Mayim MishegaasMayim Mishegaas

The benefits of breastfeeding older children

Mayim explains the advantages of nursing children beyond their first year
By Mayim Bialik     Published on 08/22/2018 at 2:17 PM EDT
Mayim with her son Fred the last time she nursed him.

For National Breastfeeding Month, Grok Nation is running a series about nursing by our founder, Mayim Bialik, who is a Certified Lactation Educator Counselor (CLEC). For her past posts full of tips, tricks and advice, click here.

I breastfed my first son for more than two years and my second son for four and a half.

Nursing past 6 months old is not typical in the U.S. In the countries that boast the highest rates of natural birth (think Scandinavia), the longest paid maternity and paternity leave and the lowest rates of depression, nursing duration tends to be higher.

I exclusively nursed my first and second son for a year, which means they only had breastmilk. No solids, no pureed anything in pouches. No water. Babies can live and thrive on only breastmilk and that’s what we did.

My first son weaned during my second pregnancy and although he tried a few times after his brother was born, he had lost his ability to latch, and that was fine with me. My second son kept on nursing after we started solids, just like his brother. He ate just fine, but he also still nursed a lot. I had a lot of milk for him, and we nursed every two to three hours all night for three and a half of those four and a half years.

Breastmilk changes throughout the life of a nursling, and the milk for toddlers is concentrated naturally by the body to account for packing the most nutrients into shorter feedings, which toddlers tend to prefer. Breastmilk provides natural immunization and can be applied topically for ear infections, in noses to fight off colds, and can be used on rashes, pink eye, and yes, even mosquito bites.

Nursing a toddler is incredibly rewarding for the child. It’s a constant reminder of the closeness of mama and for atypical developing children, extremely shy children, or children with special needs, many moms find that nursing remains a grounding place for a child who needs extra grounding. Nursing in our family was truly magic. Tantrums were pretty much non-existent. Most tantrums I’ve witnessed are caused by hunger, lack of rest, and frustration—breastfeeding fixes all of those for free, anytime, anywhere. 

Naptime and bedtime didn’t involve any fights ever; toddlers like routine and breastfeeding was a way to unwind after big days learning new things. It was the best way to connect for our family. I know what you’re thinking…

But they have teeth. Just because a child has teeth doesn’t mean they shouldn’t nurse. Biting is not something that is hard to discourage; there are many resources for swiftly and efficiently handling a child who bites during nursing.

But they can speak. Just because a child can speak doesn’t mean they shouldn’t nurse. Nowhere is that written nor proven to be true.

But it’s sexual and weird. Breasts are not just for pornography. They are the organs that deliver food, nurturing and sustenance to human offspring. If you have persistent concerns with sexuality and breastfeeding, seek support from a professional.

I don’t know if nursing an older child is for you. You get to make choices with your pediatrician and your family that make sense for you all. As for me, nursing my sons into toddlerhood was precious. Nursing to sleep was exhausting, but I wouldn’t change one night or one nap. Nursing remains the best cuddle time ever and my sons still remember that.

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