factsheet: how long to continue

It’s your choice, and your baby’s, how long you breastfeed.

In the UK, seeing a baby being breastfed is fairly unusual. It’s even more unusual to see an older baby, toddler or young child being breastfed.

Yet many people do it – and throughout the world, in other countries, it is quite normal. It used to be normal here, too. And if we think about human history stretching back tens of thousands of years, then the idea that babies should stop breastfeeding after just a few months is a very new one indeed. But today, in the UK, we’re just not used to it.

Sometimes, the decision to carry on breastfeeding just happens. The baby and the mother just continue as neither takes the lead in stopping….because neither wish to stop, or wish to take action to encourage stopping.

is it okay?

Yes, it is. Breast milk is always a nourishing and healthy drink, even for a toddler or child who eats and drinks a range of other things. Breastfeeding also means there is always a comforting way to soothe your child. It helps him relax enough to settle at night..and if he’s ill, it can be the one fluid he’ll accept.

Mothers who work outside the home can find it’s a good way to say ‘hello’ when they meet their child again after a day spent apart .

how do older babies and toddlers feed?

Usually, their feeds are short, and they may have longer feeds if they’re tired, or wake up at night. It varies. It sometimes depends on what sort of parenting style you have. If you’ve always tended to feed to a routine as soon as your baby started to have solids, you might find your toddler sticks to that. However, lots of toddlers start to assert themselves as they get older, and they start to ask for feeds at different times. You may have to decide if that’s fine for you, or if it isn’t, you may want to insist on feeds at certain times only,. or only when you’re at home, or whatever. It’s up to you.

Sometimes, mothers decide to stop breastfeeding because they don’t want to fight to keep the feeds to a limited number. Stopping happens rather than have a struggle to see who wins! See our weaning section for more information on moving on to solid foods.

other people’s feelings

There may be people in your family who think it’s strange to breastfeed an older baby or toddler, and for the sake of an easier life you may want to feed in private. But it’s really no one’s business but yours – and it’s just a matter of chance you are in the UK, at this time in history, and not somewhere else where no one would think anything of it.

Toddlers and young children can learn different behaviour, though, and that includes when they can and can’t breastfeed. They seem to accept it very easily, as long as you’re consistent.

© Heather Welford