Breastfeeding, particularly extended breastfeeding, tends to be a controversial topic. Since I am writing this during World Breastfeeding Week, I am going to go ahead and tackle this topic head (or boob) on! As I have mentioned in my post, “The Milk Maid,” I struggled initially to produce enough milk after giving birth to my daughter. A lot of women struggle to breastfeed, whether it is production or developing the correct latch. It is supposed to be so naturally, but nobody tells you that it breastfeeding may not come naturally to you.
Plenty of women choose not to breastfeed at all, and you will receive no judgment from me. It is your life and your body, mama. Some women will nurse until their maternity leave comes to an end and they have to return to work. This is because pumping breast milk in a toilet stall or closet leaves something to be desired.
It is very difficult to find the time and space to pump in a work environment. Some employers are more more accommodating than others, but still, you are in work mode. You do not want to pump. You want to do your job and go home on time to snuggle your sweet little baby.
I am very fortunate to work as a teacher from home. Besides the ability to continue my passion for education, I have been able to be present for my daughter 24/7 since the day she was born. Once I was able to successfully breastfeed, the milk just kept on flowing. I was hoping to make it to one year, but that milestone came and went, and my daughter was still nursing like a champ.
Extended breastfeeding is the nursing of your child beyond one year. This is the point at which the judgment pendulum begins to swing. If you do not breastfeed your infant, you may receive judgment from your pediatrician and your mother-in-law and everyone in between. Keep in mind, you know your lifestyle and body better than anyone else. You do not have to explain yourself.
If you continue to breastfeed your toddler past one year, you may receive judgment from family members, friends, and even your significant other. You may receive some very scathing glares from strangers. If you can tell everyone to mind their own business, continuing to breastfeed your child is awesome, and here is why:
Extended breastfeeding is actually recommended.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends breastfeeding your child exclusively for six months and continued breastfeeding for two years or beyond.
Did you know that breastfeeding past one year is actually the recommendation and not the exception to the rule? Go ahead. Poll your mommy friends. This is not something that is regularly discussed or publicized. But the next time someone asks incredulously, “Are you still breastfeeding?!” Go ahead and say, “Yes, it is recommended by the World Health Organization,” and maybe add a “So there.”
Breast milk is still super-duper good for your toddler.
The health benefits of breast milk do not magically expire after one year. It provides your very active toddler with the energy, nutrients, fat, and protein they need to keep them going all day. Moms often worry about their busy toddlers not eating enough of the right foods or not eating enough period. Breast milk fills the gaps left from inconsistent eating habits like no amount of vitamins or protein shakes can.
You may have less trips to the pediatrician’s office because breast milk helps boost your toddler’s immunity. Is there anything worse than a sick toddler? I think not. However, if your toddler does fall under the weather, nursing helps to comfort them and feel less miserable.
Breastfeeding your toddler is great for their hair, bones, teeth, and eyes. They tend to be better hydrated as well. My daughter was spared a trip to the emergency room for dehydration after a particularly nasty bout with the stomach flu because she was still nursing. Breastfed toddlers are less likely to be fussy eaters because mama’s milk does such an amazing job at stimulating those taste buds. Furthermore, they are likely to maintain a healthy weight and be at lower risk for obesity.
If you are a germaphobe (like me), you need not worry (as much) because breast milk helps to strengthen your toddler’s immune system. In fact, the immune building properties in breast milk only get better in the second and third years of nursing!
Extended breastfeeding is good for you, mama.
Your body works hard to create the perfect nutritional food for your baby, and when you work that hard, you burn calories. Say goodbye to that stubborn baby weight because nursing can be just the workout you were looking for! Plus, you can relax on your couch and watch The Bachelor while you do it!
Even better, extended breastfeeding is great for your health. According to the Mayo Clinic, studies show that extended breastfeeding has been linked to the reduction of risk in developing breast and ovarian cancer.
Extended breastfeeding allows your toddler to become more independent, not less.
You read that right. Extended breastfeeding actually helps your child to become more independent and less dependent. Your toddler feels that their emotional, psychological, and physical needs are being met, so they feel confident to go out and conquer the world.
Think about it: Your toddler feels secure and loved. Their belly is full. What can’t they achieve on their own? Check out what AttachmentParenting.org and SheKnows.com have to say. I did not make this up!
Nursing provides you and your toddler with some much needed downtime.
It’s like my toddler wakes up in the morning and someone has flipped some invisible “on” switch. She takes off running at a full sprint, ready to tackle the universe and everything in it. I require copious amounts of caffeine in order to keep pace.
I am a toddler mom. You will not find me lounging around with my feet up. My hair is messy, my clothes all have stains, and I have not had a pedicure in years. I also work from home. I attempt, not always successfully, to juggle my career and stay-at-home mom duties simultaneously. I am always running.
Nursing forces both me and my toddler to stop. We snuggle and smile at one another. I put my computer away, and she puts down her toys. We stop for just a few minutes, but it is enough to recharge both of our batteries.
Convinced, but you still have some doubts? Here are some tips for making extended breastfeeding work for you:
Feed “on demand” but with some boundaries.
With the exception of my daughter’s first weeks of life, in which I would wake her every two hours to nurse, I feed “on demand.” I never ask if she wants to nurse. I follow her lead. The life of a toddler is a busy one, and she does not always want to stop for “gulk” (as she calls it).
I ensure that my daughter has three meals a day with healthy snacks in between. Some days, that is enough for her. Some days, she wants to nurse more frequently throughout the day, especially if she is not feeling well or has an upset tummy. However, I insist that she ask politely and say “please.” If I need a few minutes, I ask that she be patient.
Use nursing to help with your toddler’s behavior management.
When my daughter is upset, she asks to nurse. People will say, “Oh, she just wants to nurse for comfort.” As above, the health benefits associated with nursing are innumerable, but there is a comfort factor. There is nothing wrong with that.
However, nursing is not the first thing I go to during a toddler tantrum. First, I try what I call her “calm-down bottles.” Then, we talk about her feelings and what is causing her tantrum. Next, we hug. Finally, we may nurse (if she wants to). After nursing, when she is completely calm and relaxed, we discuss what to do next time she is feeling angry and frustrated.
Ignore the haters.
I am not going to lie. People are going to think that you are weird, strange, or some kind of hippie. Friends and family members may say, “Oh, that is great that you are able to nurse for that long!” But when they get home, they are going to talk about you behind your back, and it is not going to be nice. Ignore them. Their opinions do not matter. Do what you think is best for you and your child.
You must also ignore the haters if you are breastfeeding in public. There is so much debate about nursing an infant in public, let alone a toddler. My toddler is usually happily crunching away on Goldfish crackers or carrots sticks in public. She does not normally require the additional sustenance of breast milk, as she did when she was a baby. However, if she does require such nourishment, you had better believe that I am going to give it to her.
We were recently at an all-day outdoor event. There were few food options and the only places for privacy were porta potties. So I nursed my toddler. I received some stares and quite a few glares. I ignored them all and just smiled.
Just a little FYI for the haters, breastfeeding is not sexual. Boobs were not invented for ogling. Breasts were created to feed babies and toddlers.
*All links included in this post are links to further information for your reading pleasure. I have no affiliation with any of these sources. If you would like to learn more about the joys and pitfalls of breastfeeding, one of my favorite blogs on the subject is The Milk Meg.