It is an empowering but most frustrating endeavor a woman can ever do after they have a child. It is a blood, sweat, and tears type of journey and the length of that journey should not matter for it is as unique as each child can be. Unfortunately, there is still a stigma and even hateful words towards a woman who decides to continue to breastfeed past the first year of life. Where this magical number came from, who knows.
By definition, at least for westernized society, extended breastfeeding is feeding a child past the first year of age. It is only my interpretation and experiences that the reason for this number is because we start feeding our babies at such an early age (4 months). Add in the governing institutions, who make policies based on money, not good will, and their statements that the “best time” to quit feeding a baby mother’s milk is a year old. And this leads to a division between people when in reality we are all just trying to do our best while raising children.
Let’s Talk Evolution
Humans, without a doubt, have evolved. Do not turn this into a debate on God vs. Evolution. Nope. Don’t start it, but you cannot deny that humans have evolved. We have evolved into smarter, longer living creatures but some of our primary basis for procreation and sustaining that life has not evolved because of its basis of perfection.
Anthropologically speaking, mammals wean their young when their milk teeth start to fall out. Dogs, cows, apes, etc. Humans are the only mammals that do not do that. If looking at just that type of data, we wean our children so far in advance of them losing their baby teeth. Jamie Lynn over at I Am Not The Babysitter has a great article with concise information from a talk Katherine Dettweyler gave on breastfeeding and weaning. Go read it. You will surprise yourself.
The act of breastfeeding is a biologically normal event. Even if the child is 2, 3, or 4 years old, it is normal. When given the information that a child’s immune system at age 3 is still not developed, wouldn’t the idea of breastfeeding to provide the immunities to the child be far better than pumping them full of antibiotics every time they get sick?
Here comes my psychology talk. Oh, how I love to do this! Psychologically speaking, even cognitively speaking, a young child hasn’t matured this far. Due to the way we remember things (try thinking of your first memory, was it around age 5/6?) and our language (look up Noam Chomsky and Ernest Schachtel), the need of a child is based on instinct and not knowledge. Comfort is what a child is seeking and when the psychological and emotional growth happens, a child will self-wean. It happens overnight. Just ask any mother who has had their child self-wean.
Those of us who are extended breastfeeders understand the attitude. We are not ashamed of what we do because it is normal, but it gets quite old when someone accuses us of abusing our child or it being sexual. FAR. FROM. THE. TRUTH!! Perception isn’t always reality, a phrase I loathe. When you pass judgments or preconceived opinions based upon possible perversions, you are hurting yourself, the chance to teach your kids that everyone has a choice, and you’re missing out on getting to know someone probably pretty awesome!
Age and Nutrition
Age is just a number, and when it comes to children, it is fluid. What I mean is that just because a child is 3, it doesn’t equate that they are ready for potty training. Each child is different; each parenting method is different. Age should not be the end all be all for your child to do something or to quit something.
Nutrition also plays a part. In today’s society, personally, I would rather see a 4-year-old still breastfeeding than downing McDonald’s 2 or 3 times a week. Chances are if a mother is still breastfeeding at that age, she cares about her health and food, so the nutrition is better served for that child than any fast food joint.
It is time to look at extended breastfeeding from a health perspective rather than the norms of society dictate. Norms evolve but what is required of us to be healthy has not evolved much from our fundamental basis. If you see a mom breastfeeding an older child, check your bias; your preconceived perceptions and smile. You’ll have taught yourself and your children far more than any criticism would ever do.