There are so many myths and stigmas surrounding breastfeeding toddlers. Why? Well that's a complicated answer left for much more space than one blog allows. Below is one woman’s (my dear friend, actually) musings on “extended” breastfeeding (really though, why don’t we just call it breastfeeding….that’s all it is!).
As my husband, in-laws, and I moved through the furniture store looking for a glider they wanted to gift me as a new mother, I carefully balanced my newborn in my arms while trying to fix her latch under a receiving blanket. My mother-in-law casually took the blanket and said, “you don’t need this.” It was the most liberating thing she could have done. I didn’t know this at the time, but breastfeeding would become the next thirteen years of my life. The sooner I learned to worry about the comfort of myself and my baby—the better.
There is evidence to suggest that as long as a breastfeeding relationship continues, it will provide nutrition as well as immunological protection.
But you know those studies they did that said that hugging is healthy? The breastfeeding studies were like that for me, confirming what I had already been witnessing and was my own common sense. Anthropological work has already told us that when natural weaning occurs it is closer to when the first molars begin to appear.
My best friend’s three-year-old recently had surgery. Her tonsils, and adenoids were removed, and she had an epiglottoplasty. Getting medicine into a groggy three-year-old is difficult, let alone keeping her hydrated. Since they still have nursing relationship, she is able to get food and liquid into her daughter’s body, all while feeding her antibodies and stem cells for quicker healing. Her recovery time was much shorter than it was supposed to be. Of course, this is anecdotal, but still, there it is.
The WHO and Unicef recommends breastfeeding to two years and beyond.
When my children turned two, they still needed to nurse. When a child is nursing at three, they are nursing less frequently. And by four and five, it isn’t often. But when my four-year-old had a violent stomach virus, holding them and feeding them from the milk I made just for them, kept them hydrated and helped them to recover quicker.
Something to consider is that extended breastfeeding (breastfeeding beyond one year) simply be called breastfeeding. When it is tagged “extended,” that eludes to there being a norm, and this falling outside of that norm.
This human-derived term creates a definitive line: once you pass day three-hundred and sixty-five, you are into the new territory and your baby’s body will be done with your milk, which will likewise become unusable. You may self-destruct.
When we went to the library and my preschooler would touch everything (no hyperbole here, folks) and put everything into their mouths. I was relaxed, knowing I would still be feeding them immunity. When they became sick with fever I could taker refuge in knowing that I was hydrating them, comforting them, and once again feeding antibodies to their immature immune systems.
Nursing an older child will coo them to sleep. It continues to nourish them. When they get hurt it calms them. While they are learning this big world, it centers them and tells them there is a safe place of refuge within their mother, still, and always. Our children grow, it is what they were designed to do. No one is going to nurse until they leave for college, and that equation is ridiculous. They will always wean, and when that day comes it is bittersweet.
I know many women who nursed beyond three and, often, they were made to feel ashamed—to hide. Our culture has decided they can name the ways in which a woman’s body works.
They have decided that breasts are innately sexual in nature. They grossly pervert the feeding of a human child when that is the crux of humanity’s existence! Just as you can be a mother and a lover—breasts can play a dual-role, as well.
Nursing my children into two, three, four, and five was an evolution of gift. Always changing, never looking the same, just like the breastmilk itself—altering to the needs of the situation. I say take the covers off. Take away the fear or need to hide while feeding your child. Don’t let the dictation of a woman’s body seep further into the clutches of this culture. Let women go where they will and let them feed their child where and how they like, and please let’s normalize the image of a woman feeding an infant as far into their future as they see fit, all while loving and supporting them. If you see a mama nursing, take her a water and tell her what a gift she is.