Nursing after one year
June 6, 2013 6:21 AM   Subscribe

My little guy will be turning one this month. Nursing is going fine and I work at home so I am able to nurse him frequently throughout the day (and once at night). Soon I'll need to decide whether to continue nursing or wean him. I'd like to know more about the experience of nursing an older baby, between one and two. Also, I am wondering how continuing to nurse will effect my weight loss efforts, appetite, and appearance.
posted by bq to Health & Fitness (28 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I nursed both my kids to 18 months. It definitely helped my weight loss more, it seemed, towards the end, probably because they were just nursing for the comfort aspect (from about 15 months on it was pretty much just a morning, nap, and then bedtime sesh and that was it) and I wasn't trying to keep up with the calorie deficit by munching throughout the day. I only weaned the first because I got pregnant and my second kid still nurses at bedtime but I consider him weaned now at 18 months because there is totally no milk left in the equation, more just a five minute comfort thing before he conks out. If he wanted to nurse more often during the day I honestly wouldn't care either, because it is so much easier than with even a one year old where they still get so much of their intake from nursing. I don't have to worry about finding a place to nurse when I'm out and around, because I can just tell him he has to wait a bit until we get to the car because, you know, he's not a tiny baby and he won't starve or anything. Much less stress than when they're younger. I almost don't even think about it.
posted by takoukla at 6:41 AM on June 6, 2013

Recommended: Breastfeeding Past Infancy: Fact Sheet, Mothering Your Nursing Toddler (mostly a site for the book -- which is a decent read -- but with some tidbits), FB group for the book Breastfeeding Older Children (not really targeted to young toddler parents, but possibly of interest)

In my experience, it made mothering easier and more pleasant.

I noticed no effect on weight/appetite/appearance (appearance?) -- by that point (if this is what you mean?) my supply had regulated to the point where my breasts were only marginally discernible as lactating. Same with appetite, I suppose.

I went straight through to self-weaning, and would absolutely do that again if I had another child. I saw great emotional benefit to my kid from it, and health-wise she was the most robust kid I had ever seen and I like to think that that was linked. It was many years of zero colds, no tummy/digestive troubles at all, and who wouldn't want a custom-manufactured nutritional supplement like that?

Be prepared for a lot of variation in frequency; at some point you may despair over just how often the kid asks, and then in a few weeks be scratching your head because it's down to once a day, and then it will go back up and... Anecdotally, anyway, that seems to be common. Also anecdotally: don't refuse, as that tends to backfire and leave you with a needy tot who will just ask even more. 'Don't offer, don't refuse' is a (slow) weaning method; kids tend to lose interest if Mom is clearly not into it, so if you see yourself needing to wean, just not offering can be a good way to roll that's relatively easy on both of you.
posted by kmennie at 6:41 AM on June 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

It doesn't have to be all-or-nothing. When my babies were a year old, I quit visiting them for lunch every day. Several months after that, we dropped another of our daily feedings. We'd already dropped the middle-of-the-night feedings at six months or so, except for when they were sick, because nighttime nursing leads to unnecessary nighttime wakings. Eventually it was up to them when they wanted to wean, both several months after their second birthdays. Since we cut only only one daily feeding at a time, my discomfort was minimized.

Some women continue to lose weight as long as they are breastfeeding. Some can never lose any weight until they wean. It's not something you can generalize about.
posted by artistic verisimilitude at 6:43 AM on June 6, 2013

I nursed my oldest son until he was 15 months. It wasn't very tricky; as in most things to do with babies it's pretty much led by the kid. Supplementing food should be second nature by this stage. Mornings and nights, much as takoukla has said. Your baby will mostly let you know what he needs.
posted by h00py at 6:44 AM on June 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I was just going to note artistic's point about weight -- some moms find that creating all that milk slims them down (so nothing or slight gain when they quit); others find it gives them a big appetite, so the weight hangs on until weaning (that was me). No way to know in advance, just like the effects of pregnancy on (eventual) bra size.
posted by acm at 6:54 AM on June 6, 2013

What helped my weightloss whilst breastfeeding was all the bottles of water in the fridge and beside me at all times, which was a major change from my customary soft drink addiction.
posted by h00py at 7:00 AM on June 6, 2013

Best answer: I'm still nursing my 2.5 year old, and have had this conversation with a bunch of people.

First: pumping. I work full time, and tapered off on pumping in the two weeks before he turned one, then replaced those bottles with cow milk. Some women find that their bodies learn how to ramp up supply on weekends and taper it off on weekdays, but I did not find this to be the case, and we used some bottles of cow milk on weekends.

Second: Frequency. Around the age of one, a lot of kids figure out that they can ask for things, and sometimes even get them! Since nursing was about T's favorite thing in the world, he asked A LOT for a month or so--I've seen others compare it to nursing a newborn and it's not far from the truth. The individual sessions were shorter, but he nursed really frequently. His nursing frequency has not been a linear tapering off in any way, although he doesn't nurse very often now. If he suddenly ramps up, don't freak out. (One trick I've learned when I'm desperate to not have him on me is that Mommy Sitting Down = Noms. So if I'm not in the mood to nurse, we go go go all day long.)

Third: Boundaries. As a result of the ridiculous frequency, we started putting some boundaries on nursing for the first time. First, we tapered off nursing in public and totally stopped by 15-16 months except for occasional emergencies and in one specific spot at daycare (pretty much "home" to him.) I was uncomfortable nursing in public because my son is quite large for his age and I felt awkward thinking that people would think he was much older. We spent a lot more time talking about nursing manners. It was part of the overall lessons he was getting at that age about boundaries, and I also felt like this is a very early lesson in "other people's bodies belong to them and no means no."

Fourth: Emotions. Honestly, the fact that nursing started to feel optional made me much happier to continue.

Fifth: Body. I haven't really noticed any difference from my prepregnancy body but YMMV. I just recently started wearing my non-nursing bras again because he nurses so rarely, and they're exactly the same.

Overall, it hasn't been nearly as much of a Big Transition as I was expecting.
posted by tchemgrrl at 7:01 AM on June 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

I really wanted to nurse until 2 years old but as soon as I started ramping down to a less frequent schedule (~1 year) the "letdown" slowed down enough for my little one to decide that it wasn't worth it to wait for the milk to come. He'd get all excited but then lose interest after about 5 seconds (which used to be enough, until I switched to less frequent feedings). So for me, weaning was super easy.

As far as the weight, I've lost some weight, permanently. (It's been three years since I stopped nursing and I am still a size smaller than before pregnancy).

FWIW, I miss it and I wish I could have nursed longer.
posted by rada at 7:03 AM on June 6, 2013

Still nursing at 22 months. Benefits:
- best way to calm down a tantrumy/tired/hurt toddler
- no need to remember to bring healthy snacks or drinks for the little one on every single occasion
- easy way to get her to sleep
- I can still eat something like an additional meal a day without gaining weight
- I still don't have my period (YMMV)
- toddler will cry 'booby, booby, please' when you least expect it.
- getting pregnant may be harder
I really liked Mothering your Nursing Toddler. Happy Nursing!
posted by The Toad at 7:03 AM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Soon I'll need to decide whether to continue nursing or wean him.

Why? Is there a change in your family setup that means you actually have to make this decision now? Because there's nothing magical about the one year mark; you can nurse him until either you get fed up or he self-weans or it's just no longer comfortable for you.

As an additional frame of reference, my sister's child is 26 months at the moment and a heavy nurser, including overnights, and my sister is planning to wean this summer because she's just DONE.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:25 AM on June 6, 2013

My 27-month-old still nurses. When he was 19 months old, I got pregnant. Up until then, and through the end of the first trimester of this pregnancy, he'd been nursing on demand. I don't recall a big difference between nursing a 10-12 month old and nursing a 12-18 month old -- he was pretty wiggly regardless. We were able to start curtailing or postponing nursing sessions; I am unapologetic about nursing an infant in public, but as the nursing relationship becomes more about comfort and less about food, I felt more comfortable making it a private activity.

Toddlers who nurse can talk about what's happening. We always called it "milk," or "mama milk," and used the ASL word. It was endearing when he started asking for "muck." I caution you to use a word you're comfortable saying in public; if you call it "booby," you might find yourself in the middle of a restaurant with a child yelling "booby" at the top of their lungs.

My kid has dropped down to 1-2 times/day at this point, and not even every day. My supply disappeared during the middle of pregnancy, and he lost most of his interest at that point. Now he only asks to nurse when he's falling asleep or first thing in the morning. The only time I offer is when he has one of his rare tantrums -- it works like magic. I expect this pattern to continue for a while, perhaps with a regression in a few weeks when his baby sibling arrives, but I also won't be surprised to wake up one day and realize I haven't nursed him in a week.

Older toddlers can have a problem with their latch getting slippery, which can be painful. We've had some conversations about not using teeth. Those have been reinforced by the fact that his same-age best friend still nurses 4-6x/day and has been working through similar issues.

I can't speak to the physical; I've been pregnant for most of the last year (miscarriage before this pregnancy), so my body has been doing weird things.
posted by linettasky at 7:44 AM on June 6, 2013

By the time my son was a year old, nursing was at home only, and by 18 months it was bedtime comfort only. I started wanting to have my body be my own again, and we tapered off with no fuss.
posted by theora55 at 7:50 AM on June 6, 2013

i stopped pumping shortly after my daughter turned one (she wasn't taking bottles/cups of breastmilk anymore so it was kind of pointless to continue pumping, plus i had built up quite a surplus), and i continued to nurse her until she was about 2 1/2. i kind of figured she'd wean herself when she was ready, but ultimately i wound up taking the lead b/c she was so fidgety that nursing her was getting on my nerves! we stepped down in frequency a lot -- at one year i was still nursing her down at naptime (on weekends) and bedtime and 2-4x overnight, and during the year after she turned one, we decreased it till i was only nursing at bedtime.

i am a huge fan of extended breastfeeding and it really worked for our family. i work full-time and it was a really nice way to connect at the end of the day and just have some mama/kiddo time. obviously if you're home more often you may not feel that you need that special time, but even though i was so DONE at the end of it, i'm so glad that we continued as long as we did.

as for weight/appearance/appetite, i didn't really find much of a change while nursing or not, but i understand i'm probably an outlier.
posted by oh really at 7:50 AM on June 6, 2013

Still nursing a 2.5 (actually closer to 3) year old. After his first birthday, we cut out all night nursing, and I stopped pumping at work. From 1-2 years old, he nursed on waking, once in the late afternoon, and once at bedtime. Since around his second birthday we've dropped to once or twice a day. He almost always wants to nurse at bedtime, but in the morning he's pretty indifferent.

I didn't actually enjoy nursing in the first year. I had a hard time pumping, hated night nursing, and was generally stressed out about the whole process. There was a tremendous change after that first year though, when I stopped pumping and could relax about nursing. It became a nice, cozy ritual between us, which is especially nice because the toddler years can feel so frantic at times. It was, and remains, a way for us to sit quietly and reconnect for fifteen minutes before/after the chaos of the day. I like it much, much more now than I did when he was an infant. I'm actually sort of dreading weaning him entirely now.

Because I nurse so infrequently, I'm basically back to my original bra size at this point. I did gain some weight in his second year: you burn fewer calories when you produce less milk, and I didn't really change my diet accordingly. YMMV, of course.
posted by libraritarian at 8:19 AM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

My son will be 3 in October. (zomg!) He still nurses at naptime every few days. Between 1 and 2, we had fluctuations where he was only nursing before and after sleep, to every two hours like a newborn. It was an amazing tool to have available as a parent for illness and tantrums and general chilling out of a toddler. He had his first bout of puking shortly after he turned one, and nursing was all he could manage to do and keep down somewhat and it was so nice to have that option easily available.

Your milk is still an excellent form of nutrition and antibodies for a little person after age one. There's no reason to stop unless you just want to.
posted by chiababe at 8:30 AM on June 6, 2013

My daughter is 20 months old and some change.

At 12 months, I quite pumping and went to nursing only at home.

I still nurse on demand with her --- as in, when she demands it. So once or twice before daycare, then when I get home, and we still co-sleep for half the night where she nurses some times constantly and some times once. This last isn't for everyone, it's just what's worked for us.

Then on weekends she picks up nursing at nap time.

But she also started dropping a lot of nursing on her own, preferring a cup.

So, if it nursing is working for you, keep doing it. There's no reason to stop at a year if you're not ready. I've found nursing between 1 and 2 to be so much nicer than nursing a newborn. I enjoy it so much more now. It's not work now. It's time with my daughter.

My weight hasn't been affected for better or worse, but you can lose weight at this point without jeopardizing your supply. So have at that exercise! if you want.
posted by zizzle at 8:32 AM on June 6, 2013

Rereading--a few people have mentioned the advantages to nursing a toddler and I totally agree. It is really great to have a source of Maximum Comfort when my son is injured or ill or frustrated. (I've recently noticed that he's transitioning away from this being his first line of comfort, which has been the first sign to me that weaning is nigh.) Also, breastmilk is considered a clear fluid when they have a stomach bug and I'm pretty sure that it's kept us out of the doctor's office a few times.
posted by tchemgrrl at 8:34 AM on June 6, 2013

Best answer: From the opposite side: my son is 13 months, and I just weaned him this past weekend. I wanted to keep going but there were some timing things that made it a better choice. So I can tell you what NOT nursing an older baby might mean.

What I miss:
- quiet time with my son, especially in the morning & evening - he won't sit in my lap anymore because he thinks it means nursing time and then gets mad when I don't offer.
- not having to worry about how much I'm feeding I'm him because I know he'd make up any deficit by nursing.

What I don't miss:
- nursing bras.
- feeling like I have to be the one to get him in the morning and put him down for the night so I could nurse him.
- squirmy baby nursing.

Not a huge list, I suppose. It's only been a week for me, so things will probably change.
posted by bibbit at 8:54 AM on June 6, 2013

I nursed my daughter until a little past four years old. I never intended to go that long* (and also recall how hard it was to make it that first six weeks). When she was 1 1/2 old or so, I stopped pumping at work, and just had her nurse before I left for work, when I got home, and at bedtime (but no middle of the night). It dropped down to twice a day, and then once a day, near the end. She was still getting milk even when she had just her bedtime nursing, but by the time she turned four, she was mostly after the snuggles, so we moved to having snuggle time along with bedtime instead. (And, at 6 1/2, I do generally still give her some extra snuggles while we sing a lullaby, then hand her off to my husband, who puts her to bed.)

What I will say is that after 1 year old or 1 1/2, the amount of nursing time lessens to a point where it's just easier to do and less of a big deal to work in. I don't think it's a huge deal whether toddlers keep nursing or not, but it wasn't difficult for me to keep nursing just because it got to be a much smaller job to do it.

*I thought at some point when she was 2 or 3 she would stop asking for it or lose interest, and that turned out not to be the case. YMMV.
posted by Margalo Epps at 9:35 AM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

I weaned my son 2 months ago, at 28 months. At that point, it seemed like it was more of just a habit for him, and he'd fool around on the boob rather than actually drinking any milk. I did it partly because my husband is a SAHP and it felt unfair for me to have this magic trick when he didn't, and I wanted to try to lose some weight and it seemed like maybe having milk was making my body hold onto fat.

Nursing an older child is kind of nice, because they're just constantly in motion, so it feels really good to just have a little time to snuggle. On the other hand, I did find as he got older that it was increasingly something that I only felt comfortable doing at home, so I did have to start saying no when we were out and about.

I haven't actually found any difference so far in weight, appetite, or appearance. I was really hoping when I stopped nursing that the weight would just start falling off, but to my dismay that is not happening. By the time we stopped nursing, we had only been nursing once a day for a while, and he had been playing around rather than drinking, so I did not have any engorgement issues or hormonal fluctuations that I noticed. My boobs did go back to their pre-baby size pretty quick.

Basically, we nursed until it felt like it was definitely time to stop. If you're not feeling that yet, why not continue until you do?
posted by rabbitrabbit at 10:40 AM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

I am breastfeeding my 19-month-old. I do it when she asks, unless I'm busy or don't feel like it.

She wants to nurse a lot some days, more than I expected a toddler would and maybe more than she was nursing a few months ago. I think it's part of being a bigger kid who has more opportunities to explore the world; she also wants to go to her safe place to decompress and that's me.

I enjoy seeing her more mature appreciation of breastfeeding - the "yay!" and the "thank you boobie" and "night night boobie" are all pretty great. Infants kinda take boobies for granted but toddlers might really appreciate them. I like that I'm making her happy and not just appeasing the angry newbornbeast. As a toddler though she can also ask for boobie at any place or time which is awkward in certain contexts and she sometimes tries to pull up my shirt.

My kid can be away from me all day without nursing and she and I are both fine with that. We co-sleep and she nurses once or twice overnight, usually with minimal fuss.

I'm glad I'm doing this. I love that we can snuggle and bond and that I have something that makes her very very happy. It's also very useful when she's hurt or angry.
posted by thirteenkiller at 10:40 AM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

For us, nursing past a year was actually nicer in some ways than baby-nursing. You start to be able to get them to wait a bit if you don't feel like nursing right when they ask, and they're old enough to have a small snack in the meantime if they are hungry. I liked that it didn't have to be an immediate thing like it did when he was an infant.

Plus, as others have said, it's a nice way to have a quiet moment during the day to reconnect. I miss that a lot. I also miss having an easy way to comfort him after he gets hurt or has shots at the doctor. My parenting strategy for the whole first year was "give him a boob and see if it solves the problem" and it usually did, so I'll admit to feeling a little lost without that.

Weaning was a very, very gradual process for us - it was child-led, and we were done nursing right around his second birthday. Leading up to that, I had continued to offer in the morning and at night, and he began declining the night nursing first. (I hear this is unusual; it's typically the last session to be dropped.) After several weeks, he started declining the morning nursing session as well and asking for breakfast instead.

The sometimes-mornings-sometimes-nights, sometimes-not-at-all nursing went on for a few weeks, and we got to the point where he would nurse once every two weeks or so. That went on for a while as well, until finally he decided he was done. I really liked leaving it up to him to decide when we were through.

Physically, my boobs are a little smaller than they were when I was in the throes of nursing constantly, which I welcome wholeheartedly. Breastfeeding doesn't seem to have much effect on my weight, so I can't speak to that aspect. I will say that I am thrilled we made it to two years and I would have been happy to continue. If we have more children, my goal is to nurse for at least two years again.
posted by meggan at 1:49 PM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Meggan's response reminds me that I forgot to mention something that might be important: when I stopped nursing my son, he continued to ask to nurse for an entire month afterward. It made me a bit sad; for the last week or two he would say "I want to nurse" really quietly, like he knew he shouldn't ask. I would always offer hugs or cuddles instead, but that was not accepted. He always moved on quickly to other things, so I don't think it was something he dwelled on, it was probably more like quitting smoking, where it takes a while to break old habits. But child-led, like meggan describes, would definitely have been a bit easier.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 3:57 PM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

I nursed my son until he was 22 months. Pros: comforting, closeness, practicality. I nursed on demand until about a year, then after that it was mostly nursing at night. Cons: all night snack bar. That's why I eventually stopped. I love my sleep. I ate more than usual while nursing. I would regularly pack in 8 fully loaded waffles for weekend breakfasts and I was back to pre-pregnancy weight within a year, though that might just be genetics, who knows. Physically the biggest change were my elasto-nipples which streeeetched to impressive proportions.

My partner nursed our second until she was nearly 4. They both loved it, obviously. Our daughter was much more reasonable in her demands and my partner was more successful in setting rules and limits as our daughter grew older (ie, only before bed, not while others were around) that worked for them. My wife escaped the droopy nipples too. They might have gone on for longer had my partner not had to get inoculations for international travel.
posted by Cuke at 8:17 PM on June 6, 2013

All three of my kids self-weaned right around 18 months. The frequency decreased a lot after a year-partly because they were eating more and more solid food, and partly because I started setting more limits about my sleep :).
posted by purenitrous at 9:02 PM on June 6, 2013

I came across an article about a study on the effect of breastfeeding on brain development and this particular quote made me think of your question:

"The study also looked at the effects of the duration of breastfeeding. The researchers compared babies who were breastfed for more than a year with those breastfed less than a year, and found significantly enhanced brain growth in the babies who were breastfed longer — especially in areas of the brain dealing with motor function."

There's a link to the full study in the article if you happen to have access to those sorts of things.
posted by chiababe at 5:00 AM on June 7, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks for all the feedback, everyone. I weaned my son about a month ago when he was about 17 months old, because I had a couple of unavoidable business trips. I still miss it a little bit but I was surprised by how quickly he forgot about it.
posted by bq at 9:50 PM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Congrats on making it that far! Enjoy your new-found boob freedom!
posted by chiababe at 1:10 PM on December 19, 2013

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