Just when you think you've mastered the art of breastfeeding your baby, they're not a baby anymore. There's article upon article about breastfeeding a newborn or baby, but what about when your child passes the one year mark? Are there any things you can do to make breastfeeding a 12 month old easier? Although nursing an almost-toddler is a different animal entirely than nursing a newborn, there are lots of ways to make nursing an older child easier and, yes, enjoyable.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the technical term for the phase is "extended breastfeeding," and it is simply defined as nursing beyond the first year of your baby's life. Although there really doesn't need to be a separate title for the phase — extended breastfeeding is regular breastfeeding — nursing an older baby (or child) can certainly come with its own set of challenges that are helpful to hash out separately.
These tips can help you regain some sanity when all your child wants to do is nurse. They can help you set boundaries, if you choose to do so. They can help give you confidence when someone questions your motives for breastfeeding a toddler. But more than anything else, these tips can help you see that extended breastfeeding, although our society seems to downplay its value, is just as important and valid as breastfeeding at any other age.
1. Set Reasonable Limits
One you've entered into "extended breastfeeding" territory, nursing begins to look very different for each family. Some moms decide to nurse on demand as their toddler lets them know they're hungry, and others take a more scheduled approach nursing at set times each day. Although either method is fine (you can even have a combination of them both if you choose,) it's important to have reasonable limits and expectations since your breast milk isn't your child's only source of nutrition at this point. Don't feel guilty about setting limits.
For example, La Leche League International (LLLI) noted that it's common for mothers to choose to night wean their toddlers, as a measure of self-care or simply because their child is sleeping fine without it. Although you certainly can nurse on demand into toddlerhood, setting boundaries is a healthy way to evolve your breastfeeding relationship as your child gets older.
2. Give Them Something To Do With Their Hands
It's no understatement that once your child gets a little older, it's virtually impossible to control their wiggles. Instead of letting your hair, face, or even other boob be the toy of choice, plan ahead with a fun necklace or even a small toy they can stay occupied with while they nurse. It will help save your sanity.
3. Know Your Reasons For Nursing
No matter how long you intend to nurse past one year, it's important to know your "why" for breastfeeding. You'll likely encounter people who question your decision to breastfeed an (almost) toddler and even though it doesn't matter (at all) what anyone else thinks, having a solid reason why you're doing what you're doing will give you confidence.
Maybe you're nursing beyond a year for the nutritional benefits, or the added immunity boost — both great benefits according to What To Expect. In addition to the nutritional benefits, you might be nursing for the sweet bond extended nursing creates. There are a thousand reasons, and knowing yours is important.
4. Teach Your Child Nursing "Manners"
Today's Parent suggested that parents teach their child specific words to use when they want to nurse. This can come in handy when you're out in public and your child's go-to method is simply pulling down your shirt.
5. Nurse When They're Already Tired
Trying to nurse an energetic toddler who has already napped is about as effective as telling a brand new puppy not to chew up all of your shoes. Instead of trying to wrangle them into a clam state to nurse, wait until they're naturally ready. When kids are tired, they get snuggly. Adding breastfeeding into your routine before naps or bed will take advantage of their natural energy patterns.
6. Know The Benefits
Similar to knowing your reason for nursing, having a mental list of the benefits of extended nursing will make you feel empowered and like you're doing something worthwhile (which you are.)
7. Be Cautious When They're Teething
Nursing a teething toddler is one of the most terrifying things ever. They're more prone to bite during phases when they're cutting teeth, and unfortunately for mom, they're not the little "gumming" bites of a baby. Several mothers from an article from LLLI told mothers to immediately remove the baby from the breast if they bite you — either accidentally or on purpose — telling them that they don't get to nurse if they bite. Eventually, they'll understand the message and, hopefully, the biting will cease.
Trying to soothe their teething discomfort before nursing can help as well.
8. Be Patient
The decision to wean looks differently for each family. If you're letting your child take the lead when it comes to tapering off your nursing sessions, be patient. It might not be on your time table, but you'll look back on this period with fondness and won't want to have rushed it away.
After breastfeeding for a total of three years (split between my two daughters,) I can say that I'm glad to have my body back, but even more so, I'm grateful for the time I allowed them to take the lead and nurse for longer than I had anticipated. Looking back, I'd do it for even longer.