Anyone who has ever breastfed a baby past 6 months has probably heard this statement at least once. Probably more than once. One of the most common questions I get is “how long should I breastfeed?” Today, a wonderful breastfeeding mom asked me about benefits to breastfeeding past 15 months, so I thought I might add my 2 cents to this debate.
Whenever anyone asks about breastfeeding duration, I usually give them my stock response, which is to quote the AAP and WHO, both organizations recommending breastfeeding past 1 year. If I really feel like adding some shock value to the conversation, I mention that around the world, breastfeeding duration is much higher, and it’s not uncommon to have a toddler breastfeeding to age 4, 5 or 6. Unfortunately, we are not as accustomed to extended breastfeeding here in the United States, and when people ask me about it, it’s usually because they want to know how long they are “expected” to breastfeed their baby. One common reaction is “but they have teeth!” Yes, babies eventually get teeth. Does that mean we shouldn’t feed them? They still need to eat too.
I remember when my first baby had just turned 6 months. My mother stated (in that motherly way she has) “ok, it’s been 6 months, that’s enough now”. Of course I continued to breastfeed. When my son self-weaned at 14 months, I was crushed. I wasn’t ready yet. My mom was more than ready, and told me “he’s over a year, get over yourself”. I did not come from a family where breastfeeding was the norm. Really, this is what it comes down to. If it’s something you are used to seeing, you wouldn’t question it.
The benefits of breastfeeding beyond a year are abundant. Health benefits for the active, growing toddler and increased benefits for the breastfeeding mom as well. As if this weren’t enough, it really is between mom and baby, not mom, baby and society. Women should not feel uncomfortable or shunned, and made to feel like they are doing something wrong if they continue to breastfeed after the first year. I think we all remember the Time magazine cover from last year (I’m including the link just in case you don’t). http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/10/jamie-lynne-grumet-breastfeeding-time-magazine-cover_n_1506096.html. The funny thing is that this article in Time wasn’t even about breastfeeding, but about attachment parenting, and society was going nuts. Even my husband had to defend me and my work to some of his co workers who were astounded that a mother would still be breastfeeding at the age of 3.
So we can make this simple. Extended breastfeeding is beneficial to both mother and baby, and definitely encouraged by lactation consultants everywhere. It’s up to you, brave and devoted mommas, to normalize this already normal behavior. I’m including a link to a great article outlining the benefits of extended breastfeeding, just in case anyone needs the ammo to back them up. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/extended-breastfeeding/MY02128
And that is my 2 cents (or maybe a little more).