Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Breastfeeding a Toddler

I'm going to deviate from my standard form of blogging and talk about a subject that I have strong feelings about and I'm sure others do as well (either for or against). Let me tell you upfront that before I had my daughter the thought of breastfeeding was not appealing to me at all. I had several friends that never even attempted breastfeeding and made bottle feeding sound like a great idea. I had other friends who told me they tried breastfeeding and it was so awful, they couldn't continue. I had very few friends that had successfully breastfed for 6 months, much less a year or longer. So I read several books and articles and also took a breastfeeding class before I had my daughter. I knew that the best food for my daughter was breast milk. So even though I had my reservations about breastfeeding, I knew I had to at least give it the old college try, for my daughter's sake.

The first few days were not easy. My daughter was a large baby and was born with an appetite that couldn't be satisfied. She nursed constantly day and night for the first 36 hours of her life. I was sore and tired, she was still hungry. Thankfully my milk came in at that point and she was a happy camper. That first 36 hours of inexperienced feeding left me sore for a couple of more weeks though. I will be the first to admit that breastfeeding is not easy to start off. Eventually you and your child get the hang of it though. I was grateful to lactation consultants at the hospital who helped my daughter and me get off to a good start. If you have these wonderful women available to you, use them. Don't be embarrassed, they have been where you are and can offer wonderful help. I am also grateful to my husband who was very supportive and helpful.

Now my daughter is 16 months old and yes, she is still breastfeeding. This is something that apparently causes a lot of controversy in society today, though I don't feel it should. Up until a few decades ago parents nursed their children until they were 2 or older all the time. Our society today has moved away from breastfeeding because there are many brands of formula and many kinds of milk to offer children instead. For a working, busy mom, breastfeeding isn't always easy. Some mothers can't breastfeed for medical reasons and I understand all of that. I have never, ever told someone they were wrong to not breastfeed their child. Yet people feel it is okay to tell me it is wrong to breastfeed my daughter because she's older than 12 months. They also feel justified in making horrified faces when they find out I am still breastfeeding.

I have never been embarrassed or ashamed that I am still breastfeeding my child. I know that doing so is the best thing I can do for her. Children need full fat milk until the age of 2 for healthy brain development. No other milk in the world can give my daughter the benefits of breast milk. It was designed by our Heavenly Father to give our children exactly what they need, nutritionally, emotionally, and developmentally. No factory can duplicate that. Animal milk was not designed for human children. It doesn't provide the same immunities or benefits. Not to mention that nowadays it is full of hormones and things that our children do not need.

Breastfeeding your child long term isn't always easy. It can be exhausting and toddlers do not sit still. The benefits far surpass any sacrifices that you make though. It is a wonderful time of bonding. My daughter and I have shared many special moments through breastfeeding that we would have missed out on otherwise.

So why am I writing about this? I was reading the book What to Expect The Toddler Years. As I was reading along, one of the questions posed was about continuing to breastfeed your child past the age of 12 months. As I read I became overwhelmingly sad and then angry, and then frustrated. This is America's bestselling parenting book and it frames breastfeeding a toddler as a very negative thing to do. In fact the only benefit it listed is that it does reduce a child's risk of allergies. I almost started to feel guilty for breastfeeding my daughter while I read it, like what I was doing was harmful to my child. I'm sorry, but that to me is unacceptable. Doctors and researchers are just starting to convince moms that breastfeeding is best and now this bestselling book undermines that. They say that research shows, but what research are they referring to? I've done a lot of research on this subject myself and never found the information they put in this book (don't worry, I've written them a letter, I'll let you know if I ever get a response). So I decided to blog about it to give support to any other moms out there who read that information and feel as upset as I do. In a society where breastfeeding at all tends to be frowned upon, we don't need parenting books trying to make us feel bad about doing what is best for our children.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says "Breastfeeding should be continued for at least the first year of life and beyond for as long as mutually desired by mother and child....Increased duration of breastfeeding confers significant health and developmental benefits for the child and mother....There is no upper limit to the duration of breastfeeding and no evidence of psychological or developmental harm from breastfeeding into the third year of life or longer." (AAP 2005) (emphasis added)

More and more studies are coming out to support breastfeeding until the age of 2 and more and more organizations are backing it (WHO, Surgeon General, American Academy of Family Physicians, etc, etc, etc.). Not to mention that women have been breastfeeding their children through toddlerhood since they have been having children. It is only in recent years that we've decided that feeding children our own milk is somehow taboo.

To all the women out there who are breastfeeding their toddlers, great job! Don't let anyone belittle what you are doing or tell you it is wrong or bad for your child. The research isn't there to support those claims. Science and Medicine are behind you 100%! Keep up the good work!

To all the women out there who are about to become new moms, give breastfeeding a try. You won't know if it will work for you and your child unless you try. Even if you can only do it for a short period of time there are many benefits to you and your baby. I know it may seem unappealing or scary, but welcome to parenthood. It really is a beautiful, wonderful experience once you get the hang of it.

To all the women out there who don't have children or who choose not to breastfeed for whatever reasons, follow Thumper's advice: If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all. And remember that facial expressions say a lot as well.

This blog was not intended to hurt any one's feelings or make anyone feel bad. I just wanted to support all moms who choose to breastfeed and continue to do so into toddlerhood. It's a natural, wonderful thing that should be celebrated, not shunned.


  1. You're doing a great job Liesl. I'm glad you wrote a letter, i've also read that you should try to breastfeed until at least 2 years if you are able.

  2. People are often uncomfortable with women breastfeeding infants in public. I am sorry I refuse to do so in a bathroom. I know a few mothers in my neighborhood who also are breastfeeding their child past 12 months. Great blog, we need to speak out!

  3. It is extremely sad that breasts have been hypersexualized that we, as a society, have forgotten their biological purpose. I, too, breastfed my children beyond the age of 2, and let them demonstrate to me their desire to wean when it was time for them.

    It's funny to me that the substance of breastmilk is also a "don't-talk-about-it" kind of thing.

    When my daughter was 5, and we experimented with a dairy-free diet to ward off ADHD symptoms, I substitute breastmilk in a lot of recipes that I fed to my entire family. I got a lot of disgusted faces that otherwise seemed accepting of breastmilk, and it was frustrating. We are perfectly okay with drinking the milk that comes from the teat of another animal (and several of them!), but if it comes from a human being, it is biological hazmat time. It's ridiculous.

    When my family got pink eye, out came the syringe and breastmilk. For both of my babies, myself AND my husband. 24-hours later, it's gone. Because breastmilk is a healing substance. When my children got diaper rashes, I applied a bit of cooled breastmilk, and they cleared right up. When my son suffered from eczema on the backs of his arms, and no lotion prescription or otherwise would clear it up -- breastmilk did.

    Pure, hormone free, cost efficient, naturally created breastmilk is a blessing to your child, and the moments of bonding the two of you have shared and will continue to share, are priceless. You are a wonderful mother, and your daughter is lucky to have a mother like you.