Extended Breastfeeding, for the naysayers

I’m sure that most women who have breastfed past a year have had to field the comments from people who were trying to help. Nobody in my family (that I know of) has nursed their littles past a year and very few made it to 6 months. When you formula feed, you switch to some sort of “other” milk at around a year, and I’m fairly certain that’s where the stigma surrounding extended breastfeeding comes from.

Here are some quotes from kellymom.com:

  • “Breast milk continues to provide substantial amounts of key nutrients well beyond the first year of life, especially protein, fat, and most vitamins.”
  • “The American Academy of Family Physicians notes that children weaned before two years of age are at increased risk of illness (AAFP 2008).”
  • “Antibodies are abundant in human milk throughout lactation” (Nutrition During Lactation 1991; p. 134). In fact, some of the immune factors in breastmilk increase in concentration during the second year and also during the weaning process. (Lawrence & Lawrence 2011, Goldman 1983, Goldman & Goldblum 1983, Institute of Medicine 1991).
  • Per the World Health Organization, “a modest increase in breastfeeding rates could prevent up to 10% of all deaths of children under five: Breastfeeding plays an essential and sometimes underestimated role in the treatment and prevention of childhood illness.”
  • The American Academy of Family Physicians recommends that breastfeeding continue throughout the first year of life and that “As recommended by the WHO, breastfeeding should ideally continue beyond infancy, but this is not the cultural norm in the United States and requires ongoing support and encouragement. It has been estimated that a natural weaning age for humans is between two and seven years. Family physicians should be knowledgeable regarding the ongoing benefits to the child of extended breastfeeding, including continued immune protection, better social adjustment, and having a sustainable food source in times of emergency. The longer women breastfeed, the greater the decrease in their risk of breast cancer.” They also note that “If the child is younger than two years of age, the child is at increased risk of illness if weaned.” (AAFP 2008)
  • Additional benefits to mom including decreased risk of uterine, breast, and ovarian cancers.

I know that we aren’t comfortable with the idea of breastfeeding past one as a culture. I get that. However, we all need to step back and really assess what that discomfort is about. Breastfeeding past one doesn’t hurt anyone. In fact, it can protect children who are still developing their own immune systems. Human breastmilk is designed to feed human babies. We shouldn’t treat cow’s milk, hemp milk, or goat’s milk as an ideal replacement for what nature has perfected. All those other milk options are fine, but they don’t have the same fat content, vitamin content, and will never have the antibodies that I can provide for my kids by letting them continue to breastfeed.

The immune system that I am helping my twins to develop now will protect them for a lifetime. That is irreplaceable. To be perfectly honest, I am freaked out by flu season, by RSV, and by the effects that so many “normal” diseases could have on their premature lungs. I am hopeful that they won’t have asthma or epilepsy, but only time will tell. Until then, I’ll be breastfeeding my babies/toddlers and hoping that people understand.

(My current breastfeeding goal is April, but October would be ideal. I plan on introducing another milk [hemp] in a few weeks, when I get to be doula for a day, since I no longer have a freezer stash. But mama’s milk is still #1.)

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  1. Lori S-U -  December 12, 2012 - 2:48 pm

    Amen, Jessica. I can already tell I’m going to be judged by my family and in laws starting in the next few months. I plan on nursing well past a year, public perceptions be damned. The benefits are just so numerous.

  2. Jessica -  December 12, 2012 - 8:44 pm

    My baby will be turning 2 next month and we are both going strong! We have weaned a little but I plan on breast feeding her past her 2nd birthday. The bonding and closeness that both baby and I get through nursing is something I wish all parents could experience. Mama’s milk is best!

  3. Erin -  December 13, 2012 - 4:38 pm

    You couldn’t convince Lennon to give up the boob. She will be nursing well past 4 I bet and I doubt I’ll have much say. Haha the girl knows what she needs. I anticipate Baby 2 due in April will have much of the same love and longevity for breastfeeding.

  4. Laney K -  December 14, 2012 - 3:38 pm

    I have definitely had comments, by family members who were supportive of nursing.. until age one when magically it wasn’t okay anymore. We weaned earlier than planned at 18 mo, but I miss it and wish we had gone longer. Keep it up mama, you’re amazing!

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