Breastfeeding Your Toddler

Written by: Sabrina Granniss, IBCLC

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Time to read 5 min

Your baby growing into a toddler happens in the blink of an eye. Your baby is getting bigger and exploring their world more. As your little baby grows into a toddler, breastfeeding can continue to provide you and your child with many benefits. Breastmilk changes as your baby grows, but it remains a rich source of nutrients, immunoglobulins, and antibodies. Breastfeeding is a relationship and should continue as long as it is mutually desired.

Current recommendations on breastfeeding duration:
Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization support continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods for two years or longer and as long as mutually desired by the mother and child. (1)

How does breast milk change after 1-2 years of lactation?

  • After 18 months of lactation, carbohydrates are lower in breast milk
  • Fat and protein increase after 18 months of lactation until two years postpartum and then remain stable. (2)
  • Calcium in breast milk remains about the same, only slightly decreasing. If your toddler is eating a few servings a day of calcium-rich foods, like leafy greens, tofu, yogurt, or legumes, in addition to breastfeeding, there is no need to add in other kinds of milk. (3)
  • Toddlers may take less breast milk overall but still get many of their calories and energy from breastfeeding.
  • Breast milk remains high in antibodies SIgA and IgG. These immunoglobulins continue to increase after the second year of lactation and support your child’s immune system. (2)

In the second year of life, 448 mL of breastmilk provides: (5)

  • 29% of energy requirements
  • 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

Benefits to your toddler

  • Nursing toddlers get sick less often, and when they do, they get the benefit of antibodies in their mother’s milk, making their cold symptoms less severe, and they are sick for a shorter period of time.
  • Children who breastfeed for 2-3 years have better problem-solving skills. (6) 
  • Children who breastfed longer have been shown to have higher IQs than babies who breastfed for shorter periods of time or not exclusively breastfed. Longer breastfeeding has been shown to help some parts of the brain develop sooner and more extended periods and improve critical thinking skills.
  • Longer breastfeeding can protect against allergies. There is some controversy out there on this topic, but there also seems always to be a missing link between a mom’s gut health status and whether she has done work for healing her gut, which in turn helps her baby’s gut in addition to just cutting out an allergen. (4) Allergies are reduced when breastfeeding is extended beyond the first year and also ensures the baby is getting adequate nutrition when they may be eating fewer foods. (7)
  • Longer breastfeeding protects children from developing asthma.
  • Breastfeeding is a natural and effective way to continue developing your child’s sense of security. Your growing child is exploring their world, which comes with lots of frustrations and stressors for your little one. Breastmilk is still the magic it always was, being able to help calm your little one, like pressing the reset button. Having their needs met and meeting their dependency needs helps them become more independent as the years pass.
  • Longer breastfeeding leads to more secure relationships with friends and partners later in life.
  • As your baby walks around and may get more bumps and bruises, breastfeeding delivers those wonderful hormones that help your baby calm down, and they can be off and running and learning again quickly!

Benefits for the mom

  • There are protective factors from different types of cancer for those who breastfeed their baby and more protection from breastfeeding longer than the first year. It reduces the risk of breast, ovarian, and uterine cancers. (8)
  • Nursing can continue to delay the onset of menstruation and the return of ovulation. The lactational amenorrhea method is considered >98% effective in the first 6 months postpartum when babies are exclusively breastfed on demand, including the middle of the night, are in contact with their mother for daytime and nighttime sleep, pacifiers are avoided, and the baby nurses for comfort as well as no other practices that separate mom and baby or restrict nursing. Many people find that nursing, even after complementary solid foods are introduced, ovulation continues to be delayed and pregnancies naturally spaced when nursing on demand and the other parameters continue to be followed.  (9) As your baby gets older, this should not be the only form of birth control used. Breastfeeding and following your natural fertility signals can be very effective for most people.
  • Women lose 3%-5% of their bone mass during lactation, but this is short-lived. It is a normal part of lactation, and increased calcium intake does not change how much calcium is taken from the mom’s bones to be in the bloodstream during lactation. Studies show that bone loss is restored between 3-6 months after weaning, no matter how much was lost. (10) The recovery of bone loss begins before complete weaning occurs. As soon as the baby begins to take solid foods, calcium begins to be restored in the mom’s bones. Breastfeeding can protect against osteoporosis. 
  • Breastfeeding can lower the amount of insulin needed for some people. (11) The milk-making glands become sensitive to insulin, which is the hormone that allows cells to take in glucose. Glucose is pulled from the bloodstream when making milk, so there may be greater blood glucose control while breastfeeding, which may help prevent type 2 diabetes in the future. (12)

And breastfeeding beyond a year is normal!

Breastfeeding is a relationship that offers more than just calories for a baby. It helps meet all their needs, including emotional needs, well past infancy. 

The natural age of weaning is between ages 2.5 years and 7 years old. (13) 

Other primates wean when the babies get their first molars which are between the ages of 5-6 years for humans. Other mammals similar to humans nurse their young until they quadruple their birth weight, which would be about 4.5 years old for humans.


When a child is ready to wean, they will do so all on their own. It does not need to be taught or forced. As a child gets older and develops more self-regulation and has developed healthy attachment, they have less need for being nurtured at the breast and move towards self-soothing and the ability to regulate their emotions. (14) It is nature's design for you and your toddler to continue breastfeeding until the need is fully met. Many of the timelines created for weaning are society-made, not science-based. You and your child together get to choose what your breastfeeding journey is.


Watching your little baby grow into a toddler is an exciting and memorable time for parents. As you move into the toddler stage, it's important to remember the benefits of continued breastfeeding for both you and your child. Breast milk changes after the first year to meet your toddler's changing nutritional needs, and nursing can help to support your child's immune system, brain development, and overall health. Additionally, breastfeeding can offer protection from certain types of cancer for mothers and help to naturally space pregnancies. Breastfeeding during the toddler years is a natural and effective way to continue developing your child's sense of security and can lead to more secure relationships later in life. So embrace this special time with your growing child and enjoy the continued benefits of breastfeeding.

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