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Toddler Breastfeeding: All your Questions Answered


November 13, 2018 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Google+ Breastfeeding


Toddler Breastfeeding: All Your Questions Answered | Baby & Beyond

Breastfeeding has been a beautiful journey. Before Baby N was born, I wasn’t much aware about the benefits of breastfeeding for the baby or the mother. I just knew it was something to be done and that I would try my best to do it. I had no plan of how long I would continue to do it. And 31 months later, the incredible journey has come to an end.

 

WHO recommends breastfeeding up to the age of 2 and beyond. However it was not because of any statistic or WHO recommendation that I continued to breastfeed. I did it because it always felt right. As a baby, breastfeeding gave my baby a strong start to life and as a toddler, it has soothed him through many of life’s small and big setbacks – illnesses, falls, vaccinations and teething. Do check out all the fabulous badges I collected from Le Leche League (yes I collected them all and I’m going to flaunt them too because I’m FRIKKIN’ PROUD of myself, my body and my family & virtual village who supported me for the past 2.5 years!!)

 

 

I did not often talk openly about breastfeeding my toddler, not because I was embarrassed, but because there are so many myths and questions out there about toddler breastfeeding. There is a stigma around nursing beyond the baby stage. It was in August this year during World Breastfeeding Week that I finally spoke about this topic on Instagram and many of you came back to me with questions about it. So as I had committed to do then (and finally got around to doing 3 months later), here is a list of all your questions about toddler breastfeeding, finally answered.

 

Toddler Breastfeeding: All Your Questions Answered | Baby & Beyond

Toddler Breastfeeding: All Your Questions Answered | Baby & Beyond

 

1. Does it hurt once baby starts teething?

One of the most common questions I get is doesn’t nursing hurt when baby gets his teeth. The action of nursing involves baby’s lips and not the teeth, just like drinking from a straw. So ideally you can continue nursing without any problem, teeth or not.

However having said that, the initial months when the first teeth start erupting can be tricky. The baby is just starting to explore these new things erupting in his mouth. Couples with the soreness of gums, baby will chomp down on anything he can get a hold of – spoons, toys, straws, and nipple, both bottle and mom. Trust me, having a baby chomp down on you is no fun. It’s excruciatingly painful and can put you off nursing altogether.

I remember I used to shriek in pain every time baby N bit me, but that was the worst thing to do. He started enjoying the reaction, used to laugh and do it again. And he started using it as a defense when I was trying to put him to sleep and he didn’t want to sleep. The best thing to do is unlatch, explain to the e child that it hurts mamma and if required, put him down and step away for a few minutes. Eventually they do understand and learn to nurse without getting the teeth in the way. Once the first stage of front teething is done, you can forget about all the biting, as will they.

 

2. Is it true that a breastfeeding toddler will not be able to sleep through the night?

Another myth about toddler breastfeeding is that a breastfeeding toddler will not learn to sleep through the night. Yes, it is generally observed that breastfed babies take longer to reach the milestone of sleeping through the night, however they do get there.

Little N did not start sleeping through the night till almost 2 years. He was up every 2 hours and asking for mum-mum to go back to sleep. I heard often enough that the reason was breastfeeding. It was not enough to keep him full through the night, he was getting hungry, cow milk will fill his stomach and ensure he sleeps well, or just that he was so habituated to nursing that he would never give it up.

I heard this so often that I almost started to believe it and started trying to forcefully night wean him which was a disaster (more on this in the next question). A few weeks later, N was diagnosed with enlarged adenoids which were blocking his nasal passage. So we realized that it for due to this that he was having difficulty breathing lying down and hence was waking up often. Literally the week we started treating his adenoids, he started sleeping soundly for 7-8 hours at a stretch. After that for another year or so, he still continued nursing to fall asleep and then slept through the night. And there was the proof! Breastfeeding had nothing to do with his fitful sleep. If anything, it was comforting him when he was having trouble breathing and helping him to go back to sleep. 

Sleeping through the night is a milestone and just like every other milestone, every child reaches it when he is ready, breastfed or not.

Also read: Breastfeeding Fact: Why do babies need to nurse?

 

3. Is it harder to wean as the child gets older?

On the contrary, I found it to be easier. As I mentioned, we tried night weaning at 18 months and it was a disaster. I started sleeping in another room at night while my baby cried for me and my husband tried offering him a bottle. It was emotionally and physically draining for all 3 of us and we gave up in 3 days.

After 2 years, my child was more ready to accept it if I told him that I was tired / not well or that there was no mum-mum left. Also the natural age for children to outgrow the need to breastfeed is post 2 years so the weaning happens much more naturally and peacefully. Once he started dropping feeds, I followed the “Don’t ask, don’t offer” policy which means that if he didn’t ask for a feed, I didn’t offer it. Gradually he asked for it lesser and lesser and now it’s been a month since he has asked for it so I can safely assume that he has outgrown the need naturally.

(Note that the exact age post 2 years for natural weaning is different for each child)

 

4. Does breastfeeding provide any nutrition beyond 1 year since the child is already on solids?

It is well known that the constitution of breast milk does not remain constant throughout the nursing period. It changes based on baby’s age, health, even time of day. Various studies have found that human milk after 1 year contains higher concentration of protein and fat as compared to milk in the first year, to cater to the growth and energy needs of a toddler. Studies have also shown than in the 2nd year, mother’s milk can fulfill over 60% of Vits A, B12, C and folate requirements of the child. BM is no less than a magic potion that changes itself to fulfill the nutritional needs of the child.

Also read: 6 Ways Breastmilk Changes to Suit Baby’s Needs

 

5. Will breastfeeding make the child eat less solids and hence get less nutrition from other sources / not put on sufficient weight?

Breastfeeding and complementary feeding go hand-in-hand. Little N used to eat 3 full meals and a snack, in addition to a whole glass of ‘regular’ cow milk. The key is to keep a gap between nursing and eating so that it does not reduce the child’s appetite for food. Just as you would not offer a glass of milk right before or in place of a meal, the same applies to BM too.

 

6. Doesn’t breastfeeding beyond baby stage make the child overly clingy to the mother?

No! It’s natural for any child to be attached to his mother, breastfed or not but trust me, you are not raising a clingy baby just because you are breastfeeding. I have a very independent child who spends a significant portion of the day away from me at school and daycare. When I drop him off, he runs in happily without looking back so I think it’s safe to assume that he’s not overly clingy to me. He loves spending time equally with me or his father or grandparents.

 

7. What if they ask for it in public? Isn’t it awkward / embarrassing?

I used to worry about this too, but for no reason. It probably only happened a handful of times in the entire 2.5 years. I guess N understood that this was something just between the two of us and he never made a big hue and cry about it in public. We had a word “mum-mum” for nursing so even if he asked, people assumed he wanted water. A couple of times when he was more insistent he did try to pull my top. But you know what? I realized that it’s just a little child asking for his milk. So what! There is nothing awkward or embarrassing about that!

 

8. What is nursing aversion and how do you get past it?

Breastfeeding aversion is a phenomenon whereby the act of breastfeeding makes you feel irritated and angry and it usually occurs if you are breastfeeding long term, beyond 1.5-2 years. It sometimes feels like an itchy, crawly sensation all over your skin, or just a bout of irritation and an urge to delatch the child. I did experience the latter several times as N got older.

Though there is no known scientific reason for such feelings that I know of, I have read that these can be attributed to nutrition, hormones, tiredness, sleep deprivation and need for personal space. On days when N seemed to be nursing more than usual, I used to get the feeling that my body is no longer mine and that feeling coupled with the tiredness used to trigger the negative emotions.

There is no one way to get past such emotions. Just try to get a break, get some time away and rest. Ensure you are eating a healthy balanced diet and drinking sufficient water. Don’t let yourself feel guilty over a nursing aversion because it has nothing to do with your love for your baby. And don’t let this be the reason for weaning either because it is just a natural phase of breastfeeding.

 

I have tried to cover all the common questions I get asked about toddler breastfeeding, but if you have anything specific you would like to know, do comment below or DM me on Instagram.

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Comments
  1. Gunjan Upadhyay said on November 14, 2018 5:44 pm:

    Great Post Mahek. I too bf Tuggu at 23 months and we have dropped to only nap time and sleep time feeds. He still wakes up at night for mumma dudu and I find it so hard to console him and at give up! I wish before his 2nd birthday we are able to go off night feedings too