Few 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 credit: Author, Megan Heimer