It's moments like these, when I wish I had taught her a code word for breastfeeding. I can feel the disapproving looks; after all, she is a walking talking 2-year-old and not a baby. I can hear them thinking ‘Why is she STILL breastfeeding?’
While you get a lot of support and even pressure to start breastfeeding, just go over this ‘magic’ 1 year mark - the line that people deem normal - and suddenly the social pressure is on to stop.
Breastfeeding beyond a year, is known as extended breastfeeding, and is recommended by the World Health Organization and UNICEF, until at least 2.
Sadly, the majority of babies are weaned during the first year, mainly because too many people believe that a child no longer receives any benefit from breastmilk or formula, and can be weaned straight onto cow milk or other milk substitute after a year.
Maybe for a formula fed baby, but not a breastfed child.
The American Academy of Pediatrics says:
‘…there is no evidence of psychological or developmental harm from breast feeding into the 3rd year of life and longer.’
‘The benefits of breastfeeding (nutritional, immunological, cognitive and emotional) continue as long as breastfeeding itself does.’
There really are some very compelling reasons to think about carrying on past a year.
- A child’s immune system is simply not fully complete until about 5-6 years. Breast milk has many immune protection benefits, well past the 1st year.
- Avoiding, delaying or reducing allergies, asthma or eczema is a good reason to continue to breastfeed, especially if there's a family history of these.
- Continued sucking develops better dental arches and less need for (expensive) orthodontic correction.
- The Eustachian tubes are massaged while sucking and swallowing and middle ear infections are often reduced.
- There's less need for speech therapy for lisps and other speech problems.
- Breastfeeding is not just about nutrition, children beyond 1 still need to suck. We see this in the number of children who still have a dummy, or suck their thumbs, at 3-4 years old.
- Extended breastfeeding helps create confident children. They grow independent at their own pace, and are not forced along.
- Weaning a child before they are ready will not remove the base need, and the child may just turn to less happy behaviours or objects as substitutes. And these may continue for life.
Babies and children learn, grow and develop more than at any other stage in their entire lives. This can be a very daunting time, and comfort sucking can help the child cope and make sense of the world – and what better place to do this, than in Mommy's arms?
As with most parenting, you have to find what works for you and your child. No-one should feel pressure to start, continue or stop breastfeeding, but I know that for those who choose to carry on it can be a lonely journey.
Even if you extended breastfeeding is not for you, be kind to the woman whose child, in your opinion, looks too old to be breastfeeding.
It may not always be easy for her, but she’s doing it for her baby.
Is there an age when breastfeeding should stop? Add your comment below.