Saturday, January 9, 2010
2:30 AM | Edit Post
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
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- ▼ January (19)