image by DenisDenis
My baby girl is 15 months today. She’s still nursing several times a day, even though she eats quite a bit of solid food. And you know what? We’re not quitting any time soon.
There is a cultural norm in the U.S. to end the breastfeeding relationship at a year, if it has last that long. It is perhaps even a cultural assumption. An expectation. I’ve heard so many moms say about their child, “Yeah, it’s time to wean. He’ll be one soon.”
Now please understand that I’m in no way judging mothers who choose to wean at or before a year. Breastfeeding is a personal choice, obviously, and mothers need to do what they feel is best. The purpose of this post is to share why someone might choose to continue breastfeeding longer than a year. Is it just to indulge the child? Is it just to appease a mother who is sad her little baby is growing too fast?
In fact, there are so many reasons to continue breastfeeding beyond a year that I can’t list them all here. But here are a few that stand out to me and have affirmed me in my decision to nurse my children past that one-year milestone.
Balance Out A Hit-Or-Miss Toddler Diet
Have you ever heard someone say that breast milk loses nutritional value after a year? Did you look at them like they were speaking jibberish? Breast milk is always nutritious, especially when a mother is eating a nutritious diet! Just because your baby is eating food doesn’t mean they aren’t getting anything from your milk anymore.
Older babies and toddlers are notorious for being inconsistent eaters. One day my little girl will chow down, and the next day I can barely get anything in her. She doesn’t always feel like drinking from a sippy cup, so I can’t just replace breast milk with raw cow’s milk. On those days when she baffles us with her lack of appetite, I breathe a sigh of relief that she is still nursing so much. She has fat, carbohydrates, protein, vitamins, minerals, and probiotics in a nice neat package, available to her whenever she needs it. Phew!
Illness Recovery & Prevention
According to KellyMom, “Breastfeeding toddlers between the ages of one and three have been found to have fewer illnesses, illnesses of shorter duration, and lower mortality rates.” For whatever it’s worth, I can say that I’ve never had to take my children (15 months and 3 1/2) to the doctor due to illness. In fact, since we don’t vaccinate, we generally avoid the doctor and go for home remedies and chiropractic care instead. And so far, so good. Studies have shown that we’re not an anomaly. Breastfed children are healthier!
You probably know that one reason breast milk is so great for your babies immune system has to do with antibodies. Through breast milk, a mother passes antibodies to her child for illnesses she is already immune to. Additionally, when you nurse your child (and cuddle, kiss, etc.), you are exposed to the germs they have come into contact with; then your body makes antibodies and passes along the antibodies.
What you may not know is that some of these antibodies actually become more concentrated in your milk as your child grows! Next time someone tells you that breast milk has no nutritional value after the first year, try that one on for size.
And as for recovering from illness if your child does get sick, remember this: breast milk is the perfect rehydrating beverage! When we got hit with a bad stomach bug last winter, it was such a relief to be able to nurse my baby through it. Many children can keep breast milk down much easier than water or Pedialyte type beverages. And it’s a lot more nutritious, too. Yay!
I have a young toddler who prefers to nurse in private with no distractions, so I haven’t been able to enjoy as many of the conveniences of extended nursing with her as I did with my very attached son. While he was nursing (until a few months past two), we could nurse anywhere, anytime. He had no other comforter other than yours truly: no binky, blankey, lovey, or thumb would soothe that boy. Fall down and hurt yourself? “Na-na!” Hungry or thirsty? “Na-na.” Tired, grumpy, groggy, or sad? “Na-na.” At home or away, I had a powerful parenting tool on me at all times. I seriously don’t know what I would have done without it.
And consider this: when you’re past the year mark, you’ve got this thing down. In most cases, you don’t have to worry about engorgement, mastitis, poor latch, or any other nursing problems. If your toddler likes to nurse, and you like nursing your toddler, be free to continue as long as you want. I know it’s hard, but don’t worry about what your mom or the other ladies in the church nursery think. You are giving your child a beautiful gift!