Breastfeeding a toddler

4 May
Occasionally I read the Globe & Mail online.  Today was one of those days, since it’s been a slow day at work.  I was interested to see that they were having a Q&A session with Dr. Jack Newman.  For those of you who don’t know, Dr. Newman is a world-renowned pediatrician and breastfeeding specialist; some might even call him Canada’s breastfeeding guru.  He’s also a somewhat controversial figure, as he is outspoken, critical of a medical system that he sees as detrimental to successful breastfeeding, and, while some would say candid, others would say arrogant.  Instead of talking about the benefits of breastfeeding, he speaks of the risks of formula-feeding — something that rubs a lot of people the wrong way. 
Indeed, when one of my friends made this same statement in an e-mail to our midwifery advocacy group, I quickly replied to her and asked her consider her choice of words.  After all, there is already a lot of pressure on women to breastfeed, which, to my mind, is actually more harmful than helpful.
As I have mentioned in passing on this blog, I am still breastfeeding Jade.  She’s 15 months old, and although no one has actually made any nasty comments to me, I do often get the amazed, "You’re still breastfeeding.  Wow!"  Sometimes this is followed with a, "Good for you!"  Many times not.  However, sometimes I do wonder what they’re muttering to themselves or to each other behind my back.  I don’t really care if they think I’m weird — I don’t know if they do — but I do wonder why it is that people have such violently emotional reactions when it comes to breastfeeding.
I guess it starts even with pregnancy, with unsolicited (and opinionated) advice and strangers unable to restrain themselves from touching that beautifully swelling belly.  I never had any huge problems with this, but many a friend has.  I did, however, have a single friend who heatedly told me that it’s inexcusable that two parents might want to take parental leave at the same time because, "That’s just overkill".  (The EI rules are that either mom or dad or both can take a combined total of 50 weeks leave, so if both parents take leave at the same time, the benefit lasts for just half the year.)  And then there were the conversations, even during pregnancy, about breastfeeding and how old is too old for a child to still be nursing.
Now, I admit that I’ve been thinking about when a good time is to stop breastfeeding, but I don’t feel any urgency to stop.  I certainly don’t think I want to be nursing Jade until she is 4 or 5 (especially since I hope I’ll be having another child at some point before then!) but then again, before Jade arrived I didn’t think we would ever have her in bed with us.  And then it just very naturally happened, from the minute she was born.  So I don’t like talking in absolutes.
It’s not just childless know-it-alls who have strong opinions, of course.  Other mothers, even other mothers my age, have very strong opinions on how long I "should" breastfeed, or rather, when I should stop.  (This is based on conversations I had with them when Jade was still very little.  If they’re thinking about it now, they certainly aren’t saying it to my face.  That’s the advantage of being a b!tch…)
The Globe & Mail also had an article entitled "Breast Friends" that discussed the re-emergence of the wet nurse or "cross-nursing".  One glance at the comments section of the article show that opinions run just as strong here.
If I don’t wean Jade soon, I figure she’ll probably end up weaning herself when I get pregnant again.  In the meantime, it’s the best band-aid in the world when nothing else works, and sometimes when I’m giving her her bedtime feed, we’re both so drowsy and comfortable, we fall asleep together*.  Breastfeeding a toddler really isn’t about feeding; it’s all about nurturing.  And what is wrong with that?
Here’s one of my favourite bits from the Q&A with Dr. Newman:
 Q: Dr. Newman, my wife is now extended nursing our little girl (2 1/2 years old), but sometimes we get stares and snide comments from friends and family. Could you summarize some of the benefits of extended nursing for mother and child? Also, are there supplements that my wife should take (calcium?) to protect herself while nursing?
Jack Newman: Your wife doesn’t have to protect herself while breastfeeding. If her diet is adequate, she shouldn’t need any sort of supplements.
As for breastfeeding a toddler, it is the best time for nursing for many mothers and babies. Toddlers love it. Mothers also usually love it. It’s a great pleasure for both mother and child. Breastfeeding is so much more than breast milk, and that’s why it’s so special. In our messed up society where breasts are seen only as sexual, nursing mothers often get stares and silly remarks. Your wife and you should be proud to be in this situation, and those who stare should only avert their eyes if they are offended. It’s their problem, not yours.

And yes, breast milk after a year contains antibodies and dozens of other immune factors that protect the baby against infection, growth factors that help develop his immune system, his brain and his gut as well as other systems, still contains the long chained polyunsaturated fatty acids that help develop his brain (and the formula companies make such a fuss about), still contains appropriate proteins. If it’s good for a baby, why isn’t it good for a toddler?

Breastfeed toddlers, and breastfeed them in public. Damn the stares.
Remind anyone who dares to question your wisdom in nursing a toddler, that both Health Canada and the Canadian Paediatric Society recommend women breastfeed to two years and beyond. So does UNICEF.
*Just to clarify, most nights Jade goes into her crib awake and falls asleep — without crying — on her own.

4 Responses to “Breastfeeding a toddler”

  1. Nemmy May 5, 2007 at 2:18 pm #

    Hmm… that\’s very interesting. I have to admit I\’m one of those who gets (got?) uncomfortable at the idea of breastfeeding a child past the point when he/she can talk, but I tend to keep my mouth shut as – like you – I don\’t like to deal in absolutes. The Dr. Newman passage certainly gives food for thought. Maybe, like me, some of those who get uncomforable just need a bit of educating!

  2. Uncheck box & type name May 9, 2007 at 10:56 am #

    (Posted by Fawn)
    Hi Fawn,I\’m sending you an e-mail because, unfortunately, I can\’t do so on your blog without first signing up for Windows Live, which I don\’t want to do.Anyway, kudos to you for continuing with breastfeeding. I am childless, but one who strongly advocates breastfeeding until mother and child are ready to stop, regardless of the age of the child. You\’re right, our society really is upside down (and juvenile) in its reactions to the natural (and healthy) purpose that women\’s breasts have. It\’s funny how people become so opinionated when it comes to everything having to do with children: pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, rearing, and so on. Carole

  3. Fawn May 9, 2007 at 11:00 am #

    Just a reminder to everyone that you can leave a comment by using my guest account:, password 99Nanuq.  Uncheck the "Use my profile information" box and you can fill in your own name (or pseudonym) and a link to your blog, if you wish.

  4. Uncheck box & type name June 4, 2007 at 1:17 pm #

    I can\’t tell you how much I enjoyed this Blog topic…. now, whenever people ask me "how long do you plan to nurse for?" (which is a very common question for me since I will have to avoid all dairy and soy until Maggie is weaned) I now always answer "… well, Health Canada and the Canadian Pediatric Society recommend at least 2 years so I really hope I\’ll be able to for that long" and its so funny because you really get to see what people look like when they are shocked but trying not to look shocked and appear dumb (dumb because they wouldn\’t have thought these were the common recommendations)… Take care Fawn!!! 🙂

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