Long Term Breastfeeding a High Needs Toddler

Updated on September 16, 2010
I.W. asks from Golden, CO
17 answers

Hi Moms,
Before I go into the question I'd like to ask all critics and know-it-alls to quietly roll their eyes to themselves and leave supportive and informative answers to those who have experience in this area. Please and thanks.

OK, my daughter's awesome, she's a super-growing, healthy, strong and beautiful 18month old. She's also incredibly creative, challenging and VERY high-needs in all areas of life. I decided to do the full-on Attachment Parenting techniques with her totally by default (I never heard of Dr. Sears until she was 5 months) since it's the only way that helped ease her fussiness and helped her establish a sleeping pattern that resembled normalcy. Earlier this month (her 17th month) she began weaning herself and it was fabulous! I started my periods again (catch 22 there) but I thought I saw a future where she wouldn't need me so much... I was even feeling somewhat sad about it all. AND THEN she started into her teething and 18 month growth-spurt. Now, everything's changed in a matter of 3 weeks. She won't sleep without me at all. She's back to nursing almost every hour and 3-4 times throughout the night. I'm losing it.

I know this too shall pass... ;o) But I need to hear some support. I need to hear stories about how moms survived situations similar to this and how their kids are today. I've read in the Breastfeeding Book that this is common, this regressive nursing behavior at this point in their stages... but I forget how long I should expect this to last. I know I should contact my local La Leche Leaugue, but I can't get out of the house with her lately.

Side notes, she never took to pacifiers, bottles or other things to help soothe her, only me and this is NOT without serious trying on my and my husband's part.

Thanks in advance.

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So What Happened?

Well, First off, THANKS to all the mommas and g-mommas who took the time to answer and support me. Your kind words and supportive advice were very much appreciated--even the unkind post actually heralded some of the best support and advice I could ask for... so thanks to all!
SO--My daughter had all 4 canine teeth popping in at once. She also grew an inch and gained two pounds, so MAJOR growth spurt. We took her to the doc for her 18mth check up and all was in perfect health. We also saw her pediatric dentist for the first time and spotted a cavity ;o( She doesn't drink juice and we do not give her cookies or candy so this shocked me. The dentist told me she got it from someone in the family who may have an untreated cavity--apparently, they can spread like a virus!! SO, be warned, get your cavities filled pronto! Anyway, all that's been taken care of and she's really almost her old sweet self... contrary to a few opinions... ahem.. nobody but me ran or runs the show around here.
It seems the only bridge we're currently crossing is the beginnings of individuation. She still won't nap without me and she won't sleep more than 3-4 hours in a row at night without fussing to feed. I see a light at the end if the tunnel, but I think it's a looong tunnel.
To the moms who recommended homeopathic soothing tablets for fussiness or teething can you give me more info???
I may just email you individually. I actually think these may help, but I don't know where to find them.

I used most everyone's helpful advice. We go to parks, play gyms, play dates, malls, the library and stores to get out during the days and after naps. She has soothing items like her bunny or teddy, but she usually goes to get them to hold while she nurses... it's kind of funny. Otherwise, she's entering her twos like a normal child except she has the benefit of nursing whenever she needs it.
A quick note to the nay-sayer and her 4 supporters. I believe part of being a good mom includes being a well-informed mom. That said, research has been and continues to be written, reported and supported by both the American Academy of Pediatricians, the American Psychiatry Association, colleges, universities, wellness centers and hospitals that human beings are BORN with individual and therefore different temperaments. All one has to do is Google words like 'baby' and 'temperament' and one will find hundreds of thousands of articles and research dating all the way back to the 1970s.
Just FYI to those who hold the narrow-minded notion that we, as parents, 'make' our babies fussy.
oh, and the world isn't flat either ;o)

More Answers


answers from Denver on


Anyone who says there are no such kids are lucky indeed. I have three kids and only ONE like this.

I ended up "Attachment Parenting" with our 1st son - and only learned it had a name later as well. He simply did not sleep and refused almost all food but breastmilk, so the ONLY way I could get any sleep was to co-sleep and night-nurse (I am the working parent in my family). There were days that I walked around seeing "faerie lights" I was so exhaused. I "wore" him as much as possible because it was a good thing for all of us, since I was at work all day. He was so tiny that I was able to carry him a LONG time, even though I am 5'1" on a good day.

We discovered later that he had a medical condition that meant he didn't really need to eat or sleep much, since he wasn't growing much. He is 6 now, we are treating the condition, and he usually eats and sleeps like a champ. BUT that probably doesn't help you as I am sure kids can be high-need without any medical issues. All I can do is assure you that it will pass.

My son weaned quite willingly at age 2.5. I had been singing to him as I nursed him and we transitioned to singing only. I sang the same song every night.

We could probably have moved away from co-sleeping then too if we'd had anywhere else for him to sleep, but we didn't and so we co-slept for awhile longer. A lot longer, actually. If you don't want to co-sleep until he's 5 or so, you should have a window between ages 2 and 3 when you can transition her to her own "special" bed and then out of the room.

Son #1 was 4 or 5 before he could sleep through the night, but by age 2, I was usually only up with him ONLY once a night. Not getting up would not have been an option - we would have had to strap him down to keep him down once HE decided he was getting up. SO better to get up and calm him. But really, after the previous 24 months, this was no big deal.

As hard as things are now, keep in mind that as your child gets older, having a LOT of energy and a powerful will can be a good thing. Hang in there and do your best. And get as many SOLO naps as your life will allow.

And when you have another child, rest assured that odds are that child #2 will not be exactly the same and you'll be well-trained regardless! We did a lot of the same things with son #2, because he was adopted and many of these things are recommended for adopted children as they (and we) may need help attaching.

We have a pretty unusual arrangement at our house as far as sleeping goes now, and probably will for the next 2 years. People used to hassle us and we'd just ask if they were having difficulties with our children that they needed to discuss with us. The answer was always "no" and the hassle has evaporated over the years.

Do be prepared when preschool starts that you may have to add some things to your home that are usually for "special needs" kids. We have a "safe space" from Kodo Kids which was HIGHLY recommended for son #1 by his preschool teacher (it's usually used for kids with sensory issues, which our son does not have). I asked that teacher if he seemed more emotional than other kids and she said "Oh, yeh." But like us, it wasn't something she thought should be changed - we just need to teach him to manage it. It will be a lifelong lesson for him. He is VERY bright and a wonderful kid - he just has HUGE emotions, LOTS of energy, and a powerful will. But rest assured that, as a child ages, this IS something he or she can learn to manage. We all have our "stuff" anyway.

Son #2 has hella tantrums (something he came to us with) and we've found that putting him in the "safe space" calms him quicker. Good luck and hang in there. It gets easier!!!!

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Phoenix on

I breastfed 2 of my children until 3 yrs of age. I also have a daughter 10 yrs. older, so I could not be the end all to every baby need and want. Yes, there were definitely those adjustment periods where nursing increased for a few days, but it only lasted a few days until extra milk was established or the baby's attachment needs were met. And I also tried pacifiers, bottles, I even encouraged thumb sucking, but to no avail.

My recommendation: pick up the Hyland brand or similar homeopathic type teething and colic tablets. They really help a fussy one calm down. Spend plenty of time rocking, cuddling, hugging, squeezing, long warm baths together, long showers together, long walks, looking at touchy/feely toddler books, anything to promote healthy distraction. She'll eventually find something else to help her soothe herself besides you. You just have to teach her and insist on her trying that too. Eventually she'll naturally choose something else.

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answers from Portland on

I nursed my daughter until she was 2 years old, and also practice attachment parenting. I vividly remember going through the same thing you did at around 18 months. Sleep deprivation is no fun! Anyways, I ended up using those homeopathic tablets to help her with teething pains, and I found out that going to bed a little earlier with her really helped with her physical needs. I also went on really long walks with her in the evenings before dinner, and that really helped to get her into a deeper sleep.(letting her walk, not pushed in a stroller) Of course at that age a really long walk is about 6 blocks:) Hope you get some rest soon!

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answers from Joplin on

I think you need to find your child some security item so that she can learn to self soothe a little more. Start her very slowly, a few minutes at a time and build up to longer periods of time where she can self soothe. I have never been one to let any of my kids cry for long periods of time with out comforting them, but sometimes they do need to cry for a bit ( I was pretty much a ten minute and then if they had not calmed themselves I would comfort) I am not very familiar with the attachment parenting thing, but I respect all parents to parent as they see fit. Kids are all different and no one can judge what is right for your unique child, but I don't think I could handle nursing a teething 18 month old as often as you are, my humble opinion is she is using you as a pacifier and you need to limit her nursing a little more or you will get burnt out. I think some mommas forget their own needs are important too. Not attacking, just saying, you are not at your best if you are burnt out. When you are rested and relaxed you will enjoy your child more and kids pick up on our moods.
Lots of luck! My son has a lovey, a silky blanket he uses as a comfort item, and this doesn't mean he doesn't still need momma sometimes...but what on earth would you do if you had to be hospitalized? You need to think about things like that.

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answers from Pittsburgh on

Not to be disrespectful to anyone, but anyone who thinks that high needs babies are taught, not born, didn't have one. Simple as that. It's easy to say you did everything right, and that was why your baby was perfect. But babies ARE born with all different tempraments and completely differing personalities. Some are very easy from day one, and some are more needy from day one. To say anything different is misinformed and quite frankly, narrow minded.

Sorry to sound harsh. And I know this didn't even address your question, but after reading your first response, I had to say it.

Best wishes to you.

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answers from Norfolk on

I have to completely disagree with the previous poster. As you mentioned, your daughter is going through a regressive stage. It happens. It's sort of that last hug before you get on the plane and leave your loved ones behind.

I nursed my son until he was 26 months old. When he was 19 months old, he was diagnosed with autism, and I figured whatever I'm doing that is contributing to him being emotionally attached to me is a good thing, so I wasn't willing to forcefully wean him. When he began his therapies, he looked to me to nurse (for comfort) a bit more frequently. Then as we got into a comfortable routine, it slowly stacked off. I do mean *slowly.*

Eventually, using a lot of distraction techniques, I managed to get him down to just one 10-minute nursing session before bed. After a while, I had to go out of town for a few days and left my son with my parents. He didn't fuss about bedtime without the nursing, so when I returned, I used additionally diversions and avoidance to cut out that final nursing and he weaned happily and without stress. I am happy to report that I have been told by many of his therapists that he is extremely engaging, happy, and attached for a child on the Spectrum.

Just my experience. I wish you the best of luck.

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answers from Austin on

We totally went for the attachment parenting – it just made sense to me and what I wanted for my daughter. She co-slept with me from the beginning. I breastfed her until l she was about 26 months. When she turned 2, I decided to seriously wean from "mommy milk." I started by eliminating the middle of the night feedings unless she was sick. However for teething moments I gave her Tylenol – she was able to sleep through the night. I told her before we went to bed that if she wanted “mommy milk” she needed to drink some before bed because she wasn’t getting any until morning. A couple of weeks later (adjustment time) I eliminated her afternoon/after school feedings by giving her a snack and distracting her with playtime. If she asked for milk I would just tell her she could have some before bed. The morning feedings were next (after a couple of weeks) replaced with breakfast time. The night feedings were the hardest, but by then my milk was drying up and she actually wean herself the rest of the way. She’s just over 2 ½ years old and she still mentions it every once in a while and I just tell her that she’s not a baby anymore and doesn’t need “mommy milk.” I then distract her with something else =) Through each transition there were moments when she took it really well and those where she would cry so it wasn’t a smooth road but she started to understand toward the end that she really wasn’t a baby anymore and didn’t need it. I, of course, always offered extra snuggles if that’s what she needed.

In the grand scheme of things, those close moments with your child is just a fraction of yours and her life – at least that’s how I saw it. Yes, I was tired. Yes, I wanted my body back. Would I change how I did it – not in the least.

I’m probably going to get reamed for this but my daughter still sleeps with us 95% of the time. My SO and I have gotten pretty creative on how to find interesting times for adult one-on-one. If nothing else it spiced up that part of our relationship. Also, she is such a good snuggler and I figure in a couple of years she won’t want anything to do with me so I’m soaking it up now with plans to gradually move her to her own bed within the next year.

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answers from Portland on

There is a great book called Nighttime Parenting by Dr. William Sears. It made me stop questioning what I was wanting to do. And stop listening to nay sayers.

My son is 3 and still BFs. We have it down to once a day and we co-sleep. He was an awful sleeper in the beginning and would only sleep for 20 minutes at a time. Once I started co-sleeping, it all got better. He isn't considered high needs, but is very intelligent and has an active mind.

We have had a few phases of nursing stoppage and then he wants to nursse a bunch. When he would go through the phase of wanting to nurse all the time, it drove me nuts, I wanted a more normal routine. I finally quit fighting it and once I was more comfortable with it it got much easier. He won't still be nursing when he goes to school, and I'm good with that.

You hang in there and do what feels right for you. Sometimes you might want your body back and you just need to try to make peace with your reasons again. You know what is right for you and your child.

Good luck to you,

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answers from Pittsburgh on

All mothers experience periods of time like this with their babies/toddlers/children. I don't mean this in an offensive way but ALL toddlers are high energy and high needs in O. way or the other. I guess at this point you have 2 choices. Wean her or continue on as you are, knowing deep down that it will eventually pass. Good luck!

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answers from Albuquerque on

Well, my youngest daughter nursed until she was 22 months even though I was dead set on stopping at 12 months, it just didn't happen. She's never taken to a bottle or a paci either. It seems like when she did want to nurse was either to go to sleep (she slept in her crib) or if she was upset. I think around 18 months I wanted to be totally done with it but she wasn't on the same page. Finally she started nursing less and less and stopped at 22 months. She just turned 2 and she's sleeping in a twin bed! I think it helps to distract her a little when you think she's gonna want to nurse and just be patient I guess. Does she take a sippy cup, the nuby ones are a good transition. Good luck!

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answers from New York on

The first mom obviously has no idea what she is talking about. Maybe some kids are spoiled but other children has underlying issues that make them more challenging. My son was recently diagnosed with some mild sensory integration difficulties. When he was a baby I had no idea why he refused pacifiers and bottles or why he wanted to be held all the time and cried and cried unless I was nursing him. Babies are born with personalities and we have to adjust our parenting styles to deal with the child's personality and encourage them to be their best. I feel for you!!! That much nursing is very very intense. You have to give her teething medication like motrin or tylenol and use distraction as much as possible. Does she have a favortie book or video? Get out of the house as much as possible and maybe try a new activity or toy. Stay strong!!

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answers from Los Angeles on

I think you're doing a WONDERFUL job, and I disagree with the first comment whole-heartedly.

The following books were especially helpful to me:
"So That's What They're For" (love the title, lol)
"Working Mother, Nursing Mother"
"The No-cry Sleep Solution"
"Super Baby Food"

I breastfed one child until he was 17 months (he weaned himself because I was 8 months pregnant at the time) and the other until he was 3 years. Neither has had any negative effect from extended breastfeeding. Both have seen the benefits. (Neither of my sons took to pacifiers, either, though I did get them both to take bottles, since I had to work.)

The attachment parenting style works especially well. Go with what your gut as a parent tells you.

So much good luck to you!

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answers from Erie on

You will get through this. I night weaned my kids at 18mo by offering them water at night. It took a few nights and a few tears, but we held them and loved them through it. I don't know if this method will work for you. We also co-slept with them, and I never regretted that decision. I nursed two of my babies until they were 3yo, and the other two weaned around 2yo. At 18mo, you can use redirection to not have to nurse every hour during the day. Although I follow AP, I also believe it's a nursing "relationship" which means you can say no and find something else for them to do sometimes. Not everyone who does AP agrees with me, but it worked for us. That said, this IS a phase and should be over in a month or so, she's probably hit a growth spurt. I support you in whatever you decide is good for your child, and good luck.

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answers from Portland on

I don't practice attachment parenting by any means BUT for the mom out there that said that high needs children are taught to be that way, SHAME ON YOU!!! I have to boys whom I love dearly and my first born is the most challenging kid I know. He is highly intelligent and it makes for a rough ride. I consider him a "high maintenance kid" he gets bored easily and finds trouble when he doesn't have anything to focus on and he has horrible impulse control and you know what IT DOESN'T HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH MY ABILITY TO PARENT. I have a second child who is much more mild and calm and way more in control of his emotion thus, often better behaved. I treat them both the same when it comes to discipline and expectations. Children are born with a personality and temperament and don't think that since something works well for you that it works well for everyone else!

Do what you feel is best for your child! If you think he needs to continue nursing then nurse him!! To each their own!

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answers from Portland on

I so disagree with the very first post, but that is an opinion! Anyways I have co-slept with all of my kids granted at this point the oldest are just 2 months from turning 3 the youngest and still regularly nursing is 17 months. they have all just started a regression and wanting Mommy and nursing as much as I let them (the older two) and the youngest. I have done attachment parenting since the twins were born since that was the only way to stay sane!

But back to your nursing issue: My youngest refuses all things to suck on except Mommy and a sippy with water. He know the difference between breastmilk and water and will actively seek out water if that is what he is wanting. When i have noticed my youngest going hog wild over breast feeding it normally lasts a week two 3 depending on what he is doing. When he was teething it would be until the tooth broke through (wow those felt like they took forever) learning curves took only a week. When he was learning to walk up and down stairs he would only do that activity until he was happy and then he would go back to normal. Right now Mommy ahs been home from work for 4 weeks and there has been a huge reset and now he is pretty happy with me and hubby. He will go to each of us equally. My twins however don't. With the twins when they go on a breastfeeding kick they seem to be coming down with a cold or something. I actually tried to see if there was a difference between letting them nurse and not letting them. The first time I didn't let them nurse they became sick running a fever, vomiting, diarrhea. The next time the worst that happened was a runny nose! What a difference!

i hope this helps, I am sorry I rambled. feel free to email me if you need to confirm or clarify something.


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answers from Chicago on

High needs babies/children sometimes are actually reacting to food allergies/intolerances. This was my son. He was VERY demanding in many ways and it wasn't until I discovered that he was gluten and dairy intolerant that things really changed around the age of 3--like almost overnight. I would look at her diet carefully and yours if you're still BF.



answers from Detroit on

Wow I wish I had some words of wisdom for you. My daughter is 18 months old as well and still nursing as well. For me at least during the day she doesn't nurse cause I'm working full time(but when I have a day off she will). She also sleeps with me. I'm wondering if she is teething again as well cause she has been waking up 2-3 times during the night to nurse as well. It was easy to get her off the bottle and doesn't use a pacifier either. My husband keeps telling me it's time to try and start weaning her but I have heard from what I am reading most toddlers end up weaning themselves so I guess that is what I'm waiting for. I can only imagine how tired you must be but I can understand why you do what you do. You want to comfort your child, we all do. I do hope it gets better for you. I think it will just take time and will change on it's own so it's pretty much the waiting game for now I suppose. Hang in there, your doing the best you can:)

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