• 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)
• The World Health Organization emphasizes the importance of nursing up to two years of age or beyond (WHO 1992, WHO 2002).
MOTHERS also benefit from nursing past infancy
• Breastfeeding reduces the risk of breast cancer. Studies have found a significant inverse association between duration of lactation and breast cancer risk.
• Breastfeeding reduces the risk of ovarian cancer.
• Breastfeeding reduces the risk of uterine cancer.
• Breastfeeding reduces the risk of endometrial cancer.
• Breastfeeding protects against osteoporosis. During lactation a mother may experience decreases of bone mineral. A nursing mom’s bone mineral density may be reduced in the whole body by 1 to 2 percent while she is still nursing. This is gained back, and bone mineral density may actually increase, when the baby is weaned from the breast. This is not dependent on additional calcium supplementation in the mother’s diet.
Now that R’s two, and nursing isn’t a necessary thing, we are really enjoying the experience together. It’s like eating a nice slice of chocolate cake after dinner. We laugh and play quiet games together, snuggle in bed or in a comfy chair, gaze into each other’s eyes and hold hands. She says, “these are MY nukins” with a satisfied look on her face.
I’m still often faced with scrutiny, disapproval and well-intentioned but unasked-for advice. I love my pals, and I even like my doctor (who as it turns out is not very nursing-friendly). So I’m going to be nice.
Breastfeeding is between the nursing mother and the child. No book, no doctor, no friends, no partner, no grandparents, no La Leche League, no nothin’ can take the place of my intuition around what is right in the nursing/weaning process. It may be hard to believe, but instincts still exist. When I don’t feel like nursing R, I don’t. When it feels right, I do it. When I’ve ignored my feelings and caved to pressure, it damaged a delicate balance. I have no alterior motives for nursing my daughter – no defensive “fuck you” to an anti-nursing society, no weird unmet emotional needs, no baggage. It just feels right.
The most recent pressure has been from our family doctor, a new doc at the community clinic. She’s a nice lady, very sweet with R (and gives a very gentle pap and pelvic, to boot). At R’s last visit it turned out she’d fallen below the 25th percentile for weight. The doc, upon hearing that I’m “STILL!” nursing R, said that breastfeeding is to blame for her “weight problem”, and that I should wean her completely, immediately.
What that means is that 75% of America’s increasingly overweight, cheeseburger-and-white-bread-eating children are heavier than my daughter. I’m sorry, but that just doesn’t ring my alarm bells. Yes, we’re putting more proteiny, good-fat foods in R’s diet, and I have changed things so R doesn’t nurse right before a meal – it felt ok to make that switch, so why not? But wean her completely? Why? Because breastmilk is stunting her growth? Sorry, not buying it. All my research (and I’ve done plenty) shows that the real weight concerns start when a kid falls below the 5th percentile. And even that is seen on a case-by-case basis – namely, does the kid come from small genetic stock? (None of the women on either side of R’s genetic tree are big – on the donor’s side, the women are tiny). So why the big scene? Could it be that the weight concern is a story to mask the real issue – that some folks are just plain uncomfortable with toddler nursing? Tough patooties. Suck it up, Doc.
The best thing my friends and family can do is support me. If you disagree with toddler nursing because you think it’s weird, or icky, or whatever, it would probably be best to keep that to yourself, because I’m going to do it anyway. If you have real concrete concerns, approach me with a respectfully-delivered question – “Blue, I have this concern. Why are you [insert concern here]?” Then be open-minded, and I’ll try to do the same. I value truth and honesty in relationships; I’d always rather you talk to me than let issues eat away at you. Not that I’m always the best at it, myself.
Big Happy Boobs,