The decision to nurse past infancy is a personal one, and please understand that choosing not to nurse longer, or not nursing at all does not make you less of a great mother. I just want to help shed some light on this often misunderstood topic.
The cultural assumptions we make about "extended" or full term nursing sadden me. Let me start by saying that I don't like the term "extended breastfeeding". It implies that we are doing something beyond what is normal. I prefer to call it full-term breastfeeding.
This morning I saw a friend's facebook post that encouraged full-term breastfeeding, the comments that followed her post inspired me to write this post...
Some of the comments by readers were:
"Research has shown that children are biologically meant to be weaned somewhere between the ages of 3 1/2 and 7." Um, gross..."
"if you're old enough to ask for it..."
"Hey I can use google too and find info on extended breastfeeding, doesn't make it any less gross. But thanks for this novel though..."
Don't get me wrong...I get it, I used to have some of the same thoughts about nursing past infancy, the idea of a walking, talking toddler nursing sounded somewhat "ick" to me at one time. That was until I had my son, whose sweet spirit led me to seek out the truth about full-term breastfeeding. There is something remarkable and powerful about seeing Jude's face so rosy with contentment as he nurses. I know in my heart that we will continue to nurse until he is ready to wean. If that offends you or you think its gross, please reconsider making judgments and read some facts about the benefits of nursing past infancy.
First off, there’s this assumption that it’s something moms do for themselves. This requires the logic that a mother’s milk has no value nutritionally or emotionally to a toddler or preschooler (NOT TRUE). Now, lets prove it...
Proven nutritional and emotional benefits of full-term nursing:
In the second year (12-23 months), 448 mL of breastmilk provides:
- 29% of energy requirements
- 43% of protein requirements
- 36% of calcium requirements
- 75% of vitamin A requirements
- 76% of folate requirements
- 94% of vitamin B12 requirements
- 60% of vitamin C requirements
- Dewey 2001
- "Antibodies are abundant in human milk throughout lactation" (Nutrition During Lactation 1991; p. 134).
- "Human milk expressed by mothers who have been lactating for >1 year has significantly increased fat and energy contents, compared with milk expressed by women who have been lactating for shorter periods. During prolonged lactation, the fat energy contribution of breast milk to the infant diet might be significant." - Mandel 2005
- "The American Academy of Family Physicians notes that children weaned before two years of age are at increased risk of illness (AAFP 2001)."
And according to Sally Kneidel in "Nursing Beyond One Year" (New Beginnings, Vol. 6 No. 4, July-August 1990, pp. 99-103.):
"Research reports on the psychological aspects of nursing are scarce. One study that dealt specifically with babies nursed longer than a year showed a significant link between the duration of nursing and mothers' and teachers' ratings of social adjustment in six- to eight-year-old children (Ferguson et al, 1987). In the words of the researchers, 'There are statistically significant tendencies for conduct disorder scores to decline with increasing duration of breastfeeding.'
Full-term breastfeeding is NORMAL:
- The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that "Breastfeeding should be continued for at least the first year of life and beyond for as long as mutually desired by mother and child... Increased duration of breastfeeding confers significant health and developmental benefits for the child and the mother... There is no upper limit to the duration of breastfeeding and no evidence of psychological or developmental harm from breastfeeding into the third year of life or longer." (AAP 2005)
- The World Health Organization emphasizes the importance of nursing up to two years of age or beyond (WHO 1992, WHO 2002).
- A US Surgeon General has stated that it is a lucky baby who continues to nurse until age two. (Novello 1990)
When it comes to creating over-dependence Dr. Jack Newman says:
"And breastfeeding makes the toddler dependent? Don’t believe it. The child who breastfeeds until he weans himself (usually from 2 to 4 years), is usually more independent, and, perhaps, more importantly,more secure in his independence. He has received comfort and security from the breast, until he is ready to make the step himself to stop. And when a child makes that step himself, he knows he has achieved something, he knows he has moved ahead. It is a milestone in his life of which he is proud.
Often we push children to become ‘independent” too quickly. To sleep alone too soon, to wean from the breast too soon, to do without their parents too soon, to do everything too soon. Don’t push and the child will become independent soon enough. What’s the rush? Soon they will be leaving home. You want them to leave home at 14? If a need is met, it goes away. If a need is unmet (such as the need to breastfeed and be close to his mother), it remains a need well into childhood and even the teenage years.
Of course, breastfeeding can, in some situations, be used to foster an over-dependent relationship. But so can food or toilet training. The problem is not the breastfeeding. This is another issue."
On the "If your old enough to ask for it logic..." So...when my son is old enough to ask for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, he is then too old for them as well? Babies have ALWAYS asked to nurse with their rooting cues or cries in infancy!
I think the misinformation and judgemental opinions about full-term nursing come from how we THINK toddlers relate to breasts. Come on, toddlers don’t relate to breasts as sexual objects. WE assume that toddlers relate to breasts with sexuality in mind. Ridiculous!
I will leave you with the fabulous video created by a doula and friend of mine, Tori Caswell:
References and Recommended Sites: