Breastfeeding is a controversial topic. I will admit that I participated in the controversy before getting pregnant.
A couple of years ago, I saw a mother allow her two-year-old lift up her shirt and feed on the playground. I was appalled, not by the public feeding – I was all for normalizing breastfeeding, but at the age of the child and the perceived lack of discipline on the mother’s part. I swore I would never allow my child to breastfeed past a certain age, especially in public.
And then I started doing some research on the matter.
I will admit this before going further: I completely changed my mind on the matter and became more open to the idea of breastfeeding a child past the recommended 6-12 months and didn’t care when the feeding happened. If a child is hungry or in need of comfort and I wasn’t bothering anyone, then I will take care of my child.
My (old) Personal Hangups
I hold many Western notions closely in judgment for a lot of things, especially concepts that make me seem prudish. I blame growing up in New England. Before getting pregnant, breastfeeding was right up there.
When I saw women breastfeeding toddlers or read articles about women who extreme breastfed, I thought something Oedipal was going on, particular mothers of boys. It seemed inappropriate to be breastfeeding a child, a son no less, past a certain age where there was the potential for them to remember and cause psychological issues.
I thought that mothers were setting their children up for a lifetime of emotional stunting because breastfeeding past the age of one was massively inappropriate. I kept my thoughts to myself whenever I encountered a stranger breastfeeding, but I may have made faces and commented out of earshot to Ash or a companion.
A Shift in Perspective
I wish I could say my perspective changed when I got pregnant.
I was 7-8 months pregnant when the gravity of the situation really sunk in that I realized all my previous notions were incorrect and downright prudish. I had no right to be judgmental of what decisions other women made for their children, especially if I wanted people to not be judgemental of my decisions.
I know that’s asking the impossible when it comes to parenting, but one can always hope.
Researching the matter I found out some interesting information that informed my decision to breastfeed and to continue breastfeeding until about 36-months of age:
- While the AAP recommends up to 12-months, the WHO recommends up to 36-months
- Breastmilk helps provide passive immunity while building up a child’s immune system
- The median age for breastfed children in the rest of the world is 3-4 years old
- Breastfeeding reduces the chances of childhood obesity
Granted, there are new studies that come out all the time that refute certain benefits, while follow-up studies refute the previously refuted benefits.
Basically, the short answer is this: you may be doing your child good in extending breastfeeding, but we don’t definitively know if it makes a difference at this point in time. My confirmation bias says that I am currently doing no harm by extending his breastfeeding past the age of one.
My Personal Experience
Because this is my personal experience it is not a universal truth, therefore I am not saying it’s right or wrong. I am providing about what currently working for me.
My personal experience with the matter is this: Jai does not need a pacifier nor his thumb when he is upset. Sometimes he comes to me to nurse when he’s hurt himself or having a rough emotional moment, but as he’s gotten older he’s turned to “nook” less and less. He’ll still his morning and evening feedings because it’s part of our routine, but the frequency throughout the day has dropped precipitously.
A criticism for extended breastfeeding is the exact opposite of my experience: children who breastfeed past one are emotionally stunted because they cannot self-soothe. This may be true for other parents and other children with personalities different from Jai, but not in my case. I have found that he is able to soothe himself when he hurts or it only takes a hug to reassure him instead of nursing.
I have also found that he gets sick less and we have yet (knocks on wood) to experience an ear infection. I’ve brought him to the pediatrician twice out of concern for an ear infection, but both times his ears were perfectly clear. We had a nasty cold making its way through the house recently, but he seemed to have recovered faster than Ash or myself because he was getting my antibodies (fortunately I got the cold first so I had a head start in making them).
I am not looking forward to the day he no longer gets my antibodies and we have to face colds on our own.
All of these points may be related more to Jai’s personality and how we handle his moments of stress outside of breastfeeding; so there may not be any correlation between my breastfeeding Jai and these points. It’s the placebo effect: if it seems like its working, then who am I to change it?
Compromise for the Sake of Sanity
As Jai gets older, my desire to nurse him in public wanes. If I feel he really needs to nurse, I will find a corner in a room and face away from as many people as possible to avoid exposing myself or making people feel uncomfortable. If it’s in a space where I cannot do this, I will cover us up with a scarf.
I am not ashamed of breastfeeding in public. I am a huge supporter of normalizing breastfeeding.
I am concerned about Jai and my safety, both physically and emotionally. I do not want to expose him to a stranger’s attitude towards me because they feel uncomfortable with what I am doing, even if it’s legal and protected. It’s about finding battles worth the fight and for me, breastfeeding is not one of them.
If I can make my way out to my car or distract him long enough until we are in a location where I can nurse undisturbed, then that’s what I do. I admire and respect mothers who feel comfortable standing up for their right to breastfeed in public and until whatever age they want, but I find that the stress of the whole situation is not worth compromising my personal health.
I anticipate being ready to finish at 36-months regardless of whether he’s self-weaned or when a second baby joins the fold (whichever happens, if it happens, first). I had planned on going for as long as he was needing nursing, but even I will have my limits and I think 36-months is mine. Given that it seems like he’s needing me less and less, he may self-wean by 26-months.
Is it for You?
Like with any sort of parenting concepts, the answer is up to you. If you have the time, energy, wherewithal to feed beyond the recommended 6 months, then it may be for you. If you are struggling or the concept is too much, then don’t feed past the point you are comfortable.
I am not personally recommending it to anyone, only because it is a deeply personal and intimate decision between a mother and her child. I am happy that I have chosen to extend breastfeeding, but that is because it is something I feel comfortable with doing.
How long did you breastfeed or plan to breastfeed? Did it work out well for you or was it more trouble than it was worth? Post your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.
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