While some nosy Nellies may raise an eyebrow if they spy you nursing your toddler, there’s a lot of official support for extended breastfeeding — which means breastfeeding a toddler past age one. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises that breastfeeding continue beyond the first year for as long as mom and child want to do it. And both the World Health Organization and UNICEF take it a step further by recommending that babies be breastfed for two years or more.
Breastfeeding a toddler is a little different from nursing a baby. After all, by age one, children are getting most of their nutrition from solid foods and most start drinking cow’s milk around their first birthdays as well, so there are no hard and fast rules about how much or how often a toddler should nurse. Most tots will call the shots. Some may like to cozy up for a nice long snack, while others may want to graze throughout the day.
Even so, one of the benefits of extended breastfeeding is the nutritional boost it can give a toddler, especially a picky one. In fact, experts believe that the composition of breast milk changes to adapt to a toddler’s nutritional needs. Even if your child eats like a little bird, by nursing he may make up for any deficiencies created by his pickiness. (Just don’t let nursing get in the way of his meals and snacks, and continue to serve up good-for-you foods, like these healthy solutions for picky eaters.)
Some other benefits of extended breastfeeding for toddlers:
- Protection from illness. Your milk will continue to enhance your toddler’s immune system so that he’s less prone to colds, ear infections, allergies, and other common ailments. And even if he does get sick, nursing will help to comfort him. In fact, breast milk may be the only thing he can keep down on an upset tummy.
- A healthier future. Research has shown that breastfed babies and toddlers enjoy all sorts of health perks when they grow up, including lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol. They’re also less likely to be overweight or obese, and to develop type-2 diabetes.
- A brain boost. Studies have found that the longer and more frequently a toddler breastfeeds, the smarter he’s likely to be thanks to the omega-3 fatty acids, or DHA, that are unique to breast milk.
- Toddler independence. You read that right! Rather than making him clingy, your toddler will be more comfortable exploring on his own when he knows that he always has the safety of your breast to return to.
- Comfort. Like a pacifier or a lovey, the breast can help to calm an upset toddler or make a boo-boo feel better.
- Quiet time. Toddlers have important work to do! They’re exploring, building new skills, figuring out all sorts of things about the world. And like any worker, they sometimes need a break. Breastfeeding a toddler can provide the perfect respite during a busy day — a need that moms can certainly relate to.
Plus, there are benefits to breastfeeding a toddler for you too. Breastfeeding can reduce the risk of certain cancers (like breast and ovarian) and help you maintain a healthy weight since breastfeeding toddlers takes energy (and burns calories).
So now that you know all the pros to nursing, what about the how-tos? Read on for specifics on extended-breastfeeding etiquette and how to wean your toddler when the time comes