Monday, August 2, 2010

Extended Breastfeeding

It's World Breastfeeding Week and so I chose to do some post this week devoted to breastfeeding. This first one I've wanted to write for awhile because its the most relevant to me right now.

This picture isn't the greatest of me. But its real. If you came over at nap time this is what you would find. Jackson and Noah just finished nursing together and had fallen asleep.

One thing that always seems to be a big deal with people is extended breastfeeding. A lot of people are really surprised to hear that I'm still nursing a 4 year old(yes, a 4 year old). A lot of people have a hard time with this including some close family and friends. I think its a little easier for them to except it being that my son has special needs but yet it still bothers them. So I 've been wanting to share my experience in hopes of that there will be more understanding of me and other woman who choose extended breastfeeding.
I didn't set out to be nursing a preschooler. I even once was of those who believed that once a baby was old enough to ask for it they shouldn't be nursing. I don't even know why as a teenager I would think this or have any idea that I knew what I was talking about. But after the birth of my first baby my goal was to be make to a year. At that time that what everyone was saying was best. My journey of that first year of nursing was full of lots of ups and downs. But mostly it was the most wonderful thing. A year came and went and it didn't even occur to me to wean him. Why after we had worked so hard to get things to be good. Why stop when he was so very much still a baby. I didn't even have idea then how long I would nurse I was just going with the flow of things. During that next year my son and more and more health problems and was considered at one point failure to thrive because of losing weight due to his health problems. Breastfeeding was the only way he was able to continue getting anything and kept him going. We continued right along with breastfeeding on demand. When my older son was 2 years old I found out I was expecting again. During the pregnancy I did encourage him to nurse less often for my own sake. Towards the end of the pregnancy I did have drop in supply and my milk changed to colostrum. He cut back to nursing only once or twice a day. After I had the baby I continued to nurse both of them. It took me a few days to get used to nursing a newborn and only nursed them one at a time. After those initial first days I was able to nurse them together. Jackson really enjoyed this time bonding with his new brother. Jackson will rub his brothers head, sometimes they hold hands, and sometimes they kick each other. If Noah is ever nursing, Jackson comes up and simply says “share” and he wants to “share mommy milk”. Its a special time for all of us. I've been tandem nursing both of them for 18 months now. Over time I've learned more about the importance of breastfeeding and child-led weaning. I plan on letting Jackson nurse as long as he desires. That maybe next week or it still may be awhile. Right now he is still nursing a lot, some days its only 2 or 3. Others it's 6 or 7. Jackson still very much needs it. He has trouble with his blood sugars and nursing is sure way of getting his sugars up. Also Jackson has a lot of sensory issues and nursing helps calm him down and deal with what his body is going through. Jackson maybe needs it more so then other children is age. I've continued to breastfeed him because I realized the importance of it for him! I didn't plan on breastfeeding a preschooler but somehow my little newborn became a toddler and now is growing preschooler. After 4 years of nursing Jackson I changed. I've leaned more. I don't think I'll do anything different with Noah. I also plan on letting him wean himself, whenever that will be. He's 18 months right now and nurses anywhere from 4-8 times a day. It depends on when both of them nurse if they nurse together or not. Usually at least once a day they will together and sometimes its every time. So, some days I nurse 8 times a day and sometimes up to 15 or even 20 if its a rough day. Yeah, it's a lot and can be frustrating. But I wouldn't change a thing.

Why I believe in nursing past a 1 year and child led weaning.
brain myelination is not complete until age 2 The high fat content of human milk greatly helps this process. Improper myelination means slower brain function.

Young children are at the peak of getting sick. Their exploring their worlds and always putting things in their mouths. Breastmilk has antibodies and helps boost their immune system.

Breastmilk contains Alpha-lactalbumin which causes fast growing cells, like cancer cells, to self destruct. The more of these maybe less likely of childhood cancers.

Breast milk contains stem cells!

The book Breastfeeding: Biocultural Perspectives contains a wonderful section called “A Time to Wean: The Hominid Blueprint for a Natural Age of Weaning in Modern Human Populations.” by Katherine A. Dettwyler, Ph.D. Dr. Dettwyler is an award winning anthropologist, professor, and breastfed her daughter until she was 4 years old. In the section Dettwyler compares various primates, including humans, to find what the biological norm would be for humans. She found that the natural age for modern humans based on our size, development, and life span is between 2.5 years and 7 years. A child still nursing at 4 years old is normal, natural, and OK.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that "Breastfeeding should be continued for at least the first year of life and beyond for as long as mutually desired by mother and child... Increased duration of breastfeeding confers significant health and developmental benefits for the child and the mother... There is no upper limit to the duration of breastfeeding and no evidence of psychologic or developmental harm from breastfeeding into the third year of life or longer." (AAP 2005)

The American Academy of Family Physicians recommends that breastfeeding continue throughout the first year of life and that "As recommended by the WHO, breastfeeding should ideally continue beyond infancy, but this is not the cultural norm in the United States and requires ongoing support and encouragement. It has been estimated that a natural weaning age for humans is between two and seven years. Family physicians should be knowledgeable regarding the ongoing benefits to the child of extended breastfeeding, including continued immune protection, better social adjustment, and having a sustainable food source in times of emergency. The longer women breastfeed, the greater the decrease in their risk of breast cancer." They also note that "If the child is younger than two years of age, the child is at increased risk of illness if weaned." (AAFP 2008)

The World Health Organization recommends “infants should be exclusively breastfed(1) for the first six months of life to achieve optimal growth, development and health(2). Thereafter, to meet their evolving nutritional requirements, infants should receive nutritionally adequate and safe complementary foods while breastfeeding continues for up to two years of age or beyond.“

"Breast milk continues to provide substantial amounts of key nutrients well beyond the first year of life, especially protein, fat, and most vitamins."
-- Dewey 2001
In the second year (12-23 months), 448 mL of breastmilk provides:
29% of energy requirements
43% of protein requirements
36% of calcium requirements
75% of vitamin A requirements
76% of folate requirements
94% of vitamin B12 requirements
60% of vitamin C requirements
-- Dewey 2001

The longer a woman breastfeeds she greatly reduces her chances of getting breast, ovarian, uterine, and endometrial cancers.


  1. I have a similar story. With my first, my goal was to nurse for 12 months. As that benchmark came around, I found I wasn't ready to give up breastfeeding yet. I talked with other moms (like you) and decided to keep going. When he was 17 months, I found out I was pregnant. The pregnancy hormones and the breastfeeding hormones really clashed in me, and I was an emotional wreck. I decided to wean, which my son was completely fine with, and after a week, there was a noticeable emotional relief, though I was very sad that my special time nursing my first was over... so I thought. When my second son was 3 years old, my first decided to start nursing again. He was 27 months old. At first, I wasn't sure what to make of it; he had been weaned for 10 months! I also wasn't sure how I felt about nursing a 2-year-old. I decided to go with it. I had plenty of milk and I knew how healthy the milk was, so why not? I always gave (and still give) my baby priority on my milk supply, but as long as there is enough for two and my oldest wants some mommy's milk, I have no problem with him nursing.

    My oldest is now 3 1/2 year old. He doesn't nurse much any more--maybe 2-3 times a week, though occasionally there are a few times when it is 2-3 times a day. My favorite is to have both boys nurse together, though my 18-months-old sometimes gets territorial and pushes his brother away.

  2. I really enjoyed reading this! I struggled to get Truman to latch on, so I stopped trying after about a month and a half. I would have loved to breastfeed him. Maybe down the road, when I hope to have another kid, I will try again.