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The Frequently Feeding Toddler

This article was written years ago on a forum I co-founded, and due to it's popularity it was also added to literature for mums feeding older babies and toddlers.  I found it the other day when tidying some files, and thought readers may enjoy after recent discussion on Facebook about frequently feeding older nurslings.
"I wanted to share my relationship with T, my thoughts on why frequent feeding isn't a problem.
 This also reminds me of just how amazing his life has been. We have gone from a very difficult start to breastfeeding (poor latch and me being unaware that breastfeeding counsellors even existed!), through pneumococcal meningitis when we thought we would lose him and were left with a child with neurological impairment that resulted in such low oral motor tone that he was unable to suck at all, to a breastfeeding relationship that is pretty much trouble free (teething is still a challenge because he has to learn to readjust his latch). So here are my thoughts on nursing my very lively, bright and energetic toddler.... 
T is what most people would call a frequent feeder. On the 4 days that I am home, he nurses approximately every hour, sometimes more frequently. On work days, he has at least 5 or 6 feeds, more if we can fit them in. 
He's not bored, or insecure, or demanding, or controlling. He can accept my request to wait without a fuss unless he's really unwell or tired. He also accepts no for an answer if he's had a feed 15 minutes earlier. He understands that I can no longer carry him round the supermarket to nurse him and that I'm not willing to lift up my top and let him nurse while I push him round in the trolley, despite his suggestion that I do so!

He nurses with this frequency whether bored or stimulated or engrossed in something. He nurses with this frequency whether well or slightly under the weather or really unwell - it's the length of the feed that changes. He nurses with this frequency when he's been apart from me all day at the child minder and when he's with me all day whether we're out or at home. He nurses with this frequency whether hungry or having just eaten, whether thirsty or just had a whole beaker of moo juice/water/apple juice. 
I don't generally say anything about T's development, having been warned that there was every chance he would be severely developmentally delayed. As it turns out, a whole battery of tests has proved otherwise. So he doesn't do this because he's functioning below his chronological age, he's not doing it in response, consciously or sub-consciously to what he's had to endure in his short life. 
T nurses with this frequency because, within reasonable limits, as mentioned before, I allow him to do so. I enjoy nursing him, I love that we are so close and that he is so affectionate, whether nursing or not (cuddles are not dependent on breastfeeding). I love knowing that I am providing him with nutrients and antibodies that he can get from no other food source. The fact that he is nearer the age of 2 than 1 and can tell me when he wants milk has no bearing on the frequency with which he is fed. I have no problem at all with nursing my toddler 20 times a day if that's what he needs.
And T does need it. It's his way of touching base. It's his way of securing his place in the world. It's his way of reassuring himself that I am always there for him. When he's really busy or excited nursing helps him to stay calm and focused. When he's bored or tired nursing helps him remember that Mummy's there to alleviate his boredom or to rock him to sleep. When he's in a new situation he takes comfort from the fact that I am prepared to reassure him in the most intimate way possible. And when he's in a familiar situation nursing is his way of reminding everyone that the bond he has with me is unrivalled. 
I have no problems with T continuing nursing with this frequency well beyond the age of 2 or 3 or 4. It's unlikely that he will, but if he does I will only be grateful that he has given me the privilege of continuing this relationship with him. I like the way that his nursing forces me to sit down (now that he's bigger) and take a break, put my feet up, and escape from a very busy and demanding world into a world where only me and my toddler exist in perfect harmony. I can see no reason for us to limit his feeds to before nap cuddles, or after fall comfort, or early morning snack. 
He breastfeeds because it is good for him nutritionally, emotionally and mentally. He enjoys his “meh-meh” and “other side” (his words for my breasts!), says it is yummy. It's there for the sole purpose of nourishing him. 
People will always comment on T’s nursing, whether it be on the fact that I am *STILL* breastfeeding or the fact that he feeds *so often*. I've long since got used to the comments about it being only for comfort, or for my benefit and can usually ignore people who say that I am making him dependent, clingy, a mummy's boy and worse. The point is that there are very few people out there who will ever understand the special relationship I have with him, very few people will get to the stage where breastfeeding isn't annoying, a chore or something they feel they *have* to do and I will ever be grateful that I have had and am having the chance to experience this magic.

Update – T self weaned without encouragement aged 4 years 3 months"


  1. I'm really cheered on by this. My daughter self-weaned at 17 months. My son, age 3 is still feeding, although lately he is asking for milk a lot more than he used to. I have been considering weaning him because I wonder whether he's just asking "out of habit" - but I realise this is unlikely to be the case. I guess I've been feeling insecure about what others think of me breastfeeding a 3 year old - but he's the only one who matters! Thank you for this!

  2. Just a wonderful perspective. Thanks for posting. Made me smile.


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