A resource to inspire, inform and empower parents.

Why Would You Nurse a 4-Year-Old?

You may be expecting a snarky blog post aimed at critics of “extended” breastfeeding filled with awesome comebacks to sling around comment threads of breastfeeding posts. But I have written enough of those. A recent conversation in a thread on my own page reminded me that some people just… don’t get it. Some people just really don’t know why someone would breastfeed a toddler. They ask, “But doesn’t he eat food? Drink regular milk? Isn’t he too busy playing?” This post is dedicated to all of the people who want to know more about this. The people who ask questions, hold back judgement and have an open mind to listen to someone else’s experiences.

Abby Theuring, The Badass breastfeeder breastfeeding her toddler.

I can’t tell you why everyone nurses a toddler, but I can tell you why I personally breastfeed my 4-year-old. I didn’t plan to breastfeed Jack this long. If someone had asked me when he was born about breastfeeding a 4-year-old I would have said that was weird and gross. Now that I am here I can say that it is a lot of things, but it is not weird to us and it is not gross to us.

To answer your questions: Yes, Jack does eat food. He eats everything that you and I eat. He eats at every meal and has a zillion snacks throughout the day. He doesn’t however, drink regular milk, if by “regular” you mean cow’s milk, then, no. But it’s not because I won’t let him or have some “beef” with cows. (Get it? Beef?) I have offered it and he just doesn’t like it. I have offered every kind of milk and he’s not into it. Is that because he’s breastfed? I doubt it, I think he’s just Jack and picky about every damn thing. He drinks tons of water and some juice. I don’t feel any need to cut him off from human milk to provide milk from another source.

Abby Theuring, The Badass Breastfeeder, tandem breastfeeding.

Jack also plays. I mean try and stop a 4-year-old from playing, right? Jack does not spend all of his day lying on my lap nursing. Neither he or I want to have anything to do with all that. Nursing for Jack has taken many forms over the past 4 years. As an infant it obviously met all of his needs; nutrition, comfort, security, attachment, etc. As he has grown so has his world and he has begun to get some of these needs met in other ways. Certainly nutrition is mainly through solid foods these days, but don’t believe the hype; breastmilk does not lose nutritional value. Ever. Jack’s means of meeting his need for comfort, security and attachment have also grown as any other child’s would at his age. But breastfeeding is still a big part of it. I believe that weaning is a process and it will take time for him to fully replace breastfeeding.

Jack does still love to nurse. He likes it, needs it and benefits from it. He nurses about 3 times day although he asks more frequently. I do not nurse him every time he asks because it’s just too much for me. I also nurse a 1-year-old so I need boundaries for my own comfort. If he asks I make sure he has some water if he is thirsty and some food if he is hungry. But I can usually tell what’s going on when he asks. If we are at a park and a bunch of kids from a local daycare come stampeding in I can guarantee you he will ask. Jack has some sensitivities around auditory stimulation and if a kid screams near him I can predict him approaching me to nurse. If we have been out for a long time I’d bet you my right arm he’ll be coming to me asking for “boobie.” Jack also nurses to sleep.

Abby Theuring, The Badass Breastfeeder breastfeeding her toddler.

Non-breastfed toddlers react to all of these situations too, they just do it in slightly different ways. Nursing meets many needs for Jack at this point, but I appreciate that this is not what is commonly acceptable in our country. But you know what? It’s acceptable in my household and it’s what works for Jack. It’s not always wonderful. There are plenty of times when it’s exhausting, when nursing aversion is in full swing, when I just want to run away and hide in a closet. It’s like anything else with parenting, it’s hard and there are good parts and bad parts.

I have many friends who breastfeed their 4-year-olds. I also have friends that do not. But all of us meet the needs of our children in ways that work for us. This is what works for us.

Abby Theuring, MSW


  1. Renee Sullivan says

    Abby, this article is spot on. This is the first article I have read abouta nursing a toddler that truely meets how I feel as a mother nursing a toddler (3 years and 7 months) and a 7 month old. We even call it “boobie.” While out to lunch today I was “doing boobie” with my 7 month old and my father in-law said “oh, he just needed to do boobie again huh?”. I laughed. My mother in-law scolded him for it. My response was ” We have no shame he needs to nurse .” She went on to tell him we don’t have to call it that in public and my 3 year old said “But Grandma that is what we call it, he just needs his milk, no big deal.” Proud nursing mama moment.
    Thank you for this article, it is greatly encouraging to feel we are not alone in our toddler nursing endeavors.

  2. I always love reading stuff about breastfeeding toddlers! It definitely encourages me when I feel like I’m being judged for nursing my almost 3 year old daughter. Some days I hate it and want to stop, and on other days I love it. My daughter is definitely not ready to give up boobie yet, so I plan to let her wean herself. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Abby you are really cool, thanks for blogging I appreciate what you write. My 1yo is ebf and only just starting to try other foods. I never imagined feeding past a year, and yet here we are, certainly no end in sight any time soon. I’m not looking forward to what seems like inevitable criticism as he gets older which is why its nice to know of other Mums such as yourself who are informative and reassuring.

  4. I think it is fantastic that you are able to sacrifice yourself so freely for your children via toddler feeding!
    I bet it makes you feel wonderful knowing that your 4 year-old can rely upon you for all his soothing needs. That has to be rewarding in itself. I can only imagine how terrifying it must be for him when the world gets too loud for him when dealing with auditory sensitivity. Thank goodness you’re there to offer him your breast for the comfort he needs. I wish there were more mothers who were out there to lift the burden of self-soothing. I know my son has a horrible time relating to other children. So I COMPLETELY understand the whole boobies asking when the playground gets too crowded.
    My son who is now 6 & still breastfeed. I even arranged for nursing sessions when he was in Kindergarten. Because he doesn’t like cow’s milk either. Also the he gets scares in school with the other kids & wants boob to feel better.
    Unfortunately, they won’t let me come to school with him next year & nurse. Darn haters.
    That’s okay. I quit my job to begin homeschooling.
    The way I see is…. he’ll ween when he wants to.
    And I will make sure all his emotional needs are met. If he wants my breast then that’s what he’ll get.
    I’ll go back to work when he’s done.

    • Courtney says

      They allowed you to come to school and breastfeed him in Kindergarten… Why won’t they allow you next year?

    • That’s ridiculous to allow your child to decide when to stop breastfeeding. You still plan to let him at 7 years old? Wow. it’s time to start letting him mature properly or you’re going to have a lot of issues as he begins to mature.

  5. Savannah says

    First allow me to say that the pictures of you breastfeeding your children are absolutely beautiful and so touching. I love the intimacy and attachment they represent, and how comfortable both are in your arms.

    Second, these are your children and how you raise them is up to *you*. You know them better than anyone else on this planet and if breast feeding is what you feel is best for them, then let it be the case.

    Question: as someone who has struggled with coping during difficult emotional times, your blog post did push me to consider whether it would be helpful for your older son to develop non-breastfeeding coping strategies during times of mild and moderate stress that will last him through a lifetime. He is young, but he is also at a pivotal age where he’s setting a foundation and developing strategies for how he will handle stressful incidents moving forward. I know I developed certain strategies as a child that did not help me as an adult (I’m a “highly sensitive person”), and I wish someone could have taught me otherwise.

    Please understand that I pose this question not to judge you because I don’t know what, or if there is, a right answer. I don’t think anyone knows, but it’s a credit to your blog post that it got me thinking. =)

    • Children learn to walk when they are ready. They learn to talk when they are ready, they learn coping skills when they are ready. They stop using nursing as comfort/coping/thirst/food when they are ready. There is no reason to push them to do any of those things faster or before they themselves are ready. Learning other coping skills gradually from birth to five or six years is no less beneficial than learning them gradually from birth to three years or two years.

  6. Birgit Eichberger says

    thanks for sharing. We’re on the same way.
    I’m breastfeeding my preemie now for about 12 month (late, hart start, long story) and I’m thankful every single day.
    I’m sure, I couldn’t have make it without you.

  7. Meghan Corbitt says

    I nursed my 2 year old and got crap from people for it. But whatever. My son weaned slowly and as he was ready. I am pregnant and will do the same.

  8. I am so glad that I found this article:)! I am a mother of 4. I breastfed 3 of my children until age 2, and my 4 th child is still breastfeeding at 5 . I use to think breastfeeding that long is gross, and would have never expected to be doing it for this long! But my daughter is just not ready to stop! It’s her comfort:)! She only nurses in the evening or bedtime. And after she gets hurt! My husband and my other children think that it’s ridiculous, and that I need to stop, but they just don’t understand! I am sure it won’t last forever, and until she is ready to stop, we will continue this special bonding time that we share 🙂

    • Everyone gives me guff about nursing my just turned 4 year old, it’s bedtime, Maybe morning, and if a serious booboo happened. He is just not ready to stop. I’m but am not at the same time. My husband is sleeping in a different room at the moment, my son and husband have always co-slept. But now that he’s 4 it’s different… I’m worried, My son can’t give up “boonie” at night, I can usually distract in morning or even booboo’s. But bedtime is a must for him and seeping on my arm. Any suggestions are very welcome! I want him to stop but not at the same time. Please help, advice welcome.

      • Sorry about auto correct, “boobie” must not be in the phone! LOL

      • My 3yr old has learned coping for pain being scared but before bed he nurses to load up brain with nutrients for brain growth over the 10hours. It takes a lot of DHA other nutrients from Mom’s milk For maturity. Mine still nurses every 3 hours for teething pain or
        Brain growth( also eats 3 full meals ). We are on a great track not stopping yet!

  9. Thank you for this! Yesterday (July 11st 2015) marked 4 yrs of breastfeeding my little guy. Along with tandem nursing for 13 months. I too never set out for this, but there is no way I would ever change it. He is a very independent, outgoing person but every now and again he needs mom 😉

  10. I so relate to the post. My 2 year old still nurses and people always ask me why I haven’t weened him and why I don’t just tell him no. I believe in self weening, he will ween when he is ready and I do tell him no, if he is trying to nurse instead of eat or drink then I tell him no he needs to eat his bites first. My son hates milk also (unless it’s chocolate milk) we have tried everything, cows milk, almond milk, coconut milk, rice milk, he hates it all.

  11. U are sick !!

  12. Yes! I relate so much to this! It’s nice to know I’m not alone. Currently breastfeeding my 4yo and just-turned 2yo. And just like you, I definitely didn’t start out 4 years ago envisioning I would (still) be breastfeeding her today.

  13. Ann Haggard says

    I turned 40 one month after giving birth to my daughter, my only child. Having spent many previous years reading, researching and educating myself on attachment parenting, I couldn’t wait to be a mother and nurse my baby. As it turns out, she is a super sensitive, highly aware, intelligent and loving child who needed to breastfeed often, starting with severe colic at two weeks old that lasted for 4 months. I was hoping to breastfeed for at least 2 years, then 2 turned into 3 which turned into 4 years. While it was second only to breathing for both of us, I was starting to feel the need to stop and, by then, she only wanted to nurse on waking in the morning, going to sleep and when booboos happened but I still wanted to be sensitive to her feelings and needs, so I called her pediatrician. Always so supportive of our family choices, this remarkable man had this to say, “Who better than her mother to begin teaching her the “give and take” in a relationship, what compromise means and the consideration of other’s feelings?”. It was supportive and wise. At 4 years old I knew we could begin to talk about the end, so a month from her 5th birthday I began the conversation and we agreed that the night before her 5th birthday would be the last time. She felt great about it, albeit a little sad, and only asked for it one time after that (which I obliged). And even though she’s been an anxious child with sometimes debilitating bouts of anxiety, she’s one of the bravest people I know. She has learned that facing her fears and the unknown is the only way to deal with her anxiety while continuing to move forward in life. She’s now an amazing, competent, independent college student and we could not be more proud. I would like to think that starting out her life being nurtured and accepted for who she was and what she needed by both my husband and me, wherever she was in her life, gentle encouragement, and the confidence as parents to know what was best for our family, has helped her become this amazing human being. Be strong, gentle mamas and papas. Follow your intuition. No one else knows what is best for your family but you. Peace.

    • Michelle Trout says

      Such a privilege to have read you and your daughter’s story. Such a beautiful thing. I’ll remember this forever Also why I think people should wait to have children until they’re at least late 20’s. I was blessed at 32 after I thought I’d never be able to have children.

  14. Nurse Priscilla says

    Thank you! I really appreciate this as well as your other breastfeeding articles ! I am breastfeeding my 13 month old and have been asked when I was going to wean him since he was 6 months old! I keep telling people we will wean when we are both ready to. I never had an end date in mind and I value this relationship with my baby who grows up way too fast. I will let him breastfeed until he doesn’t want or need it anymore. People are always asking me why I don’t have an end date and try to tell me to come up with a plan which is infuriating! It’s crazy how some people think They know what’s best for you and your family .

  15. I really like this article. I have a 3.5 year old son who still nurses to sleep and sometimes upon waking. I’m expecting my second child to be born in a month’s time. What is it like to tandem nurse? I don’t feel the need to wean my son yet but I want to make sure the new baby gets what she needs.

    • Read adventures in tandem nursing by Hillary flower! Loved it!! I’m nursing my 2 and 3 (almost 4)year old boys and no end date in sight! God bless!!

  16. Thank you! My lo is turning 4 next month and I came online to find positive experiences. Really appreciate you sharing

  17. My 4 year old won’t drink any kind of milk (except mama milk) and has some sensory issues as well. She’s slowly weaning herself off, and it actually makes me a little sad when I offer at bedtime and she refuses, because I’ve gotten so used to being needed all this time.

  18. Nathalia Zachello Nunes says

    Hi! I came across your page because a Facebook page is using your pictures as a sexual content. I would like to let you know that. They say it’s sexy to breastfeed and they post your pics all over the page and other women too. I think you would feel violated as I do. The address to the page is https://www.facebook.com/Gostosas-Amamentando-3A-volta-dos-que-n%C3%A3o-foram-180513442708796/

  19. Do you have any advice for neutralizing an unsupportive partner?
    My DD is 3.5 yo and nurses about 4x (morning, after PK, before bed and one night waking-we cosleep). I never thought she’d go this long but I am 100% supportive of her bfing if she wants to. My husband get enraged if I “give in” to her requests to bf “too frequently”. When we travel together on vacation and have more time to debt she tends to add one or two short sessions. I know it helps her deal with a missed nap or just recentering from all the bustle of travel. This last trip tipped my DH over the edge. He thinks I’m infantilizing our DD, creating a codependency, etc. He tells her things like, you’re not a baby anymore all the time. I can tell she was super confused as to why he was reacting like this at first. Now she just makes baby noises before asking for the boob in front of him (would be funny if it wasn’t). I’m so pissed at him for his behavior and his vitriol toward me, he blames me for continuing this, calling me selfish, etc. We’ve talked abt this many times and are at an
    Impasse. I feel very alone and frustrated and angry at my husband for trying to wean our DD by shaming her.

  20. Nursed my eldest til 6, tandem with my younger who’s now happily nursing at 2.5. I appreciate the honesty of saying your younger self would definitely have had some opinions about this, because mine would have, too! And then I did it, and it just seemed right. My husband never fully endorsed the older/tandem nursing… we just agreed not to discuss it, after a while.
    I’m at high risk for breast cancer, so I also often emphasize that this is good for ME, too, in lowering my risk.

  21. Michelle Trout says

    This is an actual piece of a message I received this morning. My daughter will be 4 December 11th. “Any mother that allows their child to nurse and they are over three years old has to be a sick lazy pysco bitch! Have a good day and have fun with the nursing thing because In reality that is child abuse and nasty.” Really upset me. I was angry I was sad I was just repulsed by her statement. I told I was not ashamed! Anything she says is irrelevant to me and my daughter. This article gave me much piece of mind. Thank you

  22. Thank you so much for your experience on something so natural and normal. It’s so sad that we fee the need to hide it. I too am breastfeeding my 4 year old, and the only reason I continue is because I know she needs it on an emotional plane. My middle child weaned at 4 years 4 months and my eldest at 21 months. I always said I’d feed as long as they needed, and though never expected it to be quite this long it is normal and natural to us.

  23. What are you thinking?! says

    If you’re going to breastfeed a four year old..
    don’t be shocked at his porn browser when he’s older, or how uncomfortable home life will be when he hits puberty..
    he now has that behavior instilled in him.
    Past a certain age of brain development, it’s now just a fascinating curiosity to see what you have under your shirt. Don’t be daft, there are no benefits to breastfeeding this long.

  24. Love this!! I know I’m late to the party, but with 5 kids breastfeeding, and how long to do it, has always been a topic. For me, I let all of my kids nurse as long as they asked. My middle son stopped somewhere between 4 and 5, my youngest is on track to do the same. My oldest son, weaned himself at a year old, my girls were both 2. It’s a personal experience for everyone and is no one else’s place to comment, but everyone feels comfortable. I get the looks and snide remarks from family that don’t understand. I’ve matured enough to not let it hurt me, but it’s still irritating. My youngest now, definitely uses nursing for comfort when he’s overwhelmed, tired, or sick and I’m not going to deprive him of that because it’s not the cultural norm. All of their doctors encouraged breastfeeding as long as we were both comfortable. And that’s what we’ll continue to do.

  25. Patricia West says

    This kind of breastfeeding is for YOUR needs … Not your child’s…

    • Exactly is an unhealthy attachment that will have lasting impacts on the child the longer you continue this type of behavior.

    • I breastfeed my 3 year old daughter. And to all those who have stated it’s a mothers unhealthy attachment I would reply. I would love to stop. I have complete aversion and want nothing more than to stop completely, have my bed as my own, get a full night’s sleep and get my life back. Unfortunately my daughter would have a complete breakdown (known from experience) therefore I am still feeding her as she has the attachment to it. So don’t comment on things you know nothing about.

  26. Since a 4 year old can get his/her calcium from other resources, why would this be necessary. Just wondering. Sounds like mother is not wanting to let go.

  27. Thank you so much for writing this. I know it’s an older post but I teared up reading it. I do not ask or direct my 3 year old to nurse for comfort before bed, while cuddling after he wakes up and comes to see me in the morning, or for a few minutes after we get home from our long days at work and daycare. He just does it. I totally agree that people that criticize just dont get it. My son is quote unquote normal in every way. There is nothing wrong with either him or me. My husband who loving and supportive in all other aspects of our lives questions me almost daily on why i continue letting him nurse. It is annoying at best and infuriating at worst.

  28. “He eats at every meal and has a zillion snacks throughout the day.”

    Congratulations on starting your snowflake on the path to obesity. Do they get any exercise at all other than sucking your titties? Or do you just plunk them in front of the tv while you do your important adult stuff?

    • wow, what a disgusting comment. Way to make a bunch of assumptions about a mother and a child who you know absolutely nothing about. “Plunk them in front of the TV?” What does that have to do with anything in this article? Do you even have kids? You sound like a sad, sorry loser. If anyone is the “snowflake”, it’s you.

  29. Thank you for writing this. It’s very reassuring for moments when I am second guessing the nursing thing.

  30. My son will be turning 4 years old next week and will still nurse about twice a day. Although he is likely coming to me for comfort especially at night, I don’t mind it. I’ve got some harsh words said to me about it, but I don’t care. I am committed to seeing this through until he’s ready to stop.

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