Breastfeeding Throughout Toddlerhood and Beyond
Nursing beyond a year is also referred to as “Extended Breastfeeding”. I’ve always questioned the term “extended breastfeeding” especially since the World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding to age 2 and beyond. My son is currently 2.5 years old and It’s strange to me to think that we now fall under the “extended breastfeeding” label. He still seems like such a baby to me and is still very dependent on me for so many things. But having his boobies is certainly his favorite activity and I assume it will be so for much longer.
Bodhi enjoys eating a wide variety of food and I would suggest he breastfeeds mostly for comfort and a feeling of connection as well as meeting his nutritional needs. Some believe that when solids are introduced that breastfeeding is no longer calorically required and therefore are pressured to wean. To me just because Bodhi’s caloric need is being met does not mean I am willing to negate my sons yearning for emotional comfort which is just as real and important a need. So I happily continue breastfeeding with the addition of food. I am personally really inspired by the idea of letting Bodhi choose how long he breastfeeds. Right now I can’t imagine stopping breastfeeding, in fact thinking about our breastfeeding journey ending makes me feel really sad but mainly I can’t see anything in Bodhi that indicates that he is close to being ready to stop and I believe in allowing things to organically unravel in the way they’re supposed to. Also on just a convenience standpoint it’s so easy to calm him through breastfeeding. If he is getting fussy then having a quick 5 minute check in on the boob is all he needs to find his centre, get a boost of confidence and continue on. For us it’s actually made parenting that much easier.
The social discrimination against woman who breastfeed their older toddler can be immense. I know women who won’t feed their 2 year old in public for this reason. From dirty looks, to whispers and nasty comments, it is downright bullying. I think if woman are equipped and confident with the facts of the health benefits from a scientific standpoint then perhaps they’ll feel empowered enough to continue breastfeeding their older toddler in public. Although “because it’s none of your business this is our right and choice” should be enough of a comment if anyone questions, it can be helpful to shut someone down from a scientific standpoint (I personally just did this last week!) here is some info for the inventory.
The scientific evidence based health benefits are only now starting to come to light and are related to the increasing amount of benefit correlating with increased duration. Breastfeeding’s protective effect in maternal breast cancer, osteoporosis, childhood ear infections and malocclusion anomalies (misaligned teeth) According to Dr Katherine A Dettwyler an anthropology professor, “A wealth of scientific evidence exists documenting that the benefits of breastfeeding continue for as long as the infant nurses. Aside from the health concerns, there is now evidence that the longer a child breastfeeds, the higher that child’s IQ score and school grades will be in later years, with a dose effect evident even beyond two years of nursing.” Dr Dettwyler herself is renowned in her research on the duration of breastfeeding in humans as it relates to the other mammals, mainly the primate. From her years of research she has concluded that the most beneficial and natural time to wean from the breast is between the ages of 2.5 and 7 years old dependent of weight and dental eruption among other factors.
It is my hope that the social pressure to wean your child starts to fade. The sad fact is that until breastfeeding ceases to be sexualized we will be fighting this battle. Breastfeeding is a beautiful, natural, biological thing and if you’re a woman who is lucky enough to be able to breastfeed I hope that the naysayers and those who pass judgement don’t affect your breastfeeding journey. Keep listening to your mama voice and allow that to be the loudest voice you hear. –