Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Breastfeeding a Toddler

"I'm going to wean him. Any day now." This is what I keep telling myself and others. Yet I just can't bring myself to do it yet. My son, Noah, is 20 and a half months, and yes, I am still on the fence about whether I want to quit. I can hear the disappointed groans of a few family members, and maybe even a few friends. And I am completely empathetic to your view. In fact, in the early days of breastfeeding Noah, I would have thought it sick to carry on this long. Yet, time keeps going by, and I feel unmotivated and frightened to break Noah of a habit that has been such a central, consistent part of his life, when he is still so attached to it, so to speak. I looked into the research about nursing a toddler, and decided to make a pros and cons list of continuing to breastfeed. Other mothers who are in the same boat may benefit from this information, and people who don't agree with it could in the very least see the positive aspects of it.

CONS to Breastfeeding a Toddler

  • It's a little weird when you are sitting in a chair, and your son or daughter can basically stand up next to you to nurse.
  • It's embarassing when you are in public and your kid is having a meltdown, screaming "BOOB!"
  • A toddler often comes off the breast to look around, talk, laugh, or sing a song, leaving your nipple exposed to the world, and leaving everyone feeling a little awkward.
  • "Breastfeeding takes a lot of energy for your body to make milk, so the mother can often feel quite fatigued."
  • Weaning is one issue that some extended breastfeeders find extremely challenging. While some people believe that weaning an older toddler is easier than weaning a year-old infant (because you can reason with an older toddler), others find that because of the tenacity of an older toddler, weaning leads to tears and frustration on both sides.

PROS to Breastfeeding a Toddler
  • even if your toddler is not eating as balanced and healthy a diet as you would like, your milk can fill those nutritional gaps.
  • Per the World Health Organization, "a modest increase in breastfeeding rates could prevent up to 10% of all deaths of children under five: Breastfeeding plays an essential and sometimes underestimated role in the treatment and prevention of childhood illness."
  • "...breastfeeding makes the toddler dependent? Don’t believe it. The child who breastfeeds until he weans himself (usually from 2 to 4 years), is generally more independent, and, perhaps more importantly, more secure in his independence."
  • "Extensive research on the relationship between cognitive achievement (IQ scores, grades in school) and breastfeeding has shown the greatest gains for those children breastfed the longest."
  • "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)
  • "Mothers also benefit from extended nursing. You continue to benefit from the hormones of breastfeeding. The "mothering hormone," prolactin, relaxes you, while oxytocin stimulates loving , nurturing behavior. As mothers of nursing toddlers know, this can be very important to your mental health and well-being. Life with a toddler is not always easy! You also benefit from the intimacy that nursing provides. Taking time out of a busy day to cuddle is as important to moms as it is to their babies...Breastfeeding also provides protection against these diseases:
    ovarian cancer (Schneider AP, NE J Med, 1987)
    uterine cancer (Brock KE, Med J Australia, 1989)
    endometrial cancer (Petterson B et al, Acta Obstet Gynecol Scand, 1986)
    osteoporosis (Blaauw R et al, SAMJ 1994). Breastfeeding also has been shown to decrease insulin requirements in diabetic women (Davies HA, British Med J, 1989)."

      Please do not read the above information as a condemnation of mothers who do NOT breastfeed. Every mother has the right to choose if and for how long she nurses. Furthermore, we all know that the fundamental factor in child-rearing success is love, above all else. But why does it feel so unnacceptable to breastfeed a toddler when the above information clearly shows how acceptable it is? Blame it on our North American culture. (Though my second post about Paris would have one believe that this is a European view as well!) "Duration of breastfeeding is affected by all aspects of our culture. Biologically and historically and in most cultures, sustained breastfeeding is normal."  
          Well, there you go. That is enough for me. I'm going to put it off for another day...but when I think about weaning Noah now, instead of "Any day now", I say "Not Today".


        1. I looked for your email...but couldn't find one, so I'll comment here! CRAZY WEIRD coincidences. We are also both 35 years old w/ 20 month olds too. How bizarre is that! Thanks for connecting with me. Are you on Facebook?

        2. Rock on Charla. As a fellow extended bf'er who's intent was to do so, I just did what felt good at the time. As a parent thats all we have to go on!
          And as for the whole nursing in public..yeah its a pain when your nipple is being pulled in 3 different directions, as well as irritating when someone is demanding BOOB or MILK or NUMS. That it not about BFing, its about manners. I tell ya, after many crazy days we spent lots of time creating our own "milk manners" because those things you mentioned as cons are really bothersome to me too.
          Keep up the great work...motherhood is one hell of a ride.
          Your buddy,
          Steph (Ross) Alouche

        3. Thanks, Steph! Yeah, when he gets more language I'll be asking you for advice on how to calm the situation down! He gets so upset if he doesn't get it right away! I guess we'll work on delayed gratification, and asking nicely. Thanks for visiting my blog! :)

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        5. On the positive side... I breastfed both of my daughters so long that I'm embarrassed to admit how long. They are now 27 and 20, and we have always had the most amazing bond. They both have beautifully formed lips as well, which I, who was not breastfed, do not have. They are insanely healthy, well adjusted, sweet young women. I have no regrets whatsoever!