Very recently, I have encountered several situations in which I was asked (perhaps “asked” is the wrong word, it was more like a statement), “You’re still breastfeeding?” I was quite surprised, considering my son is only just about to turn one. I was familiar with people’s discomforts regarding a two- or three-year-old nursling (although I don’t share the discomfort), but never a (almost) one-year-old. These interactions have caused me to take a good (albeit saddened) look at what is considered the “norm” for modern breastfeeders (that is, for those who are even willing to go the breastfeeding route).
I find that the term “extended breastfeeding” usually helps others to understand one’s plan to breastfeed beyond a year (I use this term quite often). However, after doing some research on the subject, I’m wondering, is it really extended breastfeeding? Isn’t it just regular, natural breastfeeding? In my head, the term exists solely for the purpose of explaining my ideals to someone who can’t/doesn’t relate, or perhaps believes that I ought to simply breastfeed one year (or less) and be done with it.
Today, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that mothers breastfeed “at least until one year of age and then as long as baby and mother mutually want to.” Unfortunately, most women will not go on to breastfeed longer than a year because of several varying reasons – going back to work, pressure from family and friends, inconvenience, the desire to “take their bodies back,” and the assumption that the baby no longer benefits from breastfeeding (to name but a few).
I came across an article by Dr. William Sears, titled Extended Breastfeeding — Handling the Criticism. In this article, Dr. Sears pointed out that “the World Health Organization (WHO) officially recommends mothers breastfeed until three years of age.” I also found an article on weaning on Ask Dr. Sears, where the author says, “While weaning is a personal decision, nutritionists and physicians advise breastfeeding for at least one year because by that time most infants have outgrown most of their food allergies and will thrive on alternative nourishment. We urge mothers to think in terms of years, not months, when contemplating how long to nurse. Breastfeeding is a long-term investment in your child. You want to give your baby the best emotional, physical, and mental start.” Not only is breastfeeding a sweet way to bond with your child, it is also the best way to ensure that they are healthy – emotionally, physically, and mentally! In an article titled Extended Nursing: Is It for You? on Babycenter, the author gives similar advice, and notes a very important advantage of extended breastfeeding. “Even though your child is now getting most of his nutrition from solid food, breast milk still provides calories, valuable immunities, vitamins, and enzymes. In fact, studies have shown that breastfeeding toddlers get sick less often than their peers.” Nursing toddlers have less ear infections, better vision and hearing, and are at less risk for becoming obese. These are only a few reasons – among many, many more – to opt into extended breastfeeding.
Personally, I have always known that I would like to breastfeed for an extended amount of time. It always just seemed right to me. Jack didn’t begin eating solid food on a regular basis until he was 8 months old, and after that, we even cut back on his solid food intake because I didn’t want him to wean prematurely. I’m still considering what I will do if I become pregnant in the nearer future – I’d like to continue to nurse Jack as long as he’s willing, but I don’t necessarily feel called to tandem nursing.
I’m continually surprised by how controversial breastfeeding can be. God designed our bodies to nourish and comfort our children – it seems only right to partake in this beautiful act of mothering. As for the concern over nursing for “too long,” why is it anyone’s business but the parent’s? When a mother chooses to nurse until two or three (or even one!) years of age, she shouldn’t have to defend herself.
What do you think?