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50 Reasons to breastfeed your toddler

A 1936 mother nursed her toddler.
A 1936 mother nursed her toddler.Public Domain

Most parents know how important breast milk is for babies, but many are unaware of the many benefits that continue far past the first year.

From healthier toddlers to higher IQs to increased protection against heart disease and cancer for moms, there are multitudes of reasons to keep on breastfeeding your little one.

Here are 50 great reasons to breastfeed your toddler.

See the links at the end of the list for studies, references and more information.

  1. It's recommended by all major world health experts. The World Health Organization and UNICEF recommend that babies be breastfed for at least two years, among others.
  2. Breast milk nourishes toddlers during illness. Not only will it boost your child's immune system to recover faster, but breast milk is sometimes the only source of nutrition that upset stomachs can tolerate when toddlers are sick.
  3. Nursing provides comfort. The toddler years are tumultuous times and nursing can be an amazing source of love and security for little ones when they are feeling overwhelmed by their emotions.
  4. Extended breastfeeding significantly lowers a mother's chances of breast cancer. When researchers looked at 47 epidemiological studies in 30 countries, they found that the relative risk of breast cancer decreased by 4.3% for every 12 months of breastfeeding, in addition to a decrease of 7% for each birth. They concluded, "The longer women breast feed the more they are protected against breast cancer. The lack of or short lifetime duration of breastfeeding typical of women in developed countries makes a major contribution to the high incidence of breast cancer in these countries."
  5. It's an excellent source of protein, calcium, vitamins and other nutrients. In the second year (12-23 months), 15 ounces of breast milk provides:

    29% of energy requirements (calories)
    43% of protein requirements
    36% of calcium requirements
    75% of vitamin A requirements
    76% of folate requirements
    94% of vitamin B12 requirements
    60% of vitamin C requirements

  6. Breastfeeding can soothe children who are sick or in pain. Dr. Jack Newman says, "I remember nights in the emergency department when mothers would walk their ill, non nursing babies or toddlers up and down the halls trying, often unsuccessfully, to console them, while the nursing mothers were sitting quietly with their comforted, if not necessarily happy, babies at the breast. The mother comforts the sick child with breastfeeding, and the child comforts the mother by breastfeeding."
  7. Extended breastfeeding helps children to mature. La Leche League explains, "A breastfeeding toddler is having his dependency needs met. The closeness and availability of the mother through breastfeeding is one of the best ways to help toddlers grow emotionally."
  8. The AAP recommends it. The American Academy of Pediatrics officially states, "Breastfeeding should be continued for at least the first year of life and beyond for as long as mutually desired by mother and child." They go on to say, "There is no upper limit to the duration of breastfeeding and no evidence of psychologic or developmental harm from breastfeeding into the third year of life or longer."
  9. It's the norm in much of the world. The Mayo Clinic reports that worldwide, babies are weaned on average between ages 2 and 4. In some cultures, breastfeeding continues until children are age 6 or 7.
  10. It's been the norm for most of human history. Until very recently, most children breastfed until around the age of three or four years, if not later. Child care books written in 1725 wrote disapprovingly of four-year old children still breastfeeding, suggesting it was commonplace at the time.
  11. It is natural. Indeed, the American Academy of Family Physicians says, "It has been estimated that a natural weaning age for humans is between two and seven years."
  12. Breast milk helps protect your toddler from common illnesses. Breastfed toddlers are less likely to get sick from colds, flus and ear infections.
  13. Breast milk helps protect your toddler from more serious illnesses. Breastfeeding toddlers between the ages of one and three have been found to have fewer illnesses, illnesses of shorter duration, and lower mortality rates.
  14. Nursing can make bedtime and nap time easier. Many mothers find that breastfeeding puts toddlers to sleep quickly and easily.
  15. Breastfeeding strengthens the mother-child bond. Dr. Newman says, "Breastfeeding is a life affirming act of love. This continues when the baby becomes a toddler. Anyone without prejudices, who has ever observed an older baby or toddler nursing can testify that there is something almost magical, something special, something far beyond food going on."
  16. Breastfeeding can be a lifesaver during emergencies. This is sometimes true in the literal sense, such as the mother who kept her two children alive for nine days in their snowbound car by breastfeeding them. Breastfeeding can also provide both comfort and nourishment in other emergency situations until help arrives.
  17. Extended breastfeeding is promoted by many religions. The Koran instructs, "Mothers shall breastfeed their children for two whole years, for those who wish to complete the term" and further mentions breastfeeding in passages such as this one: "His mother carried him with hardship, and gave birth to him in hardship. And the carrying of the child to his weaning is a period of thirty months." Straight From the Heart, a breastfeeding book for Jewish mothers, quotes these instructions, "A child who so desires may nurse for three, four, or even five years for a sickly child" [Ketubot 60a]." The Bible is full of references to nursing, and many works of art show Mary breastfeeding Jesus into his toddler years and beyond.
  18. It encourages mothers and children to slow down and connect. Life can get frantic. Nursing can provide a quiet time to relax together without the distractions, something that both mother and child may need on stressful days.
  19. Breast milk provides healthy intestinal bacteria. This can be especially helpful for toddlers who have been on any kind of antibiotics, since it helps reestablish the healthy gut environment that is disrupted by antibiotics that can otherwise lead to complications such as yeast infections and diarrhea.
  20. Breast milk supports toddlers' underdeveloped immune systems. La Leche League reports, "At one year of age, a baby's immune system is functioning at only 60 percent of adult level and because formula has no live antibodies, it is strongly associated with high rates of infection (Huggins 2007). A child's immune system isn't functioning at adult level until age six (Dettwyler 1994)."
  21. Breastfeeding burns calories. Breastfeeding burns an average of 200-600 extra calories per day (just under 20 calories per ounce of milk produced). This number is towards the lower end of the range when breastfeeding is reduced as other sources of nutrition are added, but many mothers still welcome the extra weight loss help.
  22. Women who breastfeed longer have a reduced incidence of type 2 diabetes. Researchers in one study found that each additional year of lactation coincided with a decrease in the risk of diabetes of 15%.
  23. Breastfeeding longer reduces a mother's risk of developing cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure. One study of over 139,000 women found that increased duration of lactation was associated with a lower prevalence of hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and cardiovascular disease.
  24. Breast milk helps protect toddlers from dehydration during illness. Breastfed children who are too sick to eat or drink will typically still nurse, which can be crucial in keeping them hydrated during sickness.
  25. Nursing can help toddlers deal with fears. Toddlers may seem like big kids, but they are just over a hundred weeks old at two. Growing up can frequently overwhelm little ones, and nursing in mother's arms can provide the comfort and stability they need to tackle those scary challenges again.
  26. Extended breastfeeding is linked to higher intelligence. Studies have shown that a longer duration of breastfeeding with increased IQ scores and cognitive development. The greatest gains have been found in those who were nursed the longest.
  27. Extended breastfeeding promotes proper speech and oral development. Researchers found that children who were weaned earlier tended to rely on "non-nutritious sucking" such as pacifier use and finger sucking, which resulted in higher incidences of problems such as overbite and speech-language disorders. Researchers in one study concluded, "the longer the breastfeeding, the lower the occurrence of harmful oral habits, sucking habits, oral respiration, and bruxism."
  28. It's easier on both mother and child. Weaning children before they are ready can be emotionally exhausting for both mother and child. Not only that, but nursing is an easy comfort that moms can provide anywhere at any time with nothing to prepare, to buy or to remember to bring along. Nursing can make almost any situation, from airplane flights to mid-afternoon meltdowns, easier on everybody.
  29. It's more common than you may think. While more and more mothers are openly nursing their infants, many still retreat to private spaces to nurse toddlers. Because of this, it may seem as if few mothers breastfeed their toddlers. The CDC reports that about 24% of mothers breastfeed up until one year, but it's hard to find accurate estimates for how many continue into the toddler years. One study published in “Pediatrics” from the early 2000's found that 5.7 percent of moms still breastfed their children at 18 months. As the acceptance of extended breastfeeding has grown in recent years, current numbers may be higher.
  30. Breastfeeding provides comfort before, during and after medical procedures. Nursing can help soothe little ones during some procedures such as immunizations and blood draws, and can provide much-needed comfort before and after more serious procedures such as surgery.
  31. Children who are breastfed longer have a lower risk of obesity. Researchers have found that breast milk ensures balanced insulin secretion, as compared to cow’s milk or baby foods, in addition to regulating eating patterns.
  32. Extended breastfeeding can provide emotional benefits for mothers -- and that's not a bad thing. Author Norma Jane Bumgarner says, "No matter how evil some people may make mother's enjoyment sound, a woman's enjoyment of breastfeeding is a good thing -- one of the many wholesome pleasures available in life."
  33. Extended breastfeeding can help protect against social and psychological problems later in life. Several studies have found fewer mental health issues and better social adjustment in children who were breastfed for longer periods.
  34. Breastfeeding releases oxytocin in both mother and toddler. This feel-good hormone helps to reduce feelings of stress, increase pain tolerance, lower blood pressure, promote growth and healing, and calm our moods -- things moms and kids can all use.
  35. Longer breastfeeding lowers a mother's risk of uterine, ovarian, and endometrial cancer. In most cases, researchers found that the more months a woman breastfed during her lifetime, the greater the cancer protection.
  36. Extended breastfeeding can delay the return of menstruation. LLL reports, "Women who practice ecological breastfeeding average 14.6 months of amenorrhea. Seven percent experience a return of their menses in the first six months following childbirth. Thirty-seven percent get their periods back during months seven to twelve. Forty-eight percent get their periods back sometime during the second year after childbirth. Eight percent go longer than two years without periods." Not only do many women enjoy the break from periods, but having experienced fewer periods is linked to lower rates of reproductive cancers.
  37. Extended breastfeeding can help with natural child spacing. While breastfeeding is not an effective means of birth control, it can lead to a longer time before fertility returns. Dr. Sears explains, "Since breastfeeding delays ovulation, the longer a mother breastfeeds the more she is able to practice natural childspacing, if she desires. How long a woman remains infertile depends on her baby’s nursing pattern and her own individual baby."
  38. Breast milk can help maintain the health of toddlers with serious illnesses such as Cystic Fibrosis. La Leche League explains, "Human milk is highly digestible, contains its own lipase, and makes smaller curds that decrease the chance of an intestinal blockage. Human milk has been shown to lessen the incidence and severity of respiratory and gastrointestinal infections, it has anti-inflammatory properties that help prevent allergic reactions, and it has antibacterial and antiviral properties. Human milk contains vitamins and minerals in maximally absorbable form, and is also very high in antioxidants and DHA..."
  39. Breastfeeding can help improve toddler behavior. Pediatrician and noted parenting author Dr. Sears writes in The Discipline Book, "We have noticed that children who have been weaned too early show what we call diseases of premature weaning: aggression, anger, more tantrum-like behavior, anxious clinging to caregivers, and less ability to form deep and intimate relationships. Breastfeeding seems to mellow out the aggressive tendencies of toddlers and restores balance into their behavior.”
  40. Breast milk provides omega-3 fatty acids. These healthy fats also known as DHA are essential for children's brain development at every age and can be hard to get from foods.
  41. Breastfeeding saves money. Why spend money on expensive toddler formula, organic milk and nutritional supplements when an even healthier option is available for free?
  42. Breastfeeding protects against osteoporosis in mothers. Kellymom reports, "During lactation a mother may experience decreases of bone mineral. A nursing mom’s bone mineral density may be reduced in the whole body by 1 to 2 percent while she is still nursing. This is gained back, and bone mineral density may actually increase, when the baby is weaned from the breast. This is not dependent on additional calcium supplementation in the mother’s diet."
  43. Longer breastfeeding offers mothers protection against rheumatoid arthritis. Researchers who conducted one large study concluded, "In this large cohort, breast-feeding for >12 months was inversely related to the development of RA. This apparent effect was dose-dependent, with a significant trend toward lower risk with longer duration of breast-feeding."
  44. Immune antibodies in breast milk are even higher in toddler years. Researchers have found that some of the immune factors in breastmilk increase in concentration during the second year and during the weaning process.
  45. Breast milk reduces infections in toddlers in day care. Dr. Newman says, "It has been well shown that children in daycare who are still breastfeeding have far fewer and less severe infections than the children who are not breastfeeding."
  46. Michael Jordan, Einstein and Pele were all breastfed past their toddler years. Michael Jordan was breastfed until the age of 3. His mother, Deloris Jordan, once said, “I feel this is why he is the athlete he is.” Einstein was reportedly breastfed until age three, and Pele (The Brazilian soccer star) was breastfed until the age of 5.
  47. If extended breastfeeding were harmful, it would have harmed the whole human race. Jen Davis wrote in LLL's New Beginnings, "Nursing into toddlerhood was a common, natural occurrence. Soranus and Galen, for example, were two Roman doctors who wrote what was to remain the standard Western reference on infant care until the 18th century. Galen believed complete weaning shouldn't occur until the child turned three, and Soranus said not until a child had all his baby teeth should he be weaned... Clearly if extended breastfeeding was harmful, it would have negatively impacted the human race."
  48. Extended breastfeeding is good for the planet. Nursing requires no packaging, no washing of bottles and cups, no transportation, no waste, no outside production.
  49. Extended breastfeeding may boost immunity in mothers. The Mayo Clinic reports, "Research suggests that the longer breast-feeding continues and the more breast milk a baby drinks, the better a mother's health might be."
  50. It makes toddlers happy. For some toddlers, nursing is simply a really wonderful thing that helps them feel loved, secure and happy. For many mothers, this is the best reason of all.

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