Toddler prefers breast to food

I have two children, both breastfed. I am still nursing my 21 month old. My son, who loves nursing and is totally bonded to me, tends to want to nurse instead of eating food. I worry because he is at that stage where they don't want to sit down and eat. His doctor would like to see him gain a bit of weight. How can we deal with this problem?

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Debbi Donovan

Debbi Donovan is a Board Certified Lactation Consultant, as well as a retired La Leche League Leader. For more than a decade, Debbi... Read more

It's impossible to make a child eat more than he wants. Usually when parents try, the resulting struggle over control leads to more mealtime difficulties.

Toddlers like to "graze," so offer little healthy snacks throughout the day. It's very common for children of this age to enjoy their meals in bits and pieces. Three meals a day is a typical adult meal pattern -- and many adults, as well as children, find they feel better with five or six small meals spaced throughout the day.

Begin to think of ways you can help your little guy to come around to enjoy family time together at meals. Include him in your mealtime conversation -- mealtimes are meant to be social. At times, if he likes, allow him to enjoy a meal alone. Remain flexible.

Make his food interesting -- encouraging enjoyment of new textures and tastes, or his old favorites. Many babies really enjoy dipping. You might want to offer him a healthy dip like mashed avocado or pureed chickpeas served with rice cakes or toast sticks.

Breastmilk is still a great addition to your little guy's diet. Contrary to what you might have heard, your milk retains its superb nutrition and immunological properties for as long as your child continues to nurse. In the first year it is recommended to nurse prior to offering solid foods, but at this time, offer solids first and then breastfeed if your baby desires.

Keep an eye on your little one's pattern of weight gain. If he continues to plateau, or lose weight, it is important that he be thoroughly evaluated by his Health Care Provider (HCP) to rule out any underlying medical problem. If this pattern continues I would recommend working with a Nutritionist or Registered Dietician as well as his HCP.

The most important piece of advice I can give you is to relax. Since it is impossible (and undesirable) to control your toddler's feeds, letting your little guy see that mealtime is no longer a power struggle may be enough to bring about a positive change. Best wishes in mothering!

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