Monday, July 18, 2011

Breastfeeding past infancy

Recently my husband asked me how long I planned on breastfeeding. I was a little surprised, because he’s always been one of my biggest breastfeeding supporters, but I told him: I don’t know, I’m going to let him self-wean, but at least until two, and then until he wants to wean. He expressed surprise, and asked me why I would want to continue so long. Well, I thought, why wouldn’t I want to continue? We’ve got a great thing going here! And what, is 1 year, 365 days, some magical number at which a baby no longer needs to nurse? I don’t think so. He’s not much different at 400 days than he was at 365, except that he’s learning things even faster than before and so needs breastmilk just as much or more as he did before. There isn’t a magical cutoff for when they no longer benefit from breastmilk. That is why child led weaning is so important—they know when they no longer need it.

And it occurred to me, maybe Nathan doesn’t know any of that. I mean, I thought I’ve talked to him about it but maybe I haven’t. Silly me! So here, for him and anyone else who wants to know, are just a few reasons to continue to breastfeed past a year.

1.       It is still a huge part of Shane’s life.  He wants it, needs it, and signs for it regularly. Although he eats regular meals and snacks, he still wants, and needs, nursies. He wants it for thirst, hunger, comfort, snuggles; any reason that he needed it before he turned a year old. It provides a higher level of comfort and reconnection than just snuggles or kisses can.  In fact, our nursing periods are the only time Shane sits and cuddles. Extended nursing also contribues to more secure independence, because they are learning independence on their own time table rather than being forced into it. Nursing fixes everything. At Shane’s age he is learning so quickly that it’s easy for him to become over whelmed, overstimulated, overtired, hurt, frustrated, or any number of new and overwhelming emotions. Nursing fixes it. Nursing is a safe and secure place for him, a great way for him and I to reconnect and relax and for him to realize that I’m still here. Why would I want to deprive either of us of such a great coping tool? 

2.       It is good for Shane’s health. For all the same reasons for as long as we breastfeed. Fewer illnesses, ear infections, allergies, lowered risk of asthma, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, digestive diseases, multiple sclerosis, sleep apnea, and better eyesight and increased cognitive development.

3.       It is good for Shane nutritionally.  Although Shane is eating a lot more solids now, breast milk continues to be perfectly formatted nutritionally for him, for as long as he nurses. He is still getting all of the vitamins and minerals and antibodies he needs, from me. My milk is perfect for him, especially since toddlers are notorious for going through picky stages. Breastmilk fills in all the gaps, and will continue to for as long as he nurses.

4.       It is good for Shane’s teeth. Breastfeeding uses facial muscles bottles and pacifiers do not, and the use of those muscles results in better jaw alignment and less chance of future orthodontic work. And since every person in my family has needed braces, Shane’s going to need all the help there he can get. Breasmilk also contains lactoferrin, which kills the bacteria that cause tooth decay, as well as milk proteins that coat and protect tooth enamel.  

5.       It is good for Shane when he is sick. Toddlers are on-the-go-into-everything, which means they encounter a lot of germs. Should Shane get sick, my body will immediately make antibodies for him and pass them back on the spot.  Breastmilk is very gentle on the stomach and provides a protective lining on the intestines. Sick  babies don’t typically eat food, but it doesn’t matter because he’s still getting complete nutrition by nursing. Breastmilk also hydrates a feverish baby—no need for pedialyte or pediasure or an of those electrolyte drinks.

6.       It is good for my health.  Not only did nursing delay my period coming back until Shane was 7 or 8 months old, it also continues to provide me protection against breast, uterine, endometrial, and ovarian cancer as well as rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis.

7.       The experts think it best. The World Health Organization (WHO), The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), The Surgeon General, and the American Academy of Family Physicians all recommend and encourage extended breastfeeding. Shane's pediatrician and the hospital system in which I gave birth also support breastfeeding past a year. I agree.

Here are a few questions I’ve been asked:

If you breastfeed him, no one else will be able to comfort him.  This is SO untrue. Anyone he trusts can comfort him.  I saw it happen just today, actually; he fell and bumped his head and Aunt Heather picked him up and had him calmed down in no time. If you take the time to play and love and connect with him, he will accept comfort from you. I see it happen regularly.

Wouldn’t it be better for him to have cow’s milk or juice? Nope. Cow’s milk is great, but it’s not full of all the great stuff mine is, nor is it individually formatted just for my baby. See #3 above. He does get milk occasionally, and he likes it, but mine is still best for him. He does NOT NEED cow milk.  And juice? I don’t give him juice. He eats a lot of fruit, and why would I want to teach him to drink something that really isn’t good for you. He loves water and drinks a lot of that. I think water and Mama milk are all he needs right now.

Will he wean when you get pregnant again? I don’t know. I know it is possible. I am willing (at this point!) for him to continue to nurse through pregnancy and then to tandem nurse with the new baby. . But the fact is that some mother’s milk dries up during pregnancy and others have milk all the way through. Some babies will nurse whether there is milk or not. I don’t know what will happen, but I will let Shane decide what he wants to do.

I realize that seeing an older baby nurse make some people uncomfortable but I hope this will explain a little. I hope that people will understand that this is a conscious, informed, well-researched decision, one that I think is best for both my health and Shane’s.  I plan to nurse my babie(s) until they or I decide we’re done. I don’t know if that will be 2 or beyond. I’m not putting a timeline on it. I’m just going to do what comes naturally. 

Here are a few links if you're interested:

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