How Old is Too Old to Breastfeed?

How old is too old to breastfeed? - Natural Parents NetworkFew things in our society spark as much debate (or receive as many looks) as breastfeeding. It’s a hot subject that no mother can avoid. If you thought getting glares while discreetly breastfeeding your newborn under a nursing cover, huddled in a tiny crowded space, was uncomfortable, try nursing an active two-year-old on a public park bench; or better yet, imagine the judgment you’d get if you announced you were going to nurse your adopted African baby for the first time…at age three.

Although modern-day America is slowly getting used to the fact that some women actually use their breasts to nurse their young, they’re nowhere near desensitized to seeing a toddler crawl up in a mother’s lap to nurse an emotional wound. As far as mainstream society is concerned, breastfeeding ends at six months…or does it?

There are many reasons in our country (and sister countries like Canada, Australia, and the UK) why babies are rarely nursed past the age of six months: Many women have to return to the work place, hold demanding careers, jam-packed schedules, or have toddlers to tote to pre-school. For some it’s convenience that reigns or the misguided advice passed down from generations before us.

Others would like to nurse longer, but do not have support from their family, peers, or community; and let’s face it, breastfeeding demands your time, your energy, and your body. It takes guts…to nurse in a room full of glares, to nurse at a public park or restaurant, to nurse in the middle of a children’s museum where people actually think you’re part of an R-rated exhibit.

But breastfeeding never loses its value. In other parts of the world…places that are less industrialized, slower paced, and full of a sweet simplicity that beckons one to join in and take notice, have grasped the amazing bond that nursing brings – and they aren’t so quick to let it go. Many mothers have come to understand that nursing has benefits that grow and change as a baby grows and changes…from infant…to toddler…to child.

The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding until a child is three. In Africa, Peru, Ethiopia, Mongolia, and Afhghanistan, babies are nursed well past the age of two. In Bangledesh 90% of babies are nursed past age two; and in India, let’s just say its not uncommon for a 4 or 5 year old to hang out at the breast…regularly.

There is something we can all learn from these countries: breastfeeding has benefits, and babies need the good stuff a lot longer than we think they do. Even toddlers need nourishment from the milk that has over 300 ingredients that cannot be replicated elsewhere. Even toddlers need access to the greatest source of comfort, fastest form of nourishment, and strongest form of attachment and bonding that the human body can possibly give. Or maybe…they just need a little milk because they got a “boo boo.” That’s okay, too.

So how old is too old? That’s up to you. Even though the over-sexualized, fast-paced, high-stressed, modern American society might tell you otherwise, if you are thinking of breastfeeding longer than six months, past the two’s and into the three’s, you are in good company.

So go…pull up a chair or find a park bench, and nurse away! If they’re staring at the big (BIG) baby on your lap, it’s only because no one has told them that nursing a toddler is cool.

Photo Credits

Photo credit: Author, Megan Heimer

About The Author: Megan

My NPN Posts

Megan has a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science, a Juris Doctor, and is a Naturopath, Natural Health Educator, writer, and stay at home Mama. She blogs at LivingWhole.org, a site dedicated to teaching, encouraging, and empowering others to live, love, eat, serve, and raise their babes in unhindered, natural, and wholesome ways. You can also follow Megan on Facebook.

95 Responses to How Old is Too Old to Breastfeed?

  1. Steve

    My wife nursed our first child to 3.5 years and I fully supported her all the way and we live in Canada. It truly is alarming how much ignorance there is on this topic in North America.

    • Megan Heimer

      That’s great Steve! It’s so interesting to see how people approach this issue in other countries. You are right, we are a bit behind the times here in the states.

  2. Tessa W

    I nursed my first until a few weeks before he turned 5. He may have gone longer but I was pregnant with my third and it was very painful so we came to the agreement that he would save the milkies for his brother, who was 2 at the time. I’m now nursing my 3.5 year old and 6 month old with no exoectation for either of them to wean soon. I try to talk about nursing my almost 5 year old a lot just to help normalize it. It wasnt always easy but I will never regret nursing him that long.

  3. Dorothea

    I am German and I have nursed my 5 babies and enjoyed it very much! My first one nursed until she was almost 2 1/2 years old. By then my second baby was already 6 month old. I had nursed my first baby about 2 hours before the second was born. I weaned my second baby around two years. By then I was about 20 weeks pregnant with number 3. Babies number 3, 4, and 5 weaned themselves at around one year of age. It was a sad moment for me when I didn’t have a nursing baby anymore after around 7 years of nursing alltogether.

  4. Marsha

    I have 4 children and I nursed all of them until they were ready to quit. We did the baby-led weaning La Leche recommends. My first was over 4 and I tandem nursed him and his brother, who was born when Jonah was 28 months. The boys were always so close, never any sibling rivalry. My daughter nursed til about 3 and my youngest til about 2 1/2. I never worried about what anyone thought, nursing a toddler felt right and natural, and they have all grown up to be healthy, happy, independent adults.

  5. Mandy

    I’m from Australia and breast feeding my almost 2.5yr old. It is a controversial topic here unfortunately and many still mortified at breast feeding past 6months and also in public . I will continue until my little girl is ready to ween despite what others may think. It’s refreshing to see I am not alone in my beliefs. :)

  6. Latisha

    Sorry people but I totally disagree with you on this one. I do support it for the first year for the health benefits of the infant but that’s it. Breastfeeding a child past the age of one year old is not a good thing. Just because it’s acceptable in other countries like Africa, India, etc. is not even worth mentioning. There are many uncivilized and barbaric practices that still take place in these countries and are condoned by the masses there. Breastfeeding a toddler can be psychologically damaging to a child. It sends them some very confusing messages about their bodies, others bodies, boundaries, personal space, etc. How do you expect a child to work that out in their head?!

    • Crunchy Con Mom  

      I know you’re trying to argue for what you think is best for kids, but the research doesn’t back you up on this, or the anecdotal evidence from the families who have done it! Breastfeeding a toddler or preschooler is not psychologically damaging to them, and it’d be pretty poor planning on the part of God or nature (whoever you think determines such things) to have designed humans to all naturally do something that is psychologically damaging and causes confusion about bodies and boundaries!
      The World Health Organization recommends nursing until at least age 2, and the american academy of pediatricians recommends it for at least 1 year and continuing as long as mother and child want. No maximum cutoff has been identified or even suggested as harmful by reputable medical organizations that I’ve heard of, and no research I’ve ever seen has indicated support for the outrageous claims you’ve made.

    • Megan Heimer

      Lastisha, I’m so sorry you feel that way. I am wondering who told you that breastfeeding an infant past one is barbaric or psychologically damaging? That is certainly not the consensus of the medical profession (even in this country) or the World Health Organization and I personally haven’t seen any science supporting that notion.

      We met with a psychologist during our adoption and she (and those in her profession) actually encourage adopted mothers to nurse their children (even if they are 3 or 4) because bonding and attachment is so vitally important to becoming a successful adult. She didn’t say they needed space to function properly…but needed close human contact, nourishment they can’t get (and haven’t gotten) anywhere else, and touch. In addition to the emotional aspects, breastmilk provides significant benefits to a child even after age one. Here’s a really good fact sheet on that http://kellymom.com/ages/older-infant/ebf-benefits/.

      By the way, I’ve been to Africa and being able to breastfeed is viewed as a gift and is the only source of nutrition (and disease protection) some babies, toddlers, and small children get. When I nursed two starving African babies, I can tell you female circumcision, genocide, or any other barbaric practice was the furthest thing on anyone’s mind.

      Breastfeeding past infancy isn’t for everyone but I hope you’ll come to appreciate the benefits.

    • jessica  

      Please take a look at the book Breastfeeding Biocultural Perspectives by Dr. Katherine Dettwyler (I apologize for any misspellings).

      While it is now about 20 years old it is still considered the definitive work on the biologically appropriate weaning age of the human mammal… 2.5-7 yrs. Since its publication the body of work supporting this assertion has only grown and become richer in explanation.

      While your opinion is not unexpected in a culture such as ours with such a mixed up relationships with our bodies, it simply is not supported by *any* reputable research.

    • Steve

      “Breastfeeding a toddler can be psychologically damaging to a child”

      Please feel free to back up that statement with some peer-reviewed citations, it is really disturbing that some parents actually believe this nonsense.

    • Chris

      Quote: “Breastfeeding a toddler can be psychologically damaging to a child. It sends them some very confusing messages about their bodies, others bodies, boundaries, personal space, etc. How do you expect a child to work that out in their head?!”

      Seriously? Women have breasts to provide milk for their babies. There is no other biological purpose. Society has managed to turn something so innocent into a point of shame and embarrassment. They aren’t put there as hood ornaments…sorry.

      I fully support my wonderful wife for breastfeeding our three children. The first about 6 months, the second 18 months, and our third is almost 2 and still going strong. Admittedly, I am a little jealous of the bond they share. So, while some may believe (without any scientific evidence) that it harms our children after a certain age; I can’t imagine how.

      Keep breastfeeding!!

    • Carrie

      Adults and their beliefs can be psychologically damaging to a child. Be careful how we judge each other. I am devastated that a good friend felt 5 weeks of breast feeding was enough and isn’t concerned that her daughter throws up half her formula at every feeding. But I can’t judge her or tell her that her decision is wrong. It’s personal. I nursed until my son was 26 months, and a cancerous breast tumor is what stopped me from nursing longer. He had self weaned to night nursing, but I was still sad to stop. Raising children peacefully in our beliefs, and tolerant of others’ beliefs, is what creates a psychologically stable individual.

    • Kirlee

      Latisha, how can a toddler even comprehend sex, let alone relating breasts to anything other than it’s mothers comforting drink?! It’s adults that over-think it, not toddlers. In fact, the longer a child breastfeeds, the more in touch with they’d emotions they become! So the complete opposite of what you’re assuming.

      • shelley Connolly

        Well said x

      • sierra d

        Totally true my child just turned 3 and breastfeeds at night and she is very bright….she has already started pretty k and will be in kindergarten next year…. I like to believe that breast feeding has helped her mental growth and development remarkably

    • shelley Connolly

      Latisha, it seems that you have a confused idea about what breasts are actually meant for. Your argument is silly. If people choose to make their breasts into purely sexual objects that’s up to them, however my own children are all fully aware that breasts produce milk and are meant for feeding children, so no embarrassment is caused.

    • sarah

      Thank you I so agree

    • Deb

      Michael Jordan was breastfed until he was 4.

      • Megan Heimer

        Awesome! I’m sure Jesus was breastfed until at least age three! Okay, well I really don’t know that but ancient texts point to the fact that the babes who came (way) before us were. :)

    • Kasi

      I truly do not understand how someone can say nursing a toddler is barbaric behavior and confuses them about their body im 25 and breastfed/feeding all 3 of my children one of my closest friends just turned 20 last week and is one of the most intelligent monogamous indiviudals I know. she was breast fed until she was almost 3 graduated highschool with high honors at 16 and got accepted into her major in orchestra her freshman year in college at one of the best schools in the state which is totally unheard of with freshmen. shes only ever had 1 boyfriend and they’ve been together for 5 years. To me she is living proof that nursing a child beyond one year drastically helps with brain development ive read hours of research on the matter that breast milk provides dha that is critical to brain growth that children should be receiving for at least the first 3 years of life that they cannot recieve anywhere else in the amounts that they require I feel you should do some research before making such arrogant comments

    • Sadiem

      Too bad you disagree, because it’s not a matter of opinions. It’s facts. So … unless you have serious backed up studies to prove your sayings, please don’t state them as if they were anything else but *your* opinion.

    • Cat

      Instead of telling children that breasts are sexual and shameful, breastfeeding shows them that breasts are normal and natural, and only one part of what makes a woman a woman.

      Also, breastfeeding does not lose it’s nutritional properties or antibodies on a child’s first birthday. And, many babies are slower on their uptake of solids, so are needing the nutrition breastmilk provides.

  7. Momma Jorje  

    My oldest self-weaned at 3½yo. She asked me the other night if I knew when I might wean my now-2½yo son. Nope! He has some delays, so I expect our nursing relationship might go even extra-long, by comparison. Right now, we’re going strong! I did nudge my middle child to wean just before her 3rd birthday. It was what I needed to do. I love seeing so many women that are enjoying long breastfeeding relationships with their children!

  8. clarebear

    i am nursing my 1 year old son , without a lot of peoples knowledge anymore, as i do not have support anymore, getting told that he is too big to be breastfeeding, he will sleep better when he is weaned etc. my husband knows obviously as he shares the bed but many people including my own family members think i have stopped. i am ashamed i was not strong enought to tell them all where to go but its quite nice having our little moments alone together. my mum did not breastfeed any of us she does not understand

  9. Tammy  

    I almost cried reading this. People, friends get so upset with me because I still nurse my 21 month old. I’m sick of hearing “Still?? You still doing that??” Out “She’s too big for that, you need to stop” Or the one insensitive old woman who yelled out “You need to give that baby a bottle”.

  10. Lauren  

    One thing I think you forget to mention, is that a child’s immune system has a lot of gaps. Babies and toddlers get sick A LOT! Their immune system is not fully developed until around 7 years old. Breastmilk fills in those gaps and keeps kids healthy with mom’s antibodies. My daughter is 13 months and for us, It just makes sense to continue nursing as long as it is working for both of us. If that means until she is 6 or 7, even if it’s just a comfort nurse after a tough day then that’s what we will do.

    • Allegra

      Those of you who breastfeed your walking, talking KIDS need a reality check.
      ….”if that means until she is 6 or 7, even if it’s just a comfort nurse after a tough day then that’s what we will do”. Really? Maybe give her a hug, and fix her a sandwich & cookies. Jesus.

      • Megan Heimer

        Allegra,

        Can you please show me statistics that show that a hug or a sandwich compares to the attachment and bonding of breastfeeding? When I met with our adoption psychologist she recommended (as is the consensus in her profession) breastfeeding my adopted children (one being older than 3) because there is nothing else that can replicate the bonding and attachment of nursing. Although I don’t discount a good cookie and a delicious sandwich, there is no comparison.

        Either way, please be respectful of the mothers on this forum even if you don’t agree with their beliefs. This is an opportunity to learn and share in a safe place and in a respectful manner.

      • sierra d

        Actually hun I was told to breastfeed my child who is 3 because her immune system is really weak and FYI cookies don’t work for boo boos how about u get a reality check and look at all the data that supports it so instead of making yourself look ignorant to something you may not understand do your research so you may be more informed before you make reality check comments

    • Sky

      Many of you have stated that there should absolutely not be any cut off age for breast feeding. So does that mean you would support a mom breast feeding a teenager? Are you seriously going to say you wouldn’t find anything disturbing about that or question the mental health of that parent and effects on that child? Obviously there needs to be a cut off age. If you disagree then you’ve lost all perspective on this issue which limits your ability to make good decisions.

      • deb

        Those of us who are pro long-term breastfeeding know that a child is going to self wean long before teenage (or tweenage) years so we do not spend good brainpower contemplating such a thing. I have never come across a person battling her 10 year old over breast milk and I am certain i never well. If you think that pro-breastfeeding parents are interesting in nursing teenagers than you’ve lost all perspective on this issue, which limits your ability to make good decisions.

        The other thing you may not realize is that nursing is rarely fun or easy. Women go through all kinds of trauma to give their babies and children an amazing source of nutrition and immunity. There are times we don’t even want to nurse due to a host of reasons, but when that is what is going to provide nourishment or comfort or pain relief (nursing releases oxytocin, which actually reduces or eliminates pain, such as from teething) we muddle through it.

  11. Carla

    My daughter is 31 months and continues to enjoy nursing! I enjoy nursing my daughter and plan to nurse until she is 3 years old. Very thankful for the time we’ve had and bonded.

  12. shelley Connolly

    Some of the views on here anger me greatly, and they are always views from people that have very little or no experience of the subject. To think that there is an actual arbitrary time limit on breastfeeding is ridiculous! Breastfeeding is perfectly natural and normal up to any age, that after all is what our breasts were meant for (not just to please men) What is very un natural is drinking milk from cows which grown up bodies struggle to process let alone tiny infants! Someone on here suggested that breastfeeding past a year is barbaric. How can feeding and nurturing your child be barbaric, if anything it is the total opposite. A pure, selfless act that optimises the love a mother has for her child. I will carry on feeding my fourth child until she so chooses to stop, no matter what ignorance comes my way. Barbaric indeed!

  13. Jenn

    i nursed my first only 14 months and was pressured to stop by my SO. my 2nd was nursed til about 26 months because I was determined (&also left my SO). my 3rd is currently, as i type, at 16 months old nursing and will continue til she is ready to wean – im a stay at home mom this time and can offer this opportunity this time around. I must add that my 2nd child and so far my 3rd are very much healthier than my first child is. I wish Id been strong enough to put my foot down and nurse my 1st child much longer than I did. I think that she would be healthier now

  14. sarah

    Breastfeeding till the child is 1-1.5 is fine but after that no they need to drink from a cup , if you want to pump and give them the milk that is fine , but to continue to feed from the breast is not OK …

    • Crunchy Con Mom  

      Why? Do you have any evidence to support this arbitrary cut off?

      • sarah

        It is called comment sense , get your kit off the boob and let them develop normal milestones like drinking from a cup , pump if you want to feed breast milk longer but get them off your tit …

    • Crunchy Con Mom  

      Who defines normal? In the grand scheme of human history, arbitrarily forcing babies and toddlers to wean at a certain age is a pretty limited trend, both in time and location, and baby led weaning is the norm.

      Also, many breastfeed toddlers and preschoolers use a cup to drink water. I have never heard of a single child for whom extended breastfeeding caused a delay in any milestone.

      This sounds like you just personally have a bias against extended breastfeeding. And that’s okay. You don’t have to do it or even like it. But your position isn’t “common sense”, morally superior, or supported by research.

    • Lauren  

      My daughter drinks from a cup. In no way does breastfeeding inhibit so-called normal milestones. If anything, bf children are better socially adjusted and more secure and confident.

    • Chris

      Sarah, it sounds like you have very limited support at home on this topic. Your parents and maybe even your grandparents have taught you this. Do some reading and educate yourself a little more. With knowledge comes enlightenment. Not just what people have told you.

      When the World Health Organization says to breastfeed to at least 3 and even the American Academy Of Pediatrics recommend breastfeeding for 2 years. Research, not opinion, has helped prove the benefits both biologically AND psychologically.

      Please, don’t take our word for it. Conduct your own research. At the very least, don’t tell a loving mother she should stop feeding her 1 year old just because your confused about the importance of such a simple biological function.

    • Sadiem

      Common sence? It’s not common sence, Sarah.

      Oh and, too bad for me, my 1 year old has never reached this “important” milestone I guess, she drinks directly from the glass. My bad, I have ruined her life.

    • Steve

      They’re kids not kits, and it’s not common sense that would have you force your kid to wean at that age if they didn’t want to, it’s common misinformation…like the kind you’re peddling.

      Please do some PROPER research on the topic and stop being so ignorant. Extended breastfeeding doesn’t mean you don’t give them anything else, water, juice, etc., those practising EBF may only be nursing once or twice a day. Do you think the kid doesn’t drink anything else during that time? Lets stamp out ignorance and get educated. Being anti-EBF is well and truly being anti-kid’s health.

  15. Deb

    I am nursing my daughter who will be 2 in July and I work full time :). She is not ready to wean. It would be barbaric to deny her.

  16. Michelle Thomas

    I nursed my son until he was 5 1/2 years old. He’s almost 7 and still misses his nursies ;). I stopped because it became uncomfortable for me. I was also sad that so many of my friends and family didn’t support my choice. And they only have the knee jerk response to base their opinions on. No research or science and they choose to be ignorant of how abnormal formula feeding actually is. We have had it normalized by the formula companies, and because women were needed in the work force during WWII.

    • Steve

      I would have high fived you every time I saw you, and I’m a guy…but I’m not ignorant so there’s that huge difference. =D

      Well done Michelle!

  17. sarah

    yes all the health organizations change their mind about it all the time , first it was to a year then it is as long as you want , next it will be well we were wrong a year is it … Yes lead your life as a lamb and go off of what the government says …. Breast feeding your child till they are 4 and 5 years old is a form of abuse .. Your child at that age should not be breast feeding … Again giving breast milk is fine , but pump at those ages…

    • Crunchy Con Mom  

      If there was no government, I’d imagine almost all people would do child led weaning, as has been the norm for most of human history. Extended breastfeeding is the biological norm.
      It is not abusive, and it is offensive and incorrect for you to claim it is.

    • Chris

      Amazing that you would think it is wrong to breastfeed. The “Government” changed it’s mind a lot over the years. Every since business found out they could sell formula to families by the truck load and make a ton of money doing it. Lets not go down that road right now.

      We used to think smoking cigarettes was okay and seat belts were optional. Amazing that through research and study we found that cigarettes cause cancer (among other ailments) and it is probably a good idea if you buckle up when you drive. Your way of thinking suggests we should probably take the seat belts out of our cars. Women couldn’t vote not so long ago, schools were segregated, and safety at work was a joke. Today things are much different. Good thing too!

      It sounds like you are leading the life of a lamb. For the sake of argument and education; why exactly do you feel it’s wrong to breastfeed past 1.5 years? I’m just curious honestly.

    • Sadiem

      You know Sarah, there are thousands, if not millions of babies who died because of the type of nice brain-washed “anti-bf” speech.

      Funny thing is, do you know when corporations, governments took control of the information going out about breastfeeding?

      What do you think humans did because mass media, mass information, mass control of their life by media and politicians? They were all unbalanced, unhealthy people? They didn’t know what to do with their kid?

      Truth is, they breastfed! And even better, they breastfed until they felt they didn’t want to bf anymore! No doctor, no book, no website told them that they shouldn’t do it past X months.

      Yet, billions and billions of humans were born and survived past 5 …

    • Tessa

      I would love for you to meet my son. Healthy, happy, and the most mentally stable child many people meet. He nursed til nearly five and remembers only fond things about it. I have adult friends who nursed to age 3-5 and also have nothing other than fond memories of the love their mothers showed them. All are emotionally stable, healthy, and independent. I have yet to meet a person who was extendedly breastfed who is damaged by it. .

    • Samantha Frazier

      God clearly designed us to breastfeed as long as we need to because our bodies make milk as long as we tell it to do so. The “pumping at this age instead” argument is flawed because a woman would dry up if she didn’t have the baby nursing telling her body to make more milk. Nobody is saying that you should breastfeed until your child is 3 Sarah. They are saying be respectful if they choose to do it. I don’t yell at people who go to McDonalds. I simply live my healthy life and would find it odd if people critized me for eating naturally. The same is true for breastfeeding; you don’t have to do it, but let me do what I know is best for my baby girl.

  18. Meredith

    thrilled to see this go viral, megan. we nursed ’til 4.5 — years, that is. i found my tribe of other local extended nursers, and the work of katherine dettwyler in time, and was galvanized. i like what kathleen kendall-tackett says about how much “closet nursing” is actually going on around us; most people know extended (“full-term”) nursers, they just don’t know they do.

  19. sarah

    When your child can tell you they car thirsty or hungry with words give them real food . Breast feeding is for babies not toddlers or young children … It is a argument no one is willing to change their views on . Less agree to disagree… fewer studies have been conducted for extended breastfeeding past age 2 … It is like politics and religion , we all feel strong on our stand points and it will not change

    • Deb

      The points on which I agree with you are that you have a right to your opinion and the right to share it. The contradiction is that you say it’s just your opinion and let’s agree to disagree and in the same paragraph state that nursing is only for babies, not for toddlers. We definitely do disagree… and I can live with that.

    • Jennifer

      Sarah, my daughter is 22 months and still nurses to sleep and at various times throughout the day. If she asks for milk during the day, I will ask if she is hungry and sometimes she says she is and we figure out something else to eat. But sometimes all she wants is to nurse. And you are telling people that if the child is hungry, give them “real” food. My milk is also real and if my child is asking specifically for it, wouldn’t it be more harmful to them to deny their request? Some children have allergies, some have trouble with textures and some are just too stubborn to get the majority of their nutrition from “real” food. If you want to talk about abusive behaviors, deny your child nutrition, whatever form it comes in. I’m not about to do that and bring on the glares and comments from naysayers like yourself. My daughter knows what she wants and what she needs (a far as food, at the very least) at this age and I will not let society restrict that.

    • Steve

      Sarah, you’re an idiot. No nice way to put it. Please don’t poison the minds of others with your corporate-fed sheeple-brain.

      Notice you haven’t provided any links to back up your position. If your child is telling you they’re thirsty, why would you give them foods? It’s “let’s agree to disagree” not “less agree to disagree”. I really hope people reading this stop the illiterate and don’t heed your scientifically unsound advice.

      Here’s some science for you:

      Breastfeeding your child past infancy is NORMAL

      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 2012, 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 Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine affirms breastfeeding beyond infancy as the biological norm. “The average age at weaning ranges anywhere from six months to five years… Claims that breastfeeding beyond infancy is harmful to mother or infant have absolutely no medical or scientific basis,” says Arthur Eidelman, MD, president of the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine. “Indeed, the more salient issue is the damage caused by modern practices of premature weaning.” The global organization of physicians further notes that “Human milk contains nutrients, antibodies, and immune-modulating substances that are not present in infant formula or cow’s milk. Longer breastfeeding duration is further associated with reduced maternal risks of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and heart attack.” (ABM 2012)

      A US Surgeon General has stated that it is a lucky baby who continues to nurse until age two. (Novello 1990)

      The World Health Organization emphasizes the importance of nursing up to two years of age or beyond (WHO 1993, WHO 2002).

      Scientific research by Katherine A. Dettwyler, PhD shows that 2.5 to 7.0 years of nursing is what our children have been designed to expect (Dettwyler 1995).

      MOTHERS also benefit from breastfeeding for a longer duration

      Extended nursing delays the return of fertility in some women by suppressing ovulation (References – http://kellymom.com/ages/after12mo/ebf-refs/#Fertility).

      Breastfeeding reduces the risk of breast cancer (References – http://kellymom.com/ages/after12mo/ebf-refs/#BreastCancer1). Studies have found a significant inverse association between duration of lactation and breast cancer risk.

      Breastfeeding also reduces the risk of ovarian cancer, uterine cancer, and endometrial cancer (References – http://kellymom.com/ages/after12mo/ebf-refs/#EndometrialCancer).

      Breastfeeding protects against osteoporosis. During lactation a mother may experience decreases of bone mineral. A nursing mom’s bone mineral density may be reduced in the whole body by 1 to 2 percent while she is still nursing. This is gained back, and bone mineral density may actually increase, when the baby is weaned from the breast. This is not dependent on additional calcium supplementation in the mother’s diet. (References – http://kellymom.com/ages/after12mo/ebf-refs/#Osteoporosis).

      Breastfeeding reduces the risk of rheumatoid arthritis (References – http://kellymom.com/ages/after12mo/ebf-refs/#RArthritis).

      Breastfeeding reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease.

      Breastfeeding has been shown to decrease insulin requirements in diabetic women. There is also a decreased risk of Type 2 diabetes mellitus in mothers who do not have a history of gestational diabetes (References – http://kellymom.com/ages/after12mo/ebf-refs/#Diabetes).

      Breastfeeding contributes to your child’s NUTRITION

      Although there has been little research done on children who breastfeed beyond the age of two, the available information indicates that breastfeeding continues to be a valuable source of nutrition and disease protection for as long as breastfeeding continues.

      “Human milk expressed by mothers who have been lactating for >1 year has significantly increased fat and energy contents, compared with milk expressed by women who have been lactating for shorter periods. During prolonged lactation, the fat energy contribution of breast milk to the infant diet might be significant.”
      – Mandel 2005

      In a study of 250 toddlers in western Kenya, breastmilk provided, on average, 32% of the child’s total energy intake. “Breast milk made an important contribution to the fat and vitamin A intakes of toddlers in this community.”
      – Onyango 2002

      “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

      Studies done in rural Bangladesh have shown that breastmilk continues to be an important source of vitamin A in the second and third year of life.
      – Persson 1998

      It’s not uncommon for weaning to be recommended for toddlers who are eating few solids. However, this recommendation is not supported by research. Research does indicate that in situations where breastfed toddlers have an increased risk of malnutrition, this appears to be due to inadequate complementary feeding or reverse causality (the mother is more likely to continue breastfeeding a child who is ill or growing poorly). In one study of 250 toddlers in Kenya, solid food intake increased after weaning, but not enough to replace all the fat, vitamin A, and niacin that the child had been getting via breastfeeding (Onyango 2002). According to Sally Kneidel in “Nursing Beyond One Year” (New Beginnings, Vol. 6 No. 4, July-August 1990, pp. 99-103.): Some doctors may feel that nursing will interfere with a child’s appetite for other foods. Yet there has been no documentation that nursing children are more likely than weaned children to refuse supplementary foods. In fact, most researchers in Third World countries, where a malnourished toddler’s appetite may be of critical importance, recommend continued nursing for even the severely malnourished (Briend et al, 1988; Rhode, 1988; Shattock and Stephens, 1975; Whitehead, 1985). Most suggest helping the malnourished older nursing child not by weaning but by supplementing the mother’s diet to improve the nutritional quality of her milk (Ahn and MacLean. 1980; Jelliffe and Jelliffe, 1978) and by offering the child more varied and more palatable foods to improve his or her appetite (Rohde, 1988; Tangermann, 1988; Underwood, 1985).

      Breastfeeding contributes to your child’s HEALTH

      The American Academy of Family Physicians notes that children weaned before two years of age are at increased risk of illness (AAFP 2008).

      Breastfeeding toddlers between the ages of one and three have been found to have fewer illnesses, illnesses of shorter duration, and lower mortality rates (Mølbak 1994, van den Bogaard 1991, Gulick 1986).

      “Antibodies are abundant in human milk throughout lactation” (Nutrition During Lactation 1991; p. 134). In fact, some of the immune factors in breastmilk increase in concentration during the second year and also during the weaning process. (Lawrence & Lawrence 2011, Goldman 1983, Goldman & Goldblum 1983, Institute of Medicine 1991).

      Per the World Health Organization, “a modest increase in breastfeeding rates could prevent up to 10% of all deaths of children under five: Breastfeeding plays an essential and sometimes underestimated role in the treatment and prevention of childhood illness.”

      Breastfeeding contributes to your child’s MENTAL and SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT

      A couple of studies have shown a positive relationship between longer breastfeeding duration and social development.
      – Duazo 2010, Baumgartner 1984

      “A shorter duration of breastfeeding may be a predictor of adverse mental health outcomes throughout the developmental trajectory of childhood and early adolescence.”
      – Oddy 2010

      According to Elizabeth N. Baldwin, Esq. in “Extended Breastfeeding and the Law”:
      “Breastfeeding is a warm and loving way to meet the needs of toddlers and young children. It not only perks them up and energizes them; it also soothes the frustrations, bumps and bruises, and daily stresses of early childhood. In addition, nursing past infancy helps little ones make a gradual transition to childhood.“

      Baldwin continues: “Meeting a child’s dependency needs is the key to helping that child achieve independence. And children outgrow these needs according to their own unique timetable.” Children who achieve independence at their own pace are more secure in that independence then children forced into independence prematurely.

      • Suzanna

        I love you Steve. You’ve made my day. :)
        -mother of five breastfed children, including a currently nursing 2 year old

    • Terri

      I actually agree with Sarah. The WHO and APA state that breastfeeding provides health benefits for up to two years. There is no research that states that breastfeeding longer than two years has any additional benefits (for children in developed countries). If anyone took the time to read the conclusion paragraphs in actual studies, and not just regurgitate every blog post they come across, it would read something like this:

      “The methodological shortcomings of the majority of studies of the effects of prolonged breastfeeding on childhood health and growth prevent clear conclusions from being reached.
      One of the major reasons for the contradicting evidence is the non-experimental approach that
      has to be taken because it is both unethical and unfeasible to conduct the randomized, controlled
      trials usually employed to compare the effects of different treatments.”
      ["Does Breastfeeding Beyond One Year Benefit Children?" Published in Fetal and Maternal Medicine Review]

      What does this mean? That there have been zero controlled studies that can state that breastfeeding past two (in a developed country) is DIRECTLY related (solely) to healthier children. If so, please forward me the published, research article or controlled trial (and not something that you found on a Google website).

      • Megan

        Do you have a controlled-trial that shows breastfeeding past age two is detrimental? If so, I would love to see it. I personally think we shouldn’t be parenting based on “controlled studies” that haven’t been done. I would however point you in the direction of research that has been conducted on abandonment, malnourishment, attachment, and bonding as it pertains to breastfeeding which all form the foundation of the mental health profession’s endorsement of extended breastefeeding.

        Here’s actually where WHO and American Academy of Pediatrics stand:
        The World Health Organization recommends breast-feeding “up to two years of age or beyond.” The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that “babies should continue to breast-feed for a year and for as long as is mutually desired by the mother and baby.”

        I also think you downplay the importance of cultural norms. Please look at research by Dettwyler, who has published studies on breast-feeding, and found that most children around the world are breast-fed for three to five years or longer. So whose off-base? The U.S (who stands alone) or the rest of the world?

  20. Rikie

    Age 2 is the limit as far as I’m concerned. If your kid will suffer without your breast milk you should take it to the Doctor. They are supposed to be so much healthier (according to BF advocates)
    Age 7??? give your head a shake. I remember the kid who messed his pants in grade 1 and so did the rest of the class so unless you want your kid bullied (and he will be bullied) for hanging on mommy boobs at age 7. Ya this won’t have a negative affect on him his ENTIRE LIFE!

    • Megan Heimer

      Rikie,

      Age 2 may be your personal limit but it is not the limit for other mothers and the majority of mothers in other countries. There is absolutely no research to support a claim that nursing past age two in any way subjects a child to psychological damage or bullying. Breastfed children are generally healthier than the rest of the population and that includes those who are nursed past age two. Why do you think they are so healthy? Good nutrition and proper attachment and bonding. Please read the testimonies of the mothers in the comments who have nursed past age 2. If this becomes the norm (and I hope it will), there will be no bullying because the majority of the class will be getting their milk on.

      You clearly few a woman’s breasts as sexual objects. The rest of us don’t and society shouldn’t. You are entitled to your opinion but please be respectful of other mothers on this forum and keep NPN’s comment policy in mind when commenting.

    • Chris

      This is a cultural change that will take time. FORTUNATELY for those of us that actually support this things are changing. More and more people are realizing they have been wrong to think it is taboo to breastfeed. Societal pressures always drive public opinion. I am so thankful to live in an age where we are returning to something that was completely accepted 60 years ago.

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