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Ages & Stages

Breastfeeding Beyond the First Year

If you are still breastfeeding your child through their first birthday, you can congratulate yourself on having provided them with the best nutrition they could possibly receive. At this point, your toddler may still be consuming a fair amount of breast milk (and the nutrients it contains). Or, they may be "grazing" and take in smaller quantities, getting most of their nutrition elsewhere.

Now that they are consuming a wide variety of solid foods, your breast milk has become somewhat less critical from a nutritional perspective. But it still offers plenty of perks for you and your child.

What are the benefits of breastfeeding your toddler?

Breast milk continues to provide good nutrition and immune protection to your child during the second year of life and beyond. It's easy for your baby to digest, and doesn't need to be purchased or prepared. Extended nursing also offers health benefits for the nursing parent. And, as your child moves from babyhood toward toddlerhood, breastfeeding can still act as a source of profound comfort and security, laying the groundwork for a confident, happy and healthy future.

For these reasons, the AAP supports parents to continue breastfeeding their child through the second birthday, for as long as mutually desired by the nursing parent and child.

Starting the journey toward emotional self-management

Many nursing parents appreciate the power and practicality of breastfeeding to soothe a toddler's emotions, reassure them of their presence, and provide comfort in an often confusing world. Other parents worry that continuing breastfeeding into toddlerhood prevents a child from learning to handle their emotions in other ways.

But the fact is that toddlers need emotional reassurance frequently during the day. Know that it is as valid and acceptable for a toddler to breastfeed for comfort as it is for them to suck a pacifier or thumb.

Dealing with others' opinions about breastfeeding toddlers

Our culture can sometimes project a somewhat limited view of acceptable breastfeeding practices; while nursing toddlers are becoming a more common sight, they still occasionally provoke comments and stares from uninformed adults. When deciding how long to breastfeed your child, a more valid yardstick than public opinion is your own child's approach to nursing and your own feelings about it. These feelings are no doubt being communicated to your child.

Questions to ask yourself

Do you feel that they are dependent on the breast for comfort to the point that it interferes with his social growth (just as a toddler whose relationship with their blanket is so intense that they're unable to put it down to play with a friend)? Are you concerned that his continued nursing is causing other adults (such as a child care provider, preschool teacher, or other important person in their life) to label them in negative ways? Are your own mixed feelings about breastfeeding a toddler interfering with your relationship with them, making you a reluctant and less supportive partner? If your answers to all of these questions are no, then there is no reason to hasten the weaning process.

Dealing with disapproval

Parents who have chosen to continue breastfeeding their toddlers have found many creative ways of dealing with the surprise and uninformed disapproval they encounter among other adults. Many nursing parents teach their children a "code word" to use when they want to breastfeed (such as "mimi" or "nonny"), so that the matter remains private between the two of them. Some parents then retire with their toddlers to a private place to breastfeed. On the other hand, others make a point of breastfeeding in public, perhaps in the hopes of making it more acceptable for toddlers to continue nursing.

Your right to breastfeed for child

Certainly, even in this country the general attitude toward breastfeeding is gradually improving. Thanks to political activism by parents' groups and professional organizations, many states have enacted laws protecting a woman's right to breastfeed.

Every state has enacted laws to support the right of mothers to breastfeed in public. Most of these laws state that it is a parent's right to breastfeed wherever they can legally be with their baby.

Federal legislation guarantees the right of breastfeeding parents to nurse their babies anywhere on federal property where the parent and baby have the right to be. This is a good thing not only for nursing parents, who so frequently have been harassed simply for caring for their children, but also for children, who benefit from all the nutrition, comfort, and love they receive. There is even federal legislation to protect the rights of working parents to express their milk at the workplace.

Deciding what's best for your child and you

In the end, the decision about how long to breastfeed your baby is one that only you—with help from your baby—should make. The nursing relationship is a unique bond, one that ideally should be supported by your partner and other family members. So whether it ends when your baby is 6 months old or 3 years old is a personal choice. Follow your instincts,and do what is best for you and your baby.

More information

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American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Breastfeeding (Copyright © 2023​)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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