Breastmilk and formula should be the main source of nutrition for children until they reach the age of one. But what happens to the little nurslings (and their mamas) who are not ready to stop nursing at 12 months? My answer…KEEP NURSING.
Nursing in general and nursing past one is not for everybody. In fact, before I was even pregnant I assumed if I could breastfeed I would be eager to stop as soon as my baby blew out the candles on their little smash cake. Both of my darling, sweet, stubborn children refused bottles and pacifiers. Nursing became more than just nutrition to them. It became their comfort mechanism, their source of pain relief, and a way to ease “big feelings.”
What it looks like in my house
I did start altering their nursing schedules once they turned one in order to make sure that solid food became the primary source of nutrition. We dropped down to a minimum of 3 nursing sessions on days that I work ( before I leave, when we got home from the babysitter’s house, and before bed) and 4 on the weekend (morning, before/after a nap, and before bed). I also nurse on demand. So if the baby was really fussy or experiencing the lows of toddlerhood, I was there with a calm voice (mostly) and a nursing-friendly shirt.
Some of the many benefits
Nursing past one allowed me to continue to give my children antibodies that were helpful during the cold/flu season. In addition, per current CDC guidelines, nursing any breastfed child throughout the COVID 19 pandemic is recommended. I like to think that breastfeeding past one has strengthened my children’s immune systems if they’ve needed it. Over the years, I’ve found if I get a bad cold my nursling will have a shortened and far less severe cold. Amazing!
Just because it’s good doesn’t mean it’s easy
Toddler nurslings are truly little gymnasts. I had no idea someone could stay latched while rotating all around. There’s also the frequent side switching when awake because making choices is hard. Some days they want to stay permanently attached to your chest and some days it’s just quick nursing sessions throughout the day. Nursing at this stage in their life is all about being flexible and letting them guide you. Now that their sole nutritional needs are not dependent on you, it’s ok if they skip a usual feed.
Another hardship of nursing past one is the comments. The comments from friends and family. The, “Are you going to nurse them in college?”, “Why would you want to keep doing that?”, “You’re spoiling him.” Not true. Let me say it for the people in the back, YOU KNOW YOUR BABY BEST. Tell your friends and family it’s none of their business and to move along. The CDC recommends nursing until your child is 2 (with appropriate complementary foods). In other parts of the world, many babies nurse far beyond that.
The end of one nursing journey and the continuation of another
My son, Ari, nursed until he was 19 months old. A few months prior to him officially being weaned, we had started to drop the before nap and before bed nursing sessions. When I started back to work he then decided on his own that he didn’t need to nurse anymore. While I was sad to have lost that connection, I felt such peace with it because he showed me that he was ready to be done. I would’ve continued to nurse him if he had wanted it. I loved the idea that the conclusion of this period of his life was such a calm process for him and he didn’t feel that I was removing his only source of comfort.
When Ari fully weaned, I will admit that I was nervous. I was nervous to parent without breastfeeding. I was nervous to quell the tantrums since nursing pretty much stopped them all in their tracks. But, I learned, I adapted, and I grew as a mother. I was nervous that Ari wouldn’t want to be around me as much since he wasn’t nursing. FALSE. This kid needs to give me at least three “morning hugs” during breakfast and there are mandatory snuggles at night before bed.
My daughter, Annie, is still nursing strong at 17 months. She also refuses any other type of milk (whole, 2%, almond, pea protein, etc.) so I’m not sure when she will be ready to wean. I plan to drop a feed here and there but will leave it up to her to decide when she’s done nursing.
Nurse on, mama
Nursing past one definitely has its challenges. From acrobatic nurslings and overreaching family members, it’s important to realize that this choice is yours to make. However, there are also advantages to your baby’s physical and emotional health. It allowed me to provide my children with important antibodies past their birthday, help calm them down in the middle of a tantrum, and ease the pain of teething. If it makes you and your baby happy to keep going, then keep on nursing.