Breastfeeding Toddlers

This is my last post for the Keep Britain Breastfeeding Scavenger Hunt, which you can read about here, and the posts this week are based on the theme of 'Breastfeeding Beyond'. 

My first breastfeeding goal was to get to 6 months.  6 months seemed like a realistic achievement and the 'normal' time to stop.  But at 6 months I felt like everything was just starting to go really well so why stop now?! I definitely didn't feel ready to stop breastfeeding, the thought of a feed being his last was heartbreaking.  It would have felt cruel to make Eric stop breast feeding when it was so important to him.  I also felt like I didn't want to switch to formula milk when breast milk is so much healthier.  So my goal became to feed him until he was 1.  However, Eric's birthday came and went and all my other mummy friends had stopped breastfeeding, but I still didn't feel we were ready.  Breastfeeding had become so easy, natural and enjoyable, with Eric only feeding once in the morning and once at night.  I wondered if I 'should' stop, so I read the research and found out that the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends breastfeeding until "up to two years of age or beyond", so my next goal became to feed him until he was 2!

Eric is now approaching his 2nd birthday, and I don't plan to stop feeding him then.  My ideas about having breastfeeding 'goals' have mellowed.  I'm happy to feed him until he wants to stop, whether that's next week or when he's an older child.  I am more led by Eric and what seems best for him, and have now read lots about breastfeeding and think it's awesome.  I want to wait for the day when nursing isn't important to him anymore and he feels ready to wean himself.  Before I had a baby I had opinions on what age it was acceptable to breastfeed until and used to say that "when a child can ask for breast milk then you shouldn't breastfeed any more as it's weird" but I couldn't disagree with that more now.  It seems cruel to take something away from my son that is healthy and comforting just at the point when he has made so much effort in learning to communicate verbally with me that he needs or wants it.  Not forgetting that babies communicate their need for milk by rooting, crying, etc. so they are 'asking' for it too, just not with words yet.

I think many people's negative views on breastfeeding toddlers are tied in with our society's sexualisation of breasts.  We see pictures, videos and adverts of breasts in sexy bras, on page 3, on TV, in men's mags.  We judge and value women on their "nice rack".   Everything is about sex.  We don't see people breastfeeding that often.  Mothers are urged to be 'discreet' breastfeeding in public.  Pictures of mothers breastfeeding are banned on Facebook.  Breasts are about sex so people worry that breastfeeding a toddler is a sexual thing rather than a natural thing.  Breastfeeding isn't about sex! At any age! It's about love.  You breastfeed your child for their health, comfort, nutrition and it is NORMAL! It is what our breasts were designed for (and also the reason babies and toddlers have those cute full lips and upturned noses, perfectly designed for breastfeeding). Not because you want to get in their pants or because you get off on it or because your child fancies you.  Really, it is quite insulting that people might perceive extended breastfeeding as a sexual thing.  In other countries and cultures, breastfeeding toddlers really is seen as normal.  By writing about it,  taking part in this scavenger hunt, talking about it, being an advocate myself and sharing my experience etc., I hope I am doing my tiny part in normalising breastfeeding in our society.  

Other opinions on breastfeeding toddlers that I have heard or been told are that older children don't 'need' breast milk as their main source of nutrition and that it becomes for the mother's benefit and not the child's.  I think most mothers who have breastfed will agree with me when I say you cannot 'force' your child to breastfeed when they don't want to! Eric's gone off his milk a few times when he was ill, which was such a worry as I wanted him to be having fluids and all the health benefits of my milk to help him get better, but if they won't latch on they just will not latch on!

As for the health benefits of breastfeeding toddlers, there are many.  Breast milk might not be the main source of nutrition, but it's a pretty amazing extra.  Breastfed toddlers get ill less often and recover more quickly.  The same immunological factors that benefit newborn babies continue to make a huge positive difference to your child's immune system for as long as you breastfeed.  Studies have shown that many of the immune factors passed on through your breastmilk actually increase in concentration in the second year.  The risk of developing allergies remains lower.   Breastfed toddlers are less likely to become obese as an adult.  And there is improved cognitive development.  Breastfeeding also provides emotional comfort, security and a constant and consistent 'safe base' from which your child can explore, meaning that instead of making your child 'clingy' (another negative opinion on breastfeeding toddlers) it can actually make them more confident.

Some of the benefits for mum continue for as long as you breastfeed too, such as a reduction in the risk of osteoporosis and breast, ovarian, uterine and endometrial cancers.

The only downside I feel there is with breastfeeding a toddler is fielding other people's negative and usually uninformed opinions, and this is what I hope to change.

Breastfeeding Eric as a toddler has made me love him and love breastfeeding even more than in the first year, and the more I read about the benefits of continued breastfeeding the happier I am with our decision.

For more posts about 'breastfeeding beyond' check out:
Fi Peacock
Life, Love and Living With Boys
Tales From a Cornish Blonde
Attachment Mummy
Life Happens So Smile

And don't forget to check out Boobie Milk! Thank you so much to Karen at Boobie Milk for organising the Keep Britain Breastfeeding Scavenger Hunt to raise awareness for breastfeeding and for letting me be a part of it.  Writing blogs for the Scavenger Hunt as been quite emotional.   I've learned so much and it's cemented my beliefs about breastfeeding.  I've really enjoyed reading people's comments on my blog and reading other blogger's posts too, it's been amazing.  You could win a £50 voucher to spend at Boobie Milk as part of the Grand Prize, so don't forget to enter below. 

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  1. My goal too is self-weaning, no need to take away something that's so important to my daughter before she's ready!

  2. My son us 16months old and we are still breastfeeding. my goal is to do it for as long as he wants! We both love it so why stop?

  3. My goal is for my boys to self wean too, my eldest is now 4 years old and still going strong!

  4. My goal is to feed until my baby is ready to stop, my first fed till nearly 16 months and stopped because of the changes when I was pregnant so we will see with this one.

  5. I was very similar to you in my aims - I wanted to get to 6 months as that felt like a huge milestone to me!
    Then when we reached 6 months , i knew there was no way I could switch to formula as we both gain so much from our breastfeeding journey.

    My goal is to continue to breastfeed for as long as Rosie-Faith would like , I am am her main source of nutrition and comfort so I'm in no rush to end our special bond :-)

  6. Samantha Holloway28 June 2012 at 11:24

    My breast feeding goal is to feed my next child past the 6 month mark, hopefully reach 1 year mark.

  7. What a lovely post i agree that the only negative is other peoples views and their need to make them known.
    My goal is the same as it was with our little girl to take each day as it comes and to relax and allow her to decide when she is ready to stop :)

  8. People definitely don't talk enough about the benefits of breastfeeding toddlers. In fact, most people I speak to about this think that there simply aren't any. It's definitely important for people like you to write about this if even to let other mothers know that it's fine to continue. It's normal. It's even beneficial. My breastfeeding goal is to just go on and see where we end up. We've done a year and it's only just getting really good.

  9. My aim is to feed as long as my baby wants to feed for; however long that is (hopefully!) We're a month away from six months and although that does seem like a big achievement, neither of us are anywhere near ready to stop yet!

  10. Up until this afternoon I would've said 6 months, but having spent the afternoon/evening reading blog posts for breastfeeding awareness I'm motivated to feed for longer, I'm not sure how long, but I'm more inclined to go with the flow.

  11. I was wondering earlier what age I think it would be "weird" to still breastfeed. I too once thought when they can ask for it. I'm now hoping my daughter self weans before she is 6 (years)