In our culture extended breastfeeding is misunderstood in many ways. I've been collecting these misconceptions about it in my head and thought I'd take this opportunity to address them here.
So, here six common misconceptions about extended breastfeeding:
1) There is such a thing as extended breastfeeding. Yes, I know that we chose this as the theme for this carnival (and several contributors objected to the term in their posts), but the concept of 'extended' breastfeeding implies that there is a standard length of breastfeeding and this is a lengthening beyond the normal. But the length of breastfeeding - historically and around the world - varies significantly. In much of the world 'extended breastfeeding' would be considered just regular old breastfeeding.
2) After a certain point, breastmilk loses its value. One of the other contributors to this carnival put it best: At a certain point does spinach lose its value? I fairly regularly hear from moms who say that their doctor told them that breastmilk has less value after X number of months. This simply isn't true. Breastmilk continues to provide the optimum nutrition and immune protection to your child. And the changes that do occur to its composition do so for a reason. One of my favorite facts about breastmilk is that it increases in immune protection when babies are six months old. Why? Perhaps because the mother's body knows that the baby is starting solid foods and that this provides a route for pathogens to enter the baby's system. And when your breasts sense that feeding frequency is declining, they increase the immune protection in the milk. Nice system, huh?
3) It's all about the milk. Back before I had kids I worked with a woman who nursed her kids until they were three or four. I had never heard of this, and asked increduously, "But are they getting any milk?" She patiently explained to me that nursing at this age is really about connection and comfort than about milk. This fact is lost on a lot of people, including those who say things like, "After a year, put it in a cup!" (Note to self: Stop reading comments on breastfeeding stories when they appear on non-parenting blogs.)
4) Nursing a toddler is the same as nursing a newborn. Want to hear a new mother swear a blue streak? Mention that the WHO recommends two years of breastfeeding. She'll probably assume that this means that at two years she'd be nursing 12 times a day. But typically older toddlers nurse a lot less frequently - often just at nap and bedtimes. Yes, some do nurse more, but the assumption that breastfeeding looks the same at 3 years as at 3 weeks is generally a misonception.
5) It's sexual. So, if it's not all about feeding, then it's some kind of creepy sexual perversion, right? This view is a consequence of our culture's nearly complete sexualization of breasts. In cultures where this is not the case no one would conceive of breastfeeding a toddler being a sexual act. It's this sexualized view that leads people to say "When she can ask for it, it's time to stop." Of course, as one of the other contributors to this month's carnival aptly pointed out, babies can ask for the breast from the day they're born!
6) It's abnormal. Certainly, historically and currently around the world nursing for three, four, or more years is quite normal. But what about here in the U.S. now? It's actually pretty hard to say, since no one tracks breastfeeding duration past a year. And because it's so stigmatized (see #1-5), much of it is closeted. So while you may rarely see it in public, there may be more mothers than you think who are continuing to nurse into toddlerhood and beyond.
Check out these posts on the topic of extended breastfeeding:
Mama Alvina of Ahava & Amara Life Foundation: Breastfeeding Journey Continues
Elita @ Blacktating: The Last Time That Never Was
Diana Cassar-Uhl, IBCLC: Old enough to ask for it
Karianna @ Caffeinated Catholic Mama: A Song for Mama’s Milk
Judy @ Mommy News Blog: My Favorite Moments
Tamara Reese @ Please Send Parenting Books: Nursing past infancy
Jenny @ Chronicles of a Nursing Mom: The Highs and Lows of Nursing a Toddler
Christina @ MFOM: Natural-Term Breastfeeding
Rebekah @ Momma’s Angel: My Sleep Breakthrough
Suzi @ Attachedattheboob: Why I love nursing a toddler
Claire @ The Adventures of Lactating Girl: My Hopes for Tandem Nursing
Elisa @ blissfulE: counter cultural: extended breastfeeding
Momma Jorje: Extended Breastfeeding, So Far!
Stephanie Precourt @ Adventures in Babywearing: “Continued Breastfeeding”: straight from the mouths of babes
The Accidental Natural Mama: Nurse on, Mama
Sarah @ Reproductive Rites: Gratitude for extended breastfeeding
Nikki @ On Becoming Mommy: The Little Things
Dr. Sarah @ Good Enough Mum: Breastfeeding for longer than a year: myths, facts and what the research really shows
Amy @ WIC City: (Extended) Breastfeeding as Mothering
The Artsy Mama: Why Nurse a Toddler?
Christina @ The Milk Mama: The best thing about breastfeeding
TopHot @ the bee in your bonnet: From the Mouths of Babes
Beth @ Bethstedman.com: Extended Breastfeeding: To Wean Or Not To Wean
Callista @ Callista’s Ramblings: Pressure To Stop Breastfeeding
Amanda @ Postilius: Nursing My Toddler Keeps My Baby Close
Sheryl @ Little Snowflakes: Tandem Nursing- The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
Zoie @ Touchstone Z: Breastfeeding Flavors
Lauren @ Hobo Mama: Same old, same old: Extended breastfeeding
Jona @ Breastfeedingtwins: Breastfeeding older twins
Motherlove Herbal Company: Five reasons to love nursing a toddler
Authentic Parenting: Extended breastfeeding?