Wednesday, March 23, 2011

What it's like to nurse a toddler

When I became pregnant with Tye, I had no idea I'd be nursing over a year later.  I didn't know the health benefits of nursing beyond a year, or even six months.  To name a few, children who are breastfed into their second year are healthier, have fewer allergies, have high IQs, and are socially well-adjusted later in childhood.  The benefits for the mother include  protection from osteoporosis and rheumatoid arthritis, and lower risks of breast, uterine, ovarian, and endometrial cancers.  The American Academy of Pediatrics, the World Health Organization, and the Surgeon General all recommend nursing until age two or beyond.  

The more I learned, the more I realized that nursing was worth continuing.  However, it wasn't until I had Tye, battled through supply issues, and experienced the depth of our nursing relationship that I started thinking about nursing a toddler.  Looking down at the baby in my arms, I couldn't imagine a walking, talking child latched on in her place.

For us, nursing into toddlerhood has been an easy experience as that baby has grown, day by day, into a child.  At 16 months, Tye nurses on average 3-4 times a day, sometimes more, but always first thing upon waking in the morning, falling asleep for nap (unless she falls asleep in the car), and falling asleep for the night.  When she wants to nurse, Tye makes the sign for milk and says "Na?  Na?" as if she's asking permission.  I'm a lucky mama- Tye still sits fairly still while she nurses.  Most times, she curls up so her whole body can lie in my lap.  Still, there are times when I feel like she's doing gymnastics while she's latched to my breast.  

At night, Tye wakes up 3-4 times and often comfort nurses until she falls asleep.  On nights when she's sick or teething and up most of the night, nursing calms her quickly and eases her back to sleep, even if it's a fitful slumber.  We either nurse side-lying or with her laying across my torso, her legs hanging off my body (and often kicking Tyler in the ribs).  I've thought about night-weaning Tye, but for now, neither of us is losing much sleep because of nursing at night.    Tye is sleeping for longer and longer stretches without waking and is choosing to nurse less frequently when she does wake, so we're moving in the right direction.

As a child grows, the mother's breasts begin to produce milk only upon demand, rather than continuously as they did for the newborn.  I no longer find myself with breasts feeling full of milk, even if it's been most of a day without nursing.  Now that Tye is older, I'm also able to negotiate a bit before nursing, especially convenient when we're in public.  Often a snack is all she needs to distract her attention, though I have to stay on my toes- if Tye is in my arms, she'll reach down my shirt in an attempt to serve herself.  We're working on that... 

And what about those teeth, you ask?  Well, I once thought I'd stop breastfeeding when my children began to have teeth, probably because I clearly remember my nursing brother biting my mother and thinking it was horrifically scary.  However, it's not.  Tye hasn't experimented much with biting, and when she has, it's been because I was trying too hard to encourage her to nurse to sleep.  When a child nurses, her tongue covers her bottom teeth, sticking out almost beyond her lower lip.  For a nursling to bite down on the nipple, she has to first move her tongue, giving mom a warning she may be about to bite.  For us, it hasn't been an issue.

As Tye grows and begins testing her limits, pushing her levels of independence, and exploring her world, nursing provides her with a safety net of sorts.  After a long run around the park or a few hours playing with friends, I can feel Tye unwind as she lays in my lap nursing.  She'll often look up at me with her big blue eyes as she's latched on to my breast and pat my chest gently or wave up at me.  Sometimes she'll wrap her arms around me in a big hug, her outstretched hands patting my back.

Although she's a running, chatty toddler, nursing Tye doesn't feel any different than nursing her as an infant.  Now that we have so much practice, it feels very second-nature.  I'm grateful I didn't put a timeline on our breastfeeding relationship when Tye was born and that we've been able to experience the benefits of nursing into toddlerhood.  

This covers the basics of my experience nursing a toddler for the past four months, though I'm sure I'll have plenty to add by the time Tye weans completely.  Because most Americans don't nurse into toddlerhood, sharing our experiences can be even more helpful to other moms.  After all, nursing a toddler is a natural, beautiful experience- what better to share.


  1. thanks for this post!! i'm still on the fence about what to do in the future but i'm considering continuing past 1 yr..

  2. Great post Em! I nursed Charlotte until she turned 2 and loved every minute.

  3. What a beautiful post! Thank you for sharing!


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