Breastfeeding a Toddler

By Jill Wilson, IBCLC

When are you going to wean him? Isn’t she too old to breastfeed?

If you are a mother of an older nursling, you might have been asked these questions more than once. Breastfeeding a toddler, also known as extended nursing, can have many physical and emotional benefits to both toddlers and moms. While it can be challenging, because it is often is looked upon negatively, it is important to remember that nursing a toddler is completely normal and healthy.

Breastfeeding is often associated with feeding an infant less than 12 months of age. While the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that breastfeeding continue until 12 months of age, many other global organizations encourage breastfeeding to continue to age 2 and beyond. The World Health Organization and UNICEF recommend that breastfeeding continue as long as it is mutually desired by both mother or child. Currently, the average worldwide weaning age is 3-4 yrs. There is no evidence that extended nursing is harmful to mother or child; in fact, most moms and babies still find it to be an enjoyable experience.

Extended breastfeeding can offer many health benefits to a growing toddler. Breast milk still provides antibodies for protection against colds, flu, and ear infections, and also decreases the risk of other diseases and illnesses. Since human milk does not lose its protective or nutritional factors as your child ages, it continues to benefit toddlers no matter how old they are. Breast milk also continues to support a growing toddler’s nutrition as well, providing up to 32% of his or her daily nutritional needs. Extended nursing continues to provide benefits for moms too. Lowered risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, diabetes, and heart disease, as well as keeping moms slimmer longer, are just a few of the added benefits.

Breastfeeding can be very helpful for toddlers, especially when those Terrible Twos are in full effect. Many times nursing can calm a toddler who is in meltdown mode. Extended nursing can also help to encourage independence. Nursing is an important source of reassurance and emotional support.

Regardless of the opinions voiced by others, only you, your partner, and your child can decide when weaning from breastfeeding is right for the both of you. Until then, enjoy this special time with your little nursling.