Does Co-Sleeping or Breastfeeding a Toddler or Preschooler Create Dependency?

BreastfeedingNot in my experience.  In  fact, my experience with my daughter has been quite the opposite. I breastfed her for four years. On her fourth birthday she informed me she was ready to quit and it was an easy transition for her. I also co-slept with her until she was around 4 1/2 when she wanted her own room. There were no issues at all in getting her to sleep on her own. In addition, I practiced several other forms of attachment parenting, including lots of carrying, holding, touching and nurturing.

My daughter is now 16 and the most independent person I’ve ever known. She has had a healthy attachment to me throughout her life, and at the same time has shown a very secure independence from me. She has never had any form of separation anxiety. How can a child be attached to a parent and independent at the same time? It’s because her dependency needs have been met and she knows that she’s safe and secure to be out in the world in her own independent way. Co-sleeping and long-term, extended breastfeeding provide a secure attachment that leads to independence.

There have been many times over the years that I’ve looked back on my parenting choices. I’ve made a lot of mistakes and still do. And there are also choices I made that I know have had a positive impact. When I was still breastfeeding and co-sleeping, some well-meaning people warned me that this was creating within my child an unhealthy dependence on me. I’m very happy that I didn’t listen to them and continued to do what I felt was the right thing for my child.

In addition to my daughter’s independence, she is also extremely healthy and very smart – since 6th grade she’s had nothing but straight As in school. I’m not saying this to brag (well maybe a little!), but I want to make the point that four years of breastfeeding  helped her develop a strong immunity to disease. And I believe the breastmilk, with DHA and other brain-enhancing components, helped to strongly develop her brain and increase her intelligence. This is not just my daughter’s story; there is scientific evidence for this. I firmly believe that one of the best parenting decisions I’ve ever made was extended, long-term breastfeeding.

What has been your experience with long-term breastfeeding, co-sleeping, or attachment parenting? What has been your experience if you are not practicing attachment parenting? We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences. Please let us know by commenting below.

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10 thoughts on “Does Co-Sleeping or Breastfeeding a Toddler or Preschooler Create Dependency?”

  1. Thank you for this article. My daughter is almost three and just loves to nurse. I wonder if she will ever outgrow it. But it sounds like in your case, your daughter let go when she was ready. That was good to hear. I can trust that voice in myself as well. Thanks.

  2. My EBF 5 month old daughter showed an obvious desire to share our bed from about 4 months. This was a natural progression from our nighttime feeds and then feeding to sleep throughout the day. My husband and I both love it and it certainly has made the nighttime feeds a breeze – she simply latches on whenever her heart desires and I hardly move a muscle! I would have to say that my sleep isn’t as restful but I love nothing more than sharing her so intimately and having her so close to us. She hardly cries and is such a content little girl.

    My concerns do not relate to attachment but more about what to do when she is old enough to move freely on the bed (we have a monitor but the bedroom is located upstairs) and also co-sleeping and bedwetting/toilet training.

    Any assistance is appreciated.

    Nikki & Arielle x

    1. Nikki, that’s so wonderful for you and your baby. You asked for suggestions about keeping her safe while she’s sleeping on your bed when you’re not in the room. You may consider carrying her in a sling instead for her naps. Or in a bassinet or co-sleeper for just that small amount of time when you’re not in there. For bed-wetting, the Naturepedic Organic Cotton Waterproof pad is the safest mattress pad for this and really works well to block the wetness from ruining the mattress:

  3. Wow. Thanks so much for sharing your story. That makes me feel so much better about how I’m rearing my son. He’s only 6 mos, but I
    hope to breastfeed beyond the norm of the year that many breastfeeders do. I would like him to tell me in his own way when he no longer wants to bf. I agree with the scientific findings of DHA being linked with such a strong intelligence and great immune defense.
    Also you helped with my co-sleeping dilemma. I thought i’d start to transition him in a yr or 2 but he if desires to be there longer and it’s not causing any harm i think it would be just fine. Once again thank you.

  4. thank you for sharing. what about your health? did prolonged breastfeeding drain your body from nutrients? any special diet you were following?

    1. I ate a very healthy diet while breastfeeding. I ate a lot of nutrient-dense calories and I did not gain weight during those 4 years. Breastfeeding was not a drain on me, but I imagine it would be if a mom is not eating a healthy diet. Weston Price Foundation has an article about a good diet for nursing mothers:
      They say to drink a quart of milk, but unless you can drink raw milk, I wouldn’t do that. I didn’t drink any milk at all during my pregnancy or breastfeeding.
      Here is an article that shows long-term breastfeeding can help prevent diabetes in moms:

  5. I’ve been breastfeeding my son for 2 years and he shows no interest in quitting anytime soon. It has been tough at times but it feels so rewarding to know that I’m providing the nutrition that nature intended. We started co-sleeping when he was 15 months and I regret not doing it sooner. I spent all that time not getting any rest because I was to stubborn to bring him into the bed. I would get up multiple times a night to feed and rock him back to sleep. After 2 weeks of co-sleeping, I felt so much more rested and haven’t looked back.

  6. I nursed my first son until he self-weaned at about 3.5 years old. He is now 15. He is very independent and self assured. He is smart, being on the honor roll and we have a great tie to each other that is healthy. He has a healthy attachment to me, and is independent and loving. I spent so much time meeting his dependency needs as a baby and toddler that he was “all filled up” with love and support from me and now can look within for happiness, instead of to other people or things. He is caring with his 9 year old brother, and it is an amazing relationship that they have. I will never regret nursing him or his brother for as long as I did. My 9 year old son is also very independent and sefl assured. He nursed til he was 3. We did many of the attachment parenting things, I used a sling and we co-slept. I will do the same now with this baby who is due July 3. Great article!

  7. Great information, thank you. My soon-to-be ex-husband is seeking info against me breastfeeding my 13-month old before naps and also co-sleeping with him.

    I would like to know if you could direct me to references and experts from whom I could obtain research, documents, evidence that co-sleeping and breastfeeding (on demand, for me, every 3-4 hours) is beneficial to a 13-month old’s development. Thank you!


  8. I have an almost identical experience as Jane’s and her daughter. My daughter decided to stop breastfeeding at almost 3 and was ready for her own room at 6. She has always been very independent and confident. Now almost 18 and getting ready top move to college I also feel very confident and ready for the next phase. Of course I love her to death, I don’t feel weepy about the soon to be empty next. I think the whole co sleeping and attachment practices were good for the entire family.

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