First of all, let me be clear: Nothing I have actually ever seen a toddler do (either one of my own two little ones or a tot belonging to someone else) would be something I would be able to describe as “unusual.” That, my friends and readers, is because after spending any amount of time with a toddler or young child, and most especially after spending all day with a couple for a few years, “expect the unexpected” is something that sounds like the most natural and necessary line in the world.
They do what they want. They say what they want, and this includes repeating something they heard their grandma say just that one time when she didn’t even think they were really listening…
But I digress. In observing all of the funny things that toddlers do, from their eating habits to their conversational skills to their bathroom tendencies and beyond, I’ve enjoyed marveling at it all, thinking about it, sharing with and learning from other parents, and yes, even writing about it; from the smallest details to the biggest and most important moments.
And today, I’ll get into the behaviors that might be seen in toddlers if they were breastfed: 20 things that some might find a bit unusual.
20 Demand Milk From Daddy
Yep, this has happened at least once. And it all comes, really, from curiosity. As babies grow older, some of those sentences become incoherent (though, they're cute as can be) and they have a lot of questions. They realize that a certain part, or parts, of the mama’s body are where milk comes from. And so, they may ask if they would be able to get some milk like that from their daddy, too. Of course, he, however, has the anatomy that is somewhat similar, but nowhere near the same.
Parents at NetMums, Parents.com, and more, note toddlers going through phases of preferring papa for everything; and that sometimes frustrates mom when their child wants milk from their dad!
19 Bite Down
Babies get teeth before they are even old enough to be considered toddlers. First of all, “A first tooth usually appears around 6 months old. Typically, the first teeth to come in are almost always the lower front teeth (the lower central incisors), and most children will usually have all of their baby teeth by age 3,” notes HealthyChildren.org. And either when startled, sort of by accident, or just for fun, there will likely come a time when a baby or toddler will give their mom a reason to want to yelp out in pain during a feeding session.
I found that if you don’t react in a big way, the little one is less likely to be scared into skipping some future sessions.
18 Use Breastfeeding As A Way To Check In
Hello again, and welcome to the story of my life for the last many months: My toddler has been using nursing simply as a way to check in, rather than to actually have a meal, snack, or hydration, for quite some time.
(In fact, I was almost completely convinced that there was no way I was even producing milk anymore. Her little “check-in” nursings were so short and quite infrequent until I rubbed a sore spot and to my complete surprise expressed a spray of milk, just like the early days.)
It’s a habit at this point. It’s comfort. And that’s just fine with me, as I’ve chosen to let her completely lead the way when it comes to how long we’ll nurse.
17 Get Jealous Of Other Babies
A momma’s arms are, of course, a special place for a little one, whether or not they’re nursing. But I noticed my toddler suddenly requesting to breastfeed if there was another baby hogging my attention, or even (gasp!) sitting in my lap. Sometimes, as she got older, it seemed to be a clear tactic to get her older sister OUT of my lap, so that she could get into the honored position. A tug at the shirt or a request for “milky!” was all it took, and she was back in her ‘rightful’ position. And ya know what? It makes sense, as breastfeeding is so much about bonding in so many ways. WhatToExpect.com, BabyCenter.com, and other forums include plenty of discussion of jealous toddlers/nursing.
16 Get Close And Stare
Maybe it’s when I’m feeding one of mine on the rug at library story time, cradling her in my arms. Or perhaps it’s when we’re out at the park and she wants some milk all of the sudden. But in any case, as a parent of two little ones often nursing on-the-go from the time that they were very little babies, I learned quickly to get used to other kids getting in close to check things out. And toddlers don’t always have a very good (any?) sense of personal space. They will literally breathe down your neck and lean in close to see what’s going on, many making the connection that “hey, that’s how I used to eat!” (or maybe even still do).
15 Pretend To Feed Their Dolls
Okay, I don’t think I can really and completely describe how adorable it was the first time or two that I (or my husband) walked in on our sweet little toddler pretending to breastfeed. It was often a stuffed animal, such as a favorite teddy bear, if not a baby or other doll in her loving arms. But the best part was that she so perfectly mimicked my positioning, stance, and, well, everything to a T. No, I take it back, the best part was that she often got herself situated with the Boppy nursing pillow in order to thoroughly replicate the effect — and even adopted the same sort of calm stare that she may have witnessed on her tired mom.
14 Assume Creative Positions
It’s one thing feeding a newborn. It’s another thing entirely feeding an older baby. And then, there are the toddler times. And if you are still actually breastfeeding at this point (I am, and I have both times with both kiddos, and it’s great!), it's wildly known in mommy circles that it can really help (and be really necessary) to get a bit creative with positioning. Social media is full of shots of moms nonchalantly feeding bigger kids who sit straddling their laps, for example. Mine actually were pretty resistant to adopt new “big kid” feeding positions, preferring the familiar comfort of the cradle hold. See LaLeche.org.uk or numerous other sites for info on positioning and more for toddler breastfeeding.
13 Be Particular About Places
This goes two ways: Sometimes, toddlers (who, in case you didn’t know, can have a way of being very opinionated and very verbal) are sort of picky about where they’re comfortable or eager to breastfeed. And then there’s another angle to this that I wanted to bring up because I’ve found it just so interesting: I’ve seen time and time again my own tots having strong and long-lasting associations with places that they fondly associate with a nice nursing sesh. For example, because I breastfed my second baby at the library a lot, she still sometimes asks for my milk there even though she rarely does anywhere else. Same goes for a certain bench in a certain room of a favorite local museum — no joke!
12 Ask To Nurse Even When Uncomfortable
Although from the get-go, nursing was the way a little one got all of their nutrition and hydration, and a way to receive cuddles and comfort, let me tell ya, that connection can remain for quite some time — lasting well into the toddler years and in some cases even beyond.
For some families, toddlers, and moms, this is really a quite beautiful thing. If you have not intentionally and deliberately weaned your toddler, or even if you have, there will likely come a moment in which he or she feels scared or uncomfortable. Maybe it's in some new situation or around some new person, but they may request breastfeeding quite clearly as a way to be comforted. (Both KellyMom.com and VeryWellFamily.com cover nursing for comfort.)
11 Still Want Milk Before Naptime
Toddlers who have breastfed into their recent and remembered lives—even if they aren’t often or at all actually breastfeeding anymore—may still want some form of milk at the times that they used to have it. In fact, moms hoping to nudge kiddos in this direction (being weaned) may use this little fact to their advantage. If little ones don’t nurse anymore before, say, nap time or bedtime, they may still enjoy or even ask for a bottle or sippy cup of the white stuff, which has probably slowly been replacing mama’s milk as they grow older and eat more solid foods.
10 Looking For Snuggles
Cow’s milk (or other forms of milk) may have replaced breastfeeding. “Real” meals may have replaced those sessions that used to happen every few hours in the early days. But something will remain: the need for physical closeness between the mother and the child. This happens especially at key moments of needing comfort, such as when winding down before naptime or bedtime. We still do it religiously, even as we look ahead to the near future of the first grades of "real" school. (OMG I can’t believe I just typed that because I can’t believe it’s true!) Snuggles in my lap in our special chair are a must; it's a habit that we’ve never, ever stopped
9 Go For The Grab
I’ve spoken to plenty of moms (and seen the social media posts of many moms) who are actively and deliberately trying to wean their toddlers. (Often, a cause for this is wanting to become pregnant again, or already being pregnant again and experiencing discomfort or generally being OVER it. Or perhaps they're not wanting to have to think about breastfeeding both a toddler and a newborn at the same time…) And in the course of this process, some toddlers get demanding, or even physical, to get to that sweet mama milk goodness. They’ll pull down a mom’s shirt while she’s sitting on the toilet. They’ll lift up her shirt while she’s trying to shop in a store.
8 They May Act Out When With A Babysitter
Okay, so the continued closeness of breastfeeding a toddler can be amazing — something moms such as myself couldn’t imagine doing any differently, and something that they even rearranged their entire lives around. But such moms also know that there are some other realities that come with being thusly attached to your little one still: Take, for example, that if you're still nursing regularly, it may be that much harder to get away for any window of time. However, I will say that often toddlers will feed fewer and fewer times a day as they get older. They'll rely on it less and less for actual nutrition, so even if you’re still breastfeeding a toddler, it totally doesn’t have to mean being tied down.
7 They May Try To Soothe Themselves With Something Else
Many kids continue to associate the soothing motion with comfort. Clearly, some continue that thumb habit (or even pacifier) habit into the later years of their youths. When breastfed toddlers are no longer nursing, or even sometimes if they still are, you’ll catch them seeking the same sort of comfort that they associate with it in other ways. They might use their own lower lips or a finger or hand, or even an arm or favorite toy. This might happen most especially when they would have nursed before, such as when about to fall asleep or feeling hungry or in need of comfort.
6 Associate Suction With Going To Sleep
To get more specific with it, clearly, babies and toddlers (and as we already said, sometimes even much older kiddos) can continue to associate suction with going to sleep.
Many newborns, older babies, and even toddlers, very regularly nurse before both bedtime and naptime, so they seem to require this in order to drift off to dreamland. Sites ranging from KellyMom.com to PsychologyToday.com cover the topic of nursing to sleep, with many experts feeling that there’s nothing at all wrong with it, and some pediatricians urging a move toward a child being able to fall asleep on their own.
5 Want To Start Up Again Once There’s A Younger Sibling
How recently has a mom weaned her first little one before having a second or subsequent newborn in the house? Even if it was quite a while ago, an older sibling may suddenly be re-interested in breastfeeding once they observe how much time and attention their momma puts into feeding their new little brother or sister. Some moms may use the tactic of diverting the toddler’s attention to something else. Others may say “sure,” and let them try nursing again, or perhaps just be sure to substitute other forms of closeness and cuddles. Every toddler reacts differently when there's a new kid in town!
4 Go On Strike When Sick
What can be perhaps a little tricky about regularly feeding a toddler or older baby via nursing still is when there are the inevitable ups and downs in their habits and tendencies. For example, if my body is used to producing a good amount of milk for my one-year-old at four predictable times each day, and then said one-year-old has a cold or is getting a new tooth or somehow isn’t as physically comfortable nursing and decides to suddenly (often temporarily) do it less, I’m gonna have some issues on my hands. Pumping can help moms be comfortable and produce when these strikes happen, and they can often get right back to nursing once baby feels well again.
3 Or, They May Even Nurse More When Not Well!
Then, my motherly and fatherly friends, there is the flipside of the above item. While some little ones may decide not to nurse at all or to nurse much less when something is off with them—such as a cold or teething—others go the opposite route: they demand to breastfeed more and more and more.
Happily, a mom’s body has the tools for the job, and breastfeeding has a quite beautiful way of being like the handiest and most natural way in the world to soothe a tiny tot who doesn’t feel well (or who might benefit from some extra easy nutrition and hydration — and antibodies!). The gov site NCBI and many more covers such immune system benefits.
2 Have Adorable Names For Breastfeeding
You know what I really enjoy about nursing into the toddler years? It’s just a little thing, but sometimes it’s the little things that count. My toddlers were both very early talkers — but even for those who aren’t so much, kiddos have a way of coming up with unique lingo for breastfeeding. They also speak in just the sweetest little high-pitched toddler voice. Maybe their terms for nursing are inspired by what their mom or dad somehow started calling it, or maybe they sort of reinterpreted or reinvented the language all on their own… But from “leche!” to “milky” and more, the vocab is something this writer mom just has to appreciate.
1 Get Territorial About Mom’s Arms
If a mom’s arms are associated with that very close practice of nursing, a toddler may turn visibly green (okay, not REALLY) with envy if another baby is inhabiting their rightful throne — their rightful throne being their loving mother’s lap or arms. But on top of this, babies and toddlers may actually be clearly jealous when they see other moms feeding other babies. Yep, from suddenly demanding mama’s milk as a strategy to get a sibling booted from cuddle time to intentionally disrupting a feeding (maybe even another mom’s…), I’ve seen it all.
Breastfeeding a toddler is quite a journey, and I’d say a completely great one.
See La Leche League’s sites or contact your doctors, Planned Parenthood, and more for breastfeeding support and info.
Sources: HealthyChildren.org, LaLeche.org.uk, KellyMom.com, VeryWellFamily.com, NCBI.nlm.nih.gov