If you’re reading this, you probably have a woman in your life that is, you guessed it, still nursing her child (or children). Whether she shared this article with you or you struck out on your own in search of information, welcome! We’re glad you’re here.
We’re going to do this, together
Depending on your relationship with the mother in question, you might experience a wide range of emotions about her continuing to breastfeed past her child(ren)’s first birthday. It seems that once a child has reached this milestone, they are no longer just a “baby,” they become somewhat of a real person. The fact that there is a person still latching on to your sister’s/ daughter’s/ granddaughter’s/ cousin’s/ friend’s/ coworker’s boob in order to eat might raise some questions for you, and that’s ok.
We’ve gathered answers to some of the questions you may have:
Q. Is this safe?
A. It is perfectly safe for mother and baby to proceed with nursing after the child’s first birthday has passed. This is what nature intended, and even once the child has sprouted several teeth, breastfeeding can continue as long as mother and child are content and good breastfeeding etiquette is observed (i.e. no biting). It is the mother’s duty alone to decide what her boundaries are, and to establish and enforce said etiquette.
Q. Is this healthy?
A. Absolutely. Breastmilk, while still in the breast, has no shelf life. Once a year has passed, the breast does not begin making 1%. Though the nutritional needs of a one-year-old differ greatly from that of a newborn, most children in the former age group are eating other things- baby food, table food, dirt, old french fries found in the car- so under normal circumstances they are still receiving adequate nutrients for optimal physical and mental development. Kellymom lists the daily nutritional requirements met by breastmilk for this age group as:
- 29% of energy (calorie) requirements
- 43% of protein requirements
- 36% of calcium requirements
- 75% of vitamin A requirements
- 76% of folate requirements
- 94% of vitamin B12 requirements
- 60% of vitamin C requirements
Michael Jordan was breastfed until the age of three,
and he developed pretty well
Breastmilk also continues to provide immunity building antibodies that can’t be found anywhere else that help prevent and lessen the severity of illnesses in the child (and perhaps the child’s family, because we all know about the domino effect of family cold exposure).
Cognitive development is also aided by the continued consumption of breastmilk, with children breastfed up to and beyond a year often scoring higher on IQ tests , and making better grades in school later on, as well as demonstrating increased intelligence as an adult.
Simply put, there is much, much more to breastfeeding than simply food.
Q. Is it normal?
A. Normal is an entirely subjective experience. Globally, “normal” is sometimes nursing children up to four years.
If you mean, “Won’t this screw the kid up for life?” then the answer is unequivocally: No. It can actually prevent adverse mental health outcomes. “But won’t the kid grow into a co-dependent little weirdo?” Also no. Extended or full-term breastfeeding helps children build a firm foundation of love and trust that empowers them to spread their little wings and fly.
Q. Why would a woman want to nurse past a year?
A. Why do you hug your children? Kiss them? Cuddle with them? Despite the sticky fingers and array of odors, why do you engage in physical contact with your children? It’s the same for any nursing mother. It isn’t always sunshine and ice cream sandwiches, but the physical closeness experienced during breastfeeding cannot be replicated at any other time during one’s child’s life. Never again will a mother be able to reassure her child ‘I’m here for you,’ quite like this. It is unique, fulfilling and snuggly.
If you’re one of the few people who think a woman would continue to breastfeed beyond 12 months for the purposes of sexual gratification, please raise your hand, and then slap yourself across the face. Thank you.
Q. Breasts are sexual and therefore inherently indecent, right?
A. Not really, no. Breasts are secondary sex organs. Biologically, they exist to nourish and nurture babies. Viewing breasts as only sexually gratifying appendages is a cultural thing, and that is a paradox we here in America wallow in:
Quick, what is this ad trying to sell you?
On the other hand:
I had a family member tell me I “could put that on one of
those porn sites and make some money!”
So when others project their perception of the appropriate use of breasts onto the nursing relationship between mother and child, that says a lot more about the person doing the projecting than it does their subject(s).
Q. This makes me uncomfortable.
A. That wasn’t really a question, was it? But that’s ok. It is ok if nursing a child that might be walking and talking is not your bag. Seriously, it’s not a problem. We all have thoughts and opinions, and you are certainly entitled to yours! This is the U.S. of A.! That’s what this country is all about! Hurray for freedom!
When it does become a problem, and when it’s not ok, is when others (even with what they feel are the very best of intentions) start to impose their own personal ideas of what the breastfeeding relationship should look like, or when they feel it should end, on the nursing mother in question. You care about her, you want to help her, but if you aren’t supportive, this probably isn’t the time to make it known. If you find yourself flummoxed by the question To comment or not to comment?, please refer to this handy chart:
But what if you happen not to be the friend or family member of a breastfeeding woman? If you find that you still are not comfortable with the idea of a woman breastfeeding her child past twelve months of age, and are wondering how you can impart that opinion to nursing mothers whom you have not met, the Fresh Prince has an answer for you:
Anna is WMC’s Newsletter Editor-in-Chief, as well as an admin of our communities’ Facebook groups, and just an all around swell gal. She’s known as Mom to Shelby, 10 years; and Harrison, 14 months, whom she will continue to nurse as long as she damn well pleases.