Monday, March 24, 2014

The Other Benefits of Term Breastfeeding

Someone asked me, "What is the point of breastfeeding past age 1? What does it do for the kid?"

I wanted to jump right into the nutrition debate. I was all set to share studies about the nutrition of human milk past age one. Study after study shows that your milk continues to provide a variety of nutrients and minerals in bio-available form to your children long after any arbitrary weaning age in our culture. (I'll just send you to this thorough list if you do need the facts.)

Instead of discussing the well worn topic of nutrition, I wanted to touch on some other aspects that people perhaps aren't even aware they are missing. Premature weaning has been so common in our culture and for so long that people are surviving without knowing how it can be in the toddler years.

It's easy to see how necessary breastfeeding is for a newborn or small infant. But, let me tell you something about the toddler years and beyond. Breastfeeding is the best tool in your parenting box for those years. I mean, it's the freakin' lifesaver of all parenting tricks. Bribery, Elmo, the stick your child picked up and named, none of these come close to the magic of offering boobs to a toddler.

Whenever your child falls, scrapes a knee, bumps a head, sees blood, nursing comforts. It also immediately quells the ear-shattering screams that can continue long after the pain fades. And the sooner you calm down your child's cries, the sooner you can discuss what happened to rule out a major injury or find out where the injury is at.

Whenever you child is scared, agitated or startled, overstimulated or held by faraway relatives or hopped up on holiday sweets or scared witless by a bogeyman in the dark, nursing will calm him down and reassure him. Breastfeeding a toddler means you give your full attention. You have to stop, you have to make eye contact. You have to hold him close. This is the comfort and reassurance needed desperately in a world that only grows bigger for toddlers.

Whenever your child is suffering through the toddler teething (ha, you thought those tiny 6 month teeth were bad?), whenever she refuses to eat, whenever she gets so picky that you worry she will lose weight or get sick, whenever she decides to eat rice 10 days in a row or to only eat yellow food, your milk will satisfy and round out the missing pieces.

Researchers say it can take a minimum of 10 exposures to a food for a toddler to begin liking it. If you know your milk is there at the end of the night, you're less likely to be stressed or anxious during the picky stage and more likely to share a variety of food knowing it's not an eat or starve situation. You'll also save money by avoiding the many toddler nutritional formulas on the market such as Pediasure or Enfagrow. Why pay money for corn oil or another animal's milk when your rich, warm, sweet milk is ready on tap?

Whenever your child is ill, feverish, burning up and crying, unable to eat food, lying on the couch in pain, you can nurse him back to health and provide comfort. How many parents desperately wonder what to give as their toddler lies on the couch hot and crying, throwing up frequently? Milk that is always welcome and always ready is the lost answer here. That milk is pain relief, hydration, antibodies and nutrition all in one.

Whenever your child is struggling with bedtime, naptime or trying to learn how to transition to a new routine, nursing will help her nod off without resistance. Parents report toddlers fighting bedtime for hours. Although other things such as allergens and parasites need to be ruled out, breastfeeding remains a potent bedtime tool to prevent the child from staying up too long and becoming overtired or sickly.

Whenever your child has a meltdown, there you are with grounding milk. We're not talking about a tantrum for a toy here, but those deep, heavy meltdowns when the child has overdone it and her brain can no longer regulate emotions and discomfort. Breastfeeding is very grounding, very stabilizing and can prevent or relieve meltdowns. Even with tantrums or other negative behavior, breastfeeding first can calm down the child so that you can discuss the situation.

People refer to the terrible twos and the tyrant threes. They talk about the raging fours (or f*cking fours as I saw mentioned in my newsfeed the other day). Just you wait, they warn. Wait until that infant reaches age 2, 3, 4, 5. The inconsolable screaming is on the way. The meltdowns that last hours. The bedtime struggles that never end. The scary illnesses that make you rush to the doctor in the middle of the night. They are all waiting for you, they warn.

Continuing to freely breastfeed through those challenging years can really change your perspective on toddlers. Don't make it harder on yourself or your child. Keep nursing!

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1 comment:

  1. thank you for this post. it expresses what i have long felt to be true---that the benefits of breastfeeding go beyond just nutrition, and go well beyond early infancy/the first year. i cannot imagine how much more difficult, for both mother AND child, the toddler years are without the built-in support of nursing. in sickness, with late or picky eaters, for comfort, for tranquil bedtimes...only a culture that has lost its collective mind vis-a-vis parenting would choose to make a challenging job that much more difficult. and needlessly so!