Breastfeeding Into Toddlerhood: Go for the Gold

When a woman first finds out she is expecting, it's such an exciting time. Many mothers plan and plot every step along the way of how they believe their pregnancy and even the first year is all going to go. They may decide they want to breastfeed, or at least give it a fighting chance. They set goals as to how long they intend on breastfeeding their baby. Sometimes, those goals are met, and sometimes those goals change. No matter what, if you've given any time to breastfeeding your baby at all, you've done them a world of good.

Not all women are able to or want to breastfeed and as a midwife and health professional, I 100% agree that #fedisbest. There should be no guilt if you choose or are unable to breastfeed, ultimately you do whats best for you and baby mama! In saying that, as a midwife I am aware of the incredible benefits of breastfeeding for mother and baby and will continue to support, nurture and promote breastfeeding.

Most paediatricians and midwives encourage mothers to nurse for at least six months to one year, being that breast milk is the perfect food for any baby - and solids technically don't need to be introduced until age one contrary to popular belief. I always think of the song I learnt at university when studying to become a midwife “Food before one is just for fun”.

But, at what point should a mother consider weaning? Let's take a look at some facts.

Data from the World Health Organization (WHO) on breastfeeding has shown what an incredible difference it can make in a child's overall health and development to continue breastfeeding even past two years of age. While 70% of mothers asked in a recent poll said they believe two years is too old to continue breastfeeding, the WHO recommends extended breastfeeding up to two years of age and beyond. Furthermore, WIC (Women Infants and Children) also recommends extended breastfeeding due to the health benefits it provides for mother and child, and sets a long term goal of 2 years old and above as per WHO guidelines. 

Breastfeeding not only gives babies an incredible, healthy start at life, but it also holds the last special tethers between mother and child. It's one of the most special bonds a mother can have with her baby - and can encourage a lifetime of closeness and a wonderful relationship for many long years to come (this can 100% also happen with bottle feeding). There is nothing more accomplishing or rewarding than the feeling of being able to provide nourishment, warmth, closeness, that beautiful eye to eye and chest to chest contact and memories that will last a lifetime. Best of all, it's completely free - and it's incredibly priceless all at once. 

Here is a list of some of the benefits of extended breastfeeding into the toddler years, and some interesting facts you may not be aware of:

  • The average age in which breastfed toddlers are weaned worldwide is 4 years old

  • Breastfed toddlers tend to maintain healthier BMI's and body weights well into adulthood - and feeding into the toddler years ensures this statement all the more

  • Breast milk changes over time to accommodate for a toddlers needs

  • There are incredible benefits to breastfeeding toddlers over the age of 1 such as increased immunity properties. Toddlers tend to become more immune and less ill when they do fall ill than those of the same age who were never breastfed, or are no longer breastfed. 

  • The longer a mother nurses, the better her chances of not developing certain cancers such as ovarian, breast and cervical cancer (amazing, right?)

  • According to research, breastfed toddlers tend to become more independent individuals early on in life 

  • The Director General of Health in Pakistan believes that 22% of infant deaths could be prevented if their mothers had breastfed for 6 months or longer, with an even higher reduced rate if the mothers had chosen to nurse for longer periods of time

  • Scottish Parliament are working on bills that would make it a criminal offence to stop a mother from nursing her baby in public up to 2 years of age

  • Many stores, such as Target, are implementing Nursing Rooms for breastfeeding mothers to nurse in peace and comfort

  • More and more, people are finally becoming more accepting of breastfeeding worldwide - even into the toddlerhood years (yah!)

Breastfeeding comes with so many emotions. From moments of happiness and overwhelming gratefulness, to moments of frustration and even inadequacy, and everything in between - breastfeeding is undoubtedly a wonderful wild roller coaster ride. Things tend to even out and the emotions you feel tend to regulate over time, and once good breastfeeding habits have been established, it's completely normal for you to continue breastfeeding for as long as both you and baby are on board. 

If you decide it's time to wean, you can begin offering the breast for one less feed per day or offer the breast at bedtime only, depending upon how often you currently nurse. Beginning with one feeding per day is a great place to start so as not to overwhelm your toddler. 

If your toddler has decided they want to begin weaning on their own, known as baby-led weaning or toddler-led weaning, it can sometimes be an overwhelming and alarming experience for mama, who might not be mentally ready for the journey to come to an end just yet. Following your toddlers cues and accepting the fact that they are ready to begin weaning can be very difficult, and you may feel a wide range of emotions all over again. 

You may feel sadness that this part of your lives is coming to an end - and since it has been such an integral part of your life, this is completely normal; but take heart: it's not the end, but more so, the beginning of a brand new chapter in both of your lives, and you should be so proud of all you've accomplished together. 

To commemorate your experience as a breastfeeding mother, do something to help you capture this special times. Take pictures or you could gift yourself something nice such as a piece of breast milk jewellery, which can be purchased via the internet and includes your own breast milk turned into jewellery as something you can keep and treasure forever. 

Breastfeeding into toddlerhood is something no mother should ever have to miss out on should she choose to do so. The world and everyone in it will always have their own opinions regarding the matter, but this much is true: there is nothing better for your baby, or your toddler, than what you choose to do with love as their mama. The more we speak with others about the importance of breastfeeding, and the more educated people become, the more we will find acceptance of nursing our little ones wherever we go, and in whatever we do. 

After all, it's what nature intended - and it all starts with me, and you.

Have you read our last blog post on:

How to increase your breastmilk supply”

Beautiful photo from @jinti_fell