Breastfeeding an older child unfortunately comes with some challenges.
All the marketing and media hype suggests breasts as being sexual, but they are there to provide food.
Data from Deakin University studied families between 2008-2010 and found at 18mths age 10% of children were still breastfed and by 3.5yrs old that reduced to 1%
Women are familiar with the so-called norm of breastfeeding for 6mths. but in western culture breastfeeding for 12mths is considered to be a long time.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends ongoing breastfeeding into the second year. Not that this is very well publicised in Australia. It is very common in other parts of the world to see older children breastfeeding and everyone just sees it as normal. But in western culture, whilst it is biologically normal, it is not culturally normal.
BENEFITS FOR MUM AND BABY
Breastfeeding provides optimal nutrition for the child and is probably the most convenient way to settle an unhappy toddler. Also provides essential nutrition for all those fussy toddler eaters. It is also the most rewarding closeness, quiet time and deep connection for Mum and child and has been shown to produce contented, happy and socially engaged children.
ARE THERE DISADVANTAGES?
Short answer is NO, apart from minor things like no alcohol, drugs, eating healthy, exercise and sleeping well – now that sounds like a great plan! And welcome to motherhood.
HOW TO DEAL WITH THE SOCIAL STIGMA
Mum’s who breastfeed older children become very skilled at doing this in public in a way that is not going to attract unwanted criticism. It is often only other Mum’s who are tuned in to what is happening. The advantage of the child being older and having language, you can negotiate. I breastfed my second son until he was 3yrs old. He had a special name for it which no-one would recognise as wanting to ‘breastfeed’. There were a few tantrums, often in the supermarket (nice!) but most of the time he accepted to wait until we got home. It was just so much easier than dealing with the glares.
I dream of a day where it is culturally accepted in this country and women who are in public and breastfeeding older children will be greeted with compliments of what a great job they are doing.