Breastfeeding and child-led weaning

September 1, 2007 | Uncategorized | 34 comments

I was Googling around for breastfeeding info and came across this video about a woman who is seriously committed to the idea of child-led weaning…she still breastfeeds her almost eight-year-old daughter! (At first I thought the video might be a satire, but it’s not. I found this story about the woman here.)

Anyway, since it’s the middle of the night and I have plenty of time to think as the baby and I work on breastfeeding issues of our own, I’ve been wondering: if you’re a believer in child-led weaning, where would you draw the line in a case like this where the child continues to enjoy it well past baby/toddlerhood? Also, it’s certainly odd, but is there anything *wrong* with breastfeeding a child that old?

I don’t have strong feelings on the subject, but I thought it was interesting. Back to the all night nurse-a-thon…

34 Comments

  1. Michelle

    Um, I think some children need to be kicked into the next level of development. None of my kids liked a pacifier, and it really bugs me to see kids over the age of about 2 walking around with one. I allowed my last three kids to nurse until just before their 2nd birthdays…but by the time they were 14 months old or so, I was limiting it, especially in public.

    Extended breastfeeding may be linked to higher IQs and other good things, but I can’t believe that they would apply that to children over the age of 3. When Samuel was given to the Temple upon weaning, I don’t imagine that he was as old as EIGHT. I have in my mind that they weaned kids around age three in Biblical times.

    I’m sure this woman has good intentions, but I don’t think allowing babyish behavior in a child that old is a good idea. If she sucked her thumb, would she still encourage it? If she wanted her milk in a bottle, would that be okay?

  2. MY NAME IS SIMCHA.

    I couldn’t even watch the movie once the girl started to latch on. I found it extremely creepy.

    I don’t think it’s a moral issue, but psychologically, it doesn’t seem reasonable for the mother and daughter to be so intertwined with each other. Eight is the age when my kids start to really be interested in privacy and independence –child-led, in fact. I suppose it would still be possible to learn these things while breastfeeding; but there must be a good reason why most children stop being interested in breastfeeding when they’re much younger. Not that being different from the crowd is a sign of illness, but it’s still smart to try and figure out why the crowd thinks the way it does, and see if they might have a point.

    Sorry, I guess I should watch the whole movie before forming an opinion, especially since I haven’t had coffee yet.

    I do think it’s a terrible idea to be public about it! Do these kids have any friends, and is it even possible that they’re not teased unmercifully?

  3. Ash

    I’m no expert, but it seems to me that child-led weaning is part of the now popular idea of rearing children in the more traditional way of the past…and in the way of the two-thirds world today. While I think coming back to some of that in our modern, individualistic society is good, this seems extreme. In cultures where this is practiced, there is also no contraception. Children frequently wean sooner when mommy is pregnant or feeding other children, because the taste of the milk changes. You would be hard pressed to find an 8-year-old in Africa who still nurses, he/she would be too busy working in the garden, tending the flocks, or caring for younger siblings. I also agree with Simcha that the psychological and social difficulties of this seem numerous.

    I normally shy away from judgements on breastfeeding issues; there is just too much potential for hurt feelings on all sides. But this does seem an extreme case.

  4. MY NAME IS SIMCHA.

    Okay, I watched the rest. I assumed through most of the video that this was a household without a father. Even now that I know there is a man around, it’s hard for me to believe that a lot of this situation isn’t about the mother’s need to be needed.

    What will happen to this couple when the kids do move out?

  5. Milehimama

    I don’t think there is anything morally wrong with the breastfeeding part. And, if we were panintheists, it would be perfectly fine – part of the natural order, which is “all good”.

    The fact remains, however, that all of us suffer from the effects of original sin, even children, and one of our primary duties as parents is to guide our children in the control of their bodily appetites.

    I think child-led weaning is good in theory, but not to the exclusion of the needs of other family members. We can’t say that we will let the child do as he pleases, he will stop when he’s ready, when the child has clearly crossed the line from “need” (as in an infant) to “feels good, I’m not gonna stop” (older child).

    This goes for more than just breastfeeding – we shouldn’t allow a 5 year old to awaken us through the night for security, entertainment, and to give them a snack. We shouldn’t allow a normal 4 year old “nurse for comfort”. We must teach them to control their passions, and be self disciplined.

    How will this girl learn to control her appetite for junk food, or lustful activities, or to check her pride if she is never even required to stop nursing, because it feels good?

    It is good to consider the needs of the child, and treat them with their own inherent dignity. It is not good to give them whatever they want in the name of “child rights”.

    Lest anyone think I’m draconian, stern and strict, we practice child led learning, nursing on demand (infant, NOT 8 yo!), and Montessori preschool in the home!

  6. Catherine Shaffer

    I nursed my son until he was four. Reading some of these comments really makes me wince. We did not practice “child led weaning.” I limited nursing after about age two, and discouraged him from nursing completely on demand between 2 and 4. By the time he was 4, it was only at bed time, and he and I made a joint decision to end the nursing relationship. Successful weaning should be a dance between the mother and the child. The mother needs to encourage independence.

    Biologically, the age of weaning is between 3 and 5, and in traditional nonwestern societies, 5 if often the outside limit. This is when a child’s peers start to notice, and comment on babyish behavior. It is not natural for the mother to offer unlimited access for an unlimited time. You will see mother cats or cows weaning their babies by pushing them away. On the other hand, you can name just about any bizarre nursing style you can think of, and find it practiced in some culture somewhere. That doesn’t make it healthy and right.

    I would not venture to say what the appropriate age of weaning is. I know I have been moderately hurt by reading the comments of strangers who think nursing beyond X age is not right, and I would not do that to another motherpu. However, I was extremely uncomfortable watching that clip, and I do believe both of those girls were spoiled, judging by their behavior, their sense of entitlement, and the lack of respect they have for their mother’s body. Unfortunately, spoiling is an ancient parenting practice that never quite seems to go out of style.

  7. Linda M

    Oh good grief! This is ridiculous! The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding for at least six months and preferably one year. One. Not eight (not four, sorry). Everyone is so polite about this crazy woman. Let’s imagine the conversation in highschool when this girl’s friends find out that she actually remembers breastfeeding. These girls have been allowed to develop a fixation on the mom’s breasts. They talk to them, play with them and draw pictures of them! I’ll say it — this is wrong. Nuts. Bizarre! Next time this family prayers to the “earth and the sun” they should pray for some common sense.

  8. Kerry

    extended breastfeeding is wonderful and lovely, but this video was simply weird! I agree with the commenter about the mother “needing to feel needed” and the girls being, well, it seems a little obsessed?

  9. T. Frances

    What Catherine Shaffer said! 🙂

    I believe that infants need to be nursed on demand, and I don’t think it really makes sense to set an arbitrary age to stop nursing. Contrary to what our first pediatrician told us, the benefits of nursing don’t just stop at one year.

    However, as a child grows and matures, the needs of mother and child change too. I think it makes perfect sense for the nursing relationship to change, and for the mother to work with the child and set limits where it makes sense, just like with anything else.

    A child becomes less and less dependent on nursing, and eventually stops altogether.

    And I think that the more limits the mother sets on nursing, the sooner a child will tend to wean himself. My daughter stopped nursing just a couple of months after I (painlessly) introduced some new limits when she was 2.5 and I got pregnant again.

    I limit nursing in public from about 18 months, because I don’t want to make other people uncomfortable, and because the baby can eat and drink and wait a little while by then. I also limit nursing at other times, balancing it with other needs, starting at about 2. Both my older kids stopped nursing on their own when they were 3 – and by that time, they were only nursing occasionally for a few seconds at a time.

    Ash also makes a very good point. If the mother gets pregnant again, very often the nursling will wean during the pregnancy because the milk changes and often almost dries up in the middle of the pregnancy. So that is a natural time to stop nursing, which may occur sooner than the child would have stopped nursing otherwise.

  10. Kate

    I wrote a long thoughtful comment here, but lost my internet connection just when I hit ‘post’! I don’t think I can replicate it, so I’ll have to make do with briefer and not so thoughtful.

    When I think of ‘child-led’ weaning, I think of something similar to ‘child-led’ potty training – you observe your child, watch for signs that they are developmentally ready for the next step, and then offer incentives and aid in reaching that next step. Nobody (I hope!) suggests we should wait to potty train until the child spontaneously starts using the toilet by themselves without any instruction or guidance.

    As parents, we ought to always keep our goals in mind – thinking of the next stage as we parent the one we’re in. We aim to raise our children to be well-balanced, capable, happy and healthy adults, and the foundation for that is built now. I’m a pretty attached parent, and I know infants shouldn’t be ‘independent.’ But there are developmental stages where we should be encouraging our children to find their independence and sense of self.

    When my son, at 22 months, began obviously losing interest in nursing except as a comforting habit, I began offering him other comfort mechanisms as an alternative. We replaced night time nursing with cuddles, books, and songs. We replaced comfort nursing (when hurt or upset) with bandaids, kisses, and distracting activities. He weaned over 3 weeks, much faster than I expected, and I realized that the nursing was as habitual for me as it had been for him – if I hadn’t chosen to ‘break’ the habit for both of us, who knows how long it would have gone on. But he needed to wean at some point in order to learn other, more independent and complex ways of comforting himself and relating to me, and he was obviously at an age when that could happen.

    Besides, nursing takes place in the context of a relationship, and it was no longer physically comfortable for me, even though it was still sweet and satisfying.

    My take on this woman and her eight year old is that she missed the developmental window at some point. Her daughter is nursing for completely different reasons than a 2 year old or even a 4 year old. Now nursing is obviously part of her identity – you can see that in how she talks about it. This is hardly surprising, since for some time now she has been old enough to understand how her mother feels about nursing, and learn that she can gain her mother’s approval through this behaviour. She’s not nursing because it is developmentally appropriate for an 8 year old to nurse, she’s nursing because it is developmentally normal for 8 year olds to seek their parents affection and approval by aping their opinions, ideas, and behaviour. I will gladly be judgmental enough to say that this is not healthy, and does not bode well for future family relationships or for normal psychological development. Her mother, IMO, has displayed poor parenting by refusing to curb developmentally inappropriate behaviour or guide her daughter to more age appropriate alternatives.

    Well, so much for brief. 🙂

  11. Chelsea Y.

    Oh my word! Since it seems that the world is now so obsessed with returning to nature (frankly I enjoy the modern conviences of technology, but I digress), let’s look to nature for guidance on this particular issue. Do you see any other mammals nursing their mature offspring? No! Why might that be? It is completely unnatural not to mention a hassle. By a year old, children should start having teeth. Why would God bless human beings with such a convenient and perfect tool for breaking apart solid food if we were meant to be sustained by breast milk? It doesn’t make sense. Furthermore, a mother’s job is to guide and nurture their children on the path to being adults. By letting a child decide when they want to stop breast feeding is comparable to letting them stay up at night as late as they want. As a parent, you understand what’s better for your child than he or she does. At some point, you will, or at least should, have to tell your child no, no matter how much they want you to say yes. Also, do you want to remember suckling at your mother’s breast? I sincerely hope that no one answers yes to that.

    As far as public breastfeeding goes, stop it! It’s inappropriate. It makes people feel uncomfortable. They are still breasts even if they have a practicle purpose. I agree that a mother breastfeeding her child is a beautiful time for the pair to bond. It’s an intimate experience for both, why do you want everyone in the restaurant joining in on that moment?

    I know that I sound harsh. I honestly think that breastfeeding for the appropriate amount of time in private is extremely healthy and beneficial. I am sure that I have offended many a well-intentioned mother, however some things are just creepy.

  12. Milehimama

    Public breastfeeding? What?!!

    Women can breastfeed without exposing themselves. What is creepy about seeing a woman with a blanket over her chest? Is it the gulping sounds?

    What is a woman supposed to do with her infant who is hungry, let him cry and starve him?

    If a baby is breastfed, and the mother leaves the house, there’s going to be some public breastfeeding going on. Babies are unpredictable and you can’t always know ahead of time when they are going to need to eat. You can’t always forsee a 90 minute wait at the doctors office, or an extra long line at the DMV to ensure a baby won’t need to eat while you are there.

    I don’t breastfeed only to have an intimate experience and bond, but also to provide nutrition to my child, which is perfectly appropriate for a restaurant!

    Feeding your child in a bathroom stall, which is often the only non-public place available, is what’s creepy.

  13. Ouiz

    Wow. I’m not sure what creeped me out more… watching an 8 yr old nurse, or listening to them pray to the earth and the sky!

    She appeared to be well-intentioned, but the results have been scary and disasterous. Her 5 and 8 yr old paw at her breasts when she’s getting dressed? They draw pictures of breasts?

    No, no, no.

    Every mom has to decide when to wean her child, but hopefully common sense will be part of that decision.

    My kids have all weaned themselves between 10 mths and 14 mths, and then we replaced that normal nursing time with time in the rocking chair with Mommy — snuggling, drinking from sippy cups, praying, and reading stories.

    I’m not saying everyone should wean that early, but it’s worked for us.

  14. mrsdarwin

    Look, nursing is great and natural, but allowing an eight-year-old to continue nurse is tantamount to sexual abuse, in my book. It’s unacceptable in the way that a parent accompanying an eight-year-old boy into the bathroom to help him with his aim is unacceptable.

    People can bat about terms like “child-led weaning”, but I don’t think it’s really that controversial to come out and say that this kind of behavior is inappropriate.

  15. Catherine Shaffer

    I want to add that I think it’s more important to talk about the developmental stage of the child than an age as an arbitrary cutoff–not only for nursing, but everything. There is a wide range of normal for everything from potty training to learning to ride a bicycle. It is not beyond me to imagine that a developmentally delayed eight year old child could benefit tremendously from extended nursing. Using my own son as an example, again–he weaned at 4 years, but he was potty trained before he turned 2.5. In both cases, I tried to watch for his readiness, and made several false starts before his success.

    With regard to teeth, most mammals wean around the time the baby teeth, or milk teeth, begin to FALL OUT, not when they come in, as commonly assumed with human babies. Also, it actually does sometimes happen that a mother animal will nurse her young well past the normal age of weaning, even into adulthood. I once knew a cow that would nurse her adolescent daughter.

    I think the poster who noted that the girls were old enough to pick up on their mother’s cues about acceptable behavior was right on the money. Even the one who was already weaned shared in the obsession with mother’s breasts.

    Also, Chelsea Y, I wish you would take a more open-minded attitude toward public nursing. Nursing an infant is extremely intense. Many of them nurse as often as every fifteen minutes. This is normal behavior and standard medical advice is to always nurse on demand. If a woman is not to be literally confined to her home (or her own bedroom if there is company), then learning to nurse discreetly in public is a necessary skill. If you don’t like it, you can always delicately look the other way. In most states, the law protects a mother’s right to nurse her baby in a public place.

  16. Woodrow

    Don’t want to add any comments on this post. Only want to wish a hearty congratulations on you and your husband on the baby’s birth.

  17. Kate

    Chelsea,

    Being uncomfortable with an 8 year old nursing is normal discomfort with an incongruous, unnecessary,unnatural and unhealthy behaviour.

    Being uncomfortable with women nursing their infants wherever and whenever their infant needs nourishment (iow, in public) is an abnormal discomfort with a normal, natural, and healthy behaviour.

    catherine,
    I grew up on a dairy farm. Behaviour such as you describe is an abnormality. Abnormalities in other animals don’t really count as an argument for or against anything. It’s far more relevant to note that MOST mammals wean purposefully when the mother starts discouraging nursing. I don’t think we disagree on anything, really, but I half-choked when you mentioned the cow nursing the heifer – any cow that would let a heifer at its teats should be checked for brain damage – those teeth are huge, and the tongue is, if anything, worse! I’m amazed the mother wasn’t injured. Certainly not a normal bovine behaviour, though perhaps this was a neglected dairy cow who was bred and ‘trained’ so to speak to produce immense amounts of milk and be milked daily. They get pretty desperately uncomfortable when they miss a milking.

  18. Michelle

    I want to add that each of my chidlren has nursed while I was pregnant with the next, and my milk didn’t dry up and apparently didn’t taste badly either. Had I not begun to push them away (as mother cows seem to do), I’m quite certain that they would all still be trying to get in some of that one-on-one snuggle time with mom.

    As far as children with developmental delays goes, I can see that some things will take longer when you have a child like that, but that doesn’t mean that you should encourage it. My brother (older by 12 months) has Down Syndrome. My mom realized quickly that having a younger sibling close in age was good for him because it pushed him to the next level (he wanted to stay one step ahead of his little sister). Mom bottle-fed, but wouldn’t allow his handicap to be an excuse for him to still have a bottle when he was 3 or 4. I’m sure potty training was a challenge, but who wants to change diapers on a 6 year old? A developmental delay is a good excuse for why a child is reluctant to move on to the next stage, but not a good excuse for a parent to permit them to stay behind.

    I see this child-directed lifestyle as an unwillingness on the part of parents to say NO to their children…an unwillingness to be a parent.

    And I agree that Chelsea needs to examine her aversion to what God intended breasts to be used for. Forget snuggling and bonding. My child needs to eat and formula is expensive and doesn’t get transported easily. Why should I bottle feed or isolate myself from society whenever my infant is hungry because those around me have an unhealthy obsession with breasts as objects of sex (I’m not saying that they’re not, but rather that not being able to see them any other way is unhealthy)? I’ve heard tales of women exposing themselves excessively in public to feed their child, but I’ve never seen it myself. I’m sure there have been a few times that I have, ever so briefly, flashed someone unintentionally (once those little hands get coordinated, they start to pull at clothes and such). But most of the time, people have no idea that my child is nursing. I’m sure the entire grocery store is willing to accept me nursing as I shop rather than listen to the baby wail…or my other chidlren wreck havoc as I stop everything to find an isolated, sanitary corner to privately nurse the baby.

  19. Tienne

    Kate — Perfect comment! You put into words exactly what I feel on the subject.

    I agree with My Name is Simcha, too. Obviously we can’t conform our values to the standards of society, but what this woman is doing must effectively isolate her children from their peer group (unless she’s part of some extended breastfeeding commune). As someone who was picked on mercilessly as a child for thumb sucking and shyness, I know the pain these girls must suffer any time they’re outside their home. It’s not “child-centered” to open your child up to ostracism and emotional torture.

  20. Savannah

    Ok – this woman is not right, and her children are going to suffer for it when their friends find out about it. How many parents do you think will let their kids go over to play at that house when they hear that an eight year old is still being breast-fed? (See Toni Morrison’s “Song of Solomon” for a literary look at breast-feeding past a natural age and what it does to children). God gave chidren teeth for eating meats and vegetables, not for gnawing on their mothers’ breasts like biological teething rings.

    I agree with Chelsea about the public breast feeding. Public breastfeeding makes people feel uncomfortable, and it is inconsiderate for mothers to expect to be exempt from the rules of modesty and indecent exposure just because a baby is attached to their bare breasts.

    Furthermore, there are many natural activities that are not appropriate for your local McDonald’s. Sex is a beautiful and completely natural bonding activity between a husband and a wife, but nobody is suggesting that public sex is acceptable. Of course babies need to be fed and they should be. I’m all in favor of breast milk, but there are alternatives to public nudity. How about a breast pump? Then you can pack your child several bottles of breast milk that you can use throughout the day.

    I realize that this is a sensitive topic for some people, but I don’t think that is just cause for sugar coating the truth. Just as sex is a beautiful part of creating a baby, breast-feeding is an important part of sustaining a baby. But neither are appropriate without limits. Both must be confined to their appropriate time and place.

  21. Milehimama

    Many babies are not able to drink from a bottle AND nurse. It’s called nipple confusion.

    Also, breastmilk is perishable and it is difficult to pre plan how many bottles you would need, as well as keep them cool and then heat them up again.

    Not to mention that if a mom is breastfeeding, sometimes SHE is the one who needs to nurse LOL

  22. Milehimama

    Also, I DO confine my breastfeeding to the appropriate time and place:
    Time – baby is hungry
    Place – where I am when the baby gets hungry.

  23. Jennifer F.

    Savannah –

    Am I correct in assuming that you’ve never breastfed a baby? The tipoff was the “just pump!” suggestion. 🙂 As I know too well, pumping is very time-consuming (time that you cannot take care of kids since you’re hooked up to the pump), it takes days and days to build up reserves since once you pump you don’t have enough milk for the next feeding and often have to give the baby some of what you just pumped, and in order to even get that you need a pump in the $300 price range. I could go on, but you get the drift.

    Anyway, I think when discussing public nursing a distinction needs to be made about what type of nursing we’re talking about. There are different ways of going about it. E.g. I can see opposition to the type of public nursing where women openly whip out their breasts and “let it all hang out” so to speak. Though it doesn’t bother me personally I could see how a case could be made that it’s discourteous to others. But surely nobody is opposed to women nursing their babies in public under a blanket or scarf? In that case no skin is exposed, and for all anyone knows she could be playing solitaire under there.

    Anyway, I learned the hard way that it’s important to be charitable when evaluating other women’s breastfeeding choices. I used to have all sorts of opinions about public breastfeeding, using formula, how long to nurse, etc. and then I had my first kid and God gave me a big slap upside the head to open my eyes to the fact that a lot of my big theories weren’t quite so easy in practice. 🙂

    Anyway, thanks for your and everyone else’s comments.

  24. Jennifer F.

    Sorry for all the typos and the over-use of the word “anyway”. Can’t think today.

  25. Catherine Shaffer

    Kate,

    LOL! How would you be able to observe normal mother-baby interactions on a dairy farm, where newborn calves are immediately weaned to a bottle? 🙂 These were beef cattle, and their owner, a cattle farmer from wayback, found nothing unusual about the heifer wanting to sneak a drink on occasion. If your family had raised beef cattle, perhaps you’d have noticed the same thing on occasion. The mother was just a really laid-back cow. This would be the outer edge of the bell curve for that animal, but not abnormal or unhealthy. This was a small farm where the cattle were used for breeding primarily, not beef, and they had a very relaxed, pasture-fed, non-neurotic, natural existence. It was of no consequence whether the heifer continued to nurse. Nature doesn’t care, as long as it works. In the same way, we cannot look at human behavior and make a snap judgment. We make judgments such as these through a cultural filter, which is perfectly okay, as long as we know what it is. You cannot use nature to argue against this behavior, but culturally it is abberrant. I would think it just as outrageous if the girls were riding in a gigantic stroller until they were “ready” to start walking on their own.

  26. Savannah

    Hey y’all. LOL. No, I’m not opposed to women breastfeeding infants under a shawl or blanket where the breast is not exposed. It is simply the “whip it out” mentality that some women adopt that I find inappropriate. Haha.

  27. Kate

    Catherine,

    LOL, you’ve got me! Yeah, I guess dairy cattle don’t lead the most ‘natural’ lives. I still maintain though that I’d be worried about a heifer nursing once they had adult teeth – I’ve had them suck on my fingers, and been pinched severely for my troubles! And I do think that a survey of normative behavior in the wild would find that it is the mother animal that initiates weaning – this is true (I’ve gathered from my limited reading) of apes and monkeys, and I think for good reason – feeding that long puts an immense burden on the mother’s body.

    But, in any case, it is human behavior we’re talking about, which has a specific context in place and time. All else aside, it is good to focus on the pros and cons of nursing as children grow older, and whether the benefits for the child outweigh the consequences – societal and psychological – to the child. I probably would wean even an unwilling child before they reached four, because I can’t see what benefits they receive from nursing that they can’t, at that point, receive from other sources. By that point, you’ve either established a mother-child bond or you haven’t, the nutritional need for breastmilk has been replaced by the need for a varied and balanced diet of other complex foods, and there are lots of other ways to comfort and to show and receive affection.

    Weaning is a personal parental decision and I respect different points of view on when and how, just as I appreciate it when my family and friends accept the parenting decisions we’ve made even when it doesn’t resemble their practices. At the very least, we can agree that breastfeeding an 8 year old is beyond the line, but it is hard to get much consensus about at which age the line should be drawn.

    Great discussion, everyone! It’s fun to see the responses Jennifer gets here. 🙂

  28. Courageous Grace

    Public vs. private:

    I have a friend who has a 8 mo old girl and has a couple of absolutely beautiful nursing shawls. They’re designed to go over your regular shirt and include a pocket for baby’s feet so any kicking doesn’t expose anything 😉

    I told her I want to borrow one to use as a pattern to sew my own (my first is due in January)

    As we are both in the choir and fairly well hidden up in the loft, I have seen her almost every Sunday nurse her baby and think nothing of it. At least it keeps the little one from disturbing the congregation with her hungry cries.

  29. Catherine Shaffer

    I don’t know if anyone is still reading this thread anymore, but I would like to respond to Kate’s comment about nursing older toddlers and preschoolers. What’s fascinating is that the benefits of breastfeeding continue for as long as the child nurses. Nutritionally, they do not necessarily need mother’s milk (more on that later), but they continue to receive immune system benefits, and there may be psychological benefits as well.

    Regarding immune system benefits, I come from a family with terrible allergy problems–I am talking severe, rampant asthma, animal allergies, food allergies, etc. My doctor told me that babies typically go through a period around 12 months where they lose interest in nursing temporarily, and that if you continue through that period, your next shot at weaning peacefully will be around two. Well, we never saw that dip in interest. At the same time, we had a couple of episodes where my son became covered with hives after a meal, although we couldn’t pin down the cause. I decided to take my weaning cues from him, and after he was two, I began to try to limit nursing, and a couple times attempted to wean. It never worked. We finally weaned around his fourth birthday.

    I don’t know why it was so difficult to wean him, but I can say that now he is the only one of five grandchildren that does not suffer from asthma, allergies, and obesity. Some of them are severely affected. Coincidence? Maybe. Or possibly his need to nurse was driven by a slow-to-mature or over-sensitive immune system. Children’s immune systems do not mature until they are 5 or 6. This is why they are more likely to die in a flu outbreak. I nursed my son through a couple of particularly lethal flu seasons.

    So, like I said, we don’t have all the answers, but I am sure I did the right thing. Moreover, I think that most women would have done the same with this particular child, no matter what your experience with other children has been, because anyone with eyes to see could see he had a strong need to nurse (not a desire, a need). As a final note, I will say that I think it was very empowering for him to make the decision to wean on his own (with my support and encouragement), and for that alone, it was worth an extra year or two. I think most children will go through a period of readiness some time between twelve months and five years, but I am not willing to say that it never happens after five years.

    Getting back to nutrition, although it’s technically true that a toddler or preschooler can get all of their nutrition in our society from other sources, how would you feed such a child if you lived in a more primitive society and did not have access to dairy animals or modern processed foods? It’s something to think about.

  30. Chelsea Y.

    Alright, it’s me again. I have noticed how very sensitive an issue this is with women and I was just wondering if there are any men that have opinions on this subject?

    As for the public breast feeding comments that I had earlier, I still stand by it, even though I respect all the bloggers opinions. I do, however, think that the nursing shawls are a great idea. I have no problem with mother’s breastfeeding. I think it makes others feel uncomfortable to see an exposed breast, no matter the situation. By expressing this, I apparently don’t respect, or have an aversion to, the function of breasts. This is not so. I think it’s sad that when women become mothers they stop valuing their bodies and see themselves only as dairy cows. You are still the person that you were before and should respect yourself just as much as you did before. Don’t cheapen what your breasts are just because they have a new purpose, if anything value them more.

    Disclaimer: Although I may sound harsh, I really do respect everyone’s opinions. I think it’s great that there is such a healthy medium to disagree.

  31. Anna

    To address something Linda M said, I want to provide the following quote:

    “In its recommendation that infants be breastfed for a minimum of twelve months, the AAP is largely alone as most authorities on health care including the WHO, UNICEF, Canadian Pediatric Society and Australian Society of Paediatrics all recommend breastfeeding for a minimum of twenty-four months.”

    Of course, the AAP is dealing with a society where even breastfeeding for a whole year is something almost radical, so I don’t particularly blame them for their stance. But I think we mothers ought to be open to breastfeeding two or three years; we can stop earlier for practical reasons (like it’s driving us crazy), but we shouldn’t have to stop before then because of some vague social uncomfortableness.

  32. Literacy-chic

    This has certainly been an interesting discussion. I weigh in on the side of those who favor breastfeeding in public, think that child led-weaning is O.K., but that fetishization is weird; my own brother was nursed until 4-ish (maybe a bit later, but there were developmental issues involved and a serious lack of interest in food. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t a little weird, and that I don’t also think it was related to emotional issues that my mother was experiencing at the time. I nursed my own son until he was about 26 months, mainly to sleep, and then decided enough was enough, and everything was fine. My daughter nursed until 18 months or so, a few months after I became pregnant with #3, and it was very natural, as she was already showing readiness. I would have been ready to wean at that point anyway, as she was a more demanding nurser in some ways.

    My only motive for posting, since this conversation didn’t need my input otherwise, was for fear that the following statement would go unchallenged:

    I think it’s sad that when women become mothers they stop valuing their bodies and see themselves only as dairy cows. You are still the person that you were before and should respect yourself just as much as you did before. Don’t cheapen what your breasts are just because they have a new purpose, if anything value them more.

    Wow!! To suggest that a nursing mother sees her body and function as nothing more than milk-producer is just screwy. I couldn’t come up with a better word than that. If that’s how it feels to some, it may be because we feel the need to operate within this “sexy-not-mommy,” “mommy-not-sexy” dichotomy that exists in society, and to defend ourselves as breastfeeding mothers within that preexisting social construct. (Yes, I am an academic, and I do speak that language.) It means that when we defend ourselves as breasfeeding mothers, we have to work against the sexualization, so that disappears from the rhetoric we use–not from the actuality of our lives. To put it bluntly: breastfeeding breasts can still be sexy, and breastfeeding moms can still have sexy thoughts about their breasts. It just doesn’t generally happen while the baby is attached, and it doesn’t generally come up in breastfeeding conversations. That is, until now! 😉

  33. Milehimama

    It’s ironic that I’ll often hear people decry women nursing in public, even under “wraps”, but when Sports Illustrated put seven topless women on their cover, and I complained to Safeway, everyone I talked to thought I was nuts for objecting.

    I even contacted a city councilman, but the obscenity laws are written in a manner that declares only things not socially acceptable are obscene, and if it’s in all the grocery stores at child eye height next to the candy, well, then it’s socially acceptable (and if that’s not a no-win situation, I don’t know what is!)

    “whipping it out” is NOT okay for non-sexual purposes (breastfeeding), but we’ll turn a blind eye if it’s on the cover of Glamour, Cosmo, et al? (Sorry, if a woman is naked with her arms crossed across her chest… she is STILL naked!)

    I’m just sayin’.

  34. Literacy-chic

    It may be the difference between a picture and someone in front of you… But I don’t think it’s obscene, just potentially uncomfortable. I don’t do it that way personally. But I wouldn’t stop a woman from doing so. I would look away! (Though I might make a comment about it as I walked away, which would probably be as bad.) :/

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