Getting Over “Extended” Breastfeeding

My daughter is starting to cruise around the house all by herself now, it’s amazing.  On Thursday she’s going to be a year old, unfreakingbelievable!  But, *gasp* I’m “still” breastfeeding

Unfortunately, my youngest sister-in-law, B, has a daughter, A, that is about 4 months younger than J.  I say unfortunately because it seems like everything is a competition and everything I do is scrutinized against how B is doing things.  I really try to avoid getting wrapped up in mommy wars and I try to let people’s comments or pressure to change the way I’m doing things roll off my back (Pass the bean dip!) but I feel like it’s going to get worse over the next few years.

The latest is “Well, B is only going to breastfeed until A is one…”, “You’re still doing that?”, “When are you going to give her milk?” or “When are you going to stop?”  My answers: Oh, that’s cool.  Yep, still doin’ it!  She’s drinking milk right now… and she’ll stop when she’s ready.

My daughter is only a year old.  She nurses for nutrition and for comfort which she is obviously ok with and I’m obviously ok with so why does it matter to you?  What’s the point of asking these questions?  Why don’t you just tell me what’s on your mind instead of beating around the bush?

So, you know what?  Next time anyone asks me when I’m going to stop or if I’m still doing that I’ll simply ask why.  Really, why do you want to know?  What’s it to you?  Yes, my daughter can eat regular food but she still has a need to breastfed just as your son/daughter might need their bottle, pacifier, thumb and/or to be rocked, swayed or bounced. 

Breastfeeding offers amazing immunological and nutritional benefits plus it’s the perfect time for connection after being separated all day when I’m working.  Not to mention children who breastfeed for an “extended” amount of time also benefit from fewer allergies, they’re well adjusted, possibly smarter, AND mother (and daughter, if you have a girl) can benefit from reduced risk of MANY cancers.  (Get the fact sheet here.)

When kids have needs they express them and I believe in “giving in” to those needs not suppressing them with what I’m being told that they should or should not need.  If my daughter has a need to nurse, I let her.  Not because someone told me that was right or wrong but that’s what feels right to us.

I want to know why everyone has such an issue with “extended” breastfeeding because really, is it “extended”?  What is considered “extended”? 

In my eyes my daughter has a need and urge to nurse, so I let her and I’ll continue to let her until she and I are ready to stop.  I think a better way to look at it would be continued breastfeeding.  When is this magical time that it becomes “extended”?  I’m not extending anything and I don’t think my daughter is; we’re simply continuing to breastfeed.

Breastfeeding is natural.  Breastfeeding is normal.  Breastfeeding doesn’t become “extended” it just continues until the need is gone.  So, when you ask me why I’m still breastfeeding I’ll ask you why you’re still breathing.  Oh, because you need to?  Well, my daughter still needs to, too.

What are your experiences with “extended” breastfeeding?  When do you think it crosses over to “extended”?  Is it because of social pressure that you think it is now “extended” or personal beliefs?

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9 Comments

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9 responses to “Getting Over “Extended” Breastfeeding

  1. At 21 months I will say I feel a bit awkward nursing Lily in public, but if she NEEDS it (like, I sense a meltdown happening if I deny her and offering other distractions doesn’t work) I certainly do.

    I think I entered “extended” after her first birthday; since that’s when “everyone” weans from formula, most people assume it’s the same for breast milk.

    It’s such a useful tool though! I have no idea how naps and bed time would happen without it, nor would I know how to cure The Grumpy Wake Up ™ which happens, oh, one out of four wake ups.

    The one thing that bothers me is the general public’s thought that it is “sick” or “gross” or “wrong” (which I read as “perverted”) to nurse an older child. Like, as the mothers we’re getting some sexual pleasure out of it now that the baby is a toddler or bigger. I don’t like being called perverted for nourishing and calming my child just because breasts are so hyper-sexualized and everyone else is so uncomfortable at the thought of nipples.

    Human milk is meant for humans, everyone!

    • A friend of A’s was over one night and the fact that I was breastfeeding came up. Immediately he thought of a story that he heard of a local woman breastfeeding her 5 year old and said how gross it was. I asked him why he thought it was gross and he just said “I don’t know, it’s just weird”. A chimed in (on his own whim!) and said well, is it really that different than a cow nursing for five years? His friend said no, I guess not, and that was the end of it. I usually don’t really appreciate being compared to a cow (it happens often because I pump) but really – cows don’t overanalyze everything. Their calf wants to nurse so it nurses. The other cows don’t sit around and talk about how “gross” it is – it is what it is!

      I agree that breasts are way WAY hyper-sexualized. People don’t even know or understand why they immediately think that “extended” nursing is “sick”, “gross”, “weird”, “wrong”, etc. because we’re conditioned to associate boobs with sexual pleasure period.

      The question now, I guess, is how do we reverse that? Sure, we’re pushing for how breast is best and breastfeeding is normal but we need to stop the stigma attached to “extended”. There is no need for a label it – it is what it is! It’s just breastfeeding, people!

      *edited because I put “overanalized” now that sounds sexual, ha!

  2. I agree, it’s just breastfeeding people. If someone wants to nurse for 2, 3, 4 years – who cares! Mind your own beeswax is what I say.

    In my mind, if you are in competition right now YOU are winning because you are STILL breastfeeding. :)

  3. Lan

    Hi! I’m glad to see that you’re not letting the negative opinions of others influence your desire to continue breastfeeding. Plus, people with good intentions don’t always give the best advice since they are not in your shoes! Please keep doing what you are doing — being the best breastfeeding mom to your child!

  4. Like your post! You are so right when you say you are “not extending anything”, because it’s only called extended because people are not used to breastfeeding beyond a year in our culture, not because it is unnatural. I must admit before my son was born I too was a bit skeptical about nursing a toddler, but now I would like to nurse until he weans on his own.

    • Thank you! You know before I had my daughter I never really gave much thought about nursing a toddler because I assumed that they just stopped around a year. Not really sure why I thought that because I’ve never known anyone to even breastfeed before a good friend of mine did.

      But, once I had my daughter I realized that it’s going to be a journey and I’m not the pilot in charge but we’re partners on this journey. In the beginning I thought it might be weird to nurse a toddler but really it’s not like anything has changed besides the fact that she can stand up when she nurses!

  5. Jennifer

    Good for you! Do what works for YOUR family and don’t listen to others who don’t get it. My son is 7 months and is not yet interested in solid food. My naturopath says no worries; my family doctor on the other hand says we should try to feed him store-bought baby cereal in order to provide him with more iron. My family doc says this is right after after we find out our son is STILL in the 90th percentile for height and after she checked him over and said he is “perfectly healthy and very happy”. Okay, so why do we need to force feed him cereal???? It’s amazing how even docs don’t see the value in breastmilk beyond 6 months! I only hope that I can bf past one year as you are doing. Again, good job!

  6. Hobo Mama did a post on terms for breastfeeding past infancy – http://www.hobomama.com/2010/03/full-term-breastfeeding-vs-extended.html
    Whatever you call it, you just keep doing what is good for you and your daughter. Nursing Kieran this long (he just turned three) has been one of the most amazing parts of parenting so far. I wouldn’t change a thing.

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