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Why I Choose To Continue Breastfeeding My Toddler

03/16/2016 12:34 EDT | Updated 03/17/2017 05:12 EDT

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Nursing a baby in public is hard enough. But nursing a toddler is a whole other ball game. The disapproving stares. The negative comments: "If he has teeth he's too old to nurse!" "If she can ask for milk she's too old to breastfeed!" "Isn't it about time she gave her breasts back to her husband?!" "That mother is psychologically damaging her child."

You've heard it all, right? You probably don't know many other mothers who breastfeed their babies beyond 6 months.  Your friends and family may question you. And tell you it's strange to continue to nurse your toddler.

But your little man loves nursing. He's vibrantly healthy. Emotionally secure. And you cherish it. It feels normal. Natural. 

What should you do? 

I've been there, too. I'm still breastfeeding my 2-year-old son. He's thriving. And it's one of the best parenting decisions I've made. Want to know why I decided to continue nursing? And how I deal with all the questions and judgmental stares? Keep reading.

NURSING A TODDLER IS NORMAL

Nursing a toddler is completely normal. Enforcing weaning on a random date is artificial and feeding formula to encourage premature weaning is unnatural. But somehow we've forgotten this.

Dr. Katherine A. Dettwyler suggests it is natural to breastfeed for three to seven years. Katherine cites multiple anthropological studies to support her claim.

  • Research shows weaning occurs after birth weight is quadrupled in large mammals. For humans this occurs at around 27-30 months.
  • In nature, chimpanzees and gorillas nurse more than six times the length of gestation. . Drawing a comparison to our primate cousins suggests humans would naturally nurse for 4.5 years (or six times gestational length).
  • Many primates nurse until the first permanent molars erupt. In humans this occurs at around 5.5 to 6.0 years.

The World Health Organisation recommends breastfeeding until at least two years of age and globally the average weaning age is four years. With lack of support, in most western cultures less than 5 per cent of mothers nurse their babies for two years. 

NATURE'S GREATEST PROTECTOR

Mother's milk is liquid gold to the immature immune system of babies and toddlers. It's loaded with immune boosting antibodies, growth hormone, micro and macronutrients, vitamins, minerals, and protein. Breastmilk is perfectly designed to meet the needs of babies and it's composition changes to match the needs of growing children.

Unicef put it perfectly in 1991 when they said:

Imagine that the world had invented a new "dream product" to feed and immunize everyone born on Earth. Imagine also that it was available everywhere, required no storage or delivery -- and helped mothers to plan their families and reduce the risk of cancer.

Then imagine that the world refused to use it.

The "dream product" is breastmilk, available to us all at birth, and yet we are not using it.

SMARTER, BETTER ADJUSTED KIDS

Research shows children who breastfeed the longest have higher rates of cognitive achievement (IQ scores, grades in school) and more advanced social development.

Elizabeth Baldwin, in Extended Breastfeeding and the Law says, "Meeting a child's dependency needs is the key to helping that child achieve independence. And children outgrow these needs according to their own unique timetable."

Children who are pushed into independence are less secure in that independence than those who reach it at their own pace, which sets them up to be more grounded teenagers and adults.

"We largely accept cute, helpless, little newborns nursing. But the sight of a walking, talking toddler nursing is a step to far for most people. With the advent of formula mothers were given another choice -- a civilized choice."

HOW THINGS CHANGE

When I was in my 20s I never thought I'd breastfeed. When I was pregnant I planned to breastfeed for a year. So, when my son was two months old and my naturopath suggested I nurse for at least two years. I thought she was insane. "But he won't be a baby," I said. She replied, "He'll always be your baby."

She couldn't have been more right. And I couldn't have been more wrong. I read an excellent post Why Mothers Nurse Their Children into Toddlerhood by Norma Bumgarner of the Natural Child Project and something she said stuck with me:

No matter how much effort has gone into the selling of distance between mother and child -- distance achieved by mother substitutes, like playpens and pacifiers, and by child substitutes, like hobbies and pets - mothers, it seems, cannot be changed. We still are happiest when we can hold our children close.

Norma is spot on. When we hold our children close something magical happens. Nursing makes our closeness more intimate. Raising a toddler is tough. Hugely rewarding but tough. Breastfeeding is our mummy superpower in times of need. To give it up early is to take off our capes and become Clark Kent instead of Superman.

I consider myself lucky to have been in the position to nurse my son for as long as I have. Not every mother has the option to do so. But for those of us who can and want to we owe it to our kids to stand up to opposition and proudly nurse our little guys as long as they need it. 

IT'S NOT ME, IT'S YOU!

Boobs. Sex. They go hand in hand, right! Western society, too often, sees the sole purpose of breasts as objects of sexual desire. Scantily clad girls in bikinis - no problem. Mother discreetly nursing in public -- hmmm...

We largely accept cute, helpless, little newborns nursing. But the sight of a walking, talking toddler nursing is a step to far for most people. With the advent of formula mothers were given another choice -- a civilized choice. And when you choose against that and "expose" yourself in public it ruffles a few feathers.

Don't worry about it. It's them, not you! What you're doing is perfectly natural and normal. Your priority is your child, not some stranger at the park, so nurse proudly Mama.

A version of this post originally appeared on Raised Good.

Tracy Gillett is a passionate writer, mother and founder of the blog Raised Good, a heart-driven platform providing parents with knowledge and empowerment, rousing your natural instincts so you can parent your way. Free yourself from the "rules" of modern parenting and receive a free eBook, Parenting by Nature, by signing up for the Raised Good newsletter.

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