- Extended breastfeeding also reduces the risk of uterine, ovarian and breast cancers in mothers.
- In some cultures, breast-feeding continues until children are age 6 or 7
- WHO recommends mothers breastfeed until three years of age.
It feels like just yesterday when my sweaty hands were fumbling as I tried to breastfeed my daughter for the first time. It felt so sophisticated until I got used to it and started breastfeeding, eating and talking on the phone at the same time.
As we approach 18 months, most people are asking me when I plan to wean her. My first plan was to stop as soon as she hit two years but now I am open to extending it if she so wishes. Worldwide, babies are weaned on average between ages 2 and 4.
In some cultures, breast-feeding continues until children are age 6 or 7. WHO now officially recommends mothers breastfeed until three years of age. I have seen how most people (including mothers) are disgusted when they see an older child breastfeeding. I personally find it normal because I saw my younger brother breastfeeding until he was four.
I remember how he would come from school and run to our mother who was usually busy doing something, would flip her top open and breastfeed while standing. I don't remember people looking uncomfortable about it but attitudes toward breastfeeding has changed a lot since then.
The hyper-sexualized society we live in now mostly believes breastfeeding an older child creates an adverse attachment and/or too much dependency and is a disgusting thing to look at as well.
Does extended breastfeeding have benefits?
The 'white gold' is an amazing liquid because it can cater to a child's nutritional need even as she grows.
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It has a lot of long term health benefits both for the child and mother. Children who breastfeed for extended periods of time are healthier overall; they have better vision and hearing as well as a strong immune system with reduced risk of developing health problems like diabetes and heart diseases.
A number of studies also suggest that they are smarter (my brother is a top student) and easier to discipline. Extended breastfeeding also reduces the risk of uterine, ovarian and breast cancers in mothers.
I remember weaning my brother was an arduous task. His non-stop tantrums were unbearable at night and he often bit her nipple. Mother must make it clear to the child that they not human pacifiers and breastfeeding is for food and bonding not a soother. It is easier when the weaning process is gradual so as to prepare them emotionally. For mothers who decide to extend breastfeeding, one of the things they will grapple with is negative reactions from others.
Our society has adapted training our children to be independent as early as possible with self-rocking cots, bouncy seats and baby monitors. But there is so much to be gained from the bonding provided by extended breastfeeding including a physically, socially and emotionally nurtured child. As hard as it may be, you need to do what's best for your baby and for your own family.