Breastfeeding a toddler

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If you had asked me at the beginning of my breastfeeding journey if I’d still be nursing my son at nearly 21 months I would have said no. No way. I mean, I had nothing against the idea of breastfeeding an older child theoretically – I wasn’t freaked out by it like so many readers of this article seem to be (I know, I know – never read the comments on the Daily Mail). I was just pretty certain that by the time my tiny baby had grown into a toddler our breastfeeding days would be long gone.

But like so many things about this parenting lark, I was wrong.

It’s not like I’ve made a conscious decision to keep feeding him, but rather that there just doesn’t seem to be any reason to stop. We’ve got our technique down pat now and there’s not much I can’t do whilst he’s feeding in the sling. He’s feeding right now – dozing in and out of consciousness as I tap away at the keyboard. I’ll certainly miss the time it gives me when he can be close and nurtured and safe whilst I can still get on and write. If all goes to plan our breastfeeding relationship will have seen me through at least two novels by the time he stops which can’t be bad!

There are of course many benefits for him as well. I mean, he loves his booba. He asks for ‘booba feed’ when he just wants a quick snack, or ‘booba bed’ when he’s ready to sleep, and when I say yes he bubbles over with glee. He’s even starting to express an opinion about which one he’d prefer, though I’m not sure I’m going to encourage that…

I do think it’s still an important part of his diet too. He eats well, don’t get me wrong – he’s had porridge and banana for breakfast today, followed by mackerel and poached egg and kale for lunch. But he’s growing so fast – both in body and mind – that I’m not surprised he needs the extra calories.

But there’s more to it than that. It comforts him, in this world which is more full of wonder every day. It gives him pause, time to reflect and recharge. It reminds him that I am here, and I am his, and gives him the confidence he needs to embrace all the new experiences that are presented to him. If he is sick, or falls and scrapes his knee or bumps his head, then a bit of booba is better than any medicine.

My milk helps to warm him up when he comes smiling out of the Devon sea, and when we were in Barcelona this summer, traipsing round the city in the scorching August sun, my milk stopped him from becoming dehydrated. Of course he drank water too, but the nutrients in the breastmilk did a far better job of reviving him. He’s not interested in drinking anything else – we’ve tried watered down juice and other kinds of milk but he won’t touch them – which is one of the many reasons I know he’s not ready to stop quite yet.

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It’s not all plain sailing. There are moments when he calls out for booba or puts his hand down my top in public when I feel like I need to make excuses for the fact I’m still feeding him, though if anyone else were to actually challenge me on it they would most certainly feel my wrath. It can get exhausting, and I do sometimes wish he fed a little less frequently. We’re essentially working on the principle of ‘don’t offer, don’t refuse’, but he still rarely goes for more than four hours without asking. It’s not that I can’t say no – and sometimes I do – but that doesn’t sit very comfortably with me. There’s plenty else I put my foot down on, but not this.

Though I may need to break through that soon for the sake of both our sleep. Nights are hard at the moment: he’d dropped down to waking me for one or two short feeds which was totally manageable with the co-sleeping. But in the last few weeks it’s been almost like having a newborn again – last night he woke up almost every hour, scrabbling for me and crying bitterly if I tried to soothe him in any other way. I thought for a while it was maybe just backlash over the lack of routine we fell into over the summer, but having done some research it seems this is a fairly common ‘thing’ for the breastfeeding toddler. So we’re looking into gentle methods of night weaning him. There are lots of techniques out there which I think we could handle, but it’s one thing rationalising them in the light of day and quite another negotiating with an angry toddler at three in the morning. I’ll let you know how it goes.

And as for weaning entirely? Well I think now that’s up to Arthur. I’m certainly not about to deprive him of something he loves so much, especially as both of us will be losing out when our breastfeeding relationship is finally over. And really, for all of his confidence and agility and words, he’s still my baby. He’ll stop when he’s ready, and only when he’s ready will it be time to stop.

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22 thoughts on “Breastfeeding a toddler

  1. zofloya11

    Great post!! and that first photo is amazing!
    My aim was to feed Boo til 6 months but we have passed that and are still going at 9 months, I would like to carry on until she weans herself but I am not sure how that will work when I go back to work in a couple of months.
    It’s lovely to read a post like this and I hope I can carry on feeding Boo, around work, until she wants to stop.
    It’s sad that you feel you have to make excuses for still feeding him, it should be a personal decisions between mum and child for what works best, and everyone else should keep their noses out!
    I hope you get night times sorted soon!!

    Reply
    1. sophieblovett Post author

      Thank you. And good luck with continuing breastfeeding with Boo for as long as you both want to! I do know people who’ve managed to juggle it with work, so whilst I’m sure it’s harder it’s definitely not impossible! X

      Reply
  2. Melanie MacWilliam

    I’m having to give up due to going back to work… Rufus is currently refusing to even attempt to use a bottle and clearly doesn’t want to. Keep going as long as you are both happy, I wish we could x

    Reply
    1. sophieblovett Post author

      Hi Mel! I know I’m so lucky not having to go back to work – it would definitely make things much harder though I do know people who’ve managed to juggle it… I’m sure you’ll work out the best solution for both of you. Good luck! xx

      Reply
  3. mamabyfire

    I love your perspective on feeding a toddler! Mine is almost 15 months. I thought I would stop at a year, but as you said, there isn’t a reason to. He doesn’t like any other milk either or juice for that matter. Besides, I’m still enjoying the one on one cuddle time.

    Reply
  4. liquoriceuk

    Lovely post – I love your reflections on all the non-nutritional benefits of feeding a toddler. I’m impressed that you manage to feed him in the sling and work – I’ve always struggled with getting my little one latched on whilst in the sling and it must be lovely to be able to be hands free whilst feeding sometimes (whilst still having those wonderful snuggles). Good luck with easing off the night feeds and hope you get a bit more sleep soon.

    Reply
    1. sophieblovett Post author

      I’ve found the connecta brilliant for feeding – it was never so comfy in our other carriers. Sleep’s already getting a bit better so fingers crossed it’ll sort it out by itself! X

      Reply
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  6. Paul PB

    I read this with some interest. As feedback, as an objective reader, this article reads as a treatise in the benefits and security of maternal bonding for mum, not necessarily the child. I couldn’t see any health or well being benefits identified for the child, and mum’s needs seem to be well articulated.To quote “I know he’s not ready to stop quite yet.” After reading the article I can’t help but be left with the impression that a more accurate statement may be “I’m not ready to stop quite yet”. I’m not entirely sure that passing the responsibility of weaning to the child is a phenomenon observed in nature, and there does appear to be an immense justification for mum to continue. Interesting insight all the same.

    Reply
    1. sophieblovett Post author

      Thanks for your comments. There are definitely numerous benefits to continuing breastfeeding for me as a mother – things that are often overlooked by people who believe that extended breastfeeding is merely pandering to the demands of the child. As with anything about parenting it’s a matter of making choices based on what’s best for parent and child.

      Arthur’s language skills are not quite developed enough yet to articulate his needs as clearly as me, but you’ll just have to trust my instincts as his mother on that one.

      With the World Health Organisation recommending breastfeeding until two years or beyond I certainly don’t think I’m causing him harm, and am confident in the numerous health and emotional benefits to him which will last as long as our nursing relationship does. I’ll be doing a follow up post on this so if you’re interested check back next week.

      In terms of child led weaning/ extended breastfeeding not being natural, I’d argue that the opposite is in fact true. Studies into animal behaviour by anthropologist Katherine Dettwyler suggest that the natural weaning age for humans is between 2 1/2 and 7 years. Deborah Jackson has also written some interesting works on this, exploring parenting practices in cultures across the world. These studies would seem to suggest that it is the practices that have developed in the last 100 years or so in the West that are going against nature, not the other way around.

      I appreciate the challenge, but rest assured I’m happy that the approach I’ve adopted is best for my child as well as for myself.

      Reply
  7. Zena's Suitcase (@zenas_suitcase)

    Sophie, I think this is a great post, thanks so much for sharing it with #BFingDiaries. I love your responses too. There are so many ‘real’ benefits to breastfeeding as well as emotional ones for Mum AND child. I don’t get the objection at all. I could find far stronger reasons to objecting to any human being having cows milk any day of the week

    Reply
  8. Wave to Mummy

    Really interesting post 🙂 I still bf my 15 month old baby – although it does feel weird to do it outside the home. I always try to distract her if she wants to boob outside, and very rarely do I give in to her now that she is a toddler. Luckily she only really wants to feed in the morning and in the night before going to bed, so it’s not too demanding of me. I do find extended breastfeeding is considered quite strange – hardly anyone seems to do it – all of my friends were finished with breastfeeding when their babies were about 9 months old #mbpw

    Reply
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  10. thenthefunbegan

    I have conflicted feelings as I was unable to enjoy/manage the breastfeeding journey and when people talk about the amazing benefits of breastfeeding it pops a little question in my mind. Having said that I think it’s great for you. I remember a friend experiencing the great toddler hunger though. She had to go out to work and at one point he would just pounce on her as soon as she came through the door wanting to be continually latched on. A really difficult phase. I hope you work it out with the night feeds. X #brilliantblogposts

    Reply
  11. Mummy Tries

    Personally I think the key to breastfeeding is enjoying it hon, and you clearly do. I’ve really enjoyed feeding all my children and ended up feeding my second daughter longer than my first (15 months to 11½) and I can see my boy being fed for even longer… Great photos xx #brilliantblogposts

    Reply
  12. shannonagains

    What a lovely post. I had planned to bf my little one for as long as possible. Unfortunately that was about four days (combined with a bottle, it lasted about four months). I say go as long as you can, cherish it and ignore any comments or funny looks – because it really is a special thing. 🙂

    Reply
  13. franglaisemummy

    I think the main thing is to feed for as long as you/he wants. I fed my two until they were 11 months old as that’s what suited me and I didn’t think they’d miss out from it stopping (which they didn’t). Great post.

    Reply
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