The Case for Extended Breastfeeding

toddler

As I start to unwind for the night and try to get my little Baby H to sleep, I realized that part of our bedtime routine is rather uncommon for many families in American culture. Baby H, at almost 16 months old, is not quite a baby anymore. She’s an active toddler, into everything, and needing lots of love, interaction, and redirection during the day. Throughout the day and especially at night when she’s tired and ready for bed, she also still loves to nurse.

Are you familiar with extended breastfeeding?

Few would argue against the oft-quoted slogan that “breast is best” when feeding infants. Any amount of colostrum or breastmilk that an infant gets from the mother is a wonderful blessing to that little baby, even if formula has to be introduced later. Nursing in public has its proponents and opponents, but in my personal experience, breastfeeding my babies has been met with overall support.

Something seems to change when the baby turns one year old, though. Many moms enter breastfeeding with the goal of making it six weeks, three months, six months, or perhaps a year, but the concept of nursing past that one-year milestone is a foreign one to many families and care-givers. It might even be considered extreme to some. Why on earth would someone want to nurse a toddler?

toddler

I don’t know when nursing a toddler or young child became outside of the cultural norms for our industrialized society, but cultural anthropologist Kathy Dettwyler has done much research on what might be the natural weaning age for children. Her findings are based on the nursing habits of animals in relation to their physical development which are then proportionally compared to human development. All of her research indicates that the “natural” weaning age for human children, based upon their physical development, is (are you ready for this?) anywhere from 2.5 years to 7 (seven!) years old.

That sure makes nursing until at least two years old, as recommended by the World Health Organization, not so extreme, doesn’t it?

As someone who has nursed all four of our children past their first birthday, and is currently nursing a little toddler, I want to continue to look into extended breastfeeding with you over the next few posts. I believe that there are wonderful benefits available to moms and toddlers when nursing is allowed to continue, but there are also some unique challenges that go along. We’ll take a look at both the advantages and the challenges, and I’ll also share my personal experience in nursing toddlers.

I hope that you’ll continue to join me for more on extended breastfeeding!

Linked up at: Modest Monday, The Better Mom, Mama Moments, Raising Arrows, Teach Me Tuesday, Domestically Divine Tuesday, Titus 2sday, Tuesday Baby Link Up, Healthy 2day Wednesday, Encourage One Another, Homemaking Link Up, Wise Woman Link Up

9 comments on “The Case for Extended Breastfeeding

  1. [...] unwinding for the night. Miss H isn’t a little infant swaddled up, though. As I mentioned in the last post, she’s a busy toddler who is still benefiting from [...]

  2. Jamie H says:

    It is definitely difficult to breastfeed past a year, since so many people look down on it. I nursed my daughter until she was 18 months. 2 weeks later, my son was born. I nursed him until he was 19 months. It was hard to have people say things to me that basically insinuated that I was some kind of pervert for nursing for so long! Which is so ridiculous! I hope more women will realize that extended breastfeeding is NORMAL- that there’s nothing wrong with it! Thanks for your post… I stopped by from Domestically Divine.

  3. Beth says:

    I’m also breastfeeding a toddler–it’s mad to me how everyone says “Breast is best” until the moment your baby turns one, and then all of the sudden you get the stink eye every time you nurse. I even had a nurse tell me breastfeeding might put my toddler at risk for anemia (soooo not the case). Schizophrenic culture, I’m tellin’ ya.
    Hey, in case you need some snarky responses to the breastfeeding-haters, I wrote up a post with mine: http://www.morefunmom.com/2013/03/7-responses-to-omg-youre-still.html

    Also (feel like this comment is maybe a little ADD, sorry about that), I found you through Time Warp Wife. Nice to meetcha!

  4. Hopped over here through Raising Homemakers…I am also feeding my little one who is 16 months old. Loved the article.

  5. [...] the comments I’ve received with the extended breastfeeding posts! We’ve had a little introduction, a brief look at the benefits, and a fun look at the challenges. Today I want to share my personal [...]

  6. Thanks so much for sharing with The Tuesday Baby Link Up! I nursed my son for 19 months until I lost my milk while pregnant with my daughter. My baby girl is currently 10 months, and I’m sure we’ll be nursing for quite some time.

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