If you happen to follow any breastfeeding pages on Facebook you may have come across this image (and this image) that was posted on August 9th by Breastfeeding Facebook page. Watching the outpour of love and support from all over the world has certainly been sight to behold. Of course, there have been some nay-sayers, mostly just people that either aren’t aware of the benefits of “full term” breastfeeding or people that have bought into the social stigma that breasts are for sexual pleasure. Of course, there are also a few nasty commenters that just wanted to cause a stir (like posting pictures of feces in a toilet and equating it to me breastfeeding my child – yep, that happened). But even with the negativity, it comes nowhere close to overshadowing the THOUSANDS of comments and likes that were posted in support. As of today there are over 1,000 comments, 8,000 likes and 500 shares. I’ve gotten emails from friends sharing that they saw the images on breastfeeding pages from the Philippines, UK, Australia, Vietnam and all over the world.
Over the last couple days I have spent some time reading over comments and doing my best to post some information, studies, statistics and evidence regarding breastfeeding past a year, breastfeeding while pregnant and tandem breastfeeding. Most of the information has been very well received, which made me think….Most people that are uncomfortable seeing a toddler nursing feel that way, not because they’re unsupportive people, but simply because they don’t understand. They were raised to believe that breastfeeding is only for infants. They don’t know the benefits and reasons. They don’t know about the medical organizations recommendations. They just don’t know. So I’m going to compile a little list of the common misconceptions and myths surrounding these topics using questions posted on these images. Hopefully by sharing a little information and helping people to understand WHY breastfeeding past a year is completely normal and very beneficial to both mom and baby.
1. That child is too old to be breastfeeding.
That is simply just not true, there really isn’t a set age when a child is “too old” to be breastfed. The biologically normal range for self weaning is between 2 and 7 and the child in the maternity image is only 2.5 years old. I understand that some people have an age in mind that they are comfortable breastfeeding until, but that is a personal preference and not something that needs to be applied to everyone. As a matter of fact, the World Health Organization recommends nursing until at least 2 years of age and beyond as long as is mutually desired by mother and child. The American Academy of Family Physicians states that weaning a child before two years of age leads to an increase in illness.
2. There is no benefit to breastfeeding past 6m.
While there is an enormous benefit to exclusively breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life, breastmilk doesn’t just cease to be beneficial beyond that. In fact, for the first year breastmilk is still providing the primary source of nutrition and beyond the first year a large percentage of nutrients that a toddler requires can be attained through breastfeeding. Breastmilk contains immunologic factors that help protect the baby. In fact, some immune factors in breastmilk that protect the baby against infection increase as the child gets older. After six months, breastmilk still contains protein, fat, and other nutritionally vital components.
This excerpt from the Facts for Life publication produced by UNICEF, WHO, UNESCO, UNFPA, UNDP, UNAIDS, WFP and the World Bank states that “If the vast majority of babies were exclusively fed breastmilk in their first six months of life – meaning only breastmilk and no other liquids or solids, not even water – it is estimated that the lives of at least 1.2 million children would be saved every year. If children continue to be breastfed up to two years and beyond, the health and development of millions of children would be greatly improved.
Infants who are not breastfed are at an increased risk of illness that can compromise their growth and raise the risk of death or disability. Breastfed babies receive protection from illnesses through the mother’s milk.”
“Breastmilk remains an important source of energy, protein and other nutrients such as vitamin A and iron, even when babies begin to consume additional foods after 6 months of age. Breastmilk helps protect a child against disease for as long as the child breastfeeds.
It is recommended that a mother continue to breastfeed her child up to two years and beyond – as long as she and the child wish to continue. Breastfeeding can comfort a child who is upset and is an important source of nourishment during a child’s illness.”
3. It’s not safe to breastfeed while pregnant.
In healthy, low risk pregnancies breastfeeding IS safe. The mild uterine contractions that can be caused by the release of oxtyocin during breastfeeding pose no risk to the unborn baby and in most cases do not increase the risk of having a miscarriage, or of going into premature labor. This is because the amount of oxytocin normally released during breastfeeding (the hormone that also stimulates labor) is not usually enough to cause the cervix to open before it is ready to do so.
4. Someone get that kid a cheeseburger, he’s too old for that!
This one always makes me laugh a little. It says something about the state of our society when a cheeseburger, of all things, is deemed more appropriate that human milk. The misconception that breastfed toddlers don’t eat table food is misguided and untrue.
5. Your child should be drinking real (cow) milk by now, not breastmilk.
This logic baffles me. Humans are the only species that drinks another species milk. Cow milk is still breastmilk…for cows. I, for one, enjoy a cold glass of cow milk with my oreos, but I am under no delusion that it’s more beneficial than human milk. Human milk is for humans, cow milk is for cows.
6. Kids need to stop breastfeeding when they start recognizing male/female body parts.
I understand that some people are uncomfortable nursing older children, and that is completely fine. It’s a personal decision based on your individual comfort level. However I do want to point out that by continuing to breastfeed my children (or expose my children to breastfeeding) past infancy I’m also teaching them that breasts are primarily for feeding children. I do know that there are other ways to teach this concept, but I don’t feel that recognizing male and female body parts is cause to wean. This belief is a result of our society’s over-sexualization of breasts.
7. If you want your child to drink breastmilk, pump and put it in a cup.
Expressing breastmilk is tedious, time consuming and can your reduce supply. Also some mothers who have perfectly good breastmilk supplies simply don’t respond to the pump. Additionally, pumping completely bypasses the communication between the child’s body and the mother’s body. When a child breastfeeds the mother’s body is able to determine what that child’s nutritional needs are, then adjust the make-up of the milk to suit those needs.
8. Breastfeeding too long will cause your son to be gay.
Yep, this was actually a comment that I came across while reading. First there is absolutely NO evidence that there is a correlation between homosexuality and extended breastfeeding. Second, the United States has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world and one of the largest homosexual populations. If extended breastfeeding caused homosexuality, wouldn’t we have a much lower homosexual population? Just a thought to ponder.
9. This child needs to eat real food.
To this I just say, “He does.” I wasn’t aware, but there is a rather common thought that children that breastfeed ONLY breastfeed. That’s simply not true. Breastfeeding supplies all nutrition until 6 months, then primary nutrition until 12m. For older children breastmilk provides supplemental nutrition and immunity.
10. Breastfeeding past a certain point is selfish and for the mother than the child.
First, anyone that says breastfeeding is selfish has never breastfed a toddler! Getting kicked in the face and having my breasts twisted, turned and kneaded like a ball of dough is not exactly something I enjoy. Often times I have wanted to quit, but I don’t because I know he’s not ready and it’s good for him. With that said, I am more than happy to reap the benefits of breastfeeding for myself as well. Like reduction of several types of cancer, Alzheimer’s and osteoporosis (the extra 500 calories a day I burn is nice too).
11. Children breastfed too long will become overly fixated on breasts.
There is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that children who are breastfed for extended periods develop an abnormal fixation with breasts (I’m pretty sure formula fed men love breasts just as much as breastfed men). What I really feel like is going on here is the over-sexualization of breasts in general. From the time we are young we are taught by society that breasts are private parts that are meant for sexual pleasure. While breasts are often times utilized during sex, their primary function is not sex. There are many body parts that can be used during sex that have other primary functions (hands and mouths for example). Breasts are not genitalia, their primary function is to feed offspring, not sexual pleasure. I personally am more than happy for my 4 sons to grow up knowing what breasts are really for and hopefully break the cycle of hyper-sexualization. In all honesty, I feel that NOT exposing older children to breastfeeding sets them up to view breasts as strictly sexual.
12. Extended breastfeeding makes kids overly dependent.
“The child who breastfeeds until he weans himself, is generally more independent, and, perhaps, more importantly, more secure in his independence. He has received comfort and security from the breast, until he is ready to make the step himself to stop. And when he makes that step himself, he knows he has achieved something, he knows he has moved ahead. It is a milestone.” (Excerpt from mommypotamus) Doesn’t it make more sense that forceful weaning would create a clingier child because they were forced to give up something they have known their entire life before they are ready?
13. That kid is still going to be breastfeeding in his teens!
I always get a good laugh at this one because it’s totally meant for shock value. While a teenager or adult would definitely benefit from consuming human milk, it’s nearly impossible for them to breastfeed. The biologically normal age range for self weaning is between 2 and 7 years old. This makes complete sense when we think about a child’s mouth. When children lose their “milk teeth” or “baby teeth” their adult teeth come in and they are no longer able to achieve a proper latch. Therefore, children will wean themselves, typically no later than the age their baby teeth start falling out, but often times before then (the average age range being between 2 and 4).