Those who know me, know that I am a big proponent of breastfeeding. They also know that I breastfed both of my kids past the one year mark. I know that sounds strange to many or and it may even sound disgusting to others. I remember overhearing a mom in one of my circles criticize the idea not knowing that I myself was still breastfeeding my toddler. The reality is that the health benefits of doing so outweigh the social phobias against it. Since my children’s health is more important to me than what others may think, my decision was easy. That is the reason I want to share why I breastfed my kids well into their toddler years. I want others to also encouraged to do the same and know that they are not alone if they choose to do so.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding until at least one year and as long as mutually desired after that. The World Health Organization (WHO) takes it a little further and recommends at least two years. The reality is that no good pediatrician will ever chide a mother for breastfeeding past their kid’s first birthday because they know full well how beneficial it is for the child. Studies have shown (see below in “extra reading”) time and time again that there is no psychological effect on older children who are breastfed and that the health benefits continue well beyond infancy.
During the toddler years, a child’s eating habits are not established yet. They are still learning to eat good-for-you foods. Some days they hardly eat anything at all, and other days they eat everything in sight. Even as strict as I am with food, I was not sure that my toddlers were getting enough fruits and vegetables into their diets. Yet with my milk, I did not have to worry about that all. The amazing thing about breastmilk is that its composition changes over time to meet the nutritional needs of the child. So when my girls were already eating solids, my body knew what to do to provide supplemental nutrition through my milk. For example, during their second year, 448 mL of breastmilk actually provides (source):
- 29% of energy requirements
- 43% of protein requirements
- 36% of calcium requirements
- 75% of vitamin A requirements
- 76% of folate requirements
- 94% of vitamin B12 requirements
- 60% of vitamin C requirements
It really is perfect for the transitional stage that is the toddler years. At the end of the day, I could guarantee that my girls were getting all the nutrition they needed.
The other important reason is that kids’ immune systems continue to benefit from it beyond that first year as well. I experienced this first hand. A bug went around my family that knocked my seven-year-old and my husband out for 24 hours (Others who got this same bug suffered with it for several days). They both had constant vomiting and a fever. For some reason, I was immune and I was spared the multiple trips to the bathroom. My guess was that having grown up in Guatemala and my numerous travels had exposed me to all kinds of bugs and I therefore have a built-in immunity to a lot of things. The incredible thing is that my toddler who has obviously had less exposure to stomach bugs, got it, but it only lasted a couple of hours. She vomited once in the morning and had a slight fever, but by late afternoon she was back to normal. I was still breastfeeding my toddler at the time. I was positive that the breastfeeding was the key in keeping her sickness at bay.
There is also the comfort aspect to breastfeeding. Toddlers are still too small too understand what is going on and it is more difficult to comfort them during an illness. Breastfeeding allowed me to have something that I could give them that would make them feel better immediately and provide a sense of security when they are too young to understand otherwise. It is a beautiful thing.
When is the right time to wean? I do not think there is a right answer for that. I think mothers need to follow their instincts. My first child was ready stop at 2 years old and she never looked back. My second child was different. I had planned to stop at the two year mark but my gut told me that she needed it longer. I breastfed her about 4 months more and then she too was ready.
In the US, where breastfeeding is still taboo in many circles, breastfeeding beyond a year is almost too much to bear. However, that view is hypocritical in today’s culture. It just does not make sense that it is okay to see breasts of Victoria Secrets models plastered on billboards, but somehow it is not okay to see a mother feeding her child. We have sexualized breasts so much that in our minds we have perverted something so beautiful and innocent. As a mom you will need to make your own decisions as to what is most important to you. However, do know that if you decide to breastfeed beyond a year, you are not alone. There are other moms out there that do it proudly for the sake of their kids regardless of whether it is socially taboo or not.