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Breastfeeding Beyond the First Year

My baby is one, now what?  

Congratulations on making it a full year of breastfeeding!  What an amazing achievement.  The benefits you have given your child, as well as yourself, will last a lifetime, even if you ultimately decide it’s time for your breastfeeding journey to come to an end.  

Your baby’s first birthday is a big milestone, and for many breastfeeding moms the question of “now what?” comes to mind.  Even though your baby has crossed the threshold into the second year of life, the reality is his/her day-to-day routine won’t drastically change.  This can lead nursing moms to wonder how this change in age will impact breastfeeding, and whether or not to continue nursing or begin weaning.  

Not many moms start their breastfeeding journey anticipating they will eventually be nursing a toddler.  Those who make it to a year suddenly find themselves faced with the fact that it is a real possibility which can bring up many questions. The World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend nursing at least a year and preferably two years and beyond.  Around the world and throughout history, nursing beyond infancy has been a very common and accepted practice.  Currently, in the United States, nursing still occurs beyond the first year, but for many mothers and toddlers, nursing is done in secret and not well known.  Despite the fact that the research backs up breastfeeding in toddlerhood, for the most part, it is not understood or accepted by a large portion of society.  If you wish to nurse your toddler, do not let cultural norms deter you!  Breastmilk does not suddenly lose its amazing benefits once your child turns a year old. In fact, it continues to adapt to meet your child’s ever-changing needs. 

What to Expect: Nursing in the Toddler Years

The Golden Age:

The toddler years are often considered the golden age of nursing.  It can be such a freeing and relaxed time to breastfeed.  Gone are the days of counting feeds and diaper output, ensuring your older baby is getting an appropriate balance of breastmilk to solid foods, worrying about expressing milk and bottle feeding when you’re away from one another, etc.  Solids now make up the bulk of most toddler’s nutritional needs and breastmilk is a beautiful way to fill in the gaps while also boosting the immune system and meeting emotional needs.  

Nursing Frequency:

In the beginning, breastfeeding a young toddler may not look that different from breastfeeding an older baby. But there is a subtle shift in how it feels, less stress and more joy.  As time goes on, your nursing patterns will slowly change and you’ll get into a rhythm with your nursling.  It’s common for some older babies to seem less interested in nursing and/or go on a nursing strike. If that has been your experience, don’t be surprised if your little one ramps up his/her nursing as a toddler.  Some moms liken the frequency of nursing toddlers to the newborn days.  The beauty of breastfeeding a toddler and knowing they are not getting all their nutrition from you means you can begin to set healthy boundaries around nursing.  If your toddler’s nursing habits are creating frustrations, it’s ok to kindly set limits on when, where, and how your toddler nurses.  If you’re a working mom and begin to only nurse once a day, remember every drop counts, and your toddler is still getting the amazing benefits from continued nursing. 

Milk Supply & Expressing Milk:

As your toddler’s nursing patterns evolve, your milk supply will adjust to match his/her needs. Over time you may suddenly realize you no longer need to pump when away from your toddler for short durations.  You will also no longer need to worry about leaving breastmilk for your toddler when you’re away.  In the first weeks and months of this shift in breastfeeding management, your little one will probably find comfort in continuing the routine of having milk while you are away, but you can slowly phase that out. 

Introducing Cow’s Milk:

For the first six months of life, babies should only be given breastmilk or infant formula.  After solids are introduced, breastmilk (or formula) still makes up for the majority of the infant’s nutritional needs until his/her first birthday.  Once babies turn a year old it is safe to slowly begin introducing whole cow’s milk in a cup. Formula-fed babies can switch from drinking formula to cow’s milk at this time.  For breastfed babies, it isn’t necessary to include cow’s milk in your child’s diet if they are still nursing at least three to four times a day.  Remember, breastmilk is the best milk, and far exceeds the nutritional components of cow’s milk so although it is acceptable to serve cow’s milk to one year olds+, don’t feel pressured to do so if your little one is still nursing frequently.  

Navigating Breastmilk & Solids:

After your baby turns one, you can begin offering solid foods before nursing.  It’s appropriate to offer three meals and two snacks daily to toddlers. Don’t be surprised if your toddler’s appetite is still fulfilled mainly by nursing for a while. It’s common for them to increase their solid food intake slowly.  There’s great variation in the eating/breastfeeding patterns of toddlers and if your young toddler is still getting the majority of their nutrition through breastfeeding, this is normal.  One common worry among parents of toddlers is the seemingly strange eating patterns they develop.  One day (or week) they seem to be bottomless pits and the next they hardly eat a thing.  Development slows way down in the second year of life and thus caloric needs are less.  Paired with the reality that toddlers are typically picky eaters, this can be challenging and stressful for many families to navigate.  However, when toddlers are still breastfeeding, this season can feel a lot more manageable since breastmilk can easily fill in nutritional gaps and ensure your child is getting the calories they need without worrying about the foods they choose to avoid on their plate. 

Your baby turning one can feel like a big change and often comes with many questions about navigating breastfeeding.  Since many moms who are nursing toddlers are doing it in secret, it can feel overwhelming to seemingly navigate this new stage alone.  Be encouraged that with time you will get into a rhythm and find your way with your growing nursling. Although you may feel like the only one facing these new joys and challenges, you are truly not alone.  Many moms around the world are going through this same season.  Normalizing breastfeeding beyond infancy is the first step in making things easier for the next generations of nursing moms. 

If you need support and encouragement around nursing in the toddler years, don’t hesitate to reach out to Beholding Baby.  We have been in your shoes and are here to help!


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