Breastfeeding toddlers is rewarding on many levels. Not only does breastfeeding your toddler provide your child emotional support, but it is critical to help your baby develop a healthy immune system. Most native cultures breastfeed for the first two years of life at a minimum. Many nurse for up to four years of life.
Not many people realize that children develop their immune system during their first two years of life. That means that by breastfeeding your toddler, you are ensuring that your child will have the best possible immune system for life.
Breastfeeding toddlers requires a few adjustments as you child grows. The best way to nurse your baby is lying down facing one another. You don’t have to change sides, just lean over so that your second breast is available.
To keep your milk production up, you need to nurse at least five times a day. Always nurse before feeding your toddler solids to ensure your breastmilk is not competing with solids for stomach space. This has added digestive benefits as well because breastmilk includes enzymes that will help your baby digest solid foods. It is a great way to assure the best possible assimilation of solid food nutrients until your baby is older and developing his/her own enzymes reliably.
Here is a great schedule for breastfeeding toddlers
- First thing after you wake up – in bed
- Immediately before you leave for work
- Lunch time – pump if working, nurse before serving solids if at home
- Late afternoon or immediately upon returning home for working moms
- Before baby goes to sleep
- Before you go to sleep – we call this a dream feed. Don’t turn the lights on, just pick baby up, nurse and return baby to bed. No talking or stimulation.
- When you wake up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom – this is a second dream feed that working mothers who want to avoid pumping at lunch can use. It is great for anyone that wants to boost their supply.
Where to breastfeed toddlers
As children grow, it gets harder to nurse them sitting up. It is much easier to nurse lying down face to face on a bed, couch or on the ground. Most women find it easiest to have a set routine and nurse in the same place.
You need to puck your nursing location carefully when breastfeeding toddlers because they can be easily distracted. You want to ensure that they have a good nursing, one that will empty both breasts. This is something they can easily do within five minutes when properly focused and motivated.
When we are at home, our favorite places to nurse is on our bed. This is a great spot since you can close the door and eliminate distractions.
For breastfeeding toddlers that are less easily distracted, the family couch is a great spot. If we are out having a picnic, lying down together on our picnic blanket is also a great place.
We often lie down in our children’s bedroom and nurse while reading a book out loud before bed. For this we choose “big boy or girl” books that don’t have pictures. This is great if you have several children. You can all lie down together on a blanket or on your bed and read and nurse together.
How to ensure your toddler will nurse as long as possible
Since breast milk is really best, we suggest limiting any fluids that will compete with your breast milk. This does not mean that you don’t ensure your child gets plenty of fluids - particularly after you have introduced solids.
It simply means that you limit fluids to breast milk and water. Don’t give your child cow’s milk, juice or anything else. They have less nutritional value and will compete for stomach space.
On the unusual occasion when our children are sick we may give them a little warm chamomile tea, but otherwise we only give water. Note: we make water available to our children at all times and encourage them to drink as much water as possible when they are running around throughout the day.
Avoiding potentially embarrassing situations
Two things that breastfeeding toddlers can do that some mothers find embarrassing are:
- Loudly tell mommy that they want to nurse
- Grab mommy’s shirt and lift it up in front of strangers
We find both to be pretty amusing! If you don’t want this to happen to you we suggest:
- Create a code name for nursing – “Nina” or “Num-Num’s” are two favorites
- Stick to a routine so that your toddler is used to you telling them that it is time to nurse versus them grabbing you any time they feel like it.
We hope that you enjoy breastfeeding toddlers as much as we do. We only get to breastfeed our children for a short time. As much as you may find nursing a hassle, you will miss it when your time is over.
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