What’s wrong with "extended" breastfeeding?

Well, to start, what defines “extended?” For some people it’s going beyond 6 months, for some a year, and for others they don’t feel it’s extended until they surpass the WHO’s recommendation for nursing until at least 2 years old.

It seems like there’s been a lot of talk about extended breastfeeding these days, from the well-educated and articulate Mayim Bialik (aka the former Blossom), to the, well, lesser so naysayers (I feel so bad for the mom in that article, I hope she had some warning about what a negative light she’d be cast in).

What do the opponents say? I’ve heard that it’s gross and wrong. That the mother must forcing the child to continue. It’s for the mother’s pleasure, not the child’s benefit. If they’re old enough to ask for it they’re too old. If they’re old enough to ask for a glass of milk, they should have that instead. It’s creating a child that’s too dependent and can’t self-soothe. There’s no nutritional need after a year–it turns to water, doesn’t it?

Double-u.

Tee.

Eff.

Pardon me while I bang my head on the wall for a moment.

For starters, I’d like to see any baby or child that can be FORCED to breastfeed. I’m sorry naysayers, but that’s impossible. For babies less than a year that go on a nursing strike for whatever reason, the mother should absolutely make all efforts to remedy it. These mothers know just how hard it is to coerce a baby to nurse. Now add into that the stubborn will of a toddler and you know what I’m saying here. If my daughter didn’t want to nurse, she wouldn’t.

And to follow up, I don’t like being made out to be a pervert. That’s the thing that gets me the most. Because breasts can be enjoyed sexually, the general public jumps off the deep end and dares to think I’m somehow getting off on breastfeeding? Shame on THEM for thinking those thoughts, and *gag*. Seriously. I’m not getting off on it. If your toddler grabs your butt is it the same as when your partner does? When you kiss your child is it the same kiss you give your partner? No? Really? So lay off on the perverted argument. It is not valid.

Oh, and babies are BORN asking to breastfeed. They naturally root and display all sorts of hunger signs. This is their age-appropriate way to ask. As these babies grow in ability, finding their hands and their voices, they learn to sign (if their parents teach them) and eventually speak. Should the 9 month old that learns to sign “milk” promptly be weaned for being clever enough to ask for what he wants? What about the articulate 18 month old that can say and/or sign “more milk please?” Biologically, communicative ability has no relation to the necessity of breast milk. So stop arguing that it somehow does, please.

A common point proponents make is that it’s common practice to feed our children the breast milk of another species (that’d be cow milk), and yet human milk is shunned despite its purpose being obviously for the nutritional benefit of humans. Ironic much?

Dr. Jack Newman (and many others) back me up in saying that extended breastfeeding does not create an over-dependence. A child that is secure in knowing his mother is there for him will grow up confident and assured of her love and support. And what mom doesn’t want that?

And for the opponents that argue “well just pump it into a cup and feed them that way!” Um, no thanks. To start, a cup of milk doesn’t offer the same closeness and emotional comfort that nursing does. Also, not all moms respond to breast pumps as they do their own child, especially later in the breastfeeding relationship when an oversupply is much less common. And lastly, YOU come over here and clean the pump and glasses if it’s so important I use them.

I’m not saying everyone should breastfeed; I’m not laying on a guilt trip for those that didn’t try, those that tried and were unsuccessful, or those that chose not to go the extended route.

What I am saying is to lay off on the judgment of those mothers and children that choose to continue their nursing relationship beyond whatever arbitrary age you’ve applied as being acceptable. I can pretty much guarantee the mother is not forcing the child. She is not getting any pleasure other than knowing she is providing nutrition, immunities, and comfort to her child. She is doing what is right for her and her child and that’s it. You are not a part of that relationship.

And for those that like this sort of thing, science backs me up here (thanks for all the well-organized quotes, KellyMom):

The American Academy of Family Physicians notes that children weaned before two years of age are at increased risk of illness (AAFP 2001).

Nursing toddlers between the ages of 16 and 30 months have been found to have fewer illnesses and illnesses of shorter duration than their non-nursing peers (Gulick 1986).

In the second year (12-23 months), 448 mL of breast milk 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).

The AAP even states: “As recommended by the WHO, breastfeeding should ideally continue beyond infancy, but this is not the cultural norm in the United States and requires ongoing support and encouragement. It has been estimated that a natural weaning age for humans is between two and seven years. Family physicians should be knowledgeable regarding the ongoing benefits to the child of extended breastfeeding, including continued immune protection, better social adjustment, and having a sustainable food source in times of emergency. The longer women breastfeed, the greater the decrease in their risk of breast cancer.” (AAFP 2008)

And a thanks to the medical professionals who are a voice of reason and encouragement. Dr. Jack Newman has a nice little .PDF about extended breastfeeding. Even Dr. William Sears has written on how to handle the criticism.

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So, nurse on, mommas, if you so choose! I hope some day our society will not only grow tolerant but encouraging of such a special gift we can give our kids.

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6 Comments

  1. I absolutely agree. I breastfed my son (now 25 years old) until he was 18 months old. At that point, he started asking to drink from a cup and no longer wanted to breastfeed. I breastfed my daughter (now 22 years old) until she decided to stop at around 2 1/2 years old. She would ask, "Breast milk please?" Towards the end of that time she was only on the breast in the morning and the evening. During the day, she preferred to drink milk from a cup.I was an older mom when my children were born (37 with my son and 40 with my daughter). Neither my mother or mother in law breastfed their children and my cousins and female acquaintances stopped breast feeding before their children were 6 months old. I was pressured by my family to wean my children, but my husband was supportive so I was able to continue.I have no regrets about breastfeeding as long as I did. I think it contributed to giving my children a healthy, loving start to their lives.I have never regretted my decision to continue breast feeding for as long as I did and believe that it contributed to the health of my children. My son didn't even have the common cold until he was 26 months old.

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  2. Sorry, when posting my first comment I was having some problems with my screen. I tried to delete part of the last paragraph and didn't realize that the redundant sentence was still there.

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  3. Love this post! I don't understand why people even try to but in on a mother and child's breastfeeding relationship. Do I butt in and say that I think it's gross when you clip your nails on your sofa? Possibly that it's inappropriate when you don't wash your hands after using the restroom? No, it's not my place. Beyond that, the arguments are ridiculous (as you pointed out). Gah! People are stupid!

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  4. oh thank you! i am living in Panama for the past 2 years and i can count on my hand how many mamas i have seen breastfeeding. I have an almost 2 year old and a 4 year old and still nurse the little even with all the judgy looks i get. thanks for the virtual support!

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  5. I have breastfed all 4 of my babies, my yougest child is 15 weeks. They all have nursed anywhere from 12months – 16months. Only 1 of my children was I able to take right after giving birth. When they laid him on my chest he scooched his way to my breast. The "root" reflex is amazing! He latched on immediately and consequently he was my best nurser.

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  6. Word. So true, and thanks for the backup science, too. I love articles to quote when needed, lol! I've never been bugged by anyone, but we did extended nursing with all three of ours. by all standards… like their mom, whose own mom was a LLL leader in the seventies, my kids were weaned between two and a half and three years of age. And healthy. And stronger than thought possible, considering we have an immune illness, Lyme disease (it passed to them through the womb.). And…well, I think most of the reason this is not more visible is that most kids after the age of two nurse at their most basic times… morning waking, naptime, and going to sleep at night, which means it's a lot less visible. My youngest would probably still be happily nursing, but, contrary to "for the mom's benefit" (which always makes me both gag and laugh, since nursing a toddler is often NOT comfy…in our experience at least!) I was SO ready to wean him. Bless his heart, he has been weaned for about a month and a half, right after he turned three years old, my latest of my three kids to wean. And the most independent. And the most confident and courageous. So… yeah. More info from formula companies creeping into what people think is true, but which is blatantly NOT true…sigh.

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