Nine reasons my child is not “too old” to breastfeed…

I have written before on my blog about the first time I saw a breastfeeding toddler. I was at the house of a mother I had only just met. She was a La Leche League Leader (volunteer breastfeeding counsellor) and mother of two. Her youngest who was about 18 months old at the time, jumped up onto her lap while we were talking and latched on while sitting there peering out at me from the corner of his eye. “He is just like a little monkey”‘ I thought! He looked so big and well…just so big! Now that I look back I can’t believe this was the first time I had ever seen this! I was 22. Young, but I had traveled to different countries and experienced different cultures. I was not sheltered in any sense of the word. Yet I had never seen a toddler breastfeeding!  How is this possible?

This is a real tragedy for the young girls and women in many societies and cultures today. We are completely removed from one of the most natural, ancient and normal ways of mothering our growing children…mothering through breastfeeding.

I posted this picture of myself breastfeeding my two year old. As my followers on Facebook and blog are people (mostly women) who support breastfeeding to natural term, the overwhelming majority of the comments were not only supportive but many of them were understanding and in the same position as myself, breastfeeding a “huge” toddler. Unfortunately since we don’t see it often enough, or for many of us we never actually see it; breastfeeding to natural term (past babyhood) is often criticized or seen as weird and not “necessary.”

breastfeeding, breastfeeding toddler

From “The Milk Meg” Facebook page. Boobin’ my youngest!

The ‘ol “just give them a cup” argument… Here was one comment I received under the picture:
“I’m all for breast is best for babies and nurse in public etc. But when your child is walking around capable of a normal diet is it really necessary? Possibly give them a cup.” Another person commented, ” This is wrong on so many levels! Once the kid can eat a healthy diet with his own teeth- the boob should be shut down!”

Hhhhhmmmm…so here are my 8 reasons that my child is not “too old” to breastfeed…

Reason #1 Cups and his ability to eat and drink things besides my milk has nothing to do with weaning. Natural weaning happens gradually (not abruptly) over a period of time, ideally when the child is ready…not when they start drinking from a cup or eating foods. Also, a “normal diet” for a baby and toddler actually includes breastmilk. Dr. Dettwyler, an anthropologist who has done extensive research into the natural age of weaning suggests that the “natural” duration of breastfeeding among human, speaking biologically/physiologically, would be somewhere between 2.5 years and 7.0 years

[1]. Normality is culturally defined. Normal is not normal unless we (as a society) see it as such. Unfortunately most of us do not see this during our day to day life and feel as though breastfeeding is not a normal part of a toddler’s diet. However, breastfeeding my toddler is one of the most normal things I do each day. In many cultures and communities around the world breastfeeding into toddlerhood and childhood is not only normal but expected. If you compare breastfeeding rates around the world (where the data has been collected), 50% of mothers  are “still” breastfeeding their child at 23 months old [2].

Reason #2 The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding exclusively (so no other liquids or solids foods) until my baby is six months old and then to continue breastfeeding until they are two years of age or older. I repeat: until two years of age OR OLDER. Take note that there is no mention of the introduction of cups and foods as a starting point for weaning.

Reason #3 Breastfeeding is not just about nutrition, food and drink. It always interests me when I see someone comment on “the cup” argument because the implication is that the only reason to breastfeed is because my child is thirsty. Or hungry. I bet the people who make these comments have never seen a toddler drink a glass of water, eat a hamburger and then happily jump up onto their mother’s lap and breastfeed for fifteen minutes while they fall asleep for their nap. Breastfeeding is about so much more than thirst quenching and tummy filling. Unicef, the WHO and UNESCO state in their book Facts for Life that, “Babies fall ill frequently as they begin to crawl, walk, play, drink and eat foods other than breastmilk. A sick child needs plenty or breastmilk. Breastmilk is a nutritious, easily digestible food when a child loses appetite for other foods. Breastfeeding can comfort a child who is upset.” [3].

breastfeeding, breastfeeding toddlerReason #4 Breastfeeding is the best way to stop a tantrum, bring comfort to a scared, overwhelmed child, help prevent and heal illnesses and bring pain relief. Breastfeeding meets virtually every need he has, day or night.

Reason #5 I see first hand how powerful mothering through breastfeeding really is. This is what I am doing. I am simply  mothering through breastfeeding. I can comfort him instantly. I can settle him without even thinking. I can be there for him with one simple act. Why is this so different to a hug? Why do people not criticize hugging or using a pacifier as a way of comfort but do for breastfeeding? As I am typing this sentence I am breastfeeding him (it’s a little challenging but I can do it!) he woke up from his nap really cranky. Guess what settled him instantly?! Breastfeeding. 🙂

Reason #6 I have breasts so I can breastfeed. My breasts are not sexual when feeding my baby. I was born with them for the sole purpose of feeding my child and comforting my child. If you are uncomfortable with that as my child grows out of babyhood then it might be worth exploring why that is the case for you. It is most likely “strange” for you because you have grown up in a culture which sexualizes breasts and uses them to sell cars and clothing rather than highlight why we actually have them.

breastfeeding toddler, weaningReason #7 Human milk is made for humans. Women who are feeding their older babies bottles of formula are never questioned for giving their baby a cow’s milk based formula even though their babies are eating solid foods and drinking from a cup as well. It is just accepted that this is what happens. What many people forget though is that the bottle is taking place of the breast. When you think about it, it’s actually incredibly strange that many societies around the world drink milk from another mammal. We feed our babies cow’s milk based formulas, we switch our babies to cow’s milk when they get older, we feed our children cheese and yoghurt…yet breastfeeding our babies when they are walking, talking and eating other foods is seen as strange to many people.

Reason #8 The ingredients in my breastmilk do not suddenly disappear after my baby reaches a certain age! It continues to give my toddler MANY vitamins, minerals, enzymes, electrolytes, antibacterial properties, antimicrobial properties, antifungal properties etc. which are present the ENTIRE time you breastfeed your child. They do not suddenly vanish into thin air! In the second year (12-23 months), 448 mL of breastmilk  provides [4]:

29% of energy requirements
43% of protein requirements
36% of calcium requirements
75% of vitamin A requirements
76% of folate requirements
94% of vitamin B12 requirements
60% of vitamin C requirements

breastfeeding toddler

Reason #9 My body continues to make milk because my child continues to need it.
Instead of focusing on the women who are breastfeeding to natural terms, focus on the formula companies pushing “toddler formula” and why this is so ridiculous! Our toddlers do not need a cow’s based BREASTMILK SUBSTITUTE. Our toddlers need breastmilk. From their own mothers. If the mother cannot or does not want to breastfeed her toddler then she can give her toddler whatever milk she would like to give them.  Cow’s milk, nut milk, soy milk, rice milk etc. “In 1986, the World Health Assembly stated that ‘the practice being introduced in some countries of providing infants with specially formulated milks (so-called
‘follow-up milks’) is not necessary’” [5].

Many of us who breastfeed into toddlerhood are questioned if our child “still needs” to be breastfeeding. What they do not understand though is that breastfeeding is about so much more than just, “the milk”. It’s about so much more than just the nutritional values and immunological properties.It’s about mothering through breastfeeding. Whether it’s for my 3 day old, or 3 year old. It still means the same to me…and the same to my child.

[1] Macadam, PS, Dettwyler K.  A natural age of weaning. Breastfeeding: Biocultural Perspectives. Transaction Publishers 1995.
[2] UNICEF. Infant and young child feeding. 2009. http://www.childinfo.org/breastfeeding_countrydata.php
[3] UNICEF, WHO, UNESCO, UNFPA, UNDP, UNAIDS, WFP and the World Bank. Facts for Life 2010.
[4] Dewey KG. Nutrition, Growth, and Complementary Feeding of the Breastfed Infant. Pediatric Clinics of North American. February 2001;48(1).
[5] The World Health Organization. Information concerning the use and marketing of follow-up formula. 2013. http://www.who.int/nutrition/topics/WHO_brief_fufandcode_post_17July.pdf

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