Extended Breast Feeding: Why I Wouldn’t Do It

After Jamie Lynne Grumet graced the cover of TIME magazine breast feeding a toddler, the topic of extended breast feeding soared back into the headlines. The overall reactions seemed to be someplace between, “Gross!” and “Way to go!” As an American mother who did breast feed three babies for the first year, I can say without a squirt of milk, I would not breast feed a toddler. Yes, I am fully aware that in other cultures it is normal, and in some cases even recommended moms breast feed beyond the 2-year mark. I’m also aware that the mean age of weaning world-wide is actually about 4-years-old, way beyond the first six months recommendation in America, which many women don’t even make. I don’t care. I wouldn’t breast feed my toddlers and this is why.

There is no scientific reason to do so.
I know, commenters are going to flood this blog with “studies” to disprove this point, and I can say, I have read them, all of them. Every study I found that supported a benefit of breast feeding was done within the first year of life. Even those often cited to support the psychological benefit of extended breast feeding were actually based on breast feeding in the first four months of life. I do not argue that breast feeding has a wide range of wonderful benefits to a child, but there are no actual studies that prove extended breast feeding in industrialized cultures such as the United States has benefits to mother or child beyond those that could be obtained in the first year of life, most of which in the first six months. Therefore listing all the benefits of breast feeding for extended breast feeding may prove true, but there’s nothing to suggest that the benefit is greater than those obtained by breast feeding for twelve, or even just six months.

It isn’t normal in America.
While personally, I can see the logic in the suggestion that extended breast feeding creates clingy dependent children aka “momma’s boys/girls,” there is no evidence to support or disprove, that opinion. What is a fact is that breast feeding beyond the first year is not the norm in America. Only 25% of moms in America are still breast feeding at the one year mark, and breast feeding beyond two or three years is considered taboo. I’m not saying you shouldn’t do anything “abnormal,” but that parents need to consider the stress and ostracizing effect that taboo choice can create for them and their child, especially in children than have begun school. Being that there is no proven benefit to the extended feeding, you really have to weigh why you’re making that choice in the first place, for yourself or your child?

My babies didn’t want to breast feed longer.
My children, like 47.3% of American babies according to a 2008 survey, began to self wean and reject the breast close to the one year mark. You can cite me all the proof from the animal world and research you want that says the proper age to wean is between ages three and seven, but the fact is my actual, flesh and blood human babies didn’t agree. They were done, so I was done. That is my number one reason not to extend breast feeding. I don’t expect every mother to share my opinion. I expect every mother to make the decision for herself as to what is better for her child without being guilted by biased citation of benefits, cultural acceptance worldwide or research on monkeys. If your baby happy, then you should be too, no matter how long you did or did not breast feed, because you are mom enough either way.

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