Breastfeeding the Older Baby: 12-18 Months

Written by Anna Choi, BS, IBCLC

Thank you for joining us for our third and final article in our blog series, Breastfeeding the Older Baby – What to Expect and How to Adjust. I’ve enjoyed writing these articles, as we have explored the evolving breastfeeding relationship between mama and baby, and I hope to have provided some insight for you about what this evolution might look like for you and your little one. In this final article, we will look at months 12 through 18 of your toddler’s life.

How often do toddlers breastfeed?

This answer varies greatly from one toddler to the next. Some mothers and nurslings have slowly decreased the number of breastfeeding sessions they have each day and may find that at this age, their toddler is breastfeeding as little as once or twice a day. Others may have a toddler who nurses like a newborn and goes to breast frequently throughout the day, nursing as many as 10 or more times in 24 hours. What’s important to remember is that there is no one “right” way to nurse a toddler and no magic number for how many times each day your toddler should or shouldn’t nurse. As long as mama and baby are happy with their nursing relationship and have found a rhythm and balance that works for them, then breastfeeding is going well.

Photo credit Chris Wojdak

Photo credit Chris Wojdak

Now that my little one has celebrated his/her first birthday, do I need to introduce cow’s milk or another milk alternative?

Such a great question – and one that we find ourselves answering frequently! In order to provide you with the most educated answer to this question, I enlisted the help of one of San Diego Breastfeeding Center’s favorite Registered Dieticians, Rachel Rothman. Here is what Rachel had to say:

Cow's milk is a good source of fat, protein, calcium and vitamin D, though it is not the only potential source of such nutrition. As infants become toddlers, many pediatricians make the recommendation to start baby on cow’s milk in order to meet baby’s specific nutrient needs.   If your baby is consuming a sufficient amount of these nutrients (in other forms), there is no reason he/she needs cow's milk or an alternate milk source.   One note I always give to my patients is that for children up to at least 2 years of age it’s advisable to give them full-fat / whole milk dairy products (cheese, yogurt, or milk) to ensure they receive enough fat to satisfy their needs. Keep in mind -  breast milk is an excellent source of fat and other nutrients.

- Rachel Rothman, MS. RD

If you find yourself having further questions about your little one’s diet, I encourage you to reach out to Rachel, as she possesses a wonderful wealth of information on nutrition {http://rachelrothman.com}.

I’ve reached my goal of breastfeeding for one year and I am ready to wean, what is the best method?

Congratulations on reaching your goal! If you are ready to wean from breastfeeding, there are several methods to choose from. Weaning gradually often makes for the smoothest transition for you and your little one {and your breasts!}. To start the weaning process, choose one breastfeeding session and replace it with something else {such as previously pumped breastmilk, water, solid food, etc}. After a few days, you’ll choose another breastfeeding session to replace with something else, and so on. Usually the nursing sessions before naps and bedtime are the hardest to wean from, and therefore the last to go. Your little one will appreciate extra snuggles as they adjust to this big change in their life. Depending on the temperament of your child, and how often they are currently nursing, the weaning process may take a few weeks or a few months. If you’d like more information on weaning, check out this link to a previous blog series all about weaning an older child

Can I stop pumping at work and continue to breastfeed when I’m with my toddler?

Absolutely! As a working mom myself, I was eager to put away the pump after my little one turned one year old. I knew I’d miss that lovely womp womp womp sound and getting undressed and redressed in the middle of my workday, but figured I’d somehow survive. How soon you can stop pumping at work will depend on your work schedule, baby’s solid food intake, and what you have decided baby will consume in place of the pumped breastmilk you’ve been supplying. If you stop pumping at work and continue to breastfeed your toddler when you are with them, your supply should adjust to meet the needs of this new routine. Some moms find that their supply decreases as a result, but this usually isn’t a huge concern since your toddler should be eating plenty of table foods at this point. If you decide to stop pumping at work, remember to drop pumping sessions and reduce the amount of time spent pumping gradually, to reduce your risk of engorgement and plugged ducts.

How do I handle unsolicited advice about my toddler being “too old to breastfeed?”

The short answer is, don’t feel the need to defend yourself. When someone makes a comment about your toddler breastfeeding, simply say, “We are doing what’s best for our family. Thank you.” And then, walk away.

If you’d like to get a little more detailed with your response, or perhaps provide some breastfeeding education to the person, you can reference the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization’s recommendations, which advocate continued breastfeeding past twelve months of age. You can also let them know that nursing toddlers are generally sick less often and have fewer allergies than non-breastfeeding toddlers.

What did breastfeeding look like for YOU during months 12-18?