Eight surprises of breastfeeding a young toddler

Back when I wrote “Seven surprises of breastfeeding an older baby” Talitha was eight-months-old.

I was so grateful that I’d made it past six months as we had such difficulty finding our breastfeeding “rhythm” in the early days.

I wanted to document and explore this experience that I’d nearly missed out on.

I also kind of wanted to share it with others because a few people had expressed to me either surprise that we were still breastfeeding or uncertainty about the value of what we were doing.

AND SHE WAS JUST A BABY.

She’s now nineteen-months-old, so we’ve passed that arbitrary eighteen-month cut-off point that a lot of people erect.

I am now officially breastfeeding a toddler and, short of something radical happening, it doesn’t look like the end is soon in sight.

I am once again grateful and want to share eight of the things I’m so glad I didn’t miss out on by weaning to my own schedule.

1. You become flexible

I’ve always had a natural tendency towards being very black-and-white about things. I thrive well on rules and lists, even if they are counter-cultural.

Becoming a mother has changed that for me. Breastfeeding has changed that for me.

I’ve told you before about being a little uncomfortable seeing my aunt breastfeed her two-year-old. With that age now looking me in the face, I realise that somehow, over time, my opinions have changed.

I started this parenting journey with lots of rules. Talitha would sleep in her cot, I would breastfeed her for a year, I would take my time to pick her up when she cried, etc, etc.

After she was born, the person that she is hugely impacted on the person that I am.

I became able to let go. I grew an understanding that every mother’s journey is so specific to her.

Bit by bit, I am seeing that what you do plays a role in shaping your measure of what’s “normal” and that it’s worth being aware of that when relating to others.

2. Breastfeeding is about so much more than milk

I began to discover this the night Talitha was born. She fed continuously and, in fear that I’d fall asleep and drop her, I allowed a midwife to take her for a walk.

A few minutes later, she brought her back since she wouldn’t settle. Instead, she attached a co-sleeper to my hospital bed and, cuddled next to me, she fell asleep. It wasn’t just the milk she needed. It was me.

This becomes so much more obvious the older she gets. When she’s hungry, she asks specifically for food, sometimes even telling me what kind: “Na-NA (banana) Ahh-boo (apple), Chee (cheese)!”

Breastfeeding is now about wanting comfort to go to sleep or to check in between running around being busy or reconnecting after some extended time apart. It’s about making sure I’m still there in the middle of the night.

It’s also wonderful for calming a tantrum and for saying sorry if I’ve lost my temper.

Of course, there are other ways of doing these things but this is such a quick, easy and instinctive way to do them. Biology has given mothers and children a helping hand.

3. Human milk is still very valuable milk

I smile that I even feel I need to include this one but there was certainly a time when I thought the health benefits of breastfeeding had an expiration date.

I’ve told you before that Talitha keeps a pretty limited diet these days. It’s such a relief to me to know that she is still getting a lot of her nutrients from my milk.

Any mother breastfeeding a toddler will tell you that when they’re ill, it’s reassuring that they have the most digestible food available.

And of course, both mother and toddler are continuing to lower their future risks of cancers.

Not that I think anyone particularly thinks about the health benefits when they’re continuing to breastfeed but it’s worth telling the next person who says your milk is now water to go find research that backs up their opinion – the World Health Organisation thinks otherwise.

4. Relationships are learned in breastfeeding

Over time, my daughter has developed a habit of twiddling while breastfeeding. It’s not uncommon. In fact, across cultures you can find paintings of children doing it while breastfeeding. There are few theories on why they do it, like to make the milk flow faster.

But just because it’s normal that doesn’t mean I haven’t found it incredibly annoying. The problem is that I’ve let it become an ingrained habit which means that though I generally block her from doing it, there are times when it’s just easier to let her do it so she’ll fall asleep faster.

So, we’ve both had to learn about limits and acceptance.

6. Some support wanes

It’s surprised me how often people ask her age while I’m breastfeeding her, soon followed by asking how long I plan to continue.

I’ve had times in public where I’ve felt uncomfortable but I wonder how much of this is my imagination. Mostly, people don’t know what I’m doing and when they notice they just express surprise, followed by the above.

I’m aware though, that there will come a time where I’d rather breastfeed her at home because I don’t want her to pick up on negativity, real or imagined. It seems to make sense to wait until her reasoning is developed enough before thinking about that bridge.

7. Ideas are challenged

I’ve chatted with friends about the natural term for breastfeeding and they’ve been very receptive. Who knows what they might end up deciding works for them and their children but I’d like to think I’ve given them a reason to smile at the woman breastfeeding her three-year-old.

Certainly, it was seeing a friend breastfeeding her eighteen-month-old that opened my mind up to the possibility of continuing beyond a year. I remember how old her daughter seemed and now mine is older than that!

8. You stop saying “boobie” so freely

My child now talks and is practising new words every day. Nuff said.

A couple of weeks ago, trying to open doors


18 Comments

  1. January 15, 2013 / 6:14 pm

    She’s wonderful – I found nursing an older child really rewarding, you could see how important it was to them and it was such a handy parenting tool – it was a real wrench when we weaned from the breast and I lost the wonder milk that solved bedtime, night wakings, temperatures, tantrums and everything
    Muddling Along recently posted..Deliciously decadent Nutella & white chocolate truffles

    • Adele Jarrett-Kerr
      January 21, 2013 / 8:57 am

      Yes, the thing is the needs don’t go away, we just have to find other ways of meeting them!

  2. January 15, 2013 / 7:50 pm

    Number 2 is such a huge thing, that a lot of people don’t understand or appreciate. I loved how I could soothe hurts and upsets so easily and I do miss that now. A cuddle can often work, but not always.

    I never really had any problems with people questioning why we were still feeding (to just over two years with each of them). I did have questions about how old she was, but always with a curious attitude rather than a judging one. Which is good.

    It’s such a good feeling to be still doing it at that age, after a rocky start, too.

    Both girls had their own special names – Muilk and Dot Dot, which made it easier in terms of feeling awkward when out and about. Then again, they rarely had any out and about after around 18 months, because they were just too busy exploring the world.

    Lovely post. T xx
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    • Adele Jarrett-Kerr
      January 21, 2013 / 8:58 am

      Oddly, Talitha hardly fed in public when she was younger but now she wants to a lot. We’ll see what happens with this. I’ve started distracting her if it’s not convenient for me.

    • Adele Jarrett-Kerr
      January 21, 2013 / 8:59 am

      Thank you. I can imagine that!

  3. Jo
    January 16, 2013 / 9:32 pm

    This is a wonderful post – I am currently ‘still’ breastfeeding my second son as a young toddler and seriously considering continuing. I stopped breastfeeding my first at 15 months because I just had no idea really about breastfeeding a toddler and if I’m honest I felt encouraged to stop by outside influences. Posts like this help give me the confidence to make the decision myself instead of bowing to social pressure. Just want to say thanks :).

    • Adele Jarrett-Kerr
      January 21, 2013 / 9:00 am

      So glad this is a help to you. What you’re doing is totally normal and very beneficial for you both.

  4. Flo
    January 16, 2013 / 9:44 pm

    I’m coming up to three years breastfeeding my son and I have to say that it’s the closeness and affection that makes it all worth while. One interesting point I would like to make is that in the Quran the desired term for breast feeding is up to two and a half years, so it was actually a reassurance for me that other cultures accept this age naturally.

    • Adele Jarrett-Kerr
      January 21, 2013 / 9:01 am

      Yes, I was reading the story of Samuel in the Old Testament recently and it was interesting to me that I’d never thought of how many incidences of breastfeeding beyond infancy are recorded in the Bible!

  5. January 17, 2013 / 9:11 pm

    Beautiful! I only breastfed for seven months last time, but this time around I’m definitely hoping to keep going for longer. I’ll just have to see how it plays out I guess. But I know I’ll be taking it one day at a time.
    Lisa | Mama.ie recently posted..Are Kinders more dangerous than guns?

    • Adele Jarrett-Kerr
      January 21, 2013 / 9:04 am

      Thank you. Seven months is brilliant. Don’t discount how much you gave by saying “only”. Totally, take it one day at a time and find support if and when you need it. Actually, find support even if it’s going well. Breastfeeding in community is brilliant.

  6. Mum2BabyInsomniac
    January 18, 2013 / 12:13 pm

    That is such a lovely photo and you have done so well to overcome all your supply problems and still be going! I can remember when we met in that play centre on Gloucester road last year and you weren’t sure if you would even be able to make it to a year! I am looking forward to having another breastfeeding journey in a few months, I really hope that it goes as well as it did with Iyla and one benefit is that I won’t worry about how it will end because I never thought Iyla would ever stop but as you know it just happened naturally one day. It’s weird as I can’t even really remember it now. Such a wonderful experience though 🙂 xx
    Mum2BabyInsomniac recently posted..I’m Just Like You Mummy…

    • Adele Jarrett-Kerr
      January 21, 2013 / 9:06 am

      Yes, I was still supplementing with bottles at the time and feeling really down about it all! Amazing even to me that we’ve got here. All the best with your next breastfeeding journey. It must be wonderful starting again after having such a fab time last time. x

  7. January 19, 2013 / 10:37 pm

    Lovely post! Now that baby number two is here once again although I didn’t intend do I went into combo feeding again. Thing is unlike here big bro who wasn’t fussed were food was coming from she seems to prefer boob, so I’m going to have to find a way to increase my supply and slowly reduce formula. Thankfully my boobs are no longer sore and her latch is much improved :0) I have not cut off time to discontinue breastfeeding I’m trying to be more relaxed about it but I must admit I don’t see myself doing it beyond a year, but we’ll see. Go with the flow…
    MsXpat recently posted..Guest Post: Welcoming A New Baby With Music!

    • Adele Jarrett-Kerr
      January 21, 2013 / 9:08 am

      Thanks, hon. It sounds like there’s a lot going on with you right now. Let me know if you’d like to chat by email or phone? It’s so great that you’re continuing. You’re such a dedicated mama. xxx

  8. January 22, 2013 / 6:24 pm

    Fantastic post which highlights the realities of breastfeeding older babies and toddlers, not the sensationalist claptrap the media would have us believe! Love it.

    I’m still going strong with a 35 month old and a 12 month old, planning number 3 soon, and loving it! Just the easiest thing in the world, comfort, nutrition, love all in one, and portbale too! What’s not to like?! Although I would have to draw the line at the twiddling – drives me mad! ;o)
    Attachment Mummy recently posted..Comping Crazy

  9. Pinkoddy
    January 22, 2013 / 6:33 pm

    I used to tell people that generally we lose the ability to breastfeed at around 7 years old – generally shuts them up.
    I also dispelled the myth that you can’t drink until you’ve completely given up breastfeeding too.
    And tandem feeding in Disneyland Paris on a rock is an experience I will never forget.
    Good for you carrying on.
    Pinkoddy recently posted..Helping with Learning and Gross Motor Skills

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