I’ve heard a certain question so many times that I should be immune to it by now: “You’re still breastfeeding?”
The fact that so many people find it strange that I’m breastfeeding my 19-month-old daughter shows the disconnect between society’s perception of breastfeeding and the latest health organizations’ recommendations. For example, the American Academy of Pediatrics recently updated its Policy Statement to say, “…the AAP supports continued breastfeeding, along with appropriate complementary foods introduced at about 6 months, as long as mutually desired by mother and child for 2 years or beyond.”
This update from the AAP now aligns with the World Health Organization’s long-time policy on breastfeeding for up to two years of age or beyond. The recommendations from health organizations and the reality of breastfeeding rates show the extreme disconnect between what is needed and what is provided by our healthcare providers and our community.
“The AAP’s policy change is a big step in society’s understanding and valuing…continued breastfeeding and access to breastmilk for our children older than 1 year,” said Summer Friedmann, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant with 17 years of experience, owner of Done Naturally.
Also, according to the AAP, breastfeeding lowers a mom’s risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and type 2 diabetes. The National Library of Medicine also states that the risk of breast cancer decreases by 4.3% for every 12 months of breastfeeding. More great reasons to breastfeed for longer than one year if it’s still working for you and your baby!
I spoke more with Friedmann about how to be successful in breastfeeding past infancy, despite the lack of understanding and support for breastfeeding moms. Here, I’m sharing her tips along with my personal experience breastfeeding my toddler:
Advice for Breastfeeding Past Infancy
“We can all agree an apple is a healthy food … [and] a hug from a parent is a form of love, comfort, and one of the most natural parts of raising children. At any point does an apple become unhealthy or a hug become inappropriate in a healthy relationship between a parent and child? Of course not. Breastfeeding offers the most perfect nutrition for a child while simultaneously giving love, comfort, and attachment,” said Friedmann.
“So, when we have all the science to prove how critical breastfeeding and breastmilk-feeding is to a mother and baby’s well-being, why on earth would anyone criticize, or question someone’s choice to do so just because the child is older than one? Most likely, because they lack the understanding, the exposure, and haven’t seen the science.”
When it comes to how much nutrition breastmilk provides to a toddler, 448 ml/15 ounces of breastmilk provides the following for a toddler 12-23 months old, according to the La Leche League, :
- 29% of energy requirements
- 43% of protein requirements
- 36% of calcium requirements
- 75% of vitamin A requirements
- 76% of folate requirements
- 94% of vitamin B12 requirements
- 60% of vitamin C requirements
How I Met My Goal of Breastfeeding My Toddler
I am passionate about encouraging moms to meet their feeding goals (whatever those may be!) because I was completely clueless as a first-time mom. I still feel guilty that my first daughter was a guinea pig for all my mistakes, and I want to go back in time and call a lactation consultant to ask for help. Here is how I changed my approach to breastfeeding from my first child to my second child to meet my goal of breastfeeding into toddlerhood.
Breastfeeding on Demand
I used to think that breastfeeding should follow some kind of schedule. If my baby was fussy 30 minutes after she ate, I thought that something else must be wrong. PSA: Newborns know what they need! MILK! And lots of it! I read too many baby books that suggested following a schedule and I ignored my instincts. As my baby got older and I learned more, I began to breastfeed on demand, and this made a HUGE difference in her mood and our relationship. She cried less, slept better, and I felt more relaxed.
When I had our second daughter, I threw the schedule out the window and followed my instincts. I fed her on demand for as long and as often as she wanted. (Breastfeeding on demand is also recommended by the WHO and UNICEF.) During the first few weeks, especially when she was cluster feeding, it felt like she was attached to my breast 24/7, but that was exactly what she needed! Nursing on demand helped my milk supply, my confidence, and both of our attitudes! Following my baby’s cues and my instincts also gave me a more positive outlook on breastfeeding because it stopped being stressful, which helped me continue breastfeeding. Funny how that works.
Leaning Into Expert Advice
My first daughter was (still is!) very tiny; she was five pounds when she was born. It was suggested multiple times by other moms that I needed to supplement with formula to help her gain weight. It was also suggested that I supplement with formula because my milk “wasn’t fatty enough”. This advice made me feel anxious about my daughter’s weight and concerned that something was wrong with my milk. Now, I know that this fear was all for nothing. My baby was growing and producing enough wet diapers, but at the time I didn’t have the confidence to ignore the panic that unsolicited advice caused. I even bought formula to have on hand.
I finally learned that the advice I received, while well intended, was based on the experience of individual moms, not necessarily on what was best for me and my baby. There is absolutely nothing wrong with supplementing with formula, but this wasn’t the right choice for me.
The second time around, I found my confidence and ignored unsolicited advice. My second daughter broke out in an acne rash when she was six weeks old. Guess what people told me? “She’s probably allergic to your milk.” Rather than believe this, I followed the counsel of my pediatrician and OB-GYN. Baby acne is very normal and hers cleared up in a couple of weeks.
Pumping When Returning to Work
I did not have any breastfeeding goals when I had my first daughter. I was the first of my close friends to have a baby, and my sister, my mom, and my mother-in-law had limited experience. Most of the women I talked to advised that I start weaning my baby when I returned to work full-time when she was eight weeks old. So, my plan was to cut all my nursing sessions except for the evening and before bed. I didn’t want the hassle of pumping at work. (Or so I thought!) However, every time I needed to cut a feeding, I couldn’t do it. My maternal instincts screamed for me to keep nursing my baby.
Looking back, I am so grateful I changed my plan and pumped twice in the morning and twice in the afternoon while at work to keep up my milk supply. Pumping at work actually helped me tremendously while I was missing my baby. I was heartbroken to be away from her, but dedicating that time to her every day comforted me.
Breastfeeding for Comfort
With my first daughter, because I was so stuck on a schedule and weaning, I didn’t realize what a fantastic tool breastfeeding really is. After she turned one I was only nursing first thing in the morning and right before bed, and I rarely made exceptions. Now, when my second daughter isn’t feeling well, is teething, has to get shots, or is having trouble sleeping, I have no reservations about breastfeeding to comfort her, whether it is time to nurse or not. It’s a beautiful and natural experience to comfort my sick or sad baby by breastfeeding, and I feel so fortunate to have the option to do so.
Utilizing a Lactation Consultant
I never once called a lactation consultant after having my first daughter. My nipples bled for weeks. I thought this was completely normal and that I had to power through it. I didn’t know that she wasn’t getting a good latch, I didn’t know what cluster feeding was, and I didn’t know that breastfeeding on demand would solve almost all of my problems. My husband and I frequently referenced our baby books and googled everything, but the overwhelming amount of advice all seemed to be different. I needed one trusted expert to call when I had a question or to come and help me get a proper latch. I needed a lactation consultant.
With my second daughter, a lactation consultant saved my breastfeeding experience. After following her much-needed advice, I didn’t hesitate to call again with questions. I also joined her online breastfeeding community, Done Naturally, and a wellness center for new moms. Both of these communities have been a lifeboat for me during motherhood challenges.
Weaning When It’s Right
What is it about the one-year mark and breastfeeding? For some reason, I thought that I was “supposed” to be done breastfeeding after one year. Why? So, at about nine months I started weaning, stopped wearing my nursing tank tops, and gradually cut out feedings. My baby and I were so sad that our breastfeeding journey was coming to an end, and my daughter protested loudly.
I reached out to a colleague, one of the few people that I knew who breastfed for a year, and asked for advice. Without any judgment, she asked me why I wanted to stop breastfeeding. This was one of the greatest questions anyone has ever asked me! It made me realize I was only stopping because of societal pressure…so silly! I got my nursing tops back out of storage and I embraced breastfeeding my daughter until she self-weaned at 18 months old.
Today, with my youngest daughter, we are weaning very gently and in no hurry to stop breastfeeding. We breastfeed three-ish times a day, but that number is flexible depending on the day and her needs. My goal is to breastfeed until she is two years old, but I will follow her lead.
Trying To Block Out Others’ Opinions
I wish it didn’t bother me that some of my friends and family think it’s strange for me to still be breastfeeding…it does. However, my determination to normalize breastfeeding past infancy is much stronger than any embarrassment I feel. Recently, while my daughters and I were at “toddler yoga”, my youngest daughter was fussy and insistent on nursing. I felt a little awkward breastfeeding her in the middle of class, but I did it anyway. A few of the other toddlers and babies noticed, and they requested milk from their moms as well. Then, there was a room full of moms nursing their babies and toddlers. It was such a beautiful and empowering moment.
We are making progress, but society and the healthcare industry still have a long way to go to normalize and support breastfeeding past infancy.
When asked what we need to do as a community to support breastfeeding past infancy, this is what Friedmann said:
“We [can] share the science, the research, and the experiences families have with breastfeeding beyond one year. We [can] expose people to the normative way of feeding our children, and the natural process of child-led weaning. If we look worldwide, children who are self-weaned are closer to the age of 4 years… I do wholeheartedly believe every woman should be supported through her journey and supported to end her journey as she desires. Breastfeeding is a relationship between…the mother and the baby. Therefore, they are the only two people who get to decide how that journey goes.”