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Breastfeeding Beyond One Year: Common Questions & Answers

Breastfeeding beyond one year ranges from unthinkable to some parents, to the norm for others. Its acceptance varies from one culture to another. Breastfeeding into the toddler years is very beneficial in terms of health. But many parents still have questions about breastfeeding beyond one year. Why do it at all?

Breastfeeding Beyond One Year Common Questions and Answers

One of the first times I ever saw (or at least noticed) someone breastfeeding a baby was when I was 19 years old. I was having a chat with my pastor’s wife on their back porch when her then 15-month-old toddled over to where we were sitting. She nonchalantly lifted her shirt and very discretely nursed him for a few seconds. Then he wandered off to chase his big brother.

My thoughts ranged from offended (“She’s going to do that right here in front of me?!”) to horrified (“This is a walking child! He’s much too old for that!”) to sympathy (“Poor lady, she just doesn’t know how to say no to her child.”) It never occurred to me at that time that people set out to nurse past a year! Or that they would intentionally nurse a child past that “socially acceptable” one-year mark!

Fortunately, there was a lot of time in between that encounter and the conception of my son. I learned a lot in that time; so much so that when I was pregnant, I made plans to nurse my son until at least his second birthday.

The following are some of the most common questions I have received during our nursing journey.

Common Questions About Breastfeeding Beyond One Year

1. Why continue to nurse past 12 months?

The same reasons that apply before 12 months apply after it! Immunity, nutrition, bonding, intellectual development all continue to be excellent reasons to continue breastfeeding. Contrary to popular belief in our society today, breast milk is not suddenly void of nutrients on the baby’s first birthday! Studies have shown that milk from mothers whose babies were over 1 year old had significantly increased content of fat and protein. Other studies have shown that immune factors in breast milk increase in concentration as children grow older.

2. Aren’t you only doing this for your own benefit?

Any mother who has nursed a baby with latch difficulties has learned that you can lead a baby to the breast, but you can’t make him drink! Children will not continue to nurse if there is no physical or emotional need to do so. The mother of a nursing toddler may continue to enjoy the breastfeeding relationship just as she did during infancy. But children who want to wean would do so with or without an okay from mom! (Mothers who have experienced the “gymnurstics” of a toddler who is trying to stand on her head, sing a song, eat a cracker and nurse at the same time would invariably say that it is not all fun for them either!)

3. Isn’t it harder to wean after a year?

To the contrary, it seems to be easier to head in the direction of weaning the older the child gets. Toddlers understand much more than infants. So saying, “We can’t nurse right now, but we will nurse before your nap” is much more likely to be understood by an older child. As a child heads toward weaning himself, he tends to be more accepting of gentle nudges in that direction. Older children communicate more clearly than infants as well. Thus, figuring out what need the child is wanting to be met by nursing (hunger, comfort, boredom, etc.) makes it easier for a weaning mother to figure out how to satisfy that need in other ways.

4. I don’t want to be stuck nursing every 2 hours for multiple YEARS! It’s been hard enough these first 4 months.

Nursing a toddler or preschooler is quite different than nursing an infant. Just as babies change their nursing patterns and frequencies during the first year, extended breastfeeding is no different. Nursing sessions generally get shorter as children become more interested in their environment. Also, they rely on breast milk less and less for nutrition. Many toddlers will ramp up their nursing frequency between 12-18 months as they experience differentiation and realizing they are a separate person from their mother. (Nursing is a great way to reconnect and make sure Mom is still here!) On the road to weaning, most children will wean themselves down to few key times of day (morning, naptime, and bedtime are common). Night weaning is a great option for those who are afraid that extended nursing means years on end of nursing through the night.

5. If you don’t wean before x age, he’ll nurse until he’s in college!

I struggle to even dignify this comment with a response. I most certainly have never seen a college student nursing! Very few children begin kindergarten while they are still nursing as well. The natural age of human weaning, between which the vast majority of children would wean if it were left up to them, ranges anywhere from age 2 to age 7. (The world-wide average right now is age 4.)


Breastfeeding beyond one year is not only normal, it comes with multiple benefits for mother and child. Common concerns about breastfeeding beyond one year are often a result of myths or old wives’ tales. Ultimately, do what you know is best for you and for your child. Remember, they won’t nurse forever!

Rachel Wideman lives with her husband Andrew. They have a 6-year-old son and a 1-year-old daughter. She is a registered nurse and enjoys knitting and reading.

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