Is it ok to breastfeed beyond the age of two?

Community Leader
Registered: 10-01-2010
Is it ok to breastfeed beyond the age of two?
Fri, 11-02-2012 - 10:40am

Is it ok to breastfeed beyond the age of two?

When it comes to providing our children with the healthiest start in life, there’s no denying that ‘breast is best’. But at what point do we move our little ones from breast to bottle? And is it healthy or harmful to keep breastfeeding after the toddler years?

Read the debate:

iVillage Member
Registered: 05-20-2008
Mon, 11-05-2012 - 7:26pm

<<There are many unwritten laws when it comes to parenting that rely on common sense and the peer pressure of society to keep them in check. Though bringing up baby is not an exact science, there are common guidelines that have become a ‘norm’ for proper parenting.>>

Actually, I don't quit agree with this. While there are "rules" in society about your supposed to parent, unless there are also the law, then  I don't think they are followed to the degree she thinks they are or that their is a generally consensus they should be followed that closely. Sure, many parents submit to peer pressure and follow these so-called mainstream parenting guidelines but I suspect that for many that is more about not standing out then actually believing they are "common sense" and the best to parent. I've known many parents who made certain choice in parenting more based on what everyone else did without carefully thinking them through themselves. How many moms-to-be choose a hospital birth simply because that is what every other mom they now did and not because they carefully considered all their options and decided a hospital birth was best? Most I imagine. The idea that a norm exists for "proper parenting" is not really all that true. What constitutes normal parenting has change over the decades and centuries. It was not that long ago that FF'ing was the norm, now at least trying to BF is the norm. When she says parenting is not an exact science, she is correct but I would argue it's even less exact then she wants to acknowledge. She seems to rely on so-called  common sense but I find the concept of "common sense" to very flawed as some past ideas of common sense while common were anything but sensible. For example, it used to be common sense to give a baby a bit of hard liquor before bed to help them sleep something that no would likely have CPS on your case these days. The idea of common sense and societal norms being a useful guideline for how long to NF is bull in my opinion. Go back through history and look at all the negative things once considered the norm now considered wrong, such racism, segregation, discrimination against women, beating your wife, and so forth. If this women had been born in another more conservative society such as Saudi Arabia, would she have endorsed women having few rights, executing people for adultery, or cutting off people's hands for thief, all norm in that society?

<<The recommendation rather than regulation on breastfeeding is that after two years of nipple nourishment, it’s time to move on to the bottle. Yes, breast may be best for baby (even though I didn’t enjoy the suckling experience, I nursed both my babies for a year each for nutritional reasons) but by the time your toddler is two (and has teeth) it’s time to withdraw.>>

There is no official recommendation that BF'ing stop at two years. There may be some individual "experts" who give that advice but it's not an official recommendation from the APP, NHS, CPS (Canadian Pediatric Society), WHO, AMA, or any psychological/psychiatric group. The AAP only recommends you BF for a minimum of one year but does not take firm position on when to stop other then when both mom and baby wins to stop.  There has never been any official recommendation that the emergence of  teeth is a good sign it's time to stop BF'ing and there is nothing about having teeth that makes BF'ing suddenly wrong. I suspect it has to do with a strong need in some people to have some clear-cut sign that BF'ing should stop rather then whenever the child no longer wants to BF which could take years and years.

<<From a health perspective, the World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding with “appropriate complementary foods for up to two years or beyond”. And there’s the grey area – how far ‘beyond’ are some women willing to go? Four? Five? Six? I once met a woman who still breastfed her six-year-old son (I’ll be honest, I was repulsed), and there are reports, as recorded in Ann Sinnott’s ode to the benefits of extended breastfeeding (Breastfeeding Older Children), of women still suckling sprogs aged seven, eight and nine.>>

In many parts of the world this is still very common. It's mostly just the Westen world that looks down upon extended breastfeeding. She may be repulsed but if she grew up in a society where it is the norm, I bet she would not feel so repulsed by it and probably would not think it to be common sense that you should BF beyond 2 yrs.

<<But why would this be good for the kids? From what I’ve unearthed, there seems to be no clear benefits for the child (there’s little research on the nutritional benefits after the age of two) and if they’re still glugging breast milk, they’re missing out on real food, solid food. But it’s the psychological part of this that disturbs me most. Surely, once a child can walk across a room and ask for IT, it’s time to put them away for good. “It is certainly recognized within the psychology professions that breastfeeding your child has positive long-lasting benefits,” says Dr Amy Bailey, clinical psychologist at KidsFIRST Medical Centre.>>

She makes three mistakes here in here logic. First, he employs a logical fallacy known as "argument from silence" which basically translates to "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. In terms of ext. BF'ing, this means that lack of evidence for benefits of EBF due to lack of studies does not mean such benefits don't exists. Until such studies are conducted we just don't know how what benefits if any exist to BF'ing  3 and 4 yo. and beyond. Until such studies are conducted then the lack of evidence is not evidence that Ext. BF'ign has no benefits. Second, she tries to claim that BM is not real food, only solid food is. Well, I disagree. Real food to me is any food a person can live on. For infants that would be BM or formula, for older babies that is both BM/formula and solids, and for those children that have weaned it's solids only. But for some adults who require a liquid diet for medical reasons then for them real food is not solids. What kind of food do these people think babies are getting prior to solids? Pretend or fake food? Third, while I can understand why she might be bothered by the thought of a child walking across a room and lifting up mom's shirt to BF, that does not mean here feelings are justified. There are things that would have repulsed victorian era women or puritan women that no one would find disturbing these days. It's simply the society she grew up that has made here feel this way but if the practice becomes more common we could see quit a different attitude towards such a sight as you would expect in countries where ext. BF'ing is the norm.

<<“However, beyond the age of two our parenting task changes to one in which we need to help our child learn to develop independence.” She goes on to explain how developmental psychologist Eric Erikson asserts that the main focus of development between the ages of two and four is the development of autonomy and that, “breastfeeding beyond two may interfere with or delay this, creating a needy child who struggles interacting independently.” I couldn’t agree more. Not only is there something ‘weird’ about an older child being breastfed, but also I fear for the long-term effects of what I purely see as smother mothering.>>

She says it "may" interfere with the child the child learning proper independence. but does not say it will. She can't say it will because that has never been studies so she couldn't know the answer to the question definitively. She can speculate but that is all she is doing. I have seen no sigb from any of the  children I know who where BF'd for many years of any of them showing  any hinderance to being just as independent compared to other children their age. We also have to be careful that we don't expect some children to be more independent at some age then in reality is the norm. Sometimes people expect things from children they are not capable of doing just yet such pity training before they are ready or executing 2 or 3 yo. to never have a tantrum in public.

<<As a mother of two, I can appreciate how hard it is to ‘let go’, and breastfeeding is the first of those hurdles we have to tackle. But that is our role as ‘good parents’ to relinquish our responsibilities and let our kids develop into fully functioning, emotionally sound adults, rather than selfishly holding on to them for our own needy and emotional benefits, which I personally believe extended breastfeeding, like that of co-sleeping (allowing your child to sleep in your bed) is all about.>>

More speculation here that has no basis in reality or any evidence to back up. Until I see actually studies that back up here beliefs then it pure speculation as to what if any harm it causes. I also get tired of hearing how supposedly, all ext. BF'rs are only doing for their own benefit or needs. She like many other who hold this view is simply speculating as to the mom's motives. If the mom believes it benefits here child, even if studies ever do prove her to be wrong, she is still not doing it solely to fulfill her own needs even. She still did it with the best of intentions for her child. That all assumes the critics are right as to the lack of benefit for ext. BF'ing, something I doubt will ever prove to be true, if and when studies are ever done on ext. BF'ing. The same applies to co-sleeping. With that practice, it's certainly possible the mom see benefits to the child (right or wrong) or that she simply see's it as a harmless activity that has no long term negative effects that she feels she should be free to practice if family finds it enjoyable. If ext. BF'ing or co-sleeping proves to harmless but not beneficial either by some chance then their is no reason we need to tell moms not to do it since  they needn't have benefits beyond simple enjoyment for one to do them. How many feel the need o  justify eating ice cream or watching TV as beneficial to them before they do them? I certain don't feel that need.

<<“Though deciding when to stop breastfeeding is a personal choice, we need to think carefully about whose need it is we are fulfilling. Ultimately the best decision is the one in the child’s best interests. Are we putting our child at risk of being socially rejected, for example?” asks Dr Bailey. Yes, I think we are. In fact, I would go as far as to say that a mum who breastfeeds beyond the norm is being selfish, or perhaps understandably, needs some help in letting go and moving on to be the supportive mother she should be.>>

This sort of baseless speculating i something that really bothers me. She doesn't have any idea what motivates the average ext. BF'ing mom to continue to BF long after many in our society feel you should BF. Maybe these mothers feel they are fulfiling a need in their child. Even if studies where to prove they are not, I think they at least believe they are. Something done with the best of intentions is not the same as doing something strictly for the moms fulfilment or slefhishness. Part of the the problem with this argument is that there is  lack of studies on the issue so we can't speak definitively from a imperial evidence standpoint on whether a chid benefits or is harmed by ext. BF'ing or not. If it does indeed benefit the child at all or is at least not hamrful then it's irrelevent as to why the mom does it. If the mom believe it's beneficial then it's also irrelevent what the truth is when it comes to accessing who's benefit the mom is doing it for. Somethign done for the child with the best intentions even if it based on an incorrect belief is not something done for selfish reasons. Since what is in the best interest of the child here is at this time stll scientifically unknown due to a lack of studies, then it can't be considered motivated by selfishness if a moms breastfeeding beyond age two.

Given that no studies exists currently to answer theses these questions definitively then we can't say what if any benefits or harms might arise from ext. BF'ing as of yet and I don't see speculation as to possible harm as being useful and certainly it is not more valid then the speculation of ext. BF'ing moms as to the benefits to their child. If all these critics are really so worried about the possible harms of ext. BF'ing then they should help conduct or fund studies to get to the bottom as to what the true effects of ext. BF'ing are so we no longer have to speculate or rely on anecdotal evidence. To me the limited anecdotal evidence suggest it would likely prove not harmful, which is the most important question since it's not wrong IMO to do something that is neither harmful nor beneficial either if one desires. The question of benefits would be relevent if we where aurguing that goverments and health groups and such advocate for ext. BF'ing.