Perceptions and benefits of extended breastfeeding

breastfeeding toddler

As I mentioned in a previous post, even though it is biologically normal to feed babies for two and a half to seven years, only nine percent of mothers are still breastfeeding their babies at eighteen months of age in the U.S.  I could not find any statistics about breastfeeding in the U.S. beyond eighteen months, most likely because the numbers are too insignificant to report.  So why do the majority of mothers quit breastfeeding their babies?  A large portion of the reason may be because public opinion of extended breastfeeding is quite negative.  Before I became pregnant and researched breastfeeding, I even thought it was “icky” to breastfeed past a year.  Why do Americans think this way?

Perhaps Americans have become so ingrained in the mantra that beasts are sexual objects only.  There is a reason men are attracted to breasts.  When a man stimulates a woman’s nipples, it releases oxytocin, which helps the woman bond with him.  That is the same mechanism that helps a woman bond with her baby during breastfeeding.  So I guess breastfeeding could be thought of as sexual in nature.  But, in conclusively determining if breasts are sexual in nature (at least the way Americans think about them) we must first consider that the primary function of mammary glands in all mammals is for feeding their babies.  Man’s attraction to breasts are only secondary.  The kind of love a woman feels for her baby is very different, and even stronger.  Or at least in my experience, that is true.

The law in most states allows women to breastfeed her baby wherever she is authorized to be.  And yet, it is still frowned upon, especially for older babies.  The laws regarding breastfeeding are rarely enforced in the states they exist.  I had a conversation with my sister yesterday where she reported having been to a church with a special room dedicated to breastfeeding mothers so that the mothers could avoid accidentally arousing the men.  I find the church’s insinuations to be ridiculous.  Even baby Jesus was breastfed!  Do Americans think that once babies can walk and talk that it is inappropriate to breastfeed because breasts are sexual objects and we must not “taint the innocence of the child”?  I cannot tell you how many times I have heard the phrase “once they can ask for it, they shouldn’t have it.”  If more women breastfed publicly, then it would become normalized and people would recognize what those blobs of tissue on a woman’s chest are really for (feeding babies)!

Even pediatricians are not excluded from the ignorance surrounding extended breastfeeding.  Some pediatricians push for consumption of cow’s milk for the reason of adding more weight to the baby.  Human breast milk has a much higher fat content than that of cow’s milk, especially after the first year.  Besides, it is common for cow’s milk to constipate, irritate, and become an allergen for babies who are introduced to it earlier in life (before or at one year of age) than babies who are introduced later.

Research has shown that the benefits of extended breastfeeding are:

1.  Statistically significant tendencies for conduct disorder scores to decline with increasing duration of breastfeeding for the child.

2.  Fewer illnesses, illnesses of shorter duration, and lower mortality rates for the child.

3.  Breastfeeding continues to be a valuable source of nutrition for as long as breastfeeding continues.

4.  IQ scores and grades in school increase proportionately to the time breastfed.

5.  Extended breastfeeding reduces a mother’s risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, uterine cancer, endometrial cancer, osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and cardiovascular disease.

The WHO (World Health Organization) recommends breastfeeding for at least the first two years of life, and longer if both the baby and mother are willing.  Also, breastfeeding past the first year is more pleasant than the previous year, in my experience. Breastfeeding toddlers can be silly, funny, cute, and just plain entertaining.  My fourteen month old son, Monkey Man, has been learning to share things with me for a couple months now.  Yesterday, my little Monkey Man decided it would be nice of him to share “his boobies” with me. He tried to pull my breast towards my face and sounded off his grunt that means “I want”.  I pretended to have some with him, and he started smiling.  It is just so darn cute!   He also performs what I refer to as “booby gymnastics” – he rolls, jumps, climbs, and flips, all while still remaining latched on.  Also, breastfeeding is a cure-all for Monkey Man.  If he needs to take a nap, has a “boo-boo”, or is hungry or thirsty when I have forgotten to bring a snack or water, I offer him my breast and he is instantly happy again!

I hope more mothers breastfeed their toddlers in public to make an effort to normalize extended breastfeeding.  I have yet to read or hear of a truly negative aspect of extended breastfeeding.  If the public were more accepting of extended breastfeeding, perhaps more mothers and babies can be exposed to all the benefits, as well as the laughter inducing toddler nursling antics.

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4 thoughts on “Perceptions and benefits of extended breastfeeding

  1. I love your post! I am nursing my daughter who is 27 mos. If we are out in public and she needs it, I don’t hesitate. She is my second baby, my first was nursed often in public as well. I share the same attitude, if we treat it normally-it becomes more and more normal. Woo hoo for extended bfing!

  2. Pingback: Self-imposed ignorance in America | My Mothering Journey

  3. Pingback: Weaning | My Mothering Journey

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