order to avoid a hiccup in your supply. Having a pump on hand and becoming familiar with it early on can be a saving grace over the course of your breastfeeding journey.
Nothing is set in stone in terms of how often you should nurse your toddler, or how much milk they should take. By about the age of one babies are getting most of their nutrition from the foods which they eat. That means your breast milk is setting up for immunity and other benefits at this point. Think of it as icing on the cake. Let your child determine how often they nurse and how much milk they take in.
Once your little one starts to explore the world of food, breastfeeding can be a brand new ball game. If your little one nurses with any residue of food in their mouth, it can irritate your skin and potentially cause sore nipples. Some experts suggest having your child take a sip of water or rinsing their mouth out before nursing if this irritation causes pain.
You are going to encounter teeth. Lots of them. The good news is that nursing your child can help soothe them when they wake at night due to teething pains. It’s the perfect nutrition that they need as they sprout new teeth but oh can it be painful. Check out this post on breastfeeding positioning and how it can put an end to the chomping.
Nursing Gymnastics and Busy Hands
As kids grow older, they simply move around more. As they develop more dexterity, and can do more things, it's exciting. And they don’t want to stop doing these things, not even to nurse. While it might seem like you are doomed to suffer these wriggly movements there are a few things that you can do.
For busy little hands that are grabbing, pinching, twisting, and poking, try a longer kid safe necklace. Sometimes something to hold like their favorite lovey or stuffy can keep their hands busy. Other moms say that they like to hold their child’s hand, bring it to their mouth for a kiss, or try other activities to divert their energy into something less annoying. You can also find toys that hang or clip to your shirt or bra that engage your baby while they are nursing like this one.
How and When to Wean
If you are aiming for two years of age or around that time, children are pretty good at understanding what we are saying. It’s helpful to talk about the fact that the time for nursing is going to stop soon. When explaining this it's beneficial to reassure them that it's because they are growing older, not because of anything else. Some toddlers will totally wean themselves and you might not even have to worry about this.
If your child decides to wean before your set goal, that’s okay. It doesn’t mean that you did anything wrong, or failed in any way. You had a successful breastfeeding journey and gave your child everything that they needed!
If you are feeding your baby into their toddler stage, there is a chance that you might have another child. Tandem feeding is not only totally doable, but it has benefits of its own! Tandem nursing simply means feeding more than one baby at a time. You can feed your two little ones simultaneously or one right after the other. Both are considered tandem nursing or tandem feeding.
When you are no longer the baby of the family, it can lead to some big emotions. Jealousy is definitely one of these emotions. Mom has to spend a lot of the time that used to be reserved for you with the new baby. But by nursing both the baby and the toddler at the same time, this special time can be shared by both of the siblings.
This shared experience can be so special, that your toddler may want to nurse every time that your baby needs to. This is okay in terms of your health and supply, it just makes it a bit more work for mom.
Increased Milk Supply
Feeding two babies means that your breasts will be emptied more often, which encourages your body to produce more milk. If you are worried about your milk supply, your nutrition, or your body, speak to your healthcare provider. A lactation consultant, and your child’s pediatrician can be great resources as well.
Be sure to drink plenty of water and eat additional calories. Your body doesn’t produce breast milk out of thin air. It needs the right ingredients to make your milk. When you’re feeding two kiddos that means you need to be taking in even more of the essentials.
Because you have an older child helping to initiate breastfeeding, after the first week, you can have your toddler feed first and stimulate your let down. This will make it easier for your new baby to nurse and gain weight.
Tandem Feeding with a Newborn
When you have a newborn, that baby needs your colostrum. After about the first week or so when your milk begins to transition, it doesn’t matter who you feed first as much. Colostrum has essential antibodies and other goodies that your newborn needs. Some mothers who tandem feed say that they feed their newborn from whichever breast is fuller first, and then feed their toddler from the same side after the newborn is done nursing.