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.

128 Responses to How Old is Too Old to Breastfeed?

  1. Jessica  

    That is so thoughtful! Congratulations on your upcoming birth and I hope you get the support and information you need to meet your goals!

  2. Kim Leytevidal

    It is a little inappropriate to nurse in public .. due to the fact there are so many weirdos out there checking her out and I’m not a mother idk but wouldn’t it make the kid a little bit weird maybe unsocial because the child is “a mama’s boy/girl” I don’t judge just have a lot of questions and I’m curious

  3. Sib

    Islam (real one not those introduced by terrorist ISIS) has recommended “at least” two full years of breastfeeding for the moms who want to complete the process, although not disallowing longer than that. A pediatrician recommended my sister to wean her daughter of 3 y.o. because of what he believed could affect her intelligence in the future. However, as a child grows older, he/she learns more about what goes around and his/her view of the human relationships ans social archetypes changes and develops gradually. Some people in the comments have mentioned that breasts’ only function is to produce milk; and some others look at it as sex objects. Wikipedia says both functions are true and personal experience confirms it (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Breast). So I think there must be a “reasonable” period for each stage of a human being development, and we must judge fairly on the basis of realities, … without prejudice!

  4. Jessica

    I’m currently nursing my 3 month old daughter and I plan on continuing as long as she wishes. Because in my family you can point out the formula and early weaned children. They have allergies, asthma and many other chronic illnesses. My great great grandmother who I actually got to meet, was nursed till she was 5 1/2. She was extremely healthy and lived on her own until 92, she didn’t pass away till she was 104 years old. i also want to point out while talking to my sons pediatric dentist about extended nursing. He went on to say the children who nursed into toddlerhood had some of the healthiest teeth. Not only does breastmilk have enzymes that discourages the development of plaque but the latch required to nurse actually helps align and strengthen their jaw for their adult teeth meaning they are less likely to need braces! Which makes sense since our ancestors didn’t exactly have access to an orthodontist office.

  5. bongi

    I’m a south african woman 31 years old have four beautiful healthy kids. My fourth son is 2 years old still breastfeeding him I will continue until he is 3 yrs

  6. Stephanie

    Thank you, Megan! I just may consider continuing! So nice to read positive breastfeeding articles. I just laugh at all those who oppose. So, if you don’t want to, don’t do it! Those who choose to are NOT hurting you nor anyone else, so….leave the page! Quietly!!!!!

  7. Nicole

    I am 100% for breastfeeding your infant and toddler.

    At just 15 years old I had my first child I breastfed until she was six months old. She is now in 10th grade and an honor student.

    At 16 years old I had my son, whom I breast fed until his second birthday. He is now 15 and is also in all honors classes.

    I am now 32 years old and am breastfeeding my third child, an extremely intelligent one year old. She says 40 words and follows directions like a four year old. She has reached every milestone before a lot of children. She constantly wants to show you her books and have you read to her, pointing out everything you can name. Her doctor refers to her as a genius baby.

    I understand we are all human and have our doubts about things in life, however breastfeeding should not be one of them. As far as the posts question I feel that at the most age 3-4 is the oldest a child should be breastfeeding. That being said a mother and her baby will know when it’s time to wean.

  8. Will

    My granddaughter has serious side effects with antibiotics. She is often tired with diarrhea. They want to operate to remove the tonsils. Is breastfeeding her often ok, since she won’t eat and has trouble gaining weight?

  9. Dana

    Hi!! I have a 5 month old and still nursing and hoping to for quite a while 🙂 wondering if you nurse into toddler years .. 4 or 5 years of age.. When do you introduce solids? Do they just have breast milk that whole time or do you add in some solids and at what age? Thanks for any help!!!

  10. Dana

    Also as far as co sleeping and baby wearing.. How long do u do those? Thanks for any help!