Saturday, January 9, 2010

There's no such thing as extended breastfeeding




When I first encountered the term "extended breastfeeding", I was curious.  When I learned the reasons people do it, and the benefits, I quickly saw the logic behind it.  For months I had been watching my first daughter, a toddler at the time, suck down bottle after bottle of whole milk, and I couldn't help but feel that something was wrong.  I shuddered over the unnatural crap in this store-bought milk and I hated seeing her desperate attachment to something artificial.  When I found out that her pediatrician had flat out lied when he said "She HAS to have cow's milk at a year old", I was furious.  I had let a stranger dictate my parenting decisions to me, and I hadn't even thought to question it.  We had breastfed successfully and happily for a year, and I allowed that to end for no real logical or medical reasons. 

I finally came to realize a few things that should have been glaringly obvious to me from the get go.

- My child did not grow horns, hooves, and a few extra stomachs on her first birthday, so there was no possible way she could "need" cow's milk if she still had mine!

- My breastmilk had not and would not suddenly turn from the perfect food for my child into something worthless.

- Weaning did not have to be forced at an arbitrary date chosen by someone else.  My child was capable of following her instincts and gradually weaning when she was physically and emotionally ready.

Unfortunately, all these realizations came too late for my first child.  I still had to watch her chug down that foul, over-processed milk meant to nourish an animal that needed a lot of quick bodily growth, and not a lot of brain growth:  the exact opposite of what a human child needs.  No one had told me that milk still had to make up a major part of a toddler's diet.  I assumed it could be mostly food, and just a little milk.  How I thought that transition could happen practically over-night, I don't know.  I'll use the whole "young and stupid" line here, because I just wasn't thinking.

Anyway, I lived and learned!  I was happy to discover via some great articles and conversations with other moms that I was "allowed" to breastfeed past a year.  Our 2nd daughter came along, and I've gotten the chance to put it into practice.  She's nearly two now, and we're both still happy about breastfeeding.  Yes, she eats plenty of food, but is also getting the nutrients and immune protection from my milk that nature intends for her to still have.  She's so healthy and happy, and I had no idea of what an adventure it would be to breastfeed a little one her age!  I'm not sure when she will be ready to quit, and I'm great with that!  Certainly some time before college ;-P  In a world where our bodies are bombarded by unnatural things, its nice to know that cow's milk is one less gross thing I have to worry about.

The one problem I have with "extended" breastfeeding, is the term itself.  "Extended" implies going beyond what is normal.  While the average American may breastfeed for only a short time, if at all, that doesn't mean that is what's natural for humans.  The World Health Organization and UNICEF recommend a minimum of 2 years of breastfeeding (with solids being added after 6 months), and to continue for as long as is desired by mother and child.  To quote Katherine Dettwyler, In societies where children are allowed to nurse "as long as they want" they usually self-wean, with no arguments or emotional trauma, between 3 and 4 years of age.  Now of course, some children choose to naturally wean before or after that, but the point is that when we look at what is normal for humanity biologically, around the world, and over the course of time, it is actually really WEIRD that most people in our culture wean long before the 1 year mark.  I think the term "extended breastfeeding" implies that we are going beyond what is natural, and that isn't the case.  I think "full-term breastfeeding" would be more accurate.  Or perhaps we can call it just plain breastfeeding, and everything else is "premature weaning".  Haha, oh yeah, that would go over real well!  Alas...

I hope I can raise my daughters into women that can follow their instincts without falling victim to society's traps, pressures, and hang-ups.  We only get one chance to raise healthy children, and we shouldn't have to worry about people who like to pervert and judge something that is so simple and natural.


To learn more, please see these great resources!


A Natural Age of Weaning, by Katherine Dettwyler, PhD

"Extended" Breastfeeding Fact Sheet

Continuing Breastfeeding Beyond the First Year


101 Reasons to Breastfeed

What are the benefits of breastfeeding my toddler?








31 comments:

Barbara Harper said...

I prematurely weaned my daugther, even though I knew it was wrong, at 13 months due to the judgemental pressures of those around me. My second child weaned himself after 23 months when he empathically looked at my wincing face while he nursed and pulled away and said, "no hurt mommy?" I was almost 8 months pregnant with my third at the time and my breasts had started getting very tender. He picked up on that and simply stopped and that was that. Never asked for it again and never had a bottle either. When my third arrived, in our outdoor hot tub, I offered the breast to his older brother as the baby nursed. He shook his head and plainly said, "no. Babies suck on boobies.....and without skipping a beat he concluded....big boys play with them!" He proceeded to twrill my nipples at nighttime and naps when his brother was nursing and sometimes when he just wanted some comfort. Knowning that my third was my last baby I think I was the one that hung on to his nursing because I enjoyed that closeness so much. It wasn't until he started demanding his nunnas in places like the grocery store that I even considered stopping. That was at 51 months. That was not "extended" breastfeeding. It was the natural progression of life between two people who loved and respected one another. My sons are 25 and 23 and have never been inside the office of an allopathic physician. No need.
Oh, and neither one of them are obsessed with breasts either. Both professional engineers.
Happy breastfeeding!
Barbara Harper
www.Waterbirth.org

Baby Girl Williams/Hernandez said...

You just make my heart go pitter patter. *happy sigh* So many of our society ills would disappear if more women followed this simple advise and follow their instinct to nurse their child as long as they want. This may be an oversimplification, but it appears that the only good a doctor is for when it comes to women's breasts is to determine cancer. They should just keep away from them, otherwise, unless the woman is his wife.

Woman Uncensored said...

Barbara-

It was so great to hear your experiences! I winced at your pain, and laughed and smiled through the rest of it :-)

I love your website by the way! I spent a good amount of time on it during my 2nd pregnancy!

Jill said...

:) Another amazing viewpoint, I nursed all of mine for longer than what was considered "normal" in mainstream views, my son the longest at a little over 6 yrs.

Anonymous said...

You had me in tears describing your daughter's experience. It's so sad that the people we are taught to depend on are the ones who can hurt us and our children the most...and for no good reason!

Thank you for sharing

~Guggie

Amy said...

//Or perhaps we can call it just plain breastfeeding, and everything else is "premature weaning".//
I love this Rach :D

Danielle said...

Wonderful blog post and beautiful comments.My son is 10 months old and I have no plans on weaning him and I'm already getting the "side eye" from a lot of people. I was nursed until 20 months when my mother became pregnant with my sister and I want the same for my son!

Y's mum said...

I have been reading your blog thanks to Kellymom who directed me to them. My son is 14 months old now and I have no plans of weaning him any time soon and I am seriously thinking on the lines of self weaning or at least reach the stage where I can negotiate with him on weaning. I already get surprised questions like 'oh is he still on your milk?!' which does make me think if I am doing the right thing, but now I am more convinced that I am, after reading your blog and related links :) Thanks so much, keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

What's called "extended" breastfeeding should be called "normal" or "natural" and what has become our cultural norm could be called "truncated" or "abbreviated" breastfeeding. And I do understand that there are very real, very legitimate reasons sometimes that a mother isn't able to nurse. My heart goes out to the mothers who wish to nurse but are unable to for one reason or another. But I hope our cultural view of normal, natural feeding of human young swings in the direction of balance soon.

Anonymous said...

I just say "Well, we decided Western Premature Weaning wasn't for us." :-)

i-am-a-mama said...

Jill,

Thank you for sharing that your son went 6 years -- mine is 3.5 and even formerly supportive folks are starting to give me the side eye, or make comments. And sometimes my husband agrees.

But my son still nurses throughout the night, and loves his bitty times during the day.

At the moment I feel like he's going to be an only child (though I'm only 23, so that may change) and I'm in no hurry to rush him off. But it's hard, some days, to keep him from feeling the tension and such. He enjoys his bitty so so much.

Andrea said...

I weaned my son 2 weeks after his first birthday. I cried that day and even remember the exact date. I had completely dried up on one side due to chronic clogged milk ducts and started supplementing him with cows milk. He preferred the bottle of milk rather than the little bit of breast milk he had to work for.

My daughter is now 3 months old and I take Lecithin daily to keep the ducts unclogged- thank you Kellymom.com! I asked my son, now 2, if he wanted to nurse when he curiously watches his sister....he politely declines, "No thanks mama!" I plan to nurse my daughter as long as she wants :)

Shannon said...

I'm tandem nursing my 2 year old and my 10 month old. I'm also pregnant with my 3rd. My two year old is just now starting to self wean... I think mostly because my milk isn't producing as much and my 10 month old gets first dibs. :) Probably a good thing as I don't have a 3rd boob. ;-)

Weaning past a year has been an AMAZING experience. I won't lie. I had (and still have) my days where I feel like I'm a human milking cow. At moments I get tired. And sometimes I miss the days when my boobs weren't hanging out ALL the time. But I still tear up when I have both kids latched on and see them touch each others face, both while in mommas arms. Or at night when Teagan (our youngest) is laying in bed next to me, nursing while snuggled in her mommas arms. It truly is beautiful.

I'm the only one in my family who breastfed past 6 weeks. I did (and still do) get quite a few questions/looks... but being informed has made all the difference. We have very healthy, happy children and I know my milk has made all the difference! I'm happy to now be able to support friends and clients (I'm a doula) when they ask about breastfeeding.

I truly believe our Lord gave us women such a gift in being able to nurse our children. I love that more and more awareness is being brought to what a loving thing breastfeeding is.

Great blog!!

Shannon Church
www.vintageDOULA.com
http://twitter.com/vintageDOULA

Slinging mama said...

Brilliantly written :-)

I am nursing my 5 year old and 2 year old right now, their older sister having self weaned when she was 4 years 11 months.

In fact I have been nursing non stop for the last 7.7 years and I wouldn't have it any other way. Such a brilliant parenting tool!

EVERGREEN MAMA said...

I am nursing a 25 month old, and love it 99% of the time. She is content, happy, healthy and this is the absolute right thing for us. I have no idea when this phase of her life will be finished, and I am not rushing it. We nurse whenever and where ever she needs to, and I am proud to model this nurturing and natural lifestyle.

There is that 1% where I yearn to have my body back to myself, when I am tired of having her arm down my shirt grabbing at my breasts in the middle of the grocery store, waking in the middle of the night to nurse back to sleep, but I know that this is not forever.

Thanks for the forum and the reminder that this is NORMAL, nothing less, nothing more.

ELuben said...

I love your blog. I'm so happy to have discovered it. I also think it is just an amazing thing to find so many supportive comments, rather than critical ones. Your links to evidence are wonderful. Thanks for taking the time to do this. I am a doula & childbirth educator and will certainly pass this along to my clients.

I was fortunate to discover my local La Leche League when my daughter was 10 months old. I knew in my heart that forcing her to wean at an arbitrary date would hurt us both. Fortunately, surrounding myself with amazing women who nursed babies & children of all ages gave me the support to nurse her through my 2nd pregnancy, cesarean and until close to her 3rd birthday. I'm quite sure my little guy (2 1/2) will lose interest by high school, but it may not be before 3. For all of my struggles learning to parent, nursing my toddlers has been such a gift when we both need to take a deep breath.

Jill said...

I-am-mama........It was a wonderful experience. I never intended on breastfeeding that long, however my lil man had other plans. My girls both self weaned but at much earlier ages so I wasn't exactly sure what I was in for. I got many sideways looks and snide remarks due to it, but I didn't really care nor did my son. He would comment right back when people would say something to him. I was proud to show him that what others said didn't matter as long as we were happy. :)

He still to this day talks about when he used to "drink boobie" and how much he loved it. I wouldn't have it any other way.

SubliminalDarkness said...

I had a difficult time breastfeeding my second son, and had a 2 year goal in mind. If I could JUST get to 2 years, then it would be ok and I'd feel like I did right by him.
He turned 3 last month, and is still nursing! It's been a hard road, but I am so glad that I decided to allow him to dictate when he's done. Sometimes he skips days at a time, and I always wonder if he's done. But then out of the blue he'll ask for "boobies," and I realize just how little he still is.
I wish more women allowed themselves to take this route. There is nothing wrong with it and while it's hard at times, it is so worthwhile. I used to think breastfeeding past a year was "weird," but having been around the children of friends and my own children, I just can't tell on what day they are suddenly "too old" to breastfeed. How could it have been ok yesterday, but today they're just too big? I'm sure most people we encounter have no idea my son is still breastfeeding, I don't even think my own parents know, but I never go out of my way to avoid the topic or lie if asked. Hopefully more people will remember how normal this is!

September Love said...

"Or perhaps we can call it just plain breastfeeding, and everything else is "premature weaning"

Love it! I totally agree!

What a lovely blog you have...I have really been enjoying it! You find the time to write about the ideas and opinions that I just can't find the time to blog about. When I read your work, it's like you're in my head. I love it!

Nicki said...

I have to say I was taken aback at first. I have never - but realize my baby is 15 - heard the term "extended breastfeeding." I have always just thought of it as breastfeeding and I have done a lot of it.

I have six children. While the longest I breastfed one was 36 months, my OB/GYN and I calculated I have breastfed for 108 months total.


Probably my worst breastfeeding experience was in a health club. You would really think that a place devoted to health would be open-minded. I was there with another woman doing a fundraiser for the day care area they have. I had my baby with me. I had brought a blanket to cover myself when he needed to nurse. I didn't normally care but this was a new place to me. I sat nursing and had the manager come up to me and say that I was upsetting some of the members and I should go in the bathroom to feed my baby. I, without thinking, promptly asked him when the last time he had eaten in the bathroom was. Needless to say, I did not finish up this particular fundraiser and have never been back to that health club. I also did NOT go in the bathroom to feed my child.

Mud Mama said...

This is a GREAT post. I know a lot about normalizing breastfeeding and nursing, and the role language plays in that and it's so easy to fall back on societal language constructs. Thank you for the reminder (Mine nursed 2.5 yrs, 4 yrs, 5.5 yrs and my baby is still going strong at 27 months...his favorite food is thai green chili and jasmine rice next to his "bubbas")

No Kids Napping said...

My mother never nursed, and neither did her mother, so breastfeeding was always a foreign thing in my family. Seeing women in public who would pull up their shirts and feed their babies would make my family really uncomfortable.

Later, when I was pregnant with my first child, I did lots of research on breastfeeding, and I decided to try it. Then, my baby was born, and I have been breastfeeding ever since! I breastfed that first baby all through my pregnancy with my second. My second child is now 2years old and still nursing. (The first one was a little over 3 years old when she stopped, and is now 4.)

The funny thing was that my breastfeeding made my family very uncomfortable-even my mother, who is a Registered Nurse. My sister freaked out when touching a cloth diaper that had breastmilk on it, because she thought it was so gross. ??? After my oldest turned 2 years old, mom would say things to my daughter like, "Ewwww. That's gross."

It really hurt me to hear all that and to have to feel almost ashamed when my family was around beacuse they didn't understand it. But I know they were acting out of ignorance, and I have to think that I've paved the way for my sister to try it one day when she has children. I guess the most shocking was that you'd think that nurses, of all professions, would be the most supportive of this, but unfortunately, that's not always true. In a similar way, I feel like I have to lie to the pediatrician when they've asked about how much cow's milk my kids drink, and they've asked if I've weaned my 2 year old yet. I feel like I've had to fight for what is a natural right, which is sad. Still, my kids are healthy and happy, and I'm so glad I chose to breastfeed!

Sentiments said...

I love your 'leave a comment' comment. It got me giggling.

I wanted to add a comment to your beautiful post. K2 is currently 2 going on 3 in April and is still going strong. It was not the easiest thing to do considering the father's side is totally against breastfeeding, never mind post 4 weeks!

It's been a great experience and I feel that if it still works for the both of us then why stop. To me it would be insulting the women who couldn't and wanted to. We have the chance so why not? It's my breasts anyways.

It's going to be one sad day when we wean, but I am planing a weaning party for her.

The Family Johnson said...

I have found this very interesting. Thank you everyone for sharing in such a caring manner. I had difficulties breastfeeding and cried when my son went on a "nursing strike." I really appreciate the thoughtful comments here and the respect shown toward mothers who did not breastfeed past a certain point. I will make sure I return the respect and support to mothers nursing older children. Best wishes to you all.

Suse said...

Just to be a little tongue in cheek, as someone who breastfeeds a very active twenty-six month old boy I can sometimes understand why it's called extended feeding - because of the way one's nipples extend telescopically when one's child tries to run and climb in all directions at once with a boob in their mouth. ;)

Woman Uncensored said...

Suse, you are my favorite person at this moment, lol!!!

That had me rolling AND relating!

Suse said...

Aw shucks - I'm blushing now. Thanks!

I'm loving your blog btw - and your header image is a mastery of photoshop. Utterly gorgeous (sorry, the designer in me jumps out of its box at the most inopportune times).

Anji Sandage said...

And you still would not/do not HAVE to watch her "chug down that foul, over-processed milk meant to nourish an animal that needed a lot of quick bodily growth, and not a lot of brain growth: the exact opposite of what a human child needs." Even a baby calf would die if fed that stuff from your grocery shelf. Read "Nourishing Traditions" by Sally Fallon and Check out the Weston A. Price Foundation

Woman Uncensored said...

Anji-

Well, in the 2nd year, milk still needs to make up a large portion of the diet. Without breastmilk, I didn't know what else to give her. All I had at that time was her doctor for "advice". Not really sure what could have been another option that I could have actually afforded, but I do know NOW that I didn't HAVE to do that, which is why I'm still nursing my 2nd child.

Anonymous said...

I love the term 'premature weaning'!
I would also like some other corrections to the baby feeding vernacular:
Breastfeeding should actually just be called 'feeding'. (Breastfeeding is the norm, and doesn't need to labelled).
Anything else should actually be known as "artificial". (Formula, bootle feeding etc have become socially acceptable terms for the artificial ie. powdered cow's milk with preservatives and additives.)
That's not to put down artificial feeding. Just calling a spade a spade.

Anonymous said...

Excellent article! I'm nursing my 21 month old as I type. Recently I had to go to the doctor and his assistant told me that I was late for my mammogram (I'll be 41 next month) and I asked her if breastfeeding interfered with a mammogram and she said she would check. She came back and told me that I needed to wait until 6 months after I weaned. Guess I will be a bit late on that.... My doctor came in and asked me some questions about my issues and then said, "You're still breastfeeding right?" I braced myself for his attack and said yes. Then he asked, "How old is your baby?" I said 20 months old (deep breath) I know it's past the normal time. He interrupted and said, "Don't apologize for nursing your baby. It's the best thing for her and for you. He said that the West Coast is more accepting than folks here on the East Coast. He told me to make sure she is weaned before she goes to college. I left his office feeling so free and encouraged that I didn't have to fight my doctor as I cared for my baby.

I tandem nursed my first and second. I actually weaned my oldest when she turned three and my son when he was 37 months old. I was mostly a private nurser except for a few people who accepted me. Still I'm a private nurser with my third child. Only a few people know. Only my husband and one friend complete accept it the others tolerate my strangeness at doing something that's not necessary. Thanks for the support here.

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