Let me start this by saying that whilst I was pregnant I thought breastfeeding past 6 months, maybe a year at a push, was weird. This was despite that fact that my little brother was fed well past 2 (I was a teenager when he was born) and my husband and his younger sister were both breastfed well into toddler-hood, so my family were all disposed to think of breastfeeding as normal.
I had a hard start to breastfeeding – I’ll write about that another time – and suddenly I found that I was VERY keen to continue this breastfeeding relationship I had fought so hard for. Why the fuck should I give up something that was important to us both and so damn useful?! So we carried on past 6 months, a year, through pregnancy, through my second baby being born and suddenly I was feeding a 3 year old and a 1 year old.
(From a personal perspective tandem feeding took a HUGE toll on me and I wouldn’t choose to do it again, I think. But it wouldn’t really be my sole choice and I’m not actually breastfeeding anyone now anyway!)
I fed my children til 3.5 and just under 3 respectively. At no point did I ever remember thinking that ‘oh yes I know what will be amazing, having an angry 3-year-old clawing at my clothes crying for boobie’. Each day I was just feeding a child that was one day older than the day before. There aren’t sudden leaps or changes where I was suddenly feeding an older child, that gradual small change each day just meant that it continued to be our normal.
I did gently encouraged weaning in both my children. I experienced nursing aversion with both of them to varying degrees and at varying times, and eventually encouraging a gentle stopping point was the right choice.
Because that is the key to ANY breastfeeding. It is a relationship. A two-way street, and BOTH people involved need to be comfortable with it. Even if you think your child might breastfeed til 18, YOU can choose to stop if that is the right choice for you and your family. And anyway how many breastfeeding 18 year olds do you know?!
Myths and Facts
Let’s get a few facts in here and bust a few breastfeeding myths. For more detail this factsheet at KellyMom is brilliant
At no point does the milk you produce stop having nutritional content for your child. That would be like broccoli losing its nutritional value when you turned 30.
It’s not weird and it’s not going to damage your child. Breastfeeding is the biological norm, and in almost all other cultures except ours breastfeeding until somewhere between 2 and 7 is usual. The World Health Organisation recommends breastfeeding until at least 2 years old. Children benefit from feeling safe and secure.
Yes, your baby can have food now. Milk is not just about food, it is often about comfort, love and connection. The amount a child breastfeeds won’t generally have a huge impact on the amount or type of other food they will eat. Indeed, during picky eating phases, it can be comforting to know that they are still gaining lots of nutrition from milk.
No, you aren’t doing it just for you. As said, breastfeeding is a two-way relationship and both parties need to be comfortable with it. Try forcing a child to breastfeed. But there are benefits to the mother for continuing to feed, such as a reduced risk of various cancers, reduced risk from osteoporosis, reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and more.
Aren’t they too old? They have teeth/can ask/can walk/can drink cow’s milk. These may all be true. None of them are deciding factors on if you and your baby are happy to continue breastfeeding. Teeth don’t get in the way (despite the odd nip), even newborns communicate their need for milk, walking might lead to some gymnastics whilst feeding and cow’s milk can be given alongside or not at all if wanted.
What’s the actual problem?
So, let’s talk about what the ACTUAL problem with breastfeeding an older child is. Society.
Feeding a child over around 1 is still not seen very often. We worry about how it looks or if comments will be made. Generally, really, people don’t care. The odd one or two will but most won’t be bothered.
Our society is geared up to think of boobs as sexual. And if boobs are primarily sexual objects, adding feeding a child becomes hard to think about. But they aren’t. Breasts are primarily for feeding babies! Helping society realise that once more requires it to be seen, to be talked about, to start to become ‘normal’ once more.
If we can help society move towards that realisation once more, perhaps we will get to stop answering the question ‘Are you STILL breastfeeding?’.