Breastfeeding Toddlers and Coping with Stigma


This weekend I had an awesome experience kicking off National Breastfeeding Awareness Month at the Greenberries BAM event. I had the honor of presenting a talk alongside of some amazing birth workers, such as Katy Linda of The Breastfeeding Den, Carmen Calvo of The Nurturing Root, and licensed massage therapist Jessie Bernstein. Jill Mills of Heartlove Photography did a great job capturing the beautiful moments of the event. So many amazing moms and breastfeeding activists came out to support the cause; the Treehouse at Greenberries was full of spirit and love. The energy in the room was so lively and my presentation about breastfeeding toddlers sparked some interesting follow-up conversations. Since the talk was so well received, I thought I would share a few of the key points for anyone online who might have missed to event or wanted some notes.

First, I’d like to start with an amazing excerpt from La Leche League International’s National Best Seller (and my favorite breastfeeding book) The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. One chapter in the book, called Everybody Weans, discusses the benefits of nursing throughout the stages of childhood (from just a few days to eighteen months). It then introduces the concept of weaning when your baby is ready, discussing the benefits of full term breastfeeding:

“You can feel confident that you have met your baby’s physical and emotional needs in a very normal, healthy way. In cultures where there is no pressure to wean, children tend to breastfeed for at least two years. The World Health Organization, UNICEF, and the Canadian Paediatric Society strongly encourage breastfeeding through toddlerhood. Your child’s biology seems geared to weaning somewhere between two and a half and seven years; it makes sense to build his brain and bones from the milk that was designed for the job. Your milk provides antibodies and other protective substances as long as you continue nursing, and some of those benefits continue for a lifetime; you may find that neighbors who formula-fed have more frequent doctor visits and even more hospitalizations for their children for years to come. Research indicates that the longer a child breastfeeds, the higher his intelligence. The longer you breastfeed, the lower your breast cancer risk. And children who were nursed long-term tend to be very secure and independent, yet connected to their parents.”

BAM; Breastfeeding Awareness Month - Nursing Toddlers and Coping with Stigma

 

There are clearly some benefits of breastfeeding toddlers. Now that you know the why, lets talk about some of the why nots or what ifs. Here are some questions that came up during and after the talk:

 

Is breastfeeding a toddler normal?

How you choose to feed your child from the start of birth is a very personal decision. Likewise, the duration you chose to breastfeed is also very personal. Normal is relative. If you feel comfortable, and your child is comfortable, do what works for you. As mentioned above, children left to make their own timeframe tend to at least wait two years to wean, but what is normal for most kids is not normal for all.

 

How does the breastfeeding relationship change as you move from the infant to the toddler stage?

Breastfeeding toddlers can vary in frequency and intensity (shout out to the moms out there with intense nursers). I truly think that the breastfeeding habits at age and stage is very child-dependent. Some things most mothers can look forward too when breastfeeding toddlers would include acrobatic or gymnastic breastfeeding (think feet in face), wanting to choose which breast to nurse first/when to switch, twiddling of clothes or even the other nipple (hint: wear jewelry), and nursing conversations on and off the breast. Sometimes you’ll find your toddler just wants to check in for a minute as a comfort measure, just to run off and play again after touching base with mama.

 

What about teeth, will my toddler bite me?

In my experience, most biting comes with teething those first few teeth. Kids get teeth at various ages, but my first, for instance, got two by the time he was three months. I would venture to say that those first few teeth came with some experimental teething on mama’s breast, but by toddlerhood most of the teeth are in and your child is an expert nurser. If you find your toddler is a biter or maybe has a lazy latch, just like other unwanted behaviors, biting can be modified.

 

What are some tips to gently wean a toddler?

If you find that breastfeeding your toddler is causing you agitation, anxiety, or otherwise impairing your ability to be the mom that you want to be, there are some gentle ways to introduce the concept of weaning. First, evaluate your goals. Is it just nursing at night that bothers you? Maybe you would be happy to do one or two sessions a day after meals? When you decide what your ideal breastfeeding circumstances would be, start working towards that by removing one feeding at a time, gradually, starting with the feeding least likely to be missed. You can start by limiting the time of feedings as your toddler understands some concepts (we will not nurse again until after lunch) or decreasing the timeframe by singing a song (after we finish our ABCs we will be all done milkies).

 

What will other people say if I nurse my toddler in public?

Nursing in public is difficult enough when mothers are encouraged to be modest and our culture continues to sexualize breastfeeding. When it comes to comforting your toddler at the breast in public, it’s up to you to decide your limits. Reach deep down inside and ask yourself: what are your reservations? There are plenty of opinions out there about breastfeeding, but is your anxiety what’s holding you back? Here are some tips for a successful breastfeeding relationship with your toddler:

  1. Follow your heart. Remind yourself why you have chosen to breastfeed into toddlerhood, know what this relationship means to you and your family. Use this as opportunity to inform others about the awesome benefits of full term breastfeeding. With enough public awareness, we can erase breastfeeding stigmas all together.
  2. Stay positive. Most people are good natured, I will say, as a mother of two who has been nursing continuously for over two and a half years, I have never been confronted by a naysayer. I have been praised and approached by many moms who have experienced the struggles of public breastfeeding.
  3. Find your tribe of supporters. With my first, I knew what I wanted, but I didn’t necessarily have a ton of friends or family who understood the importance of breastfeeding. If they did, venturing into public while breastfeeding was virtually unheard of. I felt so much more empowered after reaching out to local moms groups, breastfeeding groups, and birth circles. Nursing in public is much easier with a friend!

     

 

If you are entering toddlerhood, or just planning ahead before your bundle arrives, reach out! Feel free to contact me or any of the wonderful resources I’ve linked on this page, Check out my resource page for more local, national, and international resources.

 

 

PHOTO CREDIT: HEARTLOVE PHOTOGRAPHY

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