Regarding Extended Breastfeeding

September 2, 2010 at 13:50 2 comments

I know I’ve been a little absent lately, there are many reasons for this: travel, busy schedule, visiting friends, and technical difficulties, whatever. The fact is that 90% of the things I wanted to write it the past two weeks were things pertaining to either A) my husband who hates to be talked about on the internet and I am really trying very hard to respect that, or B) conversations with friends & family that read this blog & I am nervous about hashing out days old conversations after what happened the last time I brought my opinion to this blog where I thought I could state it safely.

But it’s been 2 weeks and I can’t think of anything better to blog about, and this one thing is still bugging me and will until I can resolve it, so here it goes…

I went out the Wednesday before last! I know right, like, actually out & about as my own adult person! I even had a drink or three! A few hours later my husband sent me a text message, it was Oliver’s bedtime and my baby who nurses to sleep every night was having trouble settling without me. I was totally ok with this. I had specifically told my husband to call me home in such an event & called a cab without any regret or resentment.

When I told my group of friends that I had to go because my baby was crying I got ‘the question’:

‘Oh, are you still nursing?’

This wasn’t really ‘the question’ in the way I usually hear about it being asked. My friends were not asking me by way of telling me I should stop right now, or aghast that I was ‘STILL BREASTFEEDING!?!?’ they are mostly loving and supportive of my decision to breastfeed, and my struggle to do so as a BFAR mother.

But even though no one was suggesting that I wean my child right that minute, or that I should have months ago for his own good, the fact remains that everyone has an opinion about when one should wean a child.

It is also a fact that my friends are unabashedly opinionated & wonderfully outspoken. I love this about my friends. Or at least, I love this about my friends when I have all night to argue & drink & counter argue & drink some more. The fact is I no longer have this kind of time.

So as the conversation devolved into a chorus of:

‘If they’re walking and talking they shouldn’t be nursing’


‘I saw a 4 year old breastfeeding at Disney land; don’t you think that’s a little extreme?’

My cab pulled up and I was unable to counter their warnings of:

‘Self wean? He’ll be breastfeeding until he’s five!’


‘The other kids will make fun of him’

So while I love that my friends are un-apologetic loud mouths who will never hesitate to tell it to me exactly how they see it, I feel the need to clarify my stance, and make it clear that I know what I am doing & am not looking for input on this particular subject.

The fact is that breastfeeding isn’t just for babies. And while it is the decision of every woman to make for herself whether to breastfeed & for how long, it needs to be made clear in our society that breastfeeding past infancy is not ‘weird’ or ‘abnormal’ or ‘detrimental’ or ‘unnecessary’, It’s not even ‘extended’, it is what humans were made to do.

In fact, it could be argued that weaning a child off of their mother’s milk only to feed them X amount of another animal’s milk everyday to ensure they grow healthy and strong is ‘weird’, ‘abnormal’, and ‘unnecessary’. I am not really arguing that. It works for some people, and I am not going to knock that, but the choice to wean to cows milk, and the choice to breastfeed past infancy do not need to be mutually exclusive.

The fact is that the World Health Organization states that the world average age for a child to wean is 4.2 years.

When you take into consideration that less than 40% of babies world wide who are breastfed at birth are still breastfed at one year of age, it kind of makes you wonder. How old are breastfeeding children in other parts of the world to make the world average as high as 4 years?

The answer varies, but my dear friend anthropology can venture a guess.

Based on a number of physical factors, like, for example, the loss of baby teeth (the dentia formerly known as milk teeth) and appearance of permanent molars, reaching 1/3 of adult weight, and age of sexual maturuty,  the NATURAL time (meaning that NATURE intended, not our society’s child hate & fear of breasts) is between 4 & 7 years.

Do I plan to still be nursing Oliver when he is 7 years old? Not really. Would I make him stop if he wanted to breastfeed at 7? I don’t know for sure, but probably not.

Would a 7 year old tease another 7 year old for breastfeeding?

I guess it depends on the kid, but yes, there is likely to be at least one bully who would give Oliver a hard time. I cannot completely shield & control who my son will encounter in the world, but I can prepare him for how to deal with them.

I should hope that a healthy, happy, secure child who gives and is given love, comfort, nourishment, & support (whether through breastfeeding or not) without arbitrary limits will be better equipped to handle a bully than one who has been pushed away & forced into independence before he is ready. (My running theory is that happy kids don’t bully, and aren’t bullied, but that’s another post for another day)

Will I be that mom who breastfeeds her 4 year old at Disney land?

Well, I never plan to go to Disney land, but I do plan to take Oliver on many fun and adventurous outings as he grows. As any parents know, such outings can be stressful for both parents and children.

If Oliver still chooses to breastfeed at the age of 4, you’re damned right I would breastfeed him at Disney land/the zoo/a museum/amusement park. Not because I am some crazy crunchy granola uber lactivist, my child is not a protest sign, But because his needs come before anyone else’s squeamishness about breastfeeding past infancy. Why on earth would I leave such a valuable calming/focusing/tantrum stopping parenting tool at home for the day?

Those same needs for physical connection, nourishment, and comfort don’t just magically disappear when my son starts walking & talking, or turns a certain age.

If anything those needs become stronger. A walking talking adventurous toddler may have the illusion of independence about them, but they are still just learning, and they’re still growing rapidly. They do NEED the physical connection & nourishment of breastfeeding to encourage their new found independence to grow & develop, though breastfeeding could certainly be replaced with other parenting strategies, breastfeeding into childhood is the most natural way to foster this connection. A strong attachment to mom is the perfect base from which to leap & spread little toddler wings.

Do I think that all children should be breastfed into toddler & child hood?

Like I said, it’s up to every woman whether or not to breastfeed and for how long. But I do think that breastfeeding in general, as well as breastfeeding past infancy should be more prevalent than it is. At some point breastfeeding became the exception to the rule and the longer it stays that way the harder it gets for women to actually breastfeed to begin with and then continue to breastfeed past infancy.

I am kind of glad that my taxi came when it did that Wednesday night & that I was unable to continue this conversation at the time. The loud & smoky patio of my local pub is hardly the place to debate such an important issue. But I do hope that some of the things I WAS able to say rang true, and that the things I have said here put to rest some of the preconceived notions that people have about breastfeeding past infancy.

I hope, that the next time my friends see a toddler nursing in public (especially at Disney land) they will smile & keep walking instead of passing judgment or feeling disgust.

And lastly I hope that those friends of mine reading this (especially those who were a part of the original conversation) know that I still love having loud mouthed opinionated arguments with them, it’s one of the things I miss most about life pre-Oliver. But it is still a little unfair to start such discussions right before I leave!


Entry filed under: BFAR, breastfeeding, motherhood, Parenting, weaning.

Wordless Wednesday: Camping Where Is The Line?

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. addie  |  September 4, 2010 at 19:22

    thank you for this!

  • 2. Tania  |  November 23, 2010 at 23:26

    Loved reading this. Still nursing my 22 month old. She loves it I love it and we will continue despite the inevitable comments/warnings/advice from the formula generation. These blogs help me firm up my resolve.


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