Whole Parenting Family

Nursing Past Age One

I’ve written quite a bit on breastfeeding, starting with some basic thoughts, latching techniques, nipple pain, duration of early nursing sessions, and nursing from the get-go. But now that my little boy is just over 12 months old, and we still breastfeed. So what’s the norm now? This post is not aimed at a criticism of mother who don’t breastfeed, or stop at age one. Every mother has to figure out what’s best for her and her child, and no scientist, doctor, or other mother can judge that decision. Below are the factors that I’ve weighed when figuring out what’s best for my Little Sweet Pea and our family.

1) Health benefits.

Dr. Sears discusses the health benefits to extended breastfeeding. He puts it so well. The following is a lengthy excerpt from his website regarding breastfeeding beyond one year of age:

  1. Science is on your side. I have read many medical journals with articles proving the long-term health benefits of breastfeeding. The incidence of many illnesses, both childhood and adult, are lowered by breastfeeding  — diabetes, heart disease, and central nervous system degenerative disorders (such as multiple sclerosis) to name a few. The most fascinating studies show that the longer and more frequently a mom nurses her baby, the smarter her child is likely to become. The brain grows more during the first two years of life than any other time, nearly tripling in size from birth to two years of age. It’s clearly a crucial time for brain development, and the intellectual advantage breastfed babies enjoy is attributed to the “smart fats” unique to mom’s breast milk (namely, omega-3 fatty acid, also known as DHA). From head to toe, babies who breastfeed for extended periods of time are healthier overall. They tend to have leaner bodies with less risk of obesity. They also have improved vision, since the eye is similar to the brain in regards to nervous tissue. They have better hearing due to a lower incidence of ear infections. Their dental health is generally good, since the natural sucking action of the breastfed infant helps incoming teeth align properly. Intestinal health is also much better than those of non-breastfed babies, as breast milk is easier to digest, reducing spit-up, reflux, and constipation. A toddler’s immune system functions much better since breastmilk contains an immunoglobulin (IGA) which coats the lining of the intestines, which helps prevent germs from penetrating through. Even the skin of these babies is smoother and more supple.
  2. World opinion is on your side. The World Health Organization (WHO) officially recommends mothers breastfeed until three years of age. (Yes, you did read that right!) Even the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends mothers should breastfeed “at least until one year of age and then as long as baby and mother mutually want to.”
  3. It’s better for your health. Extended breastfeeding reduces the risk of uterine, ovarian, and breast cancers. Breastfeeding women also have a lower incidence of osteoporosis later in life.
  4. It’s better for your toddler’s behavior. We have many extended breastfeeders in our pediatric practice, and I have noticed that breastfed toddlers are easier to discipline. Breastfeeding is also an exercise in baby reading, which enables a mother to more easily read her baby’s cues and intervene before a discipline situation gets out of hand. Nursing is a wonderful calming tool on days when Mom needs to relax and to stave off an impending toddler tantrum.

2) Facts versus myths.

Kellymom is another great breastfeeding resource. Check out her medical facts on extended nursing here. Below is an outline of the facts she cover on this topic in the linked article:

  1. Breastfeeding children benefit NUTRITIONALLY.
  2. Breastfeeding children are SICK LESS OFTEN.
  3. Breastfeeding children have FEWER ALLERGIES.
  4. Breastfeeding children are SMART.
  5. Breastfeeding children are WELL ADJUSTED SOCIALLY.
  6. Breastfeeding your child past infancy is NORMAL.
  7. MOTHERS also benefit from breastfeeding past infancy {seriously reduces cancer risks!}.

3) Continued contact.

SuperBoy is so busy now. Everything is about exploring, cruising, touching, and taking delight in. He seldom slows down unless he’s tired in my arms, eating in his high chair, or nursing. In my arms before bed he’s usually lost the interest or ability engaging profoundly, and while eating he’s engrossed by the next fistful of cottage cheese or spoonful of kale & yogurt. So nursing is really the one of our best times to focus on each other and provides a deeply connective time for us.

All moms are busy, right? Whether you’re away from home during the day most of the day, all of the day, or parts of the day, extended nursing offers a time away from the world to just reconnect with one another. We mainly nurse at waking & sleeping, with an occasional mid-day quick nurse.

3) To comfort and to soothe.

I’m sure we’ve all had those terrifying terrible heartstopping horrifying horrible horrific moments where our little one has fallen and hit his head, or chin, or whichever body part. The feeling of helplessness after such an injury is something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Extended nursing offers an additional ability to comfort upon such wailing occasions. A criticism I’ve heard is that moms rely too heavily on nursing to soothe. In my experience (and observation of other extended nursing mothers) extended nursing offers an added comfort option without excluding others.

4) It just feels right.

Morning nursings provide a special, sweet, and all-is-right with the world feeling. My husband gets up around 6am, goes to J’s room and changes his night diaper, brings SuperBoy into our bed, and then we get some family cuddle time. After AA leaves to get ready for the day, SuperBoy and I get quality time and we talk, sing, play, and nurse in bed. I know he’s getting the best possible nutrition in the world via breastmilk and with the support of my family, we plan on continuing until he’s naturally self-weaned.

Whatever your decision is about extended breastfeeding, don’t let anyone, in-laws, friends with children, or work, get in the way of figuring out what’s best for you and your family. Please share what your experience has been with extended nursing (doing it or not, weaning timelines, etc)!


  1. Elizabeth Jones on July 8, 2011 at 5:35 pm

    I am really glad to read this. I think it would be really hard to just quit cold turkey. Plus, as a working mom, I really enjoy nursing as a way to regain my connection with C after having been away from him all day.

    Also, extended nursing will probably help prevent painful engorgement if you were to stop all at once, I’d imagine.

    • Novice Natural Mama on July 9, 2011 at 10:08 am

      And it seems that my little one really still looks for the connection himself, too! Which is loving, reassuring, and so sweet 🙂

  2. jencliffdominic on July 8, 2011 at 7:39 pm

    Love how this post has laid out everything one needs to be assured that nursing far beyond 6 months is normal. I know that D and I are going to nurse probably until he’s done and I think I will for sure face criticism but I can’t wait to hear it because I have plenty to say to defend my actions.

    • Novice Natural Mama on July 9, 2011 at 10:08 am

      Being polite but firm about the facts seems my best response when criticized about nursing longer. Usually it’s just the raised eyebrows, which is tricky to respond to except by raising your own eyebrows!

  3. Shena on July 9, 2011 at 2:21 pm

    One of my favorite things about nursing is that it gives me a reason to sit down and rest.

    I read a lot when nursing, too, and have found since weaning that it’s much harder to get myself seated long enough to read anything beyond, well, blogs!

    I weaned when it become something clearly no longer enjoyable or bonding for mother and baby. That point is different for everyone and for each mother-child pair. I nursed a 2 year old and newborn together (literally) for 2 months and absolutely hated it; I only did it because I didn’t want to have big brother associate little baby sister with being cut off from his daily dose. So once they were bonded I kicked him to the curb (figuratively) and offered “snuggling” instead. Almost 2 years later, he continues to ask daily “can I snuggle?” and seems as happy doing that as he was to nurse in the old days!

    • Novice Natural Mama on July 10, 2011 at 10:57 pm

      These insights and comments are what Whole Parenting is all about. Keep up the conversation, mamas! I love the snuggling offer. Great idea.

  4. Meghan on July 9, 2011 at 8:49 pm

    Your baby will give you the signs he/she is done nursing. Not being able to sit still being totally distracted… I think it is harder for mom to give it up to be totally honest.

    My first born would try to stand-up and nurse toward the 12 month mark and he had no problem switching to cows milk. I wanted to nurse him thru a trip over seas and he was only bottle and sippy cup the day we got back and didn’t ask for mommy at all!

    My second born was a little different. He was Mr. on-the-move! He didn’t have time to nurse anymore and my milk production was slowly depleating. I tried to supliment with cows milk at 12 months, but he really didn’t want it. Knowing that I couldn’t nurse forever if my production was going down, and that it was going to have to be cows milk soon, I decided to quit cold turkey with him so that he would take the cows milk. It took a couple of days and the help of daycare (someone other than mom to feed) before he gave in and took the milk.

    Both kids are milk babies to this day and both are very attached to mom! Most mom’s don’t nurse past the teething phase for various reasons. It is great you have done it for the first year! Your baby will give you signs!

    • Novice Natural Mama on July 10, 2011 at 11:01 pm

      Very helpful insights. And how interesting that two kiddos respond differently. And I will keep watching for his signs and try to discern what’s going on for him. Today, for example, he wanted specifically to nurse twice during the day! Not sure if it’s the heat up here in Minnesota or just that “I’m independent . . . oh, wait, I want mama” phase of being 12 months. 🙂

  5. Molly on July 11, 2011 at 7:40 am

    I think this is a great post because it shows that you don’t have to be constantly nursing in order to keep that connection. I think morning and evening sounds doable after a year!

    • Novice Natural Mama on July 12, 2011 at 4:25 pm

      And keeping an open mind that she might want to nurse a little during the day (as J has been intermittent about that).

  6. Kristina Beda on July 12, 2011 at 3:45 pm

    I nursed Hannah several times a day past 12 months. She did not want to snuggle, so that was our time to just be close. Eventually, the nursing sessions became so short (2-3 sucks) that I gradually nursed less and less. The day before she turned 15 months we did not nurse all day, and I just figured that would be it for us. We stopped nursing then, but she will actually snuggle with me now upon waking and before bedtime (at least for a few moments)! It was a natural transition for both of us. I wish the same for you!

    • Novice Natural Mama on July 12, 2011 at 4:26 pm

      What a great transition! And I’ve noticed that J’s either really fast at emptying the breast or just wanting to suck less while nursing. Thanks for the encouragement!

  7. MJ on July 20, 2011 at 12:17 am

    I love extended breastfeeding! My daughter is three and nurses, just for a few moments, really, as part of her bedtime routine. When she was two, she would nurse at bedtime, in the morning when she woke up, at naptime, and sometimes once or twice during the day. It was always a good time for both of us to connect a little. Over many months, gradually she has just needed to nurse less and less. Some nights now she goes to sleep without nursing at all. I can tell she is just about weaned (mostly through child-led weaning, but some with me helping the process along)– but for now it’s so nice to have something that actually makes her look forward to bedtime!

    I’ve really enjoyed nursing a toddler. One of my favorite developments was when she started talking with me about nursing and “nursing” her baby dolls, because that helped me see how formative extended breastfeeding has been in her very healthy attachment to me and how she understands nursing as an important part of how I show my love for her.

    It’s great to read about other moms choosing to breastfeed longer. I think it’s been one of the best decisions I made about how approach motherhood!

    • Novice Natural Mama on July 20, 2011 at 3:21 pm

      How wonderful that you still have this connectedness with your daughter, and that she feels and understands it to be a way of showing love. I think that’s great that she “nurses” her baby dolls! It does have so many benefits, not only health, but emotional ones too.

  8. Tasslyn on July 22, 2011 at 7:06 am

    This is great. I nursed my son until he was 3 or 4 (no longer can remember) and my daughter until she was 3. I pushed my son a little more to wean … after his sister was born, like the other mom said, so he didn’t feel she took his stuff. Mostly though he didn’t really like it because it tasted so different. I went through about a month where my daughter no longer wanted to nurse at bedtime, but didn’t have another way to go to sleep. That was hard. But for both I just listened to them. I think about 2 I started to strongly encourage both not to nurse during the day. They were in daycare anyway – I had to go back to work. They didn’t mind and I needed the boundary by that time. I tell new moms that ask me for advice that it is a lifestyle choice! You’ve got to be ready for the stares as you nurse an older child … and ready also to offer the support to other moms who maybe wanted to do it and didn’t or are thinking about doing it. Now my kids and I like to talk about when “they nursed.” Or as my daughter says, “unteed”. Not sure where she came up with it. But the other day they both told me it was great food for babies. There – a life-long lesson for them!!! They also like to talk about when they were little they nursed and now they are big kids and just need cuddles. I wouldn’t trade a minute of it.

    • Novice Natural Mama on July 22, 2011 at 9:27 am

      It’s so helpful to hear how different moms figured out their children’s needs. And to know the challenges and benefits of extended nursing. I love that your kids told you it was great food for babies!! Thank you for sharing!

  9. […] was very grateful we were still nursing as I knew that at least twice a day he had great nutrition. He had absolutely no interest in […]