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.

77 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.

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