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My Breastfeeding Toddler

 Many mums wonder…

“Is my milk still important for my toddler?”

“Should I wean and switch to cow’s milk or toddler formula?”

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Have a piece of toast, have a little boob…

Let me first tell you what this post is NOT about…

** It is not a post to try to convince you to continue breastfeeding if you do not want to.

** This post is not an argument for or against drinking milk, eating dairy or being a vegan.

So what IS this post about…

I often hear of doctors or family  members who encourage women to wean their babies and/or toddlers and switch them to cow’s milk.  I say, “why the heck would you do that?!”…

I will never forget the first time I saw a breastfeeding toddler. He was about 18 months old. He jumped up onto his mother’s lap, sat down, and with his eyes fixed on me he managed to turn his head around enough to latch on.  He suckled away happily as he peered out at me while I chatted with his Mum. “He looks just like a little monkey”, I thought!! Isn’t it strange that although we do not often see toddlers breastfeeding in Western societies, many of us do not even think twice when we see a toddler drinking a glass of cow’s milk or a bottle of cow’s milk formula, which is made for a completely different species. How is it that we can think a breastfeeding toddler who is drinking his own mother’s milk is strange and “unnecessary”, yet drinking the milk from a cow which is made to grow a calf (which weighs up to 45 kilos at birth) is seen as not only normal but superior?!! How is it that doctor’s, midwives, mothers, fathers, friends and strangers can suggest that switching to a cow’s milk is superior to a child’s own mother’s milk?!                                                                                                                 

I understand people do not see it often so it’s surprising when one actually witnesses a toddler breastfeeding and yelling, “Boobie! Boobie!” from across the room. I understand how marketing campaigns affects us. I understand how the sexualisation of women’s breasts have completely distorted how most people within the Western world views breastfeeding. I get it. But of course being an IBCLC, breastfeeding mum of three boys AND passionate about all things breastfeeding, I have a different view on the whole cow’s milk/human milk la- de-da-de-da arguments and discussion that go on…

 

photoI would also like to stress how all of the awesome things in your milk do not magically disappear when your child reaches toddlerhood!  The amount of times I have heard people state that toddlers “do not need breastmilk after the age of ___ (you fill in the blank, everyone has a different opinion!) and this is simply not the case. A few thoughts come to mind…

1. Breastmilk continues to give your toddler MANY vitamins, minerals, enzymes, electrolytes, antibacterial properties, antimicrobial properties, antifungal properties etc. etc. etc.which are present the ENTIRE time you breastfeed your child. They do not suddenly vanish into thin air!

2. Breastmilk is a living tissue within the body (similar to blood) which changes as the needs of your baby and toddler change. Riordan & Wambach (2012) state, “Human milk is similar to unstructured living tissue, such as blood, and is capable or transporting nutrients, affecting biochemical systems, enhancing immunity, and destroying pathogens.”  They they go on to say, “Breastmilk, like all other animal milks, is species-specific. It has been adapted throughout human existence to meet nutritional and anti-infective requirements of the human infant to ensure optimal growth, development, and survival” (p. 97).  These properties stay the same during the days, weeks, months or years that you feed your child!

3. Cow’s milk is made for just that…a baby cow!! It is species specific for a growing calf. Formula can be life saving in certain situations BUT there is absolutely no research (and common sense will tell you) to support the idea that a toddler should be switched to a milk which is for a different species or cow’s milk formula, instead of continuing to receive it’s mother’s milk. Unless, of course, there is a specific medical reason as to why the mother should not be breastfeeding her child.  

4. It is not just about nutrition! For other mums like myself out there who have had the experience of being able to breastfeed your three year old who has a stomach bug or fever and will eat nothing but breastmilk…it is a HUGE relief. There is no need to buy electrolyte drinks from the pharmacy and no need to try to get food into them if they are unable to eat. During their illness they get everything they need from breastmilk. It brings comfort, nutrition and familiarity to the toddler.

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My YogaBoobie Toddler

Breastfeeding beyond babyhood is not “extended” breastfeeding. It is the biological norm.  If you are happily breastfeeding your toddler then keep going!  Keep following your instincts and carry on doing what feels right for you and your child. 

Reference: Riordan, J & Wamback 2012, Breastfeeding and human lactation, 4th ed, Jones and Bartlett Publishers, Sudbury, Massachusetts.

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