Pretty much every health institute in the world suggests that breastfeeding is best.
While some place limits on how long a mum should breastfeed their baby (12 months, two years), it is agreed that breastfeeding should continue for as long as both mum and bub are happy.
This could mean one year; this could mean five years. And while breastfeeding a baby seems to be the socially accepted norm, breastfeeding a toddler is another matter entirely. The social stigma attached to breastfeeding a walking, talking, demanding little person can leave any mum feeling the need to closet feed or cut it out completely.
Breastfeeding a toddler can become tricky in a number of respects. Toddler’s attention span seems to be that of ten seconds so often you are left with a boob hanging out and a toddler looking the other way searching for the source of an unknown sound. Breastfeeding a toddler can also be tricky because of the stigma attached to it. I have always been told that once a toddler is old enough to ‘ask for it’ then it’s time to stop.
I am mum to a fifteen month old who is still breastfed. Why? Several reasons – the nutritional value of breast milk; the documented research that it is good for baby; the fact that I don’t want her to become dependent on a bottle like my oldest baby was (and still is at the age of 3); the closeness it provides; the fact that breastfeeding keeps my boobs nice and full; but perhaps the thing that trumps it all is the fact that I can’t get my toddler off my boob.
So for all those mums still breastfeeding a walking, talking, growing toddler, here are some tips to help you step out of the shadow and into the light:
“Mum I’m Hungry, Pull Down your Shirt”
While my toddler is yet to talk, it is quite clear when she wants a snack. She points at the boob (she even knows which side she wants) and pulls at my shirt. She doesn’t seem to care that we are out for dinner, in the checkout at the shops or in the middle of cooking lunch. She wants it now. It can be difficult to distract a toddler that thinks she is hungry or thirsty but this is sometimes what has to be done. Try to plan meals and feeds accordingly.
Often your little one will not actually be hungry but want comfort (see below). Offer water in a sippy cup and try to distract her until its feeding time. Having set breast feeding times during the day can help keep her on track and hopefully content with water until you are in the comfort of home with minimal distractions. Unless you are happy to continue to demand feed, then pull down your shirt.
“Mum I Want You, Pull Down your Shirt”
Comfort feeding is a big one for my daughter. How do I know she is comfort feeding and not hungry? Well, for one, because she eats about ten meals a day; and for two, because she takes a few sucks, then decides she has had enough for a few minutes. Then she wants back on and so forth. This can be extremely frustrating, especially when out in public or when trying to have a conversation.
She may smell the milk and decide she wants it or she may associate cuddles with breast. Either way, it’s up to you to decide whether to offer the breast or try to get her out of this habit. Often my toddler will demand to be fed when someone else is holding her or when I am paying attention to my older child. But slowly I am trying to wean her off this habit with distraction. Even a firm “No milk” seems to work (some of the time).
“Mum, I am Sad, Sick, Lonely, Tired, Scared. Pull Down your Shirt”
The good news when breastfeeding a toddler is that you have a simple way to calm a distressed child. A scraped knee, a scared moment, an overtired child – all of these things can be cured with a simple feed. However, it can also be a huge trap; anytime your little one is feeling disconnect, she may want the boob. Again, distraction is a good way to help with this and offering cuddles without the breast. It can be tricky to get your stubborn toddler to accept that she doesn’t need to feed every time she is upset but it can be done with patience, persistence and plenty of love.
The Australian Breastfeeding Association quotes that “anthropologist, Katherine Dettwyler estimated the natural age of weaning to be between two and a half and seven years, based on developmental factors and comparisons with other mammals.” This is when the sucking reflex subsides. And while you may not want to continue breastfeeding your primary school student, you may have a hard time getting your toddler to stop once she knows what she wants. After all, arguing with a toddler is a very difficult task. However, when it is time to wean, cut down one feed per day, offer water and milk from a sippy cup and have your husband or someone else help so your toddler associates comfort with something other than breastfeeding.