When I was pregnant, I knew I wanted to ‘give breastfeeding a go’. I researched, I went to classes, I learnt a lot. I was ready. And then Squid was born and it wasn’t exactly like the books said it would be. It hurt. It was hard. The hardest thing I had ever done. I just wanted to feed my baby and it was really bloody difficult.
Setting small, interim goals helped me. 6 weeks. 12 weeks. 6 months.
But in the beginning, in my mind, when Squid turned 1, we would stop. That way, he would only ever have had breast milk, no need for formula: my job would be done.
Because ‘One’ is big. ‘One’ is grown up. ‘One’ does not need to be fed from his mother’s breast.
Well, actually: no.
By the time Squid was only a few months old, and things were easier, I knew we were in this for the long haul. I absolutely knew that my lovely boy would be breastfed until he decides to stop, whenever that is. Because the fact is, your baby only gets older one day at a time. The day after Squid turned one, I didn’t suddenly feel that he was ‘too old’ to be breast fed.
At 18 months old, Squid needs breast milk more than ever. So, with that in mind, here is my list of 9 reasons to breastfeed a toddler.
At the end of the day, my favourite time is our sleepy, freshly bathed boob cuddles, where Squid will play with my hair, and I will stroke his face and he locks eyes with mine. It is a time filled with love and connection, and is so important to the both of us, especially when I have been working. Toddlers are busy: I spend most of days at home tearing round after our small hurricane of a child; work can be stressful, life can be difficult, but Squid becomes a gentle and peaceful little soul when he’s nestled in my arms and latched on. This quiet, loving time at the end of each day when Squid feeds to sleep relaxes the both of us, and usually the troubles of the day melt away into nothingness.
Breastfeeding my toddler absolutely guarantees me more sleep. Squid wakes several times a night (WHICH IS NORMAL!!!) and without breastfeeding, I would be a walking zombie: when Squid stirs, he’s straight into our bed, latched on and fast asleep again within seconds. Most nights I don’t even fully wake when he latches on, making for a (generally!) peaceful night’s sleep for us all.
Additionally breast milk contains tryptophan, which is an amino acid used in the production of melatonin. Melatonin is, quite simply put, a sleep inducing hormone, which is another reason to love breastfeeding a toddler: magic sleepy dust at your fingertips (well, at your nipples). On top of this, breastfeeding also releases the hormone oxytocin in both the mother and child: this is the ‘love’ hormone, which can help to relax you, so mum can drift off easily too!
A child’s immune system is not fully formed until at least 2 years of age (different sources say different things, with 2 years being the minimum but 4-7 years being the ‘internet research average’! – interestingly, children naturally wean from the breast between 2 and 7, with world average being 4.3 years – on a timeline with immunity development, go figure!) and breastfeeding a toddler only serves to strengthen the immune system. Whilst breastfeeding does not reduce the risk of your toddler getting poorly (rather, not breastfeeding increases the risk), it can help to speed up recovery, as well as offer lots of comfort when it’s most needed. Cleverly, breast milk changes in its components when a child is poorly, and will start resembling nutrient packed colostrum again. Our bodies are just amazing!
We have a family history of chronic asthma and serious allergies, and so breastfeeding Squid past infancy is so important to me, because although genetics may dictate that he might be asthmatic, or have allergies, breastfeeding is going to help him through that, strengthen his immune system and help him with recoveries.
4. Big emotions
Being a toddler is hard work. The world is confusing, you can’t always express what you want or mean, and sometimes it all gets too much, emotions overspill and expressions of anger, frustration, sadness and confusion (read: melt downs) can occur. When these moments strike, my best approach with Squid is firstly to empathise and recognise the emotion, and then to offer a cuddle and some milk. I guess it comes back to reconnecting and grounding: a breastfeed can settle, calm and re-centre all those big feelings that are hard to deal with. A breastfeed is familiar, quiet and (mostly) still.
This also works well in unfamiliar situations – sometimes Squid will feel nervous or shy when we go somewhere new, and a reassuring cuddle with some milk usually sorts him out and equips him for exploration and mischief.
I am absolutely guilty of offering Squid a breastfeed when I myself just need a sit down. Squid is always on the move, climbing, walking, running, and I am always there chasing after him. The fact is, I just don’t have the same energy levels as my one year old and sometimes, mama needs a sit down! The only real way to guarantee this is to offer Squid a boob – he rarely says no, and often the 5 minutes of calm can reset both of our batteries for more fun and exploration!
Obviously Squid eats actual food, and has done since he was 6 months old. From around the time he was about a year old, he was consistently eating 3 meals a day, plus 2 or 3 snacks, and water. This food obviously provides him with a balanced diet, and we make sure to give him healthy, energy giving foods. However, daily breast milk can provide 29% of energy requirements, 43% of protein requirements, 36% of calcium requirements and 60% of vitamin C requirements in the second year, and beyond, of breastfeeding.
For me, this is a really important one, especially when Squid is poorly. Sometimes, when he’s ill, he doesn’t want to eat, and so knowing that I can still provide some nutrition for him, as well as comfort, warmth and love, is a huge benefit.
7. Selfish mama
Breastfeeding can help to reduce the mother’s risk of: breast cancer, ovarian cancer, uterine cancer, endometrial cancer, osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis and cardiovascular disease to name but a few conditions. And of course, the longer you breastfeed for, the more your risk decreases. No brainer really.
8. Increased risk of IDGAF-itis
Yes – you guessed it, breastfeeding really CAN increase your risk of something… a chronic condition known as ‘I-don’t-give-a-fuck – itis’. Something I have learnt since breastfeeding Squid, especially now he is a ‘big grown up toddler’ is that I really, really do not care what anyone else thinks. People’s opinions have never mattered less to me. Squid and I are happy doing what we do, and we genuinely do not need other people to express how they feel about breastfeeding to natural term. Which is, by the way, what we’re doing. Squid will finish feeding when he’s ready. I don’t know when that might be, though I imagine it won’t be any time soon. Whether it’s in the next 6 months, the next year, two years or longer, I still will not care what people think. I am nourishing, nurturing and mothering my child in the way that nature intended, and we wouldn’t change it for the world.
9. My toddler the feeder
And finally, if the above reasons weren’t enough to give you an insight as to why I do what I do, I give you this…
Just remember: not your baby, not your boobs, not your toddler, not your tits, not your child, not your… chest? (Tenuous 😂) Not your business!
Are you breastfeeding a toddler or older child? Let me know!
Catch me on Instagram @squidmamma for sporadically irregular life updates!