Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Extended Breastfeeding--How Long is Too Long?

I was reading an article the other day about extended breastfeeding, where the mother decided she wanted her body back and had decided it was time to wean. I can partially understand the feelings, but I do support child-led weaning and would not try to force a child to wean if he or she was not ready. However, I do applaud her for breastfeeding for three years, as that is something many women do not achieve today. While I cannot say I completely agree with her on this topic, I can say that she did what is recommended--breastfeed for as long as both mother and baby are happy.

Her post stirred up quote a controversy on a popular site for mothers, with women on both sides of the extended breastfeeding issue. I was quite taken aback at some of the comments. There were people who said everything from disgusting to stating how wrong it is to breastfeed that long. There was one comment in particular that I noticed, where the mother stated weaning earlier was better for the child's independence. She even tried to claim that by weaning earlier (as early as 8 months of age), the child will be more self-reliant and not depend on assistance from others. I also read comments that stated women who breastfeed for longer periods of time are horrible parents, because it is wrong to give your child everything they ask for. A few other comment's stated that we should not breastfeed longer than a year, because that is only something that should be done in third world countries.

I am honestly appalled that women feel the need to attack others and make comments that are so hurtful and just plain wrong. While the woman who wrote the post did ask for opinions, I do not think that entitles anyone to belittle another person or pass judgement on others. There are ways to get your point across without degrading others and being disrespectful of another person's choices.

I try not to engage in debates in public forums, because as I have said before, it does little to change the other person's mind. Yet, I have my blog and it is the perfect place for me to write and get out my feelings over something like this. I also hope that maybe some people will read my blog and learn something, or take away some knowledge that they may not have had before. Perhaps, someone out there can look at extended breastfeeding in a different way than he or she did before, after learning more about it.

There is no set time when breast milk suddenly loses its nutritional value. 

I hear or read many comments from people that state breast milk is no longer nutritional after six months, one year, etc. In reality, breast milk changes as the baby grows. The milk will continuously change to meet the need's of that baby, whether the child is six months old or two years old. To state that only women in third world countries should breastfeed for extended periods of time is wrong, as there are a wealth of nutritional benefits if the baby is allowed to continue nursing past one year, regardless of what country a person resides in.
Breast milk continues to provide substantial amounts of key nutrients well beyond the first year of life, especially protein, fat, and most vitamins.(Dewey)
 Human milk expressed by mothers who have been lactating for >1 year has significantly increased fat and energy contents, compared with milk expressed by women who have been lactating for shorter periods. During prolonged lactation, the fat energy contribution of breast milk to the infant diet might be significant. (Mandal, et al.)
 Breastmilk is, after all, milk. Even after six months, it still contains protein, fat, and other nutritionally important and appropriate elements which babies and children need. Breastmilk still contains immunologic factors that help protect the child even if he is 2 or older. In fact, some immune factors in breastmilk that protect the baby against infection are present in greater amounts in the second year of life than in the first.
 We must point out that, at the present time, the official policy of the American Academy of Pediatrics is not to put any limit on the duration of lactation. Moreover, a recent review of biological versus cultural aspects of weaning suggested that, from an anthropologic standpoint based on primates studies, “breastfeeding a child for 2.5 to 7 years is normal for our species.” (Newman)
 From head to toe, babies who breastfeed for extended periods of time are healthier overall.(Sears)

Extended breastfeeding will not make a child less independent.

While many try to claim that breastfeeding for an extended period of time will make the child less independent, that is simply untrue. Children receive nutritional benefits from breast milk, but they also use it as a source of comfort and security. Some studies even suggest that extended breastfeeding helps the child become better adjusted socially. Like one of the commenters mentioned, they want their child to be self-reliant at a young age. To this I say, why? While it is important to teach a child to be independent, why is everyone in such a rush to make their children so independent? Just because children turn one or two does not mean that they still do not need comfort and care when they are upset. Children need to be supported through difficult times, and if breastfeeding provides them with comfort, then how is that a bad thing? When newborns cry at night, most parents would run to their side to offer comfort and reassurance. Children learn that they can depend on their parent's to be there for them and to come when they need them. When the child decides they are done breastfeeding, then they have made a choice that will help further their independence.

As Jack Newman put it, "And when a child makes that step himself, he knows he has achieved something, he knows he has moved ahead. It is a milestone in his life of which he is proud....Often we push children to become ‘independent” too quickly. To sleep alone too soon, to wean from the breast too soon, to do without their parents too soon, to do everything too soon. Don’t push and the child will become independent soon enough." 

It is also worth noting that many children who are extended breastfed are very independent and self-reliant. The child is having his or her needs met, which benefits the child. Maybe children that get hurt will cry to their mother and ask to breastfeed, but wouldn't a child also come to the mother and cry for a hug if he or she got hurt? Breastfeeding is simply like giving a hug--it is providing comfort. The child is reassured and comforted, then can move on. Breastfeeding will not harm a child's independence and make the child become more reliant on his or parents, it is simply a way to continue providing nourishment and comfort, while also helping the child gain independence, knowing his or her needs are being met.

Extended breastfeeding will not make children think they can get everything they ask for. 

In regards to giving the child anything he or she asks for, breast milk does not fall into that category. Would parents deprive their child of food or water, because if they give in and give it to their child, then the child will think they can always get what they want? Of course not, so what is the difference when it comes to breast milk? Breast milk is for baby humans, and cow's milk is for baby cows. While many people do drink cow's milk, breast milk is created for the child. It provides nutrients and immunities that no other milk can compare too. When it comes to teaching children that they can't have anything they want, just because they demand it, that should be left to things like movies, toys or junk food, not something that provides nourishment and comfort.

Women who breastfeed for an extended period of time are not doing it to be perverted.

One of the meanest comments I have read stated that women who let their child breastfeed for longer than one year are sick and twisted, and obviously they must be seeking some sexual perversion out of it. Breastfeeding a child has little to do with anything sexual, and is all about nourishing and comforting a child.

There are still benefits for both the mother and child. 

I have written before about the benefits of breast milk, and there are still benefits for both the mother child from extended breastfeeding.  (Bonyata and WHO)

These are just a few of the benefits, to read more visit KellymomKathy's Commentaries, or the World Health Organization.

For the child: 
Less chance of stomach upset and diarrhea
Receives antibodies and immunities that protect the child
Decreased risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, and type-2 diabetes as an adult

For the mother:
Decreased risk of ovarian, uterine, and endometrial, and breast cancer
Weight loss is usually easier
Reduced risk pf rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis
In some cases, fertility is delayed

It is recommended. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends mothers breastfed for at least one year, and then continue to do so until the mother and baby are ready to wean. The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding for two years or more.The La Leche League recommends breastfeeding for as long as both mother and baby want to continue.

Extended breastfeeding should be the norm. 

In the article "A Natural Age of Weaning" by Katherine Dettwyler PhD, she found that there really is no average weaning age because it varies so greatly among different nations. Based on the research she compiled,the natural weaning age for humans should be between 2.5 and 7 years of age.

I think in our era of industrialized nations and mainstream lifestyle it is often overlooked that extended breastfeeding should be the norm. In some countries, children are breastfed until between the ages of four to seven. In others, some mothers never even try to breastfeed or they wean within the first month. Of course, in countries where there the water is not clean and food supplies are low, it is critical that the mothers be able to offer their children something nutritional that is is safe to consume. However, it is also important that mothers in more developed nations offer their children breast milk, as well. Our culture has become obsessed with sex, and breasts have been objectified as sexual objects. It has become so prevalent that many people look at a breastfeeding mother with disgust, thinking it is perverse and gross (especially if the child she is nursing looks older than a year). No one can accept that extended breastfeeding should be the norm, as they only see breasts as sexual objects.

One study found that many health professionals who felt negative feelings about extended breastfeeding changed their minds after they were educated about it, which is what we should continue trying to do. (Cockerham-Colas, et al) It is unfortunate that even people who are health professionals do not agree with extended breastfeeding, when there are an immense amount of benefits for the baby and the mother.  If more people could learn to accept breastfeeding, then more women could find support and would not give up breastfeeding so quickly. Many women lack the support they need to continue breastfeeding, and others are simply afraid to nurse in public and feel confined to their homes, for fear of being judged or ridiculed.  Some women are even afraid to let anyone know that they are still breastfeeding a toddler or preschool-age child.

As a society, we need to look past the modern way of thinking, that breasts equals sex, and realize that extended breastfeeding is beneficial, natural, and normal. Women should be supported, not ridiculed or made to feel badly for the choice to breastfeed.

Have you extended breastfed? How long did you breastfeed for?


Bonyata, Kelly. "Breastfeeding Past Infancy Fact Sheet." Kellymom. N.p., 27 Jun 2011. Web. 7 Feb 2012. <html>. 

Dettwyler, Katherine. "A Natural Age of Weaning." Kathy's Commentaries. Prairienet, 15 Apr. 1999. Web. 7 Feb 2012. <http://www.kathydettwyler.org/detwean.html>.

Dewey, KG. "Nutrition, Growth, and Complementary Feeding of The Brestfed Infant." Pediatric clinics of North America. 48.1 (2001): 87-104. Web. 7 Feb. 2012. <http://www.pediatric.theclinics.com/article/S0031-3955(05)70287-X/abstract>. 

Lauren Cockerham-Colas, Laura Geer, Karen Benker, and Michael A. Joseph. Breastfeeding Medicine. -Not available-, ahead of print. doi:10.1089/bfm.2011.0027.<http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/bfm.2011.0027>

 Mandal, Dror, , et al. "Fat and Energy Contents of Expressed Human Breast Milk in Prolonged Lactation." Pediatrics. 116.3 (2005): 432-435. Web. 7 Feb. 2012. <http://www.pediatricsdigest.mobi/content/116/3/e432.full>.

Newman, Jack. "Breastfeed a Toddler-Why on Earth?." Breastfeeding Inc. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 Feb 2012. <http://www.breastfeedinginc.ca/content.php?pagename=doc-BT>. 

 Sears, William. "Ask Dr. Sears Extended Breastfeed--Handling the Criticism." Parenting. Parenting, n.d. Web. 7 Feb 2012. <http://www.parenting.com/article/ask-dr-sears-extended-breastfeeding----handling-the-criticism>.

"10 Facts on Breastfeeding." WHO. WHO, Jul 2011. Web. 7 Feb 2012. <http://www.who.int/features/factfiles/breastfeeding/en/>. 

More information about breastfeeding a toddler. 
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