Written by guest blogger, Andrea J. Blanco, IBCLC
When my first son was a baby, he absolutely hated car rides. On a trip to the bookstore, I came across Dr. Seuss’ “All Aboard the Circus McGurkus!.” I read that book to him every day and soon came to find the only thing to keep him calm during those car rides was my reciting lines from the book.
“The Circus McGurkus, the World’s Greatest Show. On the face of the Earth or wherever you go…”
My son is seven now and I still remember most of the lines. So, when I asked a group of moms to give me one word to describe toddler nursing in preparation for this post, imagine my delight in realizing their answers could fit right into our beloved book:
“Amazing. Demanding. A Haven. Stupendous.”
“Loving. Convenient. Tantrum Fixer. Endless.”
Ok, so maybe no one said “stupendous”. But, you get the idea.
If you are the mom of a newborn, the mere thought of nursing a toddler probably seems really daunting, and my advice to you is the same advice I give to my clients: Take it one day at a time. Nursing isn’t a race and the person who goes the longest doesn’t win or lose. This is about your personal journey with YOUR baby and doing anything other than taking it day by day is rushing an already hurried adventure.
My son was ten months old when I first realized maybe I would nurse him past a year. I remember thinking there probably wasn’t going to be some alarm that went off to tell him (or me) that he was supposed to be finished with nursing because it was his 1st birthday. I remember feeling like maybe, in my heart of hearts, we would continue. And we did, but not without some questions.
Is it “ok” to nurse into toddlerhood?
There are myths out there that after a certain age (I’ve heard as young as 4 months), your breastmilk loses all value and *poof* you’re making water. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Yes, by the toddler years, your baby will be able to eat a wide variety of foods, but your breastmilk is still perfectly suited for his growing needs. In this second year of life, your breastmilk’s most important role takes center stage: continuing to support an immature immune system. It is the ultimate immune booster and is packed with tailor-made antibodies to help your toddler fight off all those germs she’s picking up at the playground (“Sweetie! What is that in your mouth?!”) and on all those playdates (“No, honey, that is NOT your water bottle.”).
Will I still be nursing every 2-3 hours?!
For one whole year, you have been at your baby’s beck and call. You, sweet mommy, are AMAZING. Don’t let those words, which fit perfectly in a Dr. Seuss story, scare you! While some mothers find it’s easier at times to nurse when the toddler wants it (remember, “Tantrum Fixer” is also up there), you are now living with a busy little bee who is newly mobile and has time for a lot of things, but sitting still and nursing isn’t top priority. Consider yourself her pit stop. Discovering the new world is about the most fun thing ever, but being so independent is also frightening. No, you won’t be nursing for hours on end like you did when your baby was younger. Instead you will be her home base. You will be what grounds her and tells her that it’s ok to go explore. And you will be that sense of reassurance in the same way you have been for the last year – by nursing.
Why would anyone want to nurse a toddler?
Aside from the very real health benefits, nursing a toddler is like being Mary Poppins. Let’s face it – we aren’t dealing with the most reasonable age group. They want what they want when they want it and still aren’t verbal enough or patient enough to understand why that can’t always be. They have teeth coming in, separation anxiety, bumps and bruises all over, difficulty understanding why you don’t understand what they’re saying and their very adamant point of view, timeouts to protest, physics experiments to practice [by flinging things across the room]. Nothing softens those blows like curling up on Mommy’s lap and taking in the scents, sounds and feelings of the familiar: Love. Whether you are at home with your children or working outside the home, the reconnection that happens when you take a break with your little one is incredible. Sometimes, we don’t have 30 minutes to try and solve the problem (and often times, reasoning with a toddler no matter how much time we have just doesn’t work). But, just like Mary Poppins, we too have a magic potion we’re able to use to our advantage. Breastfeeding in the time of the Toddler Meltdown is often all it takes to defuse the situation.
The Technical Stuff. Did you know that, along with many other health agencies, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends nursing for a minimum of 1 year and “continuation of breastfeeding for as long as mutually desired by mother and baby”? The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding for “up to 2 years or beyond.” And, while it may not be common in the United States, considering the natural age of weaning worldwide is somewhere between 2.5 to 7 years, nursing into toddlerhood is really just a part of normal nursing.
In his book, Dr. Seuss introduces us to the Juggling Jot, “who can juggle some stuff you might think he could not”. Now when I read the original, longer version to my sons (If I Ran the Circus), I’ll be inclined to think that maybe, just maybe, he was really talking about the mom of a toddler as that Juggling Jot (he does, after all, juggle 22 question marks, 44 commas and also 1 dot). I, for one, am so thankful I was able to continue nursing past one year. Juggling my life, plus the life of my toddler and my family, would have been much more challenging had I stopped.
Come visit me again for Part II of Toddler Nursing, where we’ll talk about what to do when you have little support, how your milk supply will change while nursing a toddler, and how to handle tricky situations, like nursing a toddler in public.
Andrea Blanco is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant at The Milk Collective Lactation Care, working with families in the Miami/Ft. Lauderdale area. She is the proud mom of 2 loving, spirited boys, who teach her humility, patience, humor, and the rules to more sports than she thought she’d need to know every day. When she’s not helping families achieve their breastfeeding goals, you can find her on the sidelines, at karate tournaments, or with her toes in the sand. She can also be found at themilkcollective.co, on Instagram @themilkcollective_ , facebook.com/themilkcollectivelactation or by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have you enjoyed nursing your toddler?
What advice do YOU have for other moms who are thinking about breastfeeding into toddlerhood?