I got the comment the other day. Most breastfeeding moms know this one or a variant of it: “How long are you going to keep indulging her?”
It came from someone surprised to see that I am still breastfeeding my toddler. She’s 18 months old now and going strong on the breastfeeding. When do you stop?
My answer has always been “When it’s right for both of you.”
Breastfeeding my toddler is still a lot of fun for me. Not always pain free, as she’s pretty acrobatic about the matter at times. Flipping upside down, seeing how many times she can change positions during a nursing session, testing out her own version of that old saying, “You can’t take it with you.”
The minimum I recommend is one year, if it’s working out for the mother. There are legitimate reasons why a breastfeeding relationship ends sooner, and that means any you can manage is a good thing. But if you can make it work, do your best to make that year. It’s what’s recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
There’s nothing wrong with going longer, but be ready to hear comments from people who don’t understand about breastfeeding a child who is capable of eating solid meals. You are still giving your child great benefits with your breastmilk.
A maximum age is hard to define. There have been more extreme cases where children 8 years old are still breastfeeding, and most will call that excessive That’s incredibly personal to those who choose to go that long, and it’s far longer than I’d want to go. But I won’t say it’s flat out bad for the kids.
Breastfeeding isn’t just food for your child. It’s about health benefits and comfort.
Breastmilk provides antibodies to help your child deal better with illness. It doesn’t mean your child will never get sick, but it helps.
Breastfeeding is one of the easiest ways to comfort a child, whether from an injury or because your child is just worn out. Being held close and allowed to suckle calms children down faster than just about anything else much of the time. The bonding time is great for mother and child.
So How Long to Breastfeed?
My favorite duration for breastfeeding is “until the child decides to wean.” It’s the most relaxing way for me, personally. My older two self weaned by 18 months; this one looks to be going strong a while longer yet.
My second favorite is “as long as you can stand it and your lifestyle permits.” It’s not second best really, as many people have lifestyle or other issues that require weaning before the baby chooses it. You have every right to decide when you are done with breastfeeding. It’s your body, not your child’s, even if babies and toddlers get really possessive of their mother’s breasts at times.
The important thing is to have a happy and healthy mother and child. If that’s not at all due to medications or other issues, that’s how it goes. If that’s three or more years because you’re both that comfortable with the whole thing, it’s your decision. The right length of time to breastfeed is more about what works for you, not what everyone else is telling you is the exact right amount of breastfeeding.
Should It Be a Law?
Don’t be ridiculous. Of course it shouldn’t be a law. I don’t care what Gisele Bundchen said.
What breastfeeding moms, and moms in general need from the law, is support. Laws that make it easier to breastfeed, especially in public. That’s legal in many places now, but not everywhere.
We need laws that give moms more paid maternity leave. Paternity leave for dads would be nice too. But it’s easier for moms to breastfeed if they have more paid maternity leave. It would allow breastfeeding to be better established before mom has to return to work.
This isn’t just an issue in the United States. It’s an issue worldwide, especially in countries where families can’t afford formula, but are often given free samples, which disrupts the proper establishment of breastfeeding. Nestle’s business practices are a strong example of a company’s business practices interfering with breastfeeding.
We need obstetricians and pediatricians who are well trained on the subject of breastfeeding. We need better education for mothers rather than a “breastfeeding support bag” filled with formula and coupons for formula.
We need social support and acceptance that a woman’s breasts are not just about sex.
And we need support for moms who are struggling with breastfeeding or cannot do so.