Breastfeeding at 1-Year-Old: How Often Should I Be Nursing?

Breastfeeding at 1-Year-Old: How Often Should I Be Nursing?

As babies transition from infancy to toddlerhood, their nutritional needs evolve. Their relationship with breastfeeding also changes. Breastfeeding past the 1-year mark is often referred to as “extended breastfeeding”. Many benefits come with extended breastfeeding, as well as some challenges.

One of the challenges of extended breastfeeding is knowing how often to breastfeed a toddler to ensure that their nutritional needs are met. As it turns out, the answer to the question of how often to breastfeed a 1-year-old is not a simple one-size-fits-all kind of answer. This is because breastfeeding habits can vary drastically from one baby to the next.

Here are some of the factors that influence breastfeeding frequency;

  • Whether or not a toddler (1+ year old) has started supplementing breastmilk with cow’s milk/dairy foods or an alternative milk
  • Mom’s milk supply
  • Child’s breastfeeding cues (hunger cues and fullness cues)
  • A child’s appetite for solid foods
  • Preference for scheduled feeds or on-demand nursing
  • Toddler self-weaning

Different mamas and their children are going to weigh in differently when it comes to the above factors. 

So again, how much you breastfeed your 1-year-old will depend on your individual circumstances, your child’s diet, and your unique breastfeeding relationship with your child. 

Please note that I am not a medical professional and all questions regarding your individual child’s needs should be directed to a healthcare professional. I share my experience with my children, but this may or may not apply to your individual circumstances. 

How Often I am Breastfeeding at the 1-Year Mark

While every mama and child will have a unique breastfeeding relationship and schedule, I offer mine here as an example. Some 1-year-olds may nurse more than mine, while others may nurse less. I came up with my breastfeeding schedule after doing a little research and assessing the factors listed above. 

  • I am breastfeeding my 12 month old anywhere from 4-10 times in a day.

Here’s how that breaks down and why the frequency varies so much from day to day;

  • My 1-year-old is not yet regularly drinking cow’s milk or alternative milk.
  • I nurse my 1-year-old more often (up to 10 times in a 24 hour period) when she does incomplete feeds or nurses for comfort. I consider a feed incomplete if she nurses for less than 5 minutes on only one side, and ends the nursing session because she gets distracted.
  • On days where she is less distracted and we only do 4 feeds, each session will last about 15-20 minutes and includes both breasts.
baby grabbing mom's nose while nursing
Always looking for something to grab onto while nursing!

I have been exclusively breastfeeding my daughter since she was born, and have yet to regularly offer cow’s milk or an alternative milk. As such, she is still breastfeeding quite frequently to get all her essential nutrients in. When I begin supplementing with cow’s milk or an alternative milk, we will decrease her number of nursing sessions.

4-10 nursing sessions is a pretty wide range. While I would ideally like to stick to 4 nursing sessions a day, my daughter sometimes has other ideas. 1 year olds are going through huge developmental changes, and their level of distractibility is high!

So sometimes, getting her to finish a full good feed in one sitting is impossible. As soon as she hastily finishes one side, she will practically somersault off my lap to go play and explore before feeding from the second breast.

On these days, we end up doing sometimes 10 mini nursing sessions spread out over the day, and unfortunately sometimes the night. She may nurse for less than 5 minutes in a sitting during these mini-sessions.

So try as I might to stick to a fixed schedule, our breastfeeding schedule is largely dictated by her whims. As well as the whims of my 4-year-old and how much he wants to distract her while she’s breastfeeding.

As a stay-at-home mom, I can cater relatively easily to these whims and ebbs and flows that come with young children. Some moms need to follow strict schedules though, so again, one size does not fit all when it comes to breastfeeding young toddlers.

Nutritional Needs at One Year

If young toddlers have not yet been introduced to cow’s milk or an alternative milk, breast milk remains a primary source of nutrition for them. While they are starting to get a lot of their dietary needs met through solid nutritious foods, breastmilk, whole milk or full fat/unsweetened alternative milks offer specific nutritional benefits like protein, fat, calcium, and vitamin D. The fats in milk are especially important for developing brains. Breast milk additionally offers beneficial antibodies that support a child’s immune system. 

Cow’s Milk or Alternative Milk Daily Intake

Young toddlers 12 months of age and older can start drinking cow’s milk or alternative milk, instead of breastmilk or in addition to breastmilk. There are some general professional recommendations;

  • The CDC recommends that 12-23 month-olds get 1 2/3 cup to 2 cups of cows’s milk or dairy/dairy alternative per day (roughly 13oz-16oz).Infant formula is not needed after the first year of life.
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends 16-24 ounces (2-3 cups) of cow’s milk per day.
  • Toddlers who are still drinking breastmilk do not generally need to drink cow’s milk or alternative milk if the parents do not want to introduce it yet. 

WebMd states that toddlers should have no more than 3 cups (24 oz) of cow’s milk or alternative milk in a day. Toddlers who are breastfeeding and drinking human milk on the other hand, are not at risk for over-consuming breastmilk.

Too much dairy can interfere with the body’s ability to absorb iron, another important nutrient for developing children. Too much milk can also make children too full to consume solid foods and healthy snacks that offer other important nutrients. Milk is low in iron, so offering children Iron Rich Foods is important.

Note that some children may be allergic to cow’s milk, and exploring alternative milks is an option if not breastfeeding. Not all milks are created equal though, so check in with your pediatrician for specific recommendations.

Breastmilk Daily Intake and Toddler Self-Regulation 

Lactation Consultant experts state that 12-month-olds need 16-20 ounces (2-2.5 cups) of breastmilk every day.

The American Academy of Pediatrics however, does not offer a specific number when it comes to how much breast milk a one-year-old should drink. Instead, the emphasis seems to be on offering a variety of nutrient-rich foods and allowing young toddlers to self-regulate breastmilk intake.

World Nutrition explains that exclusively breastfed babies develop the ability to self-regulate their breast milk intake. Babies taking infant formula from a bottle on the other hand are relying on how much their caregivers are filling their bottles and encouraging bottle emptying.

From an evolutionary perspective, breastfed babies self-regulating makes sense given the fact that nursing mamas are not measuring out how much they are giving their babies. 

Without relying on exact measurements, nursing mamas can instead give their attention to their toddler’s feeding cues and also distinguish between when a child wants to nurse for comfort versus due to hunger. 

How Much Breastmilk Does a 1-Year-Old Drink In a Single Nursing Session?

The amount of breastmilk that is considered a “full feed” varies from one toddler to the next. So again, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to breastfeeding frequency at the 1-year mark. 

According to their studies, Medela states babies may take anywhere from just under 2oz up to about 8oz per nursing session. And that overall, some healthy babies drink around 17oz in a day, while other healthy babies drink nearly 48oz.

That’s quite a wide range! While their studies were done on babies under 6 months old, I assume this variability in milk intake is still relevant for 1-year-olds. 

The range in numbers Medela gives serves as evidence that there is no one right answer to how often a 1-year-old should be breastfeeding. A 1-year-old who is taking in nearly 8 oz in a single feed certainly does not need to breastfeed as often as a 1-year-old who is only taking in a couple of ounces per feed.

Pumping to Assess Milk Supply

Obviously a nursing mama cannot determine how much her baby is taking in, unless she is weighing her child with a sensitive scale before and after nursing sessions like lactation nurses do.

Mamas who want to have some sort of number in mind though, can try pumping to see how much they are producing. Even this though, is not a totally accurate way to know how much your little one is taking in.

For one, your body may not respond to pumping in the same way it does to your child latching. When I was occasionally pumping in the first few months of my baby’s life, it was sometimes taking up to 20 minutes to get a let down. With breastfeeding, I can feel the let down happening within the first minute or so of my baby latching.

I have also read that babies are more efficient at getting breastmilk out than a pump is, so you may not pump as much as your baby would get out while nursing. Additionally, the amount of breastmilk you produce can change depending on the time of day. If you pump in the morning, you may produce more or less than you would at night. Still, pumping can offer some insight into how much milk you typically produce. 

The last time I pumped, I was producing about 2-3 ounces per breast every 3 hours or so. This was after my supply was well established, so I am assuming I still produce somewhere in that range.

So if a full feed for my baby is somewhere between 4-6 oz, then I figure breastfeeding her a minimum of 3-4 full feeds a day, in addition to meals and snacks with solid foods will meet her nutritional needs.

Since many of her nursing feeds these days are only partial feeds, I usually end up sitting down to do more frequent feeding; usually 5 or more times a day. As already stated though, different mamas and babies will end up with varying numbers of nursing sessions depending on their individual circumstances.

Length of a Single Full Feed Nursing Session

A full feed is when a child nurses until they are full. How long it takes a child to finish a full feed depends on several factors;

  • Toddlers are busy little things and are easily distracted, so may wiggle off your lap before finishing a full feed.
  • Some babies and toddlers are slow to nurse, or may fall asleep before getting a full feed in.
  • Mom’s breastmilk supply and how fast her letdown is can also impact how long a nursing session takes.

Generally speaking though, older babies and toddlers can get a full feed in pretty quickly. Nemours Kids Health states that older babies often take only 5-10 minutes on each breast to complete a full feed.

I have found this to be true with my 1-year-old. If fully awake and not distracted, she usually empties one breast in a little over 5 minutes.

Feeding Cues and 1-Year-Old Breastfeeding Frequency 

In addition to guesstimating how much your toddler is taking in during a nursing session, you can tune in to their feeding cues.

What does your child do when trying to tell you that they want to nurse? What do they do when they are telling you that they are full?

1-Year-Old Feeding Cues

As babies grow, their feeding cues become more nuanced and may vary from the clear signals exhibited during infancy. Here are some 1-year-old feeding cues to be aware of;

  1. Verbal Communication Cues: At one year, toddlers may begin using simple words, gestures, or sign language to let you know when they want to breastfeed. Some young toddlers might say or sign for “milk”, or point to their mama.
    I often ask my 1-year-old, “Do you want milk?”. If she is hungry or needs some comfort, she starts frantically babbling and smiling.

  2. Body Language Cues: Young toddlers who are less verbal will give let you know they are hungry through their body language. They may reach for you or tug on your shirt, or lean in towards you and open their mouths.

  3. Fussiness or Restlessness Cues: Irritability or restlessness may indicate hunger or a need for comfort. Offering the breast when your 1 year old is fussing can provide physical nourishment if hungry and emotional nourishment when unsettled.

  4. Interest in Solid Foods: Offering both solid foods and breastmilk gives growing toddlers the nutrition they need. You may need to offer your child a variety of different solid foods before they will eat. Just because they refuse one type of food one day though, doesn’t mean that they won’t eat it another day. Their taste preferences can rapidly change, so continuing to offer a variety ensures they are exposed to lots of different flavors and textures, as well as nutrients.
    If they are refusing a lot of solid foods one day, this could indicate that they are seeking a little more nourishment through breastfeeding on that particular day.

  5. Nap and Bedtime Associations: Many breastfeeding babies nurse before naps or bedtimes, and young toddlers may come to rely on this as part of their sleep routine.

  6. Latch and Jaw Movement While Nursing: You know your baby is hungry and ready to get a full feed in when she latches on well and you can see good jaw movement as she nurses.

How Do I Know My 1-Year-Old is Getting Enough Breastmilk?

Aside from tuning into a baby’s needs by reading their self-regulating breastfeeding cues as noted above, nursing moms can also keep track of their breastfed babies’ growth at routine wellness checks. If toddlers are starting to fall behind, this could be a sign that they are not getting enough calories and nutrients in during the day. 

At every wellness check, pediatric staff will weigh your child and measure their height. They will note where your child falls relative to other children their age in terms of their physical growth.

Your pediatrician should say something if they are concerned about your child’s weight dropping or increasing significantly from their previous appointment, or if your child is very low in their growth percentiles. If your child’s health care provider is concerned with your child’s growth, they will likely inquire about your child’s diet and make some recommendations.

My daughter’s pediatrician did note though, that it is often normal for young toddlers’ weight to temporarily dip as they become more active between 1 and 2 years old.

When to Stop Breastfeeding

The World Health Organization recommends exclusively breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life and then up until 2 years of age or beyond. Some mamas decide to breastfeed for 2 years or more, but many can’t or do not want to.

There are other healthy alternatives to extended breastfeeding, so if a mama wants to stop breastfeeding at any point, that is her choice to make. To determine whether or not extended breastfeeding is right for you, here are some questions to ask yourself;

  • Do I want to continue breastfeeding?
  • How does breastfeeding fit into my daily schedule?
  • How does breastfeeding impact my mental health?
  • What are the benefits of extended breastfeeding?
  • Is my toddler starting to self-wean?
  • How much (if any) cow’s milk or alternative milk am I giving my toddler every day?

In my case, I thought I was going to wean my baby as soon as she turned 1 year old. I thought I was done with breastfeeding and was looking forward to regaining my bodily autonomy. And hopefully reducing night time wakings! 

mom breastfeeding baby at night

As it turns out, I’m not quite ready to end my nursing relationship with my daughter. After she recently turned 1, I talked about weaning her a lot, yet I still found myself nursing around the clock. I’m continuing to maintain a regular feeding schedule, and continuing to hem and haw over whether I want to continue breastfeeding.  

Benefits of Extended Breastfeeding for Moms

While breastfeeding is a lot of work, there are advantages not just for the breastfeeding child, but for mom too!

The CDC notes that breastfeeding reduces the risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. 

The National Library of Medicine states, “breastfeeding reduces the risk of breast cancer by 4.3% for every 12 months of breastfeeding, which is in addition to the 7.0% decrease in risk observed for each birth.” As a mama who lost her own mother to breast cancer, these numbers motivate me to continue breastfeeding. I want to be around for my children as long as possible, and with a family history of breast cancer, I know that I need to be cognizant of reducing risk whenever I can.

Challenges of Extended Breastfeeding

While there are health benefits for mom when it comes to extended breastfeeding, there are also some challenges. Some of these challenges may include;

  • fitting breastfeeding into a busy schedule
  • maintaining breast milk supply
  • stigma around extended breastfeeding
  • toddler self-weaning

Toddler Self-Weaning

If you are continuing to offer regular breastfeeding sessions, but notice your young toddler is not all that interested, they may be starting the weaning process themselves.

My first baby self-weaned shortly after 12 months old, and it took me by surprise! If you are wondering whether or not your child is in the process of weaning themselves, you can familiarize yourself with Baby Self-Weaning Signs.

Mom-Led Weaning

Getting through a full year of breastfeeding is quite the feat. While some moms may feel that it is no big deal, my guess is that most moms are feeling like they have climbed and conquered Mount Everest. I know I did. After experiencing excruciating Nipple PainRecurring Milk Blebs, clogged ducts, and countless night feedings, I feel like I deserve a medal. 

For myself, part of me wants to continue breastfeeding my 12-month-old, but part of me is ready to move on to the next phase of life without breastfeeding.

If I stop breastfeeding, I do not have to factor in nursing sessions into our daily schedule, which can be pretty busy with a 1-year-old and a wild 4-year-old in my case. The regained sense of bodily autonomy would also be a benefit for me. Still though, I cling on to breastfeeding my 1-year-old for emotional reasons.  

All mamas have unique relationships with their children when it comes to breastfeeding, so there is no one-size-fits-all approach to breastfeeding frequency. Knowing how often to breastfeed a one-year-old involves awareness regarding feeding cues and young toddlers’ evolving nutritional needs. 


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