Sarah writes mostly about breastfeeding, breastfeeding rights, and EBF. She also talks about positive parenting styles and childbirth, though. I asked her to write a guest post on breastfeeding as she supports and encourages EBF (extended breastfeeding) more than the average Joanne and I thought it an important enough subject to share with my readers.
With that said, please welcome Sarah!
(While this article focuses on breastfeeding after the first six months the author acknowledges that learning to breastfeed and sustaining the breastfeeding relationship up to six months can be hard work. You can read about her own challenging initiation into breastfeeding here: http://ibreastfed.com/2008/09/self-loathing-to-love-sarahs-story)
Hopefully by the time a woman becomes a mother she has heard that "breast is best" and that babies are not able to consume solid foods prior to 6 months of age. Once mother and baby pass that six month mark the game begins to change. Those of us fortunate enough to have received the support necessary to successfully breastfeed, sadly find that our breastfeeding support shrinks as our children grow.
In Australia breastfeeding rates steadily decline from over 80% on hospital discharge to less than 50% by six months. Only 23% of one year olds are breastfed. The World Healthy Organisation recommends that breastfeeding continue for two years or beyond, but a mere 1% of Aussie kids are still breastfeeding at the age of two. (Breastfeeding in Australia 2001: http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/mf/4810.0.55.001; WHO: http://www.who.int/nutrition/topics/infantfeeding_recommendation/en/index.html). As a lactivist who knows the dire importance of full-term breastfeeding to human health, these figures concern me. As a mother who knows first hand the sheer joy and practicality of full-term breastfeeding, these figures sadden me.
According to The American Association of Physicians "If the child is younger than two years of age, the child is at increased risk of illness if weaned" (quoted on Kellymom: http://www.kellymom.com/bf/start/prepare/bf-benefits.html). Jen Davis explained in a 2007 edition of Le Leche League's (LLL) New Beginnings:
"Even after 12 months, babies continue to benefit from human milk. At one year of age, a baby's immune system is functioning at only 60 percent of adult level and because formula has no live antibodies, it is strongly associated with high rates of infection (Huggins 2007). A child's immune system isn't functioning at adult level until age six (Dettwyler 1994)." (Davis 2007: http://www.llli.org/NB/NBSepOct07p196.html)
The truth is that as long as your child is receiving your milk she or he is receiving the important health components unique to breast milk and the longer your child receives your milk, the better his or her health will be in the short and long term. (LLL: http://www.llli.org/FAQ/bflength.html). Some studies have also found a relationship between children's IQ and the duration for which they were breastfed (ABA: http://www.breastfeeding.asn.au/bfinfo/sustained.html). Unfortunately toddlers who aren't breastfed have been shown to experience more illness than those who are (ABA: http://www.breastfeeding.asn.au/bfinfo/sustained.html)
Prematurely ending your breastfeeding relationship will also leave you at risk of greater health problems. For example full-term breastfeeding reduces your risk of osteoporosis, anemia, ovarian and breast cancer (From Australian Breastfeeding Association: http://www.breastfeeding.asn.au/bfinfo/sustained.html)
According to Australian Physician Sarah J Buckley breast milk provides toddlers with up to one-third of their daily energy needs, two-thirds of their fat requirements, 58% of their vitamin A requirements and nearly a third of their calcium needs (Buckley 2005: 246). As a first time mum I found this knowledge extremely comforting and on the days that I feel we're falling short of optimum healthy eating it is nice to know my daughter still has breast milk meeting so many of her health needs, with very little effort on my part.
In addition to all this, research has shown that toddlers who are breastfed experience more secure attachment to their mothers and as a result were better able to become independent compared to toddlers who weren't breastfed (From Australian Breastfeeding Association: http://www.breastfeeding.asn.au/bfinfo/sustained.html). This stands in direct contrast to the myth mothers are told that breastfeeding beyond babyhood will lead to dependent cry baby children.
After The First 6 Months
At six months the battle is by and large already won for breastfeeding mothers. Those tumultuous days of establishing breastfeeding have become a distant memory. Mother and baby have found their groove and putting baby to breast is second nature. Once my daughter passed the six month mark I realised with trepidation that I was going to have to start remembering to make nutritious food and then remember to pack it in the nappy bag before leaving the house, oh the inconvenient horror!
I had taken for granted how easy we'd had it in the days when my breasts did all the preparation, cooking and serving. In this sense continuing to breastfeed requires no extra effort on mother's part. In fact, it is an absolute blessing in those moments when baby cries in hunger and you realise you've forgotten to pack any infant appropriate food! Or, as happened to a friend of mine, when you get locked out of your house with nothing but your baby!
Some mothers worry about the arrival of their baby's teeth and can't imagine placing their soft breasts near those pointy whites. It's important to know that biting is not a challenge faced by all breastfeeding mothers. I have been breastfeeding for over 30 months, numerous times of the day and night, and there is only one time that I can remember being bitten. For the mothers whose babies need some guidance not to bite there is support available via groups such as the Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA) and LLL. It is also worth noting that as children grow so too does their comprehension. Older children rarely use their teeth because they enjoy access to mother's breasts and know that biting is counterproductive.*
For mothers who are anxious about public breastfeeding and have spent 6 months keeping their breasts out of public view, weaning might seem like a welcome change. But let me tell you a great secret I've learned: the older your breastfeeding child is, the less likely you are to receive criticism in public. And in many ways breastfeeding becomes even more convenient and necessary as your child moves from babyhood to toddlerhood.
Breastfeeding The Active Child
Breastfeeding an older child is a richly rewarding experience for mother and child! I cannot count the number of times I have felt relieved to still have milky boobs to soothe my child when in pain, avert a tantrum or give us both much needed down time. Full-term breastfeeding has been very convenient in terms of making my work as a mother stress-free. My experience has been that 9 problems in every 10 can be solved with a breast. This has been particularly useful in public, where I have found it most challenging to mother a noisy, tired or cranky toddler with a tendency to run off in every direction.
When you're in the thick of breastfeeding a young baby it can be hard to imagine continuing to surrender so much of yourself to feeding for years to come. But the feeding patterns of babies under six months are different to children at 1 year, 18 months, 2 years, 3 years, etc. In my experience the regularity of feeds comes and goes in cycles. When my daughter approaches a big moment in development her feeding tends to increase. When we are out with lots of other children she is generally too busy for boo-bee. She still feeds regularly during both night and day**, but her best friend at the same age fed once or twice a day. Your child may be different again.
When, where and how you and your child breastfeed will be unique to the two of you. It will be a relationship that develops organically if you let it. There will be times when you will feel happy to go with the flow and there will be other times when you will feel the need to set some limits. Full-term breastfeeding is a great way for children to start to learn about personal boundaries, mutual respect, and the give and take inherent to forming intimate relationships.
How To Breastfeed Full-Term
Before a mother has experienced the breastfeeding relationship it might seem easy to set a time frame for feeding and weaning. It is not unusual for mothers who do this to discover that when they reach their marker, neither mother or child is ready to wean. If you don't feel ready to wean, DON'T DO IT! Remember, as long as you're breastfeeding, your breasts never stop giving your child health and well-being.
If you like the sound of all you and your child stand to get from a full-term breastfeeding relationship but are apprehensive about how to do it, get in contact with mothers who are already doing it. A support network never stops being useful to breastfeeding mums. LLL and the ABA can help you find support. The best breastfeeding support I have ever witnessed has been through Joyous Birth, an online parenting forum with a focus on gentle birthing and parenting.
If the only thing holding you back is an unconvinced partner or reluctant friends and family, you can choose to educate them or you can choose to ignore them. You know what's best for you and your child. Anyone who loves you or your child wants what's best, they might not realise yet that what is best is a full-term breastfeeding relationship. Luckily you do know! In those odd instances where you are forced to deal with a persistent critic there are resources to help you (see LLL: http://www.llli.org/NB/NBcriticism.html ; Kellymom: http://www.kellymom.com/bf/criticism.html ; ABA: http://www.breastfeeding.asn.au/bfinfo/dealing.html).
Last, but not least, for all those mothers breastfeeding their babies, the way to go about achieving a full-term breastfeeding relationship is simple: just keep doing what you're already doing! When the time is right for your child, she or he will self-wean (Kellymom: http://www.kellymom.com/bf/weaning/how_weaning_happens.html). Finally, while years of breastfeeding might sound extensive to you now, it won't be long before you're looking back wondering how 3, 4, 5+ years went by in the blink of an eye.
About the author: Sarah Langford is a certified pregnancy, birth and postpartum servant, trainee breastfeeding counsellor & writer. Sarah’s writings about reproductive technology, childbirth and breastfeeding have been published in; fully refereed academic journals, online magazines, a feminist zine, homeschool and homebirth websites and she is presently a feature writer for Essence, magazine of the Australian Breastfeeding Association. Sarah lives in Melbourne, Australia with her partner & two and a half year old daughter. She is currently looking forward to giving birth at home for a second time in January 2011. Fore more of Sarah's writing please visit her online home: http://ilithyiainspired.com
*When a child is correctly attached to the breast she or he cannot bite. This is why a baby growing teeth does not necessarily mean a bitten breast This means that for a child to bite you, he or she must change that latch, giving you warning and time to prevent it.
**Nighttime feeding has never been an inconvenience to me because our family co-sleeps. When my daughter stirs in search of a breast she and I pull my shirt up, she latches on and feeds, all the while both of us remain predominantly unconscious.
For more on full-term breastfeeding
OnlineBreastfeeding a Toddler Facts Sheet
Myths about Breastfeeding Toddlers
Breastfeeding Beyond a Year: exploring benefits, cultural influences and more
Breastfeeding a Toddler
How Long Should a Mother Breastfeed?
Why Mothers Nurse Their Children Into Toddlerhood
The Nursing Toddler: A Baby on Wheels
Why I Nurse My Toddler
The Advantages of Extended Nursing
Information on Breastfeeding an Older Baby/Child
Tricky Two Year Old
How Weaning Happened
101 Reasons to Breastfeed Your Child
How Weaning Happens
For Online Support
Joyous Birth - Breastfeeding is Normal Forums
Le Leche League Forums
Buckley, Sarah, Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering, Brisbane, One Moon Press, 2005
Bumgarner, Norma Jane, Mothering Your Nursing Toddler, Le Leche League, 2000
Sinnott, Ann, Breastfeeding Older Children, Free Associated Books, 2009