Aug 4 2012
How Old is Too Old For Breastfeeding?
The following was the conversation that happened in response to the below picture by Joni Rae of Tales of a Kitchen Witch. It was…interesting. It was the first time I’d actually gotten into a discussion with a friend of mine in regards to full term nursing. Admittedly, I was very put off by her first comment, and bristled up. Part of that was because she used the word “everyone”, essentially speaking for all mothers and people in general, including me.
After she asked what “full term nursing” was, however, I realized that I had an opportunity to educate someone and maybe even have her reevaluate her feelings. In the end, I feel(or at least, hope) that I opened her eyes a little.
Friend: I think after a year is just uncomfortable for everyone… I find it odd that I see 4 year Olds breast feeding. A year is where my kid will get cut off.
Me: I am not uncomfortable with a toddler nursing, I’m aware that it is biologically normal. While I respect your choice to arbitrarily place an age limit on your child based on this country’s sexualization of functional organs, I am neither uncomfortable with full term nursing, nor am I willing to place that sort of restriction on my child. An 11 month and 3 week old child rarely changes much in a week. Is the issue the actual age, or the size and capabilities of the child? Because my 10 month old can crawl to me for nursing, latch himself, has 8 teeth, can use sign language to ask for it(as well as words), eat real food, and is starting to try to walk, as he is standing on his own and not holding anything. He is also 25 pounds and 30 inches, which puts him as larger than your average one year old.
Friend: Its just a personal choice. Nothing specific to sexualization of breasts but, its an attachment issue. They need to learn how to get proper nutrition without their moms boob. A toddler nursing is just odd in my eyes but, to each their own.
What is “full term”?
Me: Full term changes for child to child. Basically, independence and maturity comes from the child when they choose to stop nursing. Most children are developmentally ready to end nursing at the age of between 2.5 and 5, with the average being 3 or 4.
Full term nursing denotes nursing until a child is ready to stop. Nursing changes as babies get older and after 2, most are just nursing once at night, once in the morning, and sometimes naptime. Rarely out in public, unless they got hurt…as nursing releases pain relieving hormones and is a source of comfort. Breast milk is designed to supplement the immature immune system of toddlers…as their immunity doesn’t fully develop until they are 6 or 7. It is not just proteins, carbohydrates and fats. It is also antibodies, antiparasites, sleep and pain relief hormones, amino acids and psychological comfort and stability.
Also….to give perspective. Nolan is ALREADY “weaning”. Weaning is not an immediate action. It is a process. He eats solid food and is trying to eat by himself. I am teaching him healthy food, and he will learn what is good for him. One day, he will decide he only needs that, and then, he will be fully weaned. That day is up to him…not me.
Friend: Interesting view on it, child lead weaning, I like the premise, not sure if I can keep up with it. Would you say it is acceptable for a 7year old to nurse?
Me: I would say it depends on the situation. At that age, well, mostly at any age past 4, nursing happens so infrequently(most children that age are nursing less than once a day), it is usually because the child doesn’t feel safe or secure and is going to what he/she knows is the most safe comfortable place, or is sick. If the child hasn’t nursed in years, and asked to nurse, then, no, I would not find it appropriate, but if the child has nursed once a week or so up until that age, and is scared, sick, or upset at something, then, yes, I find it acceptable.
Some child develop differently than others. Some are independent “early” and wean at 12-18 months. Some are independent “late” and wean at 6-7 years. Some earlier(though self-weaning rarely happens before a year), some later(there are accounts of 8 year olds nursing). The statistical, psychological, and sociological independent child age of weaning average is between 2.5 and 5 years old. Averages are just statistical means to show the potential range of normalcy of something.
Friend: That screams abnormal attachment issues to me. Like I said, to each their own.
Me: Abnormal would be teenaged and wanting it. I know some very immature 7 year olds, and some very mature 4 year olds. PLEASE, PLEASE research the sociological and psychological basis of full term nursing, without putting an arbitrary limit on it. Look at it with an open mind, and try to remember that 5-7 is actually very uncommon.
Friend: What is the difference between a 13 year old and a 6 year old wanting to have breast milk? If 13 is abnormal aka to old, so is 6
Me: There is a huge developmental difference between a 6 year old child and an adolescent hitting puberty.
The reason 6 is biologically normal is because most 6 year olds still have their milk teeth, aka baby teeth. The latest children wean is around the time their milk teeth come out and their adult teeth grow in. Humans are the ONLY mammals on earth to force wean their children.
Mind you…I agree with gentle weaning if the mother stops being comfortable….by I am not one for arbitrary ages being placed on something as biologically normal as nursing.
Me: Force wean due to age*. Some mammals will push their children away as they get older…but won’t let their children suffer if they cry for it.
Friend: Eh, I see your point but, personally I find it odd. Does Nolan bite?
Me: He did it once or twice, but I taught him not to. Now, if his teeth hurt, it is because I am doing something wrong.
Oh, and, btw, I find it a little odd to watch as well, but understand it from a psychological standpoint. I am REALLY hoping Nolan will wean himself around age 3, but I’m not going to force it on him if he isn’t ready. Just because I, personally, do not want to nurse a 6 year old, I do not have the right to tell anyone else they shouldn’t.
Friend: Interesting outlook on it. Lol I love that you call it “nini”
It ended that way, without any more questions or “it’s odd” statements. Just “interesting outlook”. It took me awhile to realize why it was so “interesting”.
It is because of my country’s societal views.
American society places emphasis on forcing our children to ‘grow up quick’. Be independent from the get go, sleep alone, feed themselves early, start ‘school’ at age 2…
The problem with this mindset is, it does not allow for proper emotional and psychological development. Forcefully weaning children from their comforts doesn’t promote independence, it actually has a chance of backfiring and creating emotionally dependent children.
Now, I am a big proponent of age appropriate responsibilities and accountability, but I’m also a big advocate for a secure home base. What child wants to go out and explore if they don’t have a secure place to return to?
My son nurses when he gets hurt, and when he is overtired and fighting sleep. He nurses when he’s hungry, and when he asks for it.
He is 10 months old, and he will very happily run(crawl) off and play in a room by himself. He’s okay with exploring without me, and he is okay being left with other people, if I am the one who hands him to them.
He is one of the most independent and secure children I know, and I am glad I can give him what he needs.
Should I put an expiration date on his comfort because the society of my country says I should? Should I force him into mock independence to keep the status quo? Or should I let go of my own reservations and my society’s pressures and follow my child’s nature rhythm?
I am a Pagan. A nature worshiper. I don’t question the Lord and Lady’s design, and I am humble enough to know I do not know better than they.
They designed children to nurse, and they designed them to wean when they are ready. Who am I to tell them they are wrong? My creators are not wrong in the nature of things. My society is wrong for trying to work against nature.
My breastfeeding relationship with my son HAS an expiration date. The thing is, I don’t know it, my son doesn’t know it, my friend doesn’t know it, no one knows it.
One day, however, the expiration date will come, and my son will stop asking. He will run off and not come back, and I will know, in the deepest parts of my heart, that he no longer needs me in that way, that he is a big boy now, independent and secure. I may cry, I may laugh, I may sigh in relief.
I don’t know how I will react when my son weans himself, but I do know how I will feel.
Proud that I followed my instincts and did not let the people around me change my choice to follow nature’s path, instead of society’s will.