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.

97 Responses to How Old is Too Old to Breastfeed?

  1. Latisha

    There are many people who have vivid memories from very early childhood. I’m quite sure most well adjusted adults do not want to have breastfeeding from their mother be one of them. That is why it is only appropriate for babies. I’m sure you will all beg to differ but I personally would rather not chance messing with a child’s psyche like that.

    • Crunchy Con Mom  

      So do you hypothesize that all humans until the invention of the bottle were psychologically damaged?
      Or just the ones with good memories?

    • Deb

      I have photos from my childhood where my mom is feeding me from a bottle. It has to be formula. My mom stayed at home and had no reason to own a pump. I’m so horrified by the thought that I was formula fed that I don’t want an answer on that photo.

    • Cat

      I know quite a few mums whose children fed well past the age of 2 (more like 4 or 5). Most of their kids cannot remember their breastfeeding sessions. I guess for them it was just a normal part of their life, and not really noteworthy.

  2. Steph

    I am completely angered by some of the posts here. My daughter is now 6 and refused to nurse since she was born. Tried everything you could possibly try and nope, not having any of it. When my son was born, I was ADAMANT that he was going to nurse. The moment he was born, skin to skin interaction. I wouldn’t even let the nurse take him from me until I let him smell the milk. He is now 27 months and nurses like a complete champ, and my family and myself won’t have it any other way. For this be psychologically damaging, or claiming it is, is completely bewildering.

    So many articles and peer-reviewed articles have proven that a breastfed child grows up to be much more in control of their own emotions. I can personally tell the difference between my own two children: not breastfed and breastfed.

    Why is it so difficult for moms to support each other? Or as the old saying goes, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all”

  3. Samantha Frazier

    I am so excited to read these comments. Thank you all for inspiring me to keep going. I am currently BF my 16 mo. and had no idea I would make it this far. I was planning to stop at 18 months, but I am thinking now I will stop when baby Z and I decide, not when society decides. People can make excuses, but I have been working full time since my baby was 6 weeks old. It is not easy to pump and nurse non stop for the first 9 months, but what is suppose to be easy about having a baby? I feel that if women could just get past the first year, they would be willing to keep going. My daughter can go without milk, but she loves to get a feeding or two in when mommy is around. For the comment about the eating and drinking, my BF baby is the best eater and drinker I know. People are amazed by how much water she drinks during the day (from a cup) and how much food she eats. She eats eggs, fajitas, beans, pb and honey, fish, veggies, hummus, and more. I am getting more and more confidence to keep my BF going and to tell others about it. Thanks!!!

  4. Brandi

    My little one is just past 2 and we are still nursing. I plan to keep nursing as long as I can. :) He is very healthy and happy. I’m sad to see some of the uneducated posts on here. I hope my children’s generation will be free from the repressive thinking that has been running rampant the last handful of generations concerning breastfeeding. I realize that not everyone is Christian but for ny part I refuse to believe that “formula” or “pumping” can be better for my child then what God provided. He made my body capable of nourishing my child for more than 1 or 2 years, AND sharing my immune system too! How amazing is that. ;)

  5. Deb

    Addl points for the couple of naysayers who claim breastfeeding delays or inhibits other feeding. At 22 months my daughter can eat with a fork and spoon, drink from a cup with a straw – not a built in straw or sippy cup – and she has a sophisticated palette. Will eat anything from spicy crock pot chicken to bison bolognese to salmon and has a smoothie every day with a variet of fruit, veggies and fats. And she breastfeeds. She does not eat the standard American devoid of nutrition accepted diet of Kraft Mac n cheese, Cheerios, goldfish and plain noodles with butter.

  6. Sadiem

    If a person is not comfortable seeing me bf my daughter, no matter what age she is, they have all the right to! I mean, I don’t like toes … when I see someone wearing sandals, I am disgusted and I look away, it’s none of my business.

    See what I did there? I mattered my own business. A child being breastfed is no one else’s business but the child’s and the mom’s. I don’t even understand how you can be against that: it doesn’t affect you, so you should not even bother.

    If you bother, you should be HAPPY that this child has a caring mother that is willing to give her child her body, time and soul and just the very best she can.

  7. Lily

    I watched my sister-in-law nurse my two nephews when i was a young girl. I don’t think i’d ever witnessed anything quite so beautiful. It left a lifelong impression on me. I totally credit her with my decision to bf all 3 of mine. Firstborn nursed until i winced at breast tenderness with 2nd pregnancy, she totally weaned her beautiful self at age 4, naturally – b/c she noticed her mother in discomfort. She’s just as sweet today at almost 37 years of age.

    The boys each weaned themselves a bit later, again naturally and of their own volition, each at about 5.5 yrs. They’re both perfectly normal, well adjusted men that have no ‘confusion’ issues (and love their mom without ever thinking of her breasts).

    Some people will never accept that since time immemorial, babies have been breastfed, often for several years (there are stories of ‘surrogate’ nursing, as well). This fact stands on its own, and is not in dispute. That some modern humans cannot or will not realize/accept this historical fact perfectly demonstrates a completely closed mind. An open mind would be eager to learn new information (if only new to them) when it presents itself, and may not be so willing to remain unyielding on an idea when information is widely available.

    “Clinging to one’s opinion is the best proof of stupidity.” – Michel de Montaigne

    “It is difficult to free fools from the chains they revere.” – Voltaire

    Quotes aren’t name-calling, that is not the purpose. The idea is to open up and learn. When one stops learning, one begins his own demise.

    Thanks to Megan for a wonderful discussion, and thanks to the many here with eyes to see.

  8. Sky

    Breastfeeding a grown child is just not good for a child’s mental health. If you feel the need to do this then you clearly have some issues of your own that need to be worked out. As for the people who bring God into the issue and try to use it as proof that breastfeeding at late ages is meant to be, then why did God design babies bodies to only need milk for the first year of life?

    • Megan

      Hi Sky, I was just wondering if you had studies that showed that breastfeeding a “grown” (I’m assuming you’re referring to a toddler?) child is not good for their mental health? You see, I have adopted two children 1 and 3 and our psychologist recommends breastfeeding them for both their emotional and mental development despite their age. In fact, every single adoptive couple I have met (and I know many) have all attempted to induce lactation for their toddlers and small children at the advise of the mental health profession. Where did you get your last statement that God designed babies to only need milk for their first year of life? This is not true. Actually, in biblical times children were often nursed until they were three years old (and is still how long babies are nursed in those locations today). And if you’re speaking about their biological design, I know many babies (including my own) who did not have teeth or all of their enzymes at age one – something pretty important needed for digestion (especially because squeezy pouches didn’t exist back then).

      I am nursing two 15 month olds and a 3 year old and it’s not because I have “issues” and its not because I love nursing…it’s because nothing beats the nutrition in breastmilk and nothing compares to the bonding and attachment that it brings….something pretty important if you’ve adopted malnourished orphans who are victims of abuse and abandonment.

    • sierra danie

      Actually sky that’s your problem since when is a toddler considered grown? So maybe there is something wrong with you if you can make the most pure act of a mother b r east feeding her child dirty….newsflash honey that’s what breast where made for

  9. sierra danie

    I totally agree breastfeeding is good for my daughter who just turned 3 and for those who said it messes up milestones my daughter eats and drinks from a cup ties her own shoes…..can count to 40 spell her name ….knows her adress and telephone number……she is in pre kindergarten and will be in kindergarten and she is 3 so I don’t think breastfeeding messes up any milestones….people please know your facts before you talk….most people think my child is older then what she is because of how intelligent she is….also u have a 6 ur old second grader who breastfeed until 3 who does well also breastfeeding didn’t hurt them…

  10. Sky

    To those of you who say that breasts were not put there for sexual purposes, I wonder if you back that up by never allowing your breasts to be part of your sex life. Highly doubtful, therefore your statement has no merit.

    • Steve

      Sky your comment makes no sense whatsoever, no-one here has stated any such thing, what has been stated is that the PRIMARY purpose of having breasts is to feed offspring. Try to read and understand what’s being said before you make analogies that don’t work anyway from statements nobody made.

      If someone gets off on using feet during sexual play does that mean they think the primary purpose of feet is for sexual encounters? No. If they state the primary purpose is to support walking upright should they no longer indulge their fetish? No. Please, go be stupid elsewhere.

      • Sky

        Actually Steve, you are the one who is being stupid here. If you go back and read every single post, there were several people who stated that breasts are not there for sexual purposes. My comment probably angered you because you’re probably some perv who is obsessed with seeing women’s breasts and fronting as a pro breast feeding extremist is your cover.

    • Crunchy Con Mom  

      So true! Each body part serves one and only one purpose. Please choose between eating and talking and kissing (but only one! Body parts can’t serve multiple purposes!!) and definitely don’t use your hands to caress your husband if you also use that same hand to care for your children!

      #sarcasmfont

      • Steve

        lol nice post Crunch Con Mom, I can’t believe Sky’s 2nd post is even stupider than her first though!

  11. Sara

    I am sorry but America is not a third world country where are infants are dying of hunger and disease. My problem is the fact that I wouldn’t have a two year old on a bottle much less a breast. As a parent you make the decision for your child not wait for them to tell you. My problem with breastfeeding in the toddler years has nothing to do with sex. It is about boundaries. Using your breast to comfort and sooth your kids is not gonna work at 15. Babies grow up that is fact. Would we be so tolerate of a five or six year old that is not potty trained. What if the parents just let them pee or poo in the playground. Or how about children being taught to be independent and not co-dependent. That is a psychological issue. Tomato tomato call it what you want. But if all you can teach your child is bonding and not setting limits from infancy on you have problems.

    • Crunchy Con Mom  

      There’s no social science data indicating that children who self-wean as preschoolers or even early elementary age students struggle with boundaries any more than children who wean as toddlers or infants or never nurse at all, and plenty of anecdotal evidence that children who finish weaning at an age older than you might feel comfortable with are very well adjusted kids who don’t struggle with boundaries or any other social adjustment issues. You should of course only nurse as long as you and your children are comfortable with, but your judgement on others for nursing past infancy appears to be based less on scientific concern than fear of the unknown.

    • Jaye Anne  

      Thank you for sharing your insightful perspective. I hear you saying that boundaries are so important for good parenting, and breastfeeding past a certain age does not establish a boundary. What I hear from you is this: milk is for babies; crossing that line blows boundaries out of the water. This is a logical explanation. If this is not what you are feeling, disregard this reply.

      If it is, allow me to offer my personal experience: I did have a boundary problem with my kids. I thought it was noble to breastfeed as long as possible and I thought they would wean themselves. But also, I enjoyed it.

      Then, I stopped enjoying it. (My kids were 2 and 3 at the time) Breastfeeding made me a little angry; then a lot angry. It was clear I was done when my children were not. I kissed them good night and my husband put them to bed each night. At first they cried a lot; but I knew they were okay because they were not alone. It was hard, but I felt this was important. This was the enacting of my boundary.

      Are they co-dependent? Do my kids have no boundaries? Like Tina Fey says, “isn’t it hard to tell if you’ve been a good parent or bad parent? We can’t really know until the dust settles when the kid is 33; and by then it’s too late to change anything.”

      The best I can do is research as much as possible, learn from others, and carry out what feels right to me and my child. That’s the best any of us can do as parents. I measure my parenting by whether my kids are (generally) happy, healthy, and engaged in life.

      I wish you happy, healthy, and engaged children, and thank you for replying to this post.

    • Megan

      Hi Sara, You are right. America is not a 3rd world country but 50% of our population has a chronic illness and we have an extremely high infant mortality rate and we know that breastfeeding has benefits beyond the first year of life which is why the American Academy of Pediatrics and the WHO recommend breastfeeding until age 2 and so long as both mother and child desire. I think it is a very dangerous notion to parent our children based on how we perceive them as teenagers. In fact, I think making smart decisions when they are young helps them become the adults we hope they grow up to be.

      If I use your logic and stop nursing my toddler because she can’t nurse at age 15 then we should also not spoon-feed our children because kids, teenagers, and adults are expected to hold their own spoons. We should not put them in a crib but should place them in a twin bed with no sides because they won’t get to sleep in a crib when they are 15. We shouldn’t comfort them at all with snuggles, hugs, or kisses because what mother is going to kiss her 15-year-old’s boo boo or snuggle them up in the parking lot at their school?

      As children grow they go through different developmental stages and our parenting changes with those stages. In order to be INDEPENDENT they must first be DEPENDENT. Independence is something that is learned through proper growth, attachment, and bonding. A child who is witheld the emotional relationship that they need may be forced to be independent but they won’t be able to self-regulate or form proper attachments and relationships with their peers. We see this in orphans and many adopted children and we’re seeing it in our current culture. If you want to talk psychology, then I would recommend looking at the data on this subject.

  12. Steve

    “I am sorry but America is not a third world country where are infants are dying of hunger and disease.”

    So, that doesn’t stop them from TRYING to give our kids 50 doses of 16 vaccines in the first six years of their life and using Africa to fearmonger people with death statistics saying this will be USA if you don’t.

  13. Christa

    I can’t believe there are people that actually believe breastfeeding your child is BAD for them at ANY age… It is the healthiest thing you could ever possibly provide for your child.

    People like this is the reason society is so screwed up. Not us. They try to fit and form into something they are NOT. And yet the ones who don’t follow the trends “have problems”.
    If people would have a little respect for each other and accept each others differences, we wouldn’t have bullies. But im pretty sure weve lost hope on that because people love to be judemental and act like tgey are better..Jesus… We are all human. There is NO such thing as “normal”. There is average.

  14. Christa

    Oh, and I am currently breastfeeding my 3 month old son. And I plan to breastfeed him until he weans himself;) Props to other moms who have gone thru the struggle and conquered that great feat!?

  15. Dee

    Megan I love how the second someone disagrees with you, you tell them to respect the BF opinions and be respectful. But everyone who agrees with you doesn’t have to be respectful and is able to call the disagreers “ignorant” “uneducated” “barbaric”. The disagreers are “biased”… Guess what? Your biased too! Every person on here is biased and ignorant. Most of the stuff your claiming (on both sides) cannot be proven! You can’t prove that it’s detrimental to BF over 2 because you have no idea how that kid would turn out if you stopped at 6 months. On the other side, you can’t prove that a kid is smarter for BF until 3 because, again, you have no idea how they would have turned out at 6 months. Watch where your “science” comes from people… Read studies by scientists not biased government lobbiests. Also anthropologists have no idea how we breastfed throughout evolution because behaviour doesn’t fossilize (and yes I have looked into scholarly articles on this). What i do know is that our closest relative primates force their young to wean (sometimes quite violently) before they would like to. I realize we are not primates but If your speaking evolutionarily that is who you should be looking at.. Not mothers in Africa (they are just as evolved as we are).
    Ps I have no horse in this race, I am not a mother and likely won’t be for a long time. But when I am you know what I’m going to do? Instead of arguing with strangers on the Internet I’m going to spend time with my kids.

    • Megan

      Dee, Thanks for your comment. You’ll have to excuse me if I don’t address every aspect of it as there were parts I did not understand. First, I think everyone should be respectful regardless of the side they are on. There are several moderators for comments and I have not anaylzed every one (I was probably busy spending time with my children). If there is a comment that has violated NPN’s comment policy I would be happy to remove it.

      I’m not sure where you were going with the “bias” argument. Did I accuse someone of being “biased?” I am not sure what you meant by “what I have claimed on both sides” either. As for the science – science is VERY clear that breastfeeding until age 2 yields significant benefits to a child which is why the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization recommend breastfeeding until age 2 and as long as both mother and child desire. I would recommend looking at the extensive data that went in to the creation of those recommendations as well as the PubMed database.

      As for evolution, I don’t personally subscribe to that philosophy; regardless, I do not believe we as a higher species should look to primates, or any other animal, to gleen when we should wean our children.

      As for your “P.S,” I think we need to be very careful telling other mothers they are “less than” because they take time away from their children to engage in discourse. What does that mean for women who work outside the home or mothers who poop…with the door closed?

      Kindly, Megan

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