It seems that there has been a lot in the media this year involving extended breastfeeding. Everybody seems to have their own opinion on when is the perfect time to stop – whether that involves their own child or not.
Most people’s justification or worry is that the child will get ‘too old’ and somehow be damaged by breastfeeding past a certain point.
So when is the perfect time to stop and are you really causing your child any emotional damage?
Firstly, what always has to be trusted is that a mother will only do what she thinks is best for her child. A very small percentage of women actually intentionally hurt their children. Anybody with more than one child can attest to the fact that all children are different – they learn and take things in differently and have different needs and wants, all at different ages and stages. These things cannot be predicted, only guessed at. No child comes with a text book.
Personally, I was given advice from 9 months about how to get my little boy to cut down on the milk he wanted. He loves it. At 2 years he still drinks three times more breast milk than what the ‘text book’ says he should require (not including other dairy either). That’s what he wants. That’s what he likes. We will never know whether it is the taste or the comfort that makes him feel better, but that is his choice. Some days he will drink it all and still want more than I have. Some days I will have to pour it down the sink because he’s been too busy playing to bother with it. It is up to him and I follow his lead. I will do so until he tells me otherwise.
Maybe I am a little out of context as a lot of the out roar is about toddlers or children who are actually latched to the breast ( not that I don’t have comments that he should be off breast milk by now).
In many other cultures breast milk is something to be cherished and self-weaning is the norm. In Mongolia the average weaning age is 7 years old, and everybody in the village, men, women, children, will be willing to drink it if there is any going spare. Even if this seems a bit far for you, the world’s average age to self-wean is 4.2 years of age.
Le Leche League agrees that “the child who nurses for two or three years is often more secure and less anxious.”
Many other mothers have supporting personal experiences from their babies they had breastfed for longer, versus those that they had weaned, being more independent and self-assured. This could be put down to the fact that they always know what they want will be there for them when they need that comfort.
For children under the age of six, being denied something that was previously a comfort can bring greater emotional problems than those supposed caused by extended breastfeeding, making them more clingy and cautious that things are going to be taken away.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t wean when the time is right for you. There are many reasons why self-weaning may not be possible – for the sake of mother physical or emotional health or family obligation.
My point is, do what is right for your child, yourself and your family.
There is no evidence that breastfeeding when the child requests it is psychologically damaging. Get those boobs, pumps, whatever you need out when they are needed and don’t feel bad. You’re joined by the rest of the world.
If you need any more convincing, here’s one last tit bit – there is a reason why those first little teeth are called milk teeth. The average child starts to lose them at about 6-7 years of age as that is the evolution of our natural weaning age. I’m not saying you have to go that far, but just something to keep the doubters quiet.
As always there are some other great bloggers joining in this week with National Breastfeeding Awareness week: