Extended - adjective: lasting longer than is usual or expected; prolonged.
- “If they’re old enough to ask for it, they’re too old”
- “Breastfeeding too long makes them clingy”
- “Mums who breastfeed past infancy are doing it for themselves”
- “Breastmilk loses its nutritional value after 12 months”
I’m sure you’ve seen or heard these types of comments before.
“Extended breastfeeding” is a term used in Western society to describe breastfeeding beyond 12 months of age. In many non-western cultures breastfeeding into toddlerhood and early childhood is the norm. The biological norm is to breastfeed until the child self-weans at approximately 2-7 years of age.
Breastfeeding beyond one year old has many benefits including:
- Fewer illnesses and mortality rates for children
- Breastfeeding being a source of comfort and a way to bond
- Decreased risk of breast cancer in mothers
We’re not saying you have to breastfeed until a certain time or until your child self-weans. As a mother, you have to decide when the best time to wean is considering all other factors. We also understand that not everyone is able to breastfeed or breastfeed for as long as they’d like to. The point of this article is to tell you that breastfeeding beyond one year of age is NOT unusual or unnecessary, hence it shouldn’t have to be prefixed with “extended”.
Ladies, we’ve done so well at trying to normalise breastfeeding. Let’s take that a step further by not being afraid to feed our toddlers and remove the stigma of breastfeeding past infancy.
Chat with Lauren McLeod
We talked to Lauren McLeod, a Perth doula, to find out about her experience with breastfeeding her eldest child beyond infancy.
Q: How old is your eldest and when did you know that breastfeeding past infancy was right for you two?
Lauren: My eldest is 3 years old. Both my husband and I were breastfed until we were around 2 years old, so right from when I was pregnant with our son, I knew that I wanted to breastfeed until the same age because that was what I saw as normal. There are many health and emotional benefits of breastfeeding, which I came to learn about during my pregnancy (and am still learning about now as there are so many!), and I knew that I would do my best to breastfeed for as long as I could. Well, 2 years old came and went and I couldn’t imagine weaning him just because we’d reached my initial goal. Even now, he’s still such a boobie monster and finds such comfort in breastfeeding, I couldn’t imagine weaning him before he’s ready. The same goes for my youngest - at this stage, I plan to let them both self-wean whenever they’re ready.
Q: Have you faced any criticism from family, friends or strangers about breastfeeding for this long? How do you respond?
Lauren: I had a handful of negative comments from a couple of people shortly after my eldest turned one, but I just confidently told them that we will continue breastfeeding until my son decides he’s ready to stop, and it’s none of anyone else’s business. Since then, no one has questioned it because I so openly share about our breastfeeding journey and have no issues breastfeeding both of my children in front of people.
Q: What has been the best part and the worst part about breastfeeding into toddlerhood/early childhood?
Lauren: The best part is definitely the bond my son and I have. I’m sure we would still have a beautiful bond even if we weren’t still breastfeeding, but our bedtime feed especially is a really nice way for us to wind down and reconnect after a busy and/or challenging day. The worst part has to be trying to teach my son about boundaries and that my breasts are mine and not his, so he has to let go when I ask him to. I do get quite touched out sometimes now that I’m breastfeeding two children, so I do need to assert my boundaries with my eldest sometimes and explain to him that I need space, which is hard for him to understand, but we’re getting there.
(1) Goldman, AS, Goldblum, RM, Garza, C. (1983). "Immunologic components in human milk during the second year of lactation". Acta Paediatrica Scandinavica. 72 (3): 461–462
(2) "A Longitudinal study of human milk composition in the second year postpartum: Implications for human milk banking". Maternal Child Nutrition. 2016.
(3) Anstey EH, Shoemaker ML, Barrera CM, O'Neil ME, Verma AB, Holman DM. Breastfeeding and Breast Cancer Risk Reduction: Implications for Black Mothers. Am J Prev Med. 2017;53(3S1):S40-S46. doi:10.1016/j.amepre.2017.04.024