Natural Term Breastfeeding
How Old is Too Old?
The media and society in general seem to believe that breastfeeding should stop around the time that a baby cuts his or her first teeth, for most babies this is somewhere around 6-12 months of age. After this age many feel that breastfeeding is ‘all about the mother’ not wanting to let her child grow up. Society feels that in fulfilling their own needs these mothers may psychologically harm their children, stifling their independence or indeed the ‘breastfed child’ may be on the receiving end of bullying from their peers. Many state that they find it ‘odd’ and would feel deeply uncomfortable if they saw an older child breastfeeding. In other countries around the world however it is completely normal to breastfeed to age three and beyond, and in these societies they feel that we, in the West, are ‘odd’.
Most mothers who breastfeed an older child don’t set out to breastfeed until a certain age, although many do start with the intention of letting the weaning be dictated by their child’s needs and not their own. Time passes quickly and you don’t notice your baby growing, until all of a sudden you realise that your baby is now three or four and the breastfeeding – that normal part of everyday life – is still continuing.
Breastfeeding is not just about food though, it is a wonderful comfort to a child. Many natural term breastfeeders comment on how breastfeeding sees them through numerous illnesses, accidents and teething easily. Natural term (or extended as it is sometimes called) breastfeeding is really not about a mother’s need to ‘keep her child a baby’, but everything about meeting the needs of our children. It is the epitome of unselfishness.
We frequently hear about the benefits of initiating breastfeeding, yet hear little about how these benefits continue well beyond infancy. In the UK only three per cent of babies are exclusively breastfed at five months of age despite the World Health Organisation recommending “babies are breastfed from birth until two years and then as long as mutually desired”. Indeed in many countries breastfeeding continues for at least two years, with scientists estimating that the natural age for weaning is somewhere between two and a half and seven years of age. The current worldwide average age for weaning from the breast stands at around four and a half years old.
Those who criticise extended breastfeeding say that the WHO advice is only for those in the developing world, with dirty water and inadequate nutrition, but in reality breastfeeding past infancy is the norm for our species and benefits children whatever country they live in.
Breastfeeding past infancy has significant health benefits for children and breast milk is also still a major source of nutrition well into the toddler years. According to breastfeeding information website www.kellymom.com in a child’s second year of life just 448 ML of breastmilk provides:
- 29% of energy requirements
- 43% of protein requirements
- 36% of calcium requirements
- 75% of vitamin A requirements
- 94% of vitamin B12 requirements
- 60% of vitamin C requirements
Natural term breastfeeding also has health benefits for mothers too, with the increased length of breastfeeding protecting against varying forms of cancer and osteoporosis. Lastly, far from causing psychological problems and the clingy, dependent children that society fears when ‘extended breastfeeding’ is mentioned in hushed tones, children who are given continued comfort through long term breastfeeding tend to grow up to be incredibly secure and self-reliant.
By Sarah Ockwell-Smith – Our resident Baby and Toddler Expert.