He is too big for that!
By Pinky McKay |
He's too big for that!

Although breastfeeding a toddler isn't everybody's drink of milk, if you choose to nurse beyond babyhood (the definition of ‘baby' is relative to the culture we live in), you can expect some disapproval. In fact, you may have to respond to a barrage of negative comments. At various times, I have been told, ‘You will make him gay,' (interestingly, no one ever suggested that I would make my daughters gay, but I can vouch for the fact that it made them happy!); ‘You will be going to school to give him lunch' (only if I am on the soup roster); ‘He will be wanting a breast at his twenty-first birthday' (he might, but it won't be mine); and ‘It is taking too much out of you' (mostly just milk).

Instinctive behaviour

When I breastfed our first two babies, I wasn't aware of the nutritional benefits of breastfeeding older babies and toddlers. I simply kept nursing them because it felt right. In fact, with each of our children, breastfeeding has been an integral part of my relationship with them and not just a matter of sustenance. As newborns, breastfeeding gave them a gentle beginning, and as toddlers, it soothed life's little knocks, easing the discomfort of swollen teething gums and picking them up when they fell (or fell apart emotionally).

Breastfeeding benefits

Breastfeeding provided a quiet space in the day if they (or I) felt overwhelmed, no matter where we were. Even a few minutes ‘touching base' at the breast seemed to nourish our toddlers at a deep, soulful level, reassuring them if they felt challenged. When he was three, my last baby told me, ‘Mummy, booby makes me feel brave when I get scared.' And breastfeeding not only soothed my little ones but calmed me as well. Once, when our youngest was little and I was dealing less than coolly with a teenager, the youth in question looked at me with a grin and suggested, ‘Why don't you go and feed the baby!' I'm convinced that if prolactin could be bottled, pharmaceutical shares would skyrocket.

Breastfeeding, your child and you

Although extended breastfeeding raises eyebrows in our culture, the world average age for weaning is 4.2 years. The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding (that is, no fluids or food other than breast milk) for the first six months of life and that infants continue to be breastfed for up to two years of age and beyond. Mothers, too, benefit from extended breastfeeding. Women who breastfeed for a lifetime total of two years reduce their risks of developing breast cancer by 50% . The risk among mothers who breastfeed for a total of six years or more is reduced by two-thirds, and because maternal bone density increases with each child who is nursed, breastfeeding mothers experience less osteoporosis in later life.

Breastfeeding and brain development

Because brain development is incomplete for several years, there is particular interest in the role of breast milk and children's intelligence levels. A New Zealand study demonstrated that children who were breastfed as babies performed better in school and scored higher on standardised maths and reading tests  and that the longer they had been breastfed, the higher they scored.

Breastfeeding research

Although research into the effects of extended breastfeeding on psychological development is scarce, another New Zealand study which dealt specifically with babies nursed longer than a year, showed fewer behavioural problems in six- to eight-year-olds. According to the test results, the longer the children had been breastfed, the better they tended to behave. However, when you decide to wean your baby isn't simply about immunity, health and intelligence; it is also about comfort, pleasure and communication for both mother and baby.

Speaking up

If you sense disapproval from friends and relatives about how (or how long) you feed your baby, remember that you don't owe them an explanation of your child-rearing philosophy any more than they owe you their support (though their acceptance would be nice). If you simply state the obvious (positively, not apologetically)  ‘Yes, I am still breastfeeding' (with a smile), or, ‘No, I am not breastfeeding' (with a smile)  you'll usually find that they back off. An explanation, on the other hand, may be interpreted as criticism of their parenting style. If you are really under pressure to wean, try responding with ‘Our [GP/paediatrician/lactation consultant] has advised us to continue breastfeeding', or, (if they are really rude) put it back on them with, ‘I'm sorry you can't appreciate the beauty of it.'
Copping it sweet

If you breastfeed beyond babyhood, you are sure to cop some flack. Try these retorts to deflect your critics:

They say: ‘You're not STILL breastfeeding?’
You say: I'm sorry you can't appreciate the beauty of it.

They say: ‘You'll be going to school to give him lunch’ 
You say: ‘Only if I'm on canteen duty.’

They say: ‘You'll have to wean him or he'll still want a breast when he's twenty one.’
You say: ‘Maybe, but it won't be my breast he's after!’

Find more about Breastfeeding

This article was written for Kidspot by Pinky McKay, International Board certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). Pinky runs a private practice in Melbourne specializing in gentle parenting techniques. A sought after keynote speaker and best-selling author with 4 titles published by Penguin, including her recent book Parenting By Heart, she's an expert source for media appearing regularly on major network TV and quoted in various publications. Pinky's books and parenting resources and her free newsletter 'Gentle Beginnings' can be found on her www.pinkymckay.com

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