Extended nursing: The human norm

A personal interview with Katherine Dettwyler, Ph.D.

When we talk about weaning a baby, how much emphasis do you think the mother's feelings should play into this? In other words, if baby is willing, but mom is really tired of breastfeeding, how should those two things be reconciled?

I do think that mother's feelings should play a role. I don't think anyone should feel they have to martyr themselves and continue to nurse past when they are willing to do so. But the important thing is for the mother to have full and complete information about what is the normal duration of breastfeeding for human children. This would include an understanding of why her child still wants to nurse (i.e. it's not just a habit, nor is the baby being demanding and manipulative just because it is acting like a human naturally/normally would act in wanting/expecting to nurse for many years), and the potential consequences of weaning prematurely (in terms of mother's health, child physical health, child's emotional health, etc.)

I think that a lot of women wean "early" simply because their doctor told them to, or told them all the health benefits were gone, or told them they were doing it only for their own pleasure. I have no problem with any decision any mother makes from a position of full and complete knowledge of what is normal and natural for humans and what the consequences may be of weaning at that age. I don't personally care if women breastfeed for any length of time. I do object to people making decisions based on faulty information, incomplete information, etc.

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