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?
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!
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