Breastfeeding a toddler is not common in the West (although it may become more common as most professional health organizations have now recommended breastfeeding until at least two years). The fact that breastfeeding a toddler is uncommon in the West, doesn’t mean it is any less normal to breastfeed a toddler, but it is grossly misunderstood, and for good reason: with so many people who have only had experience breastfeeding infants only, why on earth would we expect people to understand something with which they honestly have no experience?
So, to help with confusion for anyone who is wondering, here are some of the many differences between breastfeeding an infant and breastfeeding a toddler.
Length of time and frequency of nursing sessions decrease as the child ages. Breastfeeding mothers of infants can attest to the difference of frequency and duration of nursing a newborn vs. a six month old. As the child grows into toddlerhood, it is an even more significant decrease. With the introduction to solid foods and increasing the intake of solids naturally, the need to breastfeed naturally decreases, but for many, breastfeeding doesn’t cease at one if the child is allowed to continue.
For us, Aram was breastfeeding maybe 3-4 times a day at 2 years old for about 5-10 minutes each session. He breastfed 3 times a day at 2.5 years old (but was completely fine not breastfeeding as well as not needing pumped milk when Brian and I went away for a week, and resumed breastfeeding when we returned). Around 3.5, when he transitioned on his own to his own bed, it decreased to twice a day or even sometimes every other day. Then, he went from breastfeeding sporadically and maybe for a few seconds each time to not asking to breastfeed at all, when we realized months later that he had weaned.
I think it was Carson Daily who said something about how he would be concerned with breastfeeding a child after a certain age if the mother had to come to the school for lunch to breastfeed him/her. Well, I would be too.
There seems to be a misconception that a toddler or child breastfeeding is still receiving full meals this way or needs to breastfeed during those times of the day for their meal. Perhaps a one-year-old is still getting a significant amount of their caloric intake from breastmilk, but as solids naturally increase in their diets, breastfeeding will decrease. Breastfed toddlers are generally eating just as many solid foods as toddlers who are not breastfeeding. Breastfed and non-breastfed toddlers are learning to use utensils at the same time, and are being introduced to and accepting foods at the same rate.
Dr. Jay Gordon explains that breastmilk never stops being a perfect food. At a certain point, breastfeeding becomes a quick connect with mom and a bit of antibodies. Just because it isn’t a meal anymore, does not make it unimportant. Also, just because Western culture has resources that will allow children to thrive without being breastfed X amount of years (or at all), does not mean that it is not beneficial to do so, or that the practice should become obsolete. We have multiple options, that is a good thing.
Supply and demand. The more your baby needs to eat, the more milk you will make. The need for nursing pads changes when you nurse a toddler because you generally need them only during the first few months of life (although, I needed them until Aram was 18 months!) and with less frequent nursing sessions, your wardrobe options suddenly expand again (you don’t have to worry about stains or easy access when nursing a toddler!).
I remember one time, when Aram was a newborn, having a dream that I was being water-boarded, only to be jarred awake and realize I was getting sprayed in the face by my own breastmilk. I realized at that point that I had to wear a shirt or a bra to bed. (I was a newbie…)
Night weaning is different for each child, but seems to happen during the early toddler years for most children. Sleeping through the night without breastfeeding was one of the best parts of the transition for me from infant to toddler breastfeeding.
Even with “on demand” toddler breastfeeding, it becomes quite infrequent. Time can be spent away from a breastfeeding toddler without the need to breastfeed or drink pumped milk. When a child is ready to spend time away from mom and dad or to be away overnight is different for each child and family, but in general, breastfeeding children can spend time away overnight without breastfeeding, and many do it with ease. Even though it is a non-issue for many of us, some children may not be ready, just like many toddlers who are not breastfed may not be ready to leave their parents overnight. So, overall, breastfeeding a toddler is different from breastfeeding an infant because you are less likely to have a need to be in close proximity to a toddler at all times.
Are you breastfeeding a child past infancy? What were the biggest differences you personally notice about breastfeeding an infant vs. breastfeeding a toddler or older child?