Posted by: Admin | March 19, 2011

The Week-end Post: Breastfeeding a toddler

Toddlers are in a world of their own! They are discovery machines. They live by their own rules, run around all day and tire their parents out.

Feeding a toddler can also be a challenge. There is always a reason why they will not eat: too tired, too hyper, not feeling good, having a bad day, sick, etc. They also refuse to eat such things as vegetables, and almost everything else that is good for them! Then, there are foods that they insist should not be mixed together, and those that must be mixed together. And we should not forget things that cannot touch each other in the plate. And, of course, there is the specific plate your baby likes – and the one he does not like. But mainly, there is a constant inconsistency in the likes and dislikes, so that we have trouble following from one day to the next!

In light of their ever shifting behavior and needs, breastfeeding a toddler can be a very positive and comforting experience. It becomes a moment when all is calm (he is not running around), when he is the loving cuddly child you always knew (not this little two-legged terror 🙂 ), and when he is happily feeding himself something you know is nutritious! In times of illness or simply of fussiness, breastmilk can be his only food source for a day or two!

Breastfeeding a toddler is not like breastfeeding a young baby. The schedule is not the same and the breastfeeds are not as frequent, but still the routine is usually quite important. In the ever changing world the toddler lives in, breastfeeding can be his only “constant” action. The morning and before-bedtime breastfeeds are most likely extremely important. The little breastfeeds he steals throughout the day may also the only thing that “grounds” him! Notice how easily breastfeeding soothes a toddler when he gets hurt, or how it helps him fall asleep without crying and screaming.

The normal behavior of a toddler at the breast is quite strange for someone not experienced in this. One can observe the toddler playing with his mother’s other breast and nipple; he might caress his mother’s chest area, play with her clothes or her mouth, let go of the breast noisily and grab it back in a playful manner, touch his own body, pull at his skin, his hair, his clothes, his diaper, and so forth. All of these behaviors are quite normal and do not have any “sexual” meaning. They are simply expressions of innocent tenderness, pure love and precious attachment. During breastfeeding, some toddlers repeat the same action, such as pulling their hair or swirling it while breastfeeding. We can see them repeat this exact action to self-sooth when trying to nap or fall asleep. Breastfeeding until they fall asleep is a good way to help them learn how to self-soothe as they grow older.

It is wonderful to think that there are societies that consider breastfeeding toddlers so normal that they would publicize it  beautifully in an TV ad that is  “graphic” and real (see this post’s last videoclip, from Bulgaria). Other cultures have more difficulty with breastfeeding a child past a certain age. Here is a video excerpt from 20/20, an American TV show. The title of the news report is “Extreme Breastfeeding,” which is quite misleading. The clip shows a mother breastfeeding a six-year-old boy. You will notice the journalist trying to hide her own astonishment by using the words  “Some people would think…”, etc. You will also notice how breastfeeding this child is perfectly normal for this family. Even if this show seems to view breastfeeding an older child in a negative manner, remember that the World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding up to 2 years and beyond! We can also note that breastmilk remains nutritious and protects against illnesses, whatever the age of the child!

In my years living amongst the James Bay Crees, I have frequently witnessed long-term breastfeeding. Many Cree women and Elders have generously shared their breastfeeding experiences with me. Breastfeeding an older child for as long as 4, 5 or 6 years old was. and still is, frequent and very normal!!!!

The following videoclip is a beautifully done Puerto Rican public ad. You can easily observe some of a toddler’s normal breastfeeding behaviors, as I described above. You will need to sign up to YouTube to view it, as it is considered “adult” viewing – another demonstration of how difficult it is for some societies to view breastfeeding as a purely motherly act! But please do view the videoclip. It is worth it!

And, finally, here is another beautiful videoclip from Bulgaria.


  1. Nice videos, thanks ; )

  2. Breastfeeding until your child is done, is respectful of their feelings and makes them more secure later on. My 4.5 year old is till nursing! 🙂

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