*This post is an expression of my personal belief in child-led weaning. This post is not meant to criticize the mother who wasn't able to breastfeed or who chose to stop but may have continued if she'd only received adequate support from her society/family/job/doctor.
I'm getting ready. Preparing for the criticism.
I can already handle The Anti Public Breastfeeding Look. I wrote about how pro- public breastfeeding I am in one of last winter's posts and since then I've developed an even deeper appreciation for my ability to feed my child when we're out and about, uncovered and unapologetic. And I'm happy that I have some legal protection to do so in my area (it would be scarier if I didn't and I'd probably feel less confident).
So no, the raised eyebrows and concerned comments I'm expecting aren't specifically about public breastfeeding, they're going to be about how I'm still breastfeeding. Still. As though it's dragging on and on.
As current American main-stream opinion has it, if there's anything worse than breastfeeding your baby in public it's breastfeeding your toddler anywhere at all.
It can be difficult for me to use words to express the deepening well of frustration I feel about our society's anti-child, anti-woman blind reliance on "progressive" ideas of wellness and independence. It would be easier to scream and flail about angrily. But I am trying to model good behavior for my daughter and need to choose words over a fit.
So here are my words.
For all the huffing and puffing you may hear from those anti-breastfeeding folk, breastfeeding your child beyond her first year has numerous benefits for both mother and child:
Nursing my toddler is approved by "experts"
Note: I don't agree that we as parents should just buy everything "the experts" say, hook-line-and-sinker, but for those who like to see what The Establishment says:
- The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that "Breastfeeding should be continued for at least the first year of life and beyond for as long as mutually desired by mother and child... Increased duration of breastfeeding confers significant health and developmental benefits for the child and the mother... There is no upper limit to the duration of breastfeeding and no evidence of psychologic or developmental harm from breastfeeding into the third year of life or longer." (AAP 2005)
- The American Academy of Family Physicians recommends that breastfeeding continue throughout the first year of life and that "Breastfeeding beyond the first year offers considerable benefits to both mother and child, and should continue as long as mutually desired." They also note that "If the child is younger than two years of age, the child is at increased risk of illness if weaned." (AAFP 2001)
- A US Surgeon General has stated that it is a lucky baby who continues to nurse until age two. (Novello 1990)
- The World Health Organization emphasizes the importance of nursing up to two years of age or beyond (WHO 1992, WHO 2002).
- Research by Katherine A. Dettwyler, PhD shows that 2.5 to 7.0 years of nursing is what our children have been designed to expect (Dettwyler 1995). http://www.kathydettwyler.org/detwean.html
Nursing my toddler is good for her social- and self-development
- “And breastfeeding makes the toddler dependent? Don’t believe it. The child who breastfeeds until he weans himself (usually from 2 to 4 years), is generally more independent, and, perhaps, more importantly, more secure in his independence. He has received comfort and security from the breast, until he is ready to make the step himself to stop. And when he makes that step himself, he knows he has achieved something, he knows he has moved ahead. It is a milestone in his life. ~Dr. Jack Newman, world-renown breastfeeding expert in Toronto. www.breastfeeding.com/all_about/faq_bf_toddler.html
- "Research reports on the psychological aspects of nursing are scarce. One study that dealt specifically with babies nursed longer than a year showed a significant link between the duration of nursing and mothers' and teachers' ratings of social adjustment in six- to eight-year-old children (Ferguson et al, 1987). In the words of the researchers, 'There are statistically significant tendencies for conduct disorder scores to decline with increasing duration of breastfeeding.'" Sally Kneidel in "Nursing Beyond One Year" (New Beginnings, Vol. 6 No. 4, July-August 1990, pp. 99-103.
- According to Elizabeth N. Baldwin, Esq. in "Extended Breastfeeding and the Law":
"Breastfeeding is a warm and loving way to meet the needs of toddlers and young children. It not only perks them up and energizes them; it also soothes the frustrations, bumps and bruises, and daily stresses of early childhood. In addition, nursing past infancy helps little ones make a gradual transition to childhood."
- Baldwin continues: "Meeting a child's dependency needs is the key to helping that child achieve independence. And children outgrow these needs according to their own unique timetable." Children who achieve independence at their own pace are more secure in that independence then children forced into independence prematurely.
Nursing my toddler is healthy for me
- "The protective effects of breastfeeding over a long period of time have been well documented. Studies have shown mothers who breastfeed past a child's second birthday are half as likely to develop the disease as those who stop at 12 months... 'Because the evidence that breast-feeding reduces breast cancer risk is convincing, we recommend women should breast-feed exclusively for six months and then continue with complementary feeding after that. Reducing your breast cancer risk by about five per cent might not sound like a big difference but the longer you breastfeed for, the more you will reduce your risk.'" http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/3097619/Breast-feeding-cuts-cancer-risk-in-mothers.html
- "A study of Chinese women found that their breast cancer incidence dropped by 63% when they breastfed for six years. Though that tends to be longer than most choose to do so, your reduced risk can be determined by the cumulative amount of time you've spent breastfeeding over the course of your life." http://breastcancer.about.com/od/riskfactorsindetail/a/breastfd_prevnt.htm
- "The World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) found in a study that breastfeeding lowers the risk of breast cancer by 4.3 percent for every year of breastfeeding." http://www.momtobedepot.com/guest-authors/breastfeeding-reduces-risk-breast-cancer-women
- Breastfeeding also provides protection against:
ovarian cancer (Schneider AP, NE J Med, 1987)
uterine cancer (Brock KE, Med J Australia, 1989)
endometrial cancer (Petterson B et al, Acta Obstet Gynecol Scand, 1986)
osteoporosis (Blaauw R et al, SAMJ 1994).
Nursing my toddler is healthy for herBreastfeeding also has been shown to decrease insulin requirements in diabetic women (Davies HA, British Med J, 1989).
The benefits to the child don't suddenly cease because she's walking and talking!
- Breastmilk is, after all, milk. Even after six months, it still contains protein, fat, and other nutritionally important and appropriate elements which babies and children need. Breastmilk still contains immunologic factors which help protect the baby. In fact, some immune factors in breastmilk which protect the baby against infection are present in greater amounts in the second year of life than in the first. This is, of course, as it should be since children older than a year are generally exposed to more infection. Breastmilk still contains factors which help the immune system to mature and which help the brain, gut, and other organs to develop and mature. [sorry, I lost my link to this quote! I'll search around for it...]
Nursing my toddler is convenient for my family
- I can nurse anywhere, anytime. There's not as great of a need for me to carry crackers, sippy cups or other snacks with us on quick about-town trips; if my toddler gets hungry, she can have some milk!
- Breastfed children in daycare have fewer and less severe infections than children who are not breastfeeding. Thus, the parents of a breastfed toddler are less likely to have to miss work to care for their sick child than parents of a weaned child.
- Toddlers who breastfeed at night are less likely to be dependent upon soothers at bedtimes (i.e., pacifiers, blankets, stuffed animals). If you have Mama, you're ready for bed, as opposed to a soother which if lost or damaged could result in a bedtime meltdown.
- Breastfeeding can save you thousands of dollars a year, depending on the brand of formula or type of milk products that you would otherwise need to provide. A mother, eating her own food and producing milk for a child, is a more efficient converter of energy than a glass of milk gathered, trucked-in, and purchased at the grocery store. And talk about eating locally!
I cherish our moments of breastfeeding. My daughter has changed so much this past year and will continue to develop her little self and I'm thankful to have breastfeeding sessions during which we can both calm down, relax, connect, and just be mother and child. I want to continue to provide her with all the comfort she needs to grow into a self assured, healthy child for as long as she thinks it's necessary. Are there other ways of keeping the bond and comforting and encouraging a child? Of course. But this way works for us and I see no reason to rush to something different. Not as long as we're both happy with how things are.
Does all the above mean I'll be nursing Uli until she enters kindergarten? I don't know. Honestly. Probably not. I don't think my husband would be thrilled with that and his wishes are something that I take into account for our family. And I imagine we'll have a second child by that time, and since nursing during pregnancy doesn't work for everyone I can't say for certain whether we'd be forced to nurse at that time or whether we'd continue on and be tandem nursing after that. I just don't know. But that's kind of the point. I'm not going to be locked into some arbitrary time line that society has concocted. I will continue to provide milk and enjoy nursing until the milk stops or nursing is no longer enjoyable for one of us. I can't say when that will be. But it's not now. It's not going to end just because Uli is a toddler. I trust that she'll let me know when it's time to stop. Until then, we will enjoy being mama and nursling.
While I haven't yet read them, these three books are on my To-Read list this year:
Breastfeeding: Biocultural Perspectives (I've heard this one is academically oriented)
How Weaning Happens by Dianne Bengson
Mothering Your Nursing Toddler by Norma Bumgarner
I'd love to your thoughts about the books if you're familiar with them!