For all the talk of the challenges of breastfeeding, some women enjoy it so much that they carry on long after other mothers have stopped.
Mumsnetters do argue a bit about what the definition is of 'extended breastfeeding' (carrying on after six months? a year? two? five?).
One Mumsnetter says: "I think that after a year, your breasts are extended enough for it to be called extended breastfeeding."
There is, of course, nothing wrong (and, from a general health point of view, actually quite a lot right) with extended breastfeeding. But it's certainly not considered 'the norm', in Britain at least, as people will only be too happy to tell you.
There always seems to be a furore whenever extended breastfeeding crops up in the media - see the reaction to Time magazine's 2012 cover story, which pictured a three-year-old feeding from his mum, and the various documentaries which make extended breastfeeding into a bit of a freak show. But extended breastfeeding is actually supported by the World Health Organization (who recommend breastfeeding up to age two or beyond).
Extended breastfeeding can often be part of a wider approach to parenting called attachment parenting, which typically leaves the decision to wean off the breast to the child and will often involve co-sleeping and feeding on demand. It often gets heavily criticised by the 'show em who's boss' brigade.
What are the benefits of extended breastfeeding?
- Your milk will still give your child the benefits of your antibodies and pass on immunity to bugs you have been exposed to.
- Feeding your older child can give them a lot of comfort and reassurance, and will allow you to continue with all the lovely physical bonding that breastfeeding can provide.
- Weaning when your child is older may make the whole process a lot easier and let it come to a natural close rather than an arbitrary and abrupt end.
- Breasts make very portable comforters. Feeding can be used to calm your child down and give some instant comfort and security.
What are the downsides of extended breastfeeding?
- You may be bombarded with disapproval (but this shouldn't be a reason for you to stop).
- Although weaning can be difficult at any age, it might be more difficult if you have a vocal child who is not ready to give up on feeding. (Chances are, though that the need to breastfeed will come to a natural end.)
- It can become tiring and you may start to feel a bit like a human dummy and want your body to yourself again.
Stick to your guns - it's up to you (and your child) how long you want to keep breastfeeding
You will probably have quite a good idea of what age you want to breastfeed your child to, but if you are still feeding when your child is talking and walking, you will probably experience a raised eyebrow or two.
How you choose to deal with the Bitty brigade is obviously up to you (though we like this Mumsnetter's laugh-em-off approach: "I just say in a jokey, slightly resigned way, 'Yes, I'm still feeding him: can't seem to stop.'") But those who've had to kick the comments into touch before you, will say that extended breastfeeding has its very special compensations and can be a brilliant way to connect with your child.
What Mumsnetters say about extended breastfeeding
- I am finding all the comments very hard. Someone asked how my daughter was the other day and I said she was teething again. Cue another 10-minute discussion on how it's just 'wrong' to feed once they've got teeth. I feel very sad about it. Up until now, I'd been proudly feeding in public. Now I feel like the freaky breastfeedy lady. Caz10
- People seem to be fine with some extended breastfeeding but everyone has a strange internal cut-off point of acceptability, 'It's OK as long as they're not walking', for example. And I think the whole Little Britain Bitty crap has made it acceptable to laugh at breastfeeding generally. Jenkeywoo
- I fed mine to two and three years old. It just petered out naturally. I'll never forget my second son looking up at me with utter satisfaction, wiping his mouth and saying, 'Ugga shide' (other side). I can't even remember a day when they stopped. It was seamless. spidermama