I’ve been breastfeeding for 9 years straight now.
Four children and close age gaps has meant there has always been someone feeding for as long as I’ve been a parent. That seems like a long time when you think about it! But, it has been one of the best decisions. My older two daughters weaned when they were three and a half, my younger two are still feeding at four and a half and three.
It’s something I never expected I’d do in the beginning, but now it just seems so…normal. I think there are so many positives to continuing to breastfeed into the toddler years and beyond. I know it’s not always easy, and I know you’ll come up against some negative people, so I wanted to offer some encouragement and support.
If you want to keep breastfeeding (and your child does too), then go right ahead. Your body, your choice.
10 Reasons to Breastfeed an Older Child
1. Because You Both Want To
Breastfeeding is between two people, the one feeding and the one being fed. If both mother and child are happy to continue then that’s all that matters. People thinking they get an opinion on it is pretty odd. Worry about your own breasts!
2. Normalising for You and Others
When I had my first daugter I decided I’d breastfeed for a year. That’s what my Mum did. Then when my daughter got to that age it seemed weird just to stop. There was no great change in her from the day before her birthday until now. Continuing to breastfeed just felt natural. I knew that other people didn’t feel that way though and that they thought she was getting too old to breastfeed. I felt awkward about feeding around others. Fast forward to my fourth daughter and it doesn’t seem strange at all. I had totally forgotten that after she was a year old people might be thinking she was too old to feed. I’d fed her big sisters until they were over 3 years old.
Not only does breastfeeding toddlers and older children help normalise it for other people, it changes your perspective too. I seem to automatically assume most toddlers are breastfed now until I learn otherwise, ha! Normalising breastfeeding is super important and I’ve certainly done my part. Everyone should be supported in their choice to feed their child.
So many people believe that breast milk only has nutitional benefits for babies, and after that there is no point. That’s simply not true. Breast milk is nutitionally valuable for as long as it continues.
For example, In the second year (12-23 months), 448 mL of breastmilk provides:
- 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
You can read more here.
Not only does breastfeeding nourish our children’s bodies, but our connection with them too. It is incredibly bonding. Breastfeeding stimulates the release of oxytocin, the love hormone, which encourages nurturing, and a strong emotional bond. Some research has also suggested that “women who breastfeed their children longer exhibit more maternal sensitivity well past the infant and toddler years”. Maternal sensitivity was defined as the the mother’s responsiveness to her child, emotional tone, flexibility, and ability to read her child’s cues.
I always found that breastfeeding made me pause and connect with my child during the busyness and exploration of the toddler years, and I loved that.
Guys, boobs are so handy in the toddler years. They’re the perfect kid soother and comforter. Booby (as my kids call it) has fixed many a problem around here. Some people see that as a negative. They say kids are only breastfeeding for comfort. So what? That’s like saying you’re only hugging them for comfort. Of course I am!
6. Sibling bond
With small age gaps here, there were a lot of years of tandem feeding. The first time around, I was worried. Would my eldest daughter be jealous? Would she not want the baby to feed? But oh my gosh, I was amazed. It was all just love! She never cared about having to share. She would have some and then hop off and tell me that she didn’t have too much because she wanted to leave some for the baby. It was something they were both a part of, the baby was welcomed into her world. It has only ever been positive around here. I know not everyone has that experience but it was definitely a bonding experience between siblings for us. Also, can I just say, having a toddler feeding when you’re experiencing engorgement after your milk comes in, priceless!
7. Because Bottles are Ok
Sometimes people ask ‘Why don’t you just give her a bottle?’ and I find this quite strange. Why would it be perfectly acceptable to still have a bottle at this age but not breastfeed? The only difference is more work for me. No thank you. If bottles are still ok then breastfeeding should be no different. Is it because they see me breastfeeding a child and think it is somehow sexual? Dude that’s creepy, get some help.
8. Because Arbitrary Rules Make No Sense
I’m not a fan of arbitrary rules about anything. We don’t do that here and breastfeeding is no exception. It makes no sense to me to come up with a random cut-off age when we will wean. What do we do instead? Just be authentic. Boundaries and needs are an ongoing discussion. As the kids get older I let them know my personal boundaries. I am happy to feed a newborn whenever they want for as long as they want of course, but with a 3-year-old we can negotiate. I don’t want to sit down and feed all day and that’s ok. We both matter. We work out what we’re both comfortable with.
Breastfeeding a child past infancy does not make them less independent. You can’t force independance. Taking away their comfort is not going to make them more independent. What fosters independence is children feeling secure and meeting their needs. When they are ready they will naturally become more and more independent and will be much more confident in that, knowing that they will not be forced to do anything before they are ready.
All my children have fed to sleep. People tried to warn me about getting into this habit when they were young, like it was a bad thing. I thought these people were crazy, ha! Breastfeeding is the easiest way to help a tired child to sleep. Why on earth would I give that up? Also, have you never snuggled up with a child and fed them to sleep and watched their eyelids flutter and seen the dreamy totally in love look they give you? It’s pretty much the best thing ever. I’ll be doing that as much as possible thank you very much.
Breatfeeding an older child is not a negative thing. Meeting their needs is never wrong. If it feels right, do it. No other opinion matters.