By Tania Archbold IBCLC
A year has nearly come and gone since your sweet little baby was born. You have survived the fog of the early days as you both figured out breastfeeding. You have figured out how to breastfeed through teething, nursing in public, and all the other new challenges that come with the first year of a baby’s life.
Maybe you will be returning to work in a couple of weeks and starting to worry about how your little one will cope being separated from you for the whole day (or how you will cope being separated from them). Maybe you have been wondering how breastfeeding fits in with all these changes. Maybe you never pictured yourself breastfeeding a walking and nearly talking toddler.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Canadian Paediatric Society state that breastfeeding, along with complementary foods should continue for at least 2 years and beyond.
So, why breastfeed a toddler?
First of all, biologically, toddlers are designed to still need human milk. Toddlers are beginning to eat just about everything that their parents eat, but they still need the nutrition of breastmilk to fill in those gaps while their diet expands.
The immunoglobulins and other components in breastmilk help supplement their still developing immune system. Their immune systems are not fully developed until sometime between the age of 3 years. Toddlers are by their inquisitive nature exposed to a wide variety of germs. They are constantly putting things in their mouths, putting their fingers in other peoples mouths, and in general are great little germ factories. By continuing to breastfeed your toddler you are not only passing on immunoglobulins and other immune factors to germs in the environment that you share, your toddler is bringing home germs from their world (daycare, Grandma’s house etc.) and your body then makes immune factors to help protect them. Our breasts have an amazing antibody factory in them which takes germs from your baby and creates antibodies to them. The Enteromammary Immune System is an amazing system where the saliva from your nursing baby allows germs to travel into your breast and then trigger your immune system to make antibodies to those germs. Then, when you make milk those antibodies are returned to the baby, allowing them to fight those germs. It really is an amazing system which allows your immune system to follow your toddler, even if they have to be away from you for a while.
As nursing mothers we all know that breastfeeding is about more than nutrition and antibodies. The closeness of the breastfeeding relationship is just as important as the nutrition and antibodies. Nursing is the perfect way to reconnect after being separated all day. Nursing also is a great way to calm toddler tantrums, slow down tears from skinned knees, and drift off to sleep.