What are the benefits of breastfeeding my toddler?
Toddlers breastfeed for many of the same reasons infants breastfeed: for nutrition, comfort, security, for a way to calm down and for reassurance. Mothers breastfeed their toddlers for many of the same reasons they breastfeed their infants: they recognize their children's needs, they enjoy the closeness, they want to offer comfort, and they understand the health benefits. (See the FAQ, "What are the Benefits of Breastfeeding My Baby?" for more information.) The American Academy of Pediatrics currently recommends that "Breastfeeding should be continued for at least the first year of life and beyond for as long as mutually desired by mother and child.." * The World Health Organization and UNICEF recommend that babies be breastfed for at least two years.
Breastfeeding a toddler helps with the child's ability to mature. Although some experts say a toddler who is not weaned will have difficulty becoming independent, it's usually the fearful, clingy children that have been pushed into situations requiring too much independence too soon. A breastfeeding toddler is having his dependency needs met. The closeness and availability of the mother through breastfeeding is one of the best ways to help toddlers grow emotionally.
Breastfeeding can help a toddler understand discipline as well. Discipline is teaching a child about what is right and good, not punishment for normal toddler behavior. To help a toddler with discipline, he needs to feel good about himself and his world. Breastfeeding helps a toddler feel good about himself, because his needs are being met.
Just as babies do, toddlers receive health benefits from breastfeeding. Your milk continues to provide immunities and vitamins, and can help protect your toddler from illness and allergies. If your toddler does get sick, nursing will help comfort him. In fact, a toddler with an upset stomach may be able to tolerate nothing but human milk.
Toddlers have a huge world to explore, and breastfeeding provides them (and their mothers!) with some quiet time in their busy, waking hours.
*See "Breastfeeding and Use of Human Milk" in PEDIATRICS Vol. 129 No. 3 March 2012
Resources for Additional Information
Many articles of interest to mothers of breastfeeding toddlers can be found in our resource collection on extended breastfeeding (breastfeeding past one year).
These items published by La Leche League may be available from the LLLI Online Store or through your local Leader:
THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING, published by La Leche League International, is the most complete resource available for the breastfeeding mother.
Breastfeeding Makes a Difference: This popular publication from LLLI has been revised to include information on DHA and brain growth, protection against obesity, and how human milk kills cancer cells. Great for anyone, from new mothers to health care professionals, that wants to know why breastfeeding really does make a difference.
MOTHERING YOUR NURSING TODDLER, revised edition, by Norma Jane Bumgarner: The classic handbook for mothers who breastfeed their children past infancy in an updated and expanded edition. Norma Jane Bumgarner puts the experience of nursing an older baby or child in perspective, within the context of the entire mother-child relationship. She cites biological, cultural, and historical evidence in support of extended breastfeeding and shares stories gleaned from thousands of families for whom breastfeeding and natural weaning have been the norm.
HOW WEANING HAPPENS, by Diane Bengson: Written by an LLL Leader, HOW WEANING HAPPENS explains the gradualness of weaning and life with a nursing toddler.
MY CHILD WON'T EAT! by Carlos González, MD: Parents everywhere worry when their baby or toddler doesn't seem to eat as much as they think he should. Carlos González, a pediatrician and father, sets those fears to rest as he explores the reasons why a child refuses food, the pitfalls of growth charts, and the ways that growth and activity affect a child's caloric needs. He reassures parents that children know how much they need to eat and it's the parents' job to provide healthful food choices. Forcing a child to eat more than what he needs can only lead to tears, tantrums, and eventually, obesity.
ADVENTURES IN GENTLE DISCIPLINE, by Hilary Flower: Empathy, respect, and compassion. Author Hilary Flower recommends these qualities as the basic components of gentle discipline and encourages parents to find ways to make gentle discipline work for both themselves and their children. Personal stories from a variety of mothers show creative adaptations of gentle discipline methods in different families. Adventures in Gentle Discipline provides parents with tools and encouragement to put theory into practice to be real parents, not perfect parents.