Monday, December 26, 2011

Ten things you ought to know about nursing a toddler

UPDATE: This list of ten things is missing a number nine! Find it here.

1. Let's just get this out of the way first. Some people are uncomfortable when mothers breastfeed their toddler. I can't tell you how many times I've had someone tell me, "If they can ask for it, they should be drinking out of a cup," and then they laugh uncomfortably.  Shira and I have one thing to say to those people: we disagree. Shira most certainly knows how to ask for it, and you might even hear her request for milk if you are anywhere in the Greater Toronto Area, since she declares her request for mee--eelk in much the same way (though in a much louder voice) that a donkey might yelp in pain. There is no chance that after such an eloquent request that I am going to turn her down.

2. Shira would also like me to tell you that she can absolutely drink from a cup, whether it be water, a little juice, or more recently, chocolate soy milk. All of these things are delicious in a cup. However, breastmilk, she reminds us, comes from the breast, and in the breast it shall remain. But let's not get down on her mad cup skills. Breastfeeding for a toddler is about many, many things, so let's not get overwhelmed by issues of cup competency, shall we?

3. In the beginning, there was a sweet and soft little baby in my arms as we nursed. Once we got past all of the initial challenges of feeding a tiny new human, we developed a wonderfully sweet and soft little ritual of breastfeeding every twenty minutes or so. Things have changed. Fortunately for everyone involved, toddlers do not breastfeed every twenty minutes. And fortunately or unfortunately, depending on who you ask, it's rarely sweet or soft. Ok, it's still mostly sweet, but soft? I guess you could describe the headstand she performed yesterday while nursing, nipple still in mouth, as graceful, but soft it was not. I kid you not, she turned herself upside down.

4. Oh, and that part I just wrote about toddlers not nursing often? I lied. Sometimes they ask to nurse a lot, all the time, all over town. And sometimes you acquiesce.  But one of the nice things about breastfeeding older babies is the absence of guilt. Seriously, you know how much you worry about feeding infants, worrying about whether or not they are getting enough milk, or enough of the right milk, at the right times of day, from opposite boobs (did I nurse on the right or left last time)? Nursing a toddler is so freeing! As long as they are eating regular food alongside breastfeeding, it doesn't really matter how often or not they nurse. And since feeding toddlers food is never stressful, you're laughing!

5. I love, love, love breastfeeding Shira, and I loved breastfeeding Alyce, and I'll get that the reasons I love it soon, but there are some things you should know, and they aren't always pretty. At least once a week Shira pulls my shirt down in public with hopes a quick snack, and I'm almost always trying to pay for my groceries at the time. And on account of her sometimes acrobatic approach to a snack, I sometimes incur injuries not just to my breasts, but to my face or arms. Just last week I sported not a tiny scratch along my chin, the nastiest toddler toenail scratch I've ever had.

6. Yes, sharp teeth are a hazard in any toddler breastfeeding relationship. But Shira's only bitten me a few times, and frankly, I find her recent mastery of screeching every time I turn my attention away from her much more painful than the rare bite. Maybe I have nipples of steel, or maybe her screeching is just really annoying.

7. Breastfeeding mothers often shy away from discussing what they get from nursing a child, infant or toddler, but I wish that would change. Snuggling up with Shira first thing in the morning or after a nap, under the covers, feels wonderful. Breastfeeding a child is food and nutrition and comfort, but it is also intimate, and as the girls grow older I don't think I'll ever forget how lovely it felt to snuggle close with them as they breastfed. 

(8. I am lazy, and sometimes I don't feel like walking all the way into the kitchen to pour her a cup of something else. Boobs are always close by and at the ready. Ease of accessibility is not just a perk of breastfeeding an infant.)

10. If you've ever met a toddler you'll know that they won't do anything they don't like. You cannot make a toddler breastfeed if it isn't the exact thing they want at that exact moment. Try nursing an uninterested breastfeeder and you'll see, just make sure you wear protective gear. So if your toddler wants to nurse, and you're still up for it, I hope you'll do it. There are no rules about how long you have to breastfeed, and no rules about when to wean. Just remember that mothers make some pretty amazing milk and it's a shame for it to go to waste if there are takers around looking for some good food and good company. There are many good reasons to stop breastfeeding and by all means, do what is best for you, but I just hope you won't let your child's ability to badly pronounce the word "milk" (or some other variation) stand in your way!

See here for a post of actual helpful suggestions for breastfeeding a toddler, over at PhD in Parenting.


  1. danielle i love you!
    you are still the cool older cousin i look up to!
    I am going to share this with some of my friends if you don't mind.
    i am still nursing tao, and loving it too!
    but i feel like i need to keep it a secret, cause people say things already (he is only 11 months) like "shouldn't you stop breast feeding him by now? i only did it for 6 months bla bla bla"
    loved reading this :)

  2. I wonder why there is still so much general discomfort around breastfeeding. I mean, do people generally have issues with toddlers breastfeeding because they were hope that breastfeeding can at least be limited to infants? Why should anyone have the idea that "if they can ask for it, they should get it in a cup"? What does that line represent?

    Is it that Western culture still really cannot deal with the reality of the female body as maternal and sexual? Mothers ideally but impossibly should be virgins so the sight of real mothers, who only are mothers because they are also sexual beings, feeding from the breast, which is still mainly a sexual thing in our cultural imagination, is a problem. And while people generally can accept infants breastfeeding (though for many only if feeding happens in private), far fewer can accept that the breast should continue to be both maternal and sexual as it is when a woman breastfeeds a child for more than a year?

    I could be completely wrong but I do think this discomfort has to do with our culture's extreme narrowmindedness about female body/being.

    So, Danielle, feed your children as you all see fit. That is best for them, you, and us!

    Pat Dold

  3. Pat, I think all of what you say is true. I think most people agree that breastfeeding infants is a good thing (though I've met a few people who don't like any kind of breastfeeding at all), but the toddler thing freaks them out, as though once you cross the line and nurse a nineteen month old, you're bound to continue nursing them into adulthood. Or that once a child understands how breastfeeding works (boob=milk=food=I want some), that they are too old for it. An infant is just a lump without understanding, whereas a toddler can think about things. I've also heard some women say they wouldn't breastfeed a toddler boy, because that would be weird. I don't even know what to say to that one!

    And Anon., glad you liked it!