Want to breastfeed your toddler or child and not sure on the facts? Is there a certain age you should stop and if so, when? What are the benefits of pro-longing your breastfeeding? Here is your go-to guide for nursing your toddler...
What is ‘extended breastfeeding?’
Long-term breastfeeding otherwise known as extended breastfeeding, is when you feed your baby beyond 12 months.
How do I know if it’s right for me?
For most mums, extended breastfeeding is about just continuing something that works well for them and their little one, rather than making a conscious decision to feed up to a certain age.
Mum of two Sunneva Adams believes that extended feeding is about doing what comes naturally to you as a mum;
'It wasn’t really a choice, it just felt natural. With my younger one, she was very poorly as a baby and her comfort and security was feeding and there was no way I was taking that away from her unnecessarily.’
Mum of two Stefanie Davies agrees; 'I didn’t chose to extend breastfeeding. My daughter at 12 months, wasn’t showing any signs of stopping. We are now feeding at 25 months and with no signs of stopping. You just do what you feel is best for your baby.’
What are the benefits of breastfeeding my toddler?
Breastmilk has immunity magic, nutrients and vitamins: We all know the wonderful qualities breast milk has, and these benefits continue into extended feeding. Even though your little one will get most of their nutrition from their main ‘solid food’ meals, breastmilk still provides immunity from some illnesses, as well as vital nutrients and vitamins.
It’s also a fab comforting tool: If your child is poorly or under the weather breastmilk may be the only thing they feel like having. The comfort factor from the closeness of breastfeeding is also reassuring in times of stress or upset and can calm almost instantly.
Finally, it's great for on the go! The busy toddler who needs a top up - breastfeeding supplies on demand, anytime, anywhere, which also means travelling is a little easier too!
Mum of twin girls Laura Mullane agrees; 'On a practical level, It’s still convenient to breastfeed, I don’t always have to worry about making sure we have drinks on us. On a more emotional level, who can resist the feeling of that wriggly toddler relaxing in your arms, their eyes getting drowsy as they stare up at their mummy with love and adoration as soon as they are on the boob! Beautiful!’
How can I deal with the ‘time to stop’ critics?
For lots of mums, the hardest part of extended breastfeeding their little ones, is the negative comments or stares from friends, family and even complete strangers.
Sunevva says although she didn’t have any direct criticism as such, she got the feeling she should be stopping when we her little one and her weren’t quite ready; 'I felt more determined to go with what I felt was best and would say to anyone else thinking of carrying on feeding, to do what you feel is the right thing for you and your baby - no-one else has a say in that decision.’
Mum of two Ami Crick felt there was, and still is, enormous pressure to stop extended breastfeeding her little boy who is now 2 and still enjoying the bond of breastfeeding;
‘Right from the start it felt that people were asking when I intended to wean. Luckily I have a supportive group of Mummy friends that encouraged me to continue. I had no intention of feeding for this long. After my first experience it was very much a case of each day as it comes. Before I realised it I was back at work and it felt too harsh to deprive my little man of his Mummy time in the few hours we had together each day. Ami advises other mums to always 'Do what is right for your family. Don’t feel pressured either way. I have two very different experiences of children that thrived on formula and Mummy’s milk.’
Sometimes there will be stares and unwanted attention, so avoid confrontation and ignore unwanted advice by perfecting your smile and knowing nod to anyone offering their opinions on your choice to continue feeding your toddler. Remember you are doing what comes naturally to you and your little one. If you and your little one are happy and healthy, it is really nobody else's business.
Should I stop extended breastfeeding if I’m pregnant or have a new baby?
In a word no. Nursing while pregnant is not dangerous for you or your unborn baby, so you don’t have to stop feeding your toddler just because a new arrival is on the way. In fact, the arrival of a new baby can be worrying for little ones, and this bonding time you have, will continue your bond and let your toddler feel comforted and reassured that they are just as important.
It’s important to mention here, if you are pregnant and breastfeeding to ensure you are getting the right amount of calories each day, and to keep hydrated. Talk to your midwife about any concerns or worries you may have. Your milk will also change towards the end of pregnancy, and taste differently to your toddler. Sometimes this actually causes toddlers to wean themselves off breastfeeding naturally themselves.
Steph Beaumont, Founder of The Natal Family has some great advice for mums wanting to continue breastfeeding while pregnant;
‘If you are breastfeeding and you become pregnant, the vast majority of the time you are fine to continue feeding your baby. Don’t listen too much to people who want to tell you how it will be. Many women feed during pregnancy, and don’t notice much of a difference. Other women feed and do experience emotional or physical differences. Even if you have fed through pregnancy before, it is not a given that you will feel the same way a second time. Every woman and every pregnancy is individual, so see how you get on, take each day at a time, and where necessary, each feed at a time.
You also don’t know how your child will react, they are an individual too! As your milk supply changes during pregnancy linked to the hormonal changes, you may find your child weans, or indeed, they may increase their feeds! They may stop feeding for a while, and then start again later! It is a case of seeing how they react to the changes too. Try not to worry too much about all the ‘what ifs’ either, I remember worrying about how I would be able to focus during labour if my toddler kept wanting a feed! In the end it didn’t happen, and the worry was for nothing.
If you do feed throughout pregnancy, tandem feeding (feeding more than one child) can be a wonderful way of supporting your children to bond, and a way of them learning in a very tangible way, that you are there for them both. There are different ways of tandem feeding, so wait and see what feels most comfortable for you and your little ones. You can feed them both at the same time, or one at a time. It is often recommended to change sides for each feed, but some women find each child feeding from their own designated breast each time works for them. Although you are already breastfeeding, tandem feeding changes that feeding relationship, and giving yourselves a bit of time to work out how it now works for you all, is helpful.’
What is Tandem feeding?
Tandem extended breastfeeding, is when you feed your new baby and your toddler together. Sadly you may have to deal with criticism, funny looks and unwanted advice. Some may say your newborn will not be receiving enough milk, when tandem feeding. This is simply not true. Breasts are amazing things and work on a supply and demand basis. If you have any worries at all about this, talk to your midwife or Heath visitor.
Mum of two Katie Grantham says; 'I was advised to stop by a professional! Saying I wouldn't want two children doing that!' But Katie didn't let it stop her from continuing to feed; 'My son felt my daughter kick (inside me) when he was feeding, and when she was born they held hands when they were feeding. They are the greatest of friends! I will admit I did have a bad nursing aversion sometimes though, when she was born and I found it hard to let him breastfeed sometimes.'
Katie's son doesn't breastfeed anymore, but she feels the experience brought her two children closer together and advises other mums to do what they feel is best for them 'follow their lead, do what feels natural and right for you both. We naturally came to an end with him having boob and it was right for him, and me, for him to do so.’
Mum of 3 Kerry Dawson, who also Tandem fed her little ones says; 'No one ever voiced criticism, although I did notice some odd looks when I told people, but I think that was more from a ‘you’re still feeding your 4 year old’ point of view. I am very lucky to be surrounded by an amazing and accepting group of mummies who have become my tribe and lots of them are extended breastfeeders and have fed throughout pregnancy.
My family are all used to my quirks now so they weren’t surprised when I carried on feeding my son.'
Kerry advises other mums who are thinking about extended feeding to go by their own child; 'Often it isn’t their choice to continue or not, it is down to their child. Although lots of children give up of their own accord when milk supply drops. I learnt very early on that you need to ignore other people who may comment or stare. Having a thick skin (and a friend to rant at when needed,) really helps!’
Choosing how to feed your baby, and for how long is a personal choice, so don’t ever feel pressurised into stopping doing something that you and your child are happy to continue. In fact, the World Health Organisation advises mums to breastfeed exclusively up to 6 months of age, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond. So take courage, be confident and feel reassured that you are following guidelines from people who know what they’re talking about