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Still Breastfeeding?

Still Nursing?

Not so long ago you first held your tiny newborn and started on your breastfeeding journey together. Suddenly time has passed and you find yourself still breastfeeding an older baby or toddler – something you may never have envisaged doing! At this point you may wonder whether your child will end up ‘nursing forever’.

For many mothers, it is other people’s expectations which are the problem. Almost as soon as breastfeeding is going well, people seem to start asking when you intend to stop! Coping with pressure from others to stop breastfeeding is not easy, but you will know in your heart what feels right for you and your child.

Why nursing is still important

Your milk is still nutritious!!!

Although you will be introducing your breastfed baby to the exciting world of solid foods from around 6 months of age, your milk will remain his most important food until at least 12 months. Beyond this, breastmilk is still a valuable contribution to your child’s diet, providing up to a third of both his daily calories and protein needs after 18 months, as well as being a good source of vitamins and minerals. Toddlers often eat varying amounts from day to day so it can be reassuring to know your child is still getting your milk.

Protection from illness

Breastmilk continues to complement and boost your child’s immune system. Whilst breastfeeding is no guarantee that a toddler won’t become ill, it can help reduce the severity of any illness. When he is ill, breastmilk may be the only food or drink he can manage, especially during bouts of vomiting or diarrhoea. Nursing is also very comforting to a poorly toddler and can make it easier for you to cope with his illness.

Comfort and security

Nursing offers security at a time when your child is developing fast and the world seems a confusing place. A mother is often surprised at how important breastfeeding remains to her older baby or toddler.

Breastfeeding beyond babyhood is normal

‘Weaning’ is the process whereby a child learns to take nourishment other than his mother’s milk. It starts when the child is introduced to foods and drinks in addition to breastmilk, and ends when he stops nursing. You may worry that if you don’t initiate an end to breastfeeding, your child will ‘nurse forever’.

But children outgrow breastfeeding on their own, just as they outgrow other toddler behaviours. This process of ‘natural weaning’ can allow a child to develop at his own pace, giving up breastfeeding according to his own timetable. All children stop breastfeeding eventually, but some finish earlier than others. Rather than choosing a specific time to stop breastfeeding, many mothers just continue nursing while it’s working well for them and see how it goes.

Comments from others

Your biggest challenge may be coping with the opinions of others on how long you should continue to breastfeed and how weaning should happen. Explaining the importance of breastfeeding may seem threatening to people who made other choices. Instead, help them feel more comfortable by mentioning how breastfeeding makes life easier for you, your child and your family. You might say that you didn’t plan to nurse this long: “At first I planned to breastfeed him for six months. At six months I decided to wean him at a year.” Or, “Before he was born I hadn’t considered nursing a toddler!” Sometimes a smile and a witty response may do the trick: “When is he going to stop breastfeeding?”—“Oh, in about 5 minutes or so I expect!”

Out and about

Criticism can be easier to handle when you are happy and confident. Even so, you may start feeling uncomfortable about breastfeeding your older toddler in front of others. As a child develops the

ability to wait, some mothers set limits on where and when they nurse, or offer distractions at times when it’s inconvenient. You could nurse before you go out and take a healthy snack and drink to tide your toddler over until you reach the car, home or other suitable place. Selecting your own clothing carefully can help avoid accidental overexposure if it worries you.

Breastfeeding manners

Setting some gentle limits on how your older baby or toddler breastfeeds is the start of gentle discipline and guiding him into good behaviour. It starts when you hold his hand or give him a toy to stop twiddling while feeding. If your toddler tries to breastfeed in unusual or uncomfortable acrobatic positions, you can let him know that it hurts and that if he wants to nurse he needs to sit properly. It’s best to start to set limits on how you will breastfeed before behaviour becomes a problem. If a behaviour you aren’t happy with has become a habit, it may take a little perseverance to change things. But even young toddlers respond to consistent loving guidance, especially if rewarded with breastfeeding and a thank you when they behave appropriately.

Conflicting advice

Some people, even health professionals, who are unfamiliar with breastfeeding an older baby or toddler, may claim that nursing beyond a certain age leads to spoiling, tooth decay, obesity or any number of other consequences!

There is no evidence for this. A child’s secure attachment actually leads to independence.

There is evidence that tooth decay is dependent on the presence of certain oral bacteria and enamel defects. Limiting sugary foods (including dried fruit), drinks and sweets, and careful cleaning are better preventions than ending breastfeeding. There is also evidence that obesity is more prevalent in children who are not breastfed.

Children all develop at different rates: crawling, walking and talking at different ages. Why should weaning be any different? Children’s needs for sucking and closeness vary. If your child enjoys breastfeeding and it makes him feel good, what a great reason for snuggling up with him

Benefits for you

Breastfeeding helps:

• Calm an overtired or fussy child.

• Soothe you both if your child is hurt or in pain.

• Ease frustration and recovery from toddler tantrums. While clingy, demanding behaviour is normal in young children, some families find that when breastfeeding continues, the ‘terrible twos’ turn into ‘terrific twos’.

• You stay calmer and drift back to sleep more easily, thanks to those breastfeeding hormones.

• Reduce your risk of developing breast cancer

Feelings, needs and expectations

Your own feelings

However you feel, do take care of yourself so you can enjoy caring for your child. Avoid making quick decisions to wean. A break, a nap, a bath, or just something to eat or drink, may be all you need to recharge before deciding what you want to do. Breastfeeding is a two-way relationship, and your needs are important too. You can adjust your approach as situations change. It isn’t easy when you are ready to stop breastfeeding, and your baby isn’t. To help your child move on, try to end breastfeeding gradually and with love while giving him your time and attention in other ways. Encouragement and support are always helpful when our children are moving on in life, from toddlerhood to teenage years.

An intense need for mum

A baby has an intense need to be with his mother that is as important as his need for food. Breastfeeding is not just food—it helps your toddler maintain the close attachment to you that has been his security up until now. The security of a baby’s bond with his mother is the basis for all other relationships and will help him to become more independent as he grows and develops.


Sometimes our expectations simply don’t fit with the needs of our individual children. While our society often expects babies to be weaned from the breast within a year, no one seems to question that many two and three year olds still suck on bottles, thumbs, or dummies, or need a comfort object. If you meet your child’s need for closeness and security the need will be fulfilled, allowing him to grow and move on at his own pace. Even the clingiest toddlers have grown into independent, adventurous adults.

Awesome words written by Karen Butler, Sue Upstone and mothers of LLLGB

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