Everyone seems to be wondering why I am breastfeeding past age two. I sometimes wonder the same, considering the acrobatics of getting kicked hard in the mouth by a feeding toddler, how many times she has embarrassed me when she gets bored in public gatherings with cries of “Mum nyonyo; mum the other one,”, how voracious her feeding can be even when she has sucked me dry and how poor she is at eating food.
The other day at the paediatrician’s office, Little Missy was crying for nyonyo and the doctor wondered aloud, “Is she getting any nutrition from that?” People keep asking me with a look of shock,” You are still breastfeeding! How old is she?”
Even her daddy, if he could have his way, the girl would have kissed the boob good bye the night before she turned two.
But I am not quite there yet when it comes to weaning. For starters, she is super attached to nyonyo. I feel like a mean parent taking away something she really loves if it has no negative consequences just because people don’t approve. You should see the look on her face when she tells me, “Mami ni tamu!”
Secondly breastfeeding has always been a quick solver of toddler problems, from sleepiness, to tantrums, pain, to hurt feelings and hunger. I’m afraid of losing my soother and bribery tool.
Third I enjoy breastfeeding. Except for those times when she is crying unstoppably for it in church or kicking my shin out in enjoyment, I love that I can feed my child and comfort her in a way that only I can. This has always been one of my little pleasures, mummy-child time, especially after I have been away from home all day long.
Fourth, my daughter initialised all her milestones, from eating to crawling, walking, talking, potty training … I am starting to wonder if we could experiment with self weaning. Is there a likelihood she will be in Class Three and still craving nyonyo?
Fifth, we have had times of illness, even as recently as last week, when for days she did not allow a spoon close to her mouth, not even for water. I was grateful that the breast could provide hydration, antibodies and a little bit of nutrition to keep her looking bright despite sickness.
But two-year-olds are such aggressive breastfeeders that weaning is bound to happen sooner rather than later.
But before we get there psychologically, research does seem to indicate benefits of breastfeeding past the age of two. Lactation specialist Kelly Mom quotes research that indicates that breastfeeding continues to be a valuable source of nutrition and disease protection for as long as it continues. So yea doc, she is getting something nutritionally.
Kelly Mom also notes that breastfed toddlers aged between one and three have fewer illnesses, illnesses of shorter duration and lower mortality rates. “Breastfeeding plays an essential and sometimes underestimated role in the treatment and prevention of childhood illness. Breastfeeding has shown the greatest gains for those children breastfed the longest,” she says.
On the flip side, short of being accused of pulling a publicity stunt, researchers says late nursing increases the risk of severe early tooth decay.
Some other people claim children who are breastfed for too long tend to become self-interested and demanding because they are not used to boundaries [You should see the look on my face]. That and that moms who breastfeed for too long are self-indulgent and possibly narcissistic, who are seeking attention and purpose through their children.
A writer on Daily Mail, UK, said: “Breastfeeding a child old enough to walk over to his mother and open her shirt creates a confusing message about personal boundaries and our bodies.”
Dr Joan Meek, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says that after a year, when solid foods are introduced, breast-feeding is less important from a nutritional standpoint, but “there is no psychological harm and no reason to stop.”
Kendall-Tackett, who is co-author of the book, “Breastfeeding Made Simple,” said that worldwide, the typical age for weaning is 2.5 to 3 years, but some mothers continue past 6 or 7.
“Some kids need it longer, and it’s OK,” she said.
Jen Davis in an article for lactation support group La Leche League International says, “Non human primate data suggests that human children are designed to receive all the benefits of breast milk and breastfeeding for an absolute minimum of two and a half years, and an apparent upper limit of around seven years.”
“Many toddlers are dependent on a bottle, pacifier, thumb, or blanket, and this is quite accepted, but a mother who is nursing a toddler may have to deal with veiled or point-blank suggestions that her child is too old for it,” she adds.
In 2008 the American Academy of Family Physicians said this in their position paper:
It has been estimated that a natural weaning age for humans is between two and seven years. Family physicians should be knowledgeable regarding the ongoing benefits to the child of extended breastfeeding, including continued immune protection, better social adjustment and having a sustainable food source in times of emergency. The longer women breastfeed, the greater the decrease in their risk of breast cancer. There is no evidence that extended breastfeeding is harmful to mother or child.
In the hopes that I might make a genius, I will continue breastfeeding just a bit longer. [Research here shows strong evidence of a causal effect of breastfeeding on IQ, although the magnitude of this effect seems to be modest.] May be we will even make it to the cover of a magazine for breastfeeding too long.