Wednesday, January 20, 2010

When is the right time to stop breastfeeding: 6 months; 1 year; 4; 6 or 10?

The choice is dependent on individual mothers and babies.  I pass no judgment on mothers who choose to nurse long term, but take a look at the photo below.  Where is the mother's udder?  I mean nipple?  Many mothers in America avoid breastfeeding because they are afraid of having saggy tribal breasts.  See NPR story on teaching black women to embrace breastfeeding.

I wonder if nursing a child until he/she is 4, 5 or 6 is healthy for a marital relationship.  In my experience, when my breasts belonged to my son, I was much less interested in passing them off to my husband for less nutritional purposes.  Perhaps mothers around the world, especially in the third world, nurse long term because access to a balanced diet is limited.  Nursing is a serious commitment a mother makes to her child, and it slaps imaginary handcuffs on mother and baby.  I happily and proudly nursed Henry for 1 year.  Upon the 1 year mark we were both ready to stop.  He became uninterested, and I was ready to have my freedom back.  Breast feeding is a very sensitive subject for mothers, and it is an individual mother's choice to pursue it or not.  Either way, I respect every mother's right to choose how to feed her baby as long as she is educated on what is and isn't beneficial for her child.  

When a Bay Area mom, who we'll call Jennifer, was pregnant, she took a breastfeeding class at Kaiser. Jennifer learned all about how your milk supply is established, positioning, and latch. She also learned that on average mothers throughout the world breastfeed their children until age 4.

Shutterstock/Anita Patterson Peppers

Jennifer didn't take this fact too seriously and assumed that she'd try to breastfeed her child until he turned 1. That's what the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends after all.
But when Jennifer's son was still happily nursing at 1 year old, she decided to keep on going until he showed signs of wanting to stop. She realized that breastfeeding provides a wonderful opportunity for mother and child to cuddle and bond. At this point, Jennifer took great comfort in knowing that women throughout the world breastfeed their children well past the baby stage.
Jennifer continued to nurse her son, and didn't stop until he was 4 years old and told her, "I don't need this anymore."
Of course, he wanted mommy's milk the next day but she decided that it was time to wean him.
Breastfeeding a child until he is age 4 is unusual in the United States. Only 23 percent of women make it until age 1, according to the Centers for Disease Control. It's simply not part of American culture to nurse a toddler.
Jennifer was aware that long-term breastfeeding is considered taboo, and so she didn't freely share that she was still nursing her 3-year-old son in the morning and at night before bedtime. She only told friends who she figured wouldn't criticize her. "I knew I was getting into weirdo land for a lot of people," she says.
She only breastfed in her home and told her son to keep quiet about it. "When he was about 3 years old, I remember having a discussion between the two of us," Jennifer says. "I told him that what we're doing is private and we don't need to talk about it outside the house."
While Jennifer was secretive, a mom in the United Kingdom is sharing with the world that she breastfed her daughter until she was six and a half years old in her new book Breastfeeding Older Children.
For her book, Ann Sinnott of Cambridge corresponded via email with women, men and children from nearly 50 countries, and she found that breastfeeding until a child is three, six, nine, or even 11 is a growing phenomenon, according to Irish Independent.
Sinnott says her book is intended to reach out to women who are breastfeeding their toddlers and let them know that they're not alone and that they don't need to nurse behind closed doors. She is advocating for moms to allow their children to choose when breastfeeding ceases; some call this child-led breastfeeding.
Sinnott also hopes to challenge the negative perceptions of many psychologists who contend that breastfed older children are emotionally damaged.
Earlier this month a mom named Robyn Paul appeared on ABC News to talk about breastfeeding all three of her children longterm, and a psychologist questioned what she's doing. Will Braun told ABC that he isn't so sure and he wonders whether it's appropriate from a developmental standpoint.
"I think a child really needs to learn to develop the capacity to soothe oneself, the capacity to tolerate frustration," Braun said. "When a child is constantly given a breast, it might thwart that from happening."
But Paul doesn't think this is the case. On the news show she shared that breastfeeding her children has created a special bond between them.
"I really feel that there is an extra bonding or attachment there that I would like to think that because he nursed until he was 6, that there was some more closeness there ... that you get when you're able to have him in your arms for a longer period of time," Paul said. "My daughter's the same way. Very much so."

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1 comment:

  1. Thank you for your blog.
    I am currently struggling with the idea to ween my 7 month old. It is the most difficult decision I have ever made.
    I think it is important for a mother to do what she thinks is right for her baby, no matter what our culture thinks. I currently live in Germany due to a military tour and Germans are so much more open about breastfeeding. I get smiles instead of glares while openly feeding in public. Our culture can be so cruel and make nursing mother and non-nursing mothers feel awkward, isolated and guilty.
    If only we can support eachother. But thats probably too much to ask.

    Yes, I think it is a little odd to breastfeed your toddler. But I can understand why mothers have a hard time letting go.
    Yet like my husband said, this is just part of our son growing up. Eventually, you will have to let go and let him grow up.

    With that being said....
    breastfeeding isnt the secert to loving your child. The secret is to simply love unconditionally-without any strings.