When a woman is breastfeeding a newborn, everyone applauds her efforts for feeding her baby breast milk. If that same woman continues to breastfeed until the child is four or five years old, people call her weird or perverted. Why does society accept breastfeeding for infants but not toddlers or young children?
The simple answer is….we accept what we see on a frequent basis as being “normal.” There are a lot of things that are “normal” now that would have NEVER been accepted a few decades ago. Even though breastfeeding infants is popular, breastfeeding beyond one year, extended breastfeeding, is definitely abnormal in North America.
Other countries are known to breastfeed a child until the age of six! That is THEIR normal. Limited studies have been done on extended breastfeeding. These studies list several disadvantages for breastfeeding beyond the age of two. We all know breast milk is better than formula, but is it best to give it a child who can safely drink cow’s milk and eat chicken nuggets?
A breastfeeding mother should know all the possible side effects of prolonged breastfeeding before deciding to do it. Here are 12 dangers of breastfeeding too long that moms need to know about.
12 Can Cause Infertility
Ready for another baby? Extended breastfeeding can prevent you from being fertile. Some moms are ready to knock out their pregnancies at a young age to get it over and done. Also, having siblings close in age can be socially beneficial.
Doctors generally recommend waiting at least two years between pregnancies to give your body ample time to recover. You may be ready at the two year mark to have another bundle of joy.
However, if you breastfeed at least once every two hours it can prevent your body from ovulating. If you are breastfeeding past two years and wanting to conceive again, it may be impossible. Decide if extended breastfeeding is worth extending your wait time in between pregnancies.
11 Suckling Can Become Painful
The jaw muscle is the strongest muscle in the human body. It may feel like your newborn is capable of sucking your nipple off of your breast, so just imagine how hard a toddler could suckle. Ouch! Not only can a toddler suck harder than an infant, they have more teeth as well.
Toddlers often bite while suckling, which could cause nipples to bleed. When you combine the growing strength of your toddler’s jaw muscle and their growing set of baby teeth, it is a recipe for pain. Invest in a good nipple cream to help heal and prevent cracked nipples. I used an organic brand made of five simple ingredients that is safe for baby to ingest. Prepare for the pain if you plan to do extended breastfeeding!
10 Mom Loses Her Freedom
After caring for an infant’s every need, most moms delight in the small amount of freedom they receive when a toddler can finally eat table food. Being able to clean or do chores while the kids are sitting at the table eating is a small step towards them gaining independence and you gaining more freedom.
Moms who decide to continue breastfeeding after the baby is over one year decline this offer of freedom. There is a big difference between handing your toddler a sippy cup and having to sit there to breastfeed them. If you have other children, you may need those few extra minutes to help them do something. Time and freedom are so precious to us moms, so be sure you are willing to sacrifice more if you decide to do extended breastfeeding.
9 Weaning The Baby To Solid Foods Can Be Impossible
Weaning is a curse word to some parents. Weaning is managing without something you are fond of. Whether you breastfeed or bottle feed, you will have to wean your baby at some point. This will be an epic battle.
Some studies show that children who breastfeed beyond one year are even harder to wean than average. If you think about it, it makes sense. It’s the law of habit. The longer you do something, the harder it is to stop. Therefore, the longer you breastfeed, that harder it will be to transition your child to solid foods.
Some moms let the child wean themselves, natural weaning. This can turn into a long process, so be prepared for weaning problems if you do extended breastfeeding.
8 Baby Can Become Malnourished
How can drinking breast milk put a child at risk for malnutrition? Several studies were done on the implications of extended breastfeeding and malnutrition. The results showed that children with low weight were breastfed longer than children with normal weight. Particularly children ages 18-29 months old who were breastfed had a higher prevalence of malnutrition than weaned children.
Several reasons can be attributed to this data. First, if a child is drinking a lot of breast milk, they are not eating as much solid foods. Second, a child’s nutritional needs increase with age, so breast milk is not enough to satisfy the dietary needs of older children. Therefore, extended breastfeeding can negatively impact the nutritional intake of your child by reducing their desire to eat solid food and increasing their risk of malnutrition.
7 Baby Will Become Less Independent
Time flies! As your newborn progresses into a toddler, you will notice them gaining independence. Things they normally cried for you to do are becoming natural for them to do alone. Gradually, they will begin picking up things and supplying their own needs without additional support. T
his newfound independence can have a stumbling block- extended breastfeeding. Studies show children who are breastfed beyond one year are less independent than those who were not. You may think independence is trivial at their young age, but you want them to EVENTUALLY leave the nest.
In order for your child to grow up to be self-sufficient, they must learn the building blocks of independence as a child. If you decide to prolong breastfeeding, be prepared to have a more dependent child pining for your help.
6 And Cause Low Energy Intake
Energy is life! Our bodies need energy to grow, move, and keep warm. We get energy from foods and drinks. Newborns only need about 120 kcal/kg/day, but a toddler needs much more. The amount of calories a person needs depends on their height, weight, age, and amount of physical activity they perform. Children who breastfeed beyond the age of one have a lower energy intake than those who were not, according to studies.
This findings show children who breastfeed beyond infancy are not eating enough solid food to properly function their bodies. This can be attributed to the fact that they drink more liquids and feel full, even though their bodies need more calories. Low energy intake can cause fatigue and other side effects.
5 Baby Will Be Less Likely To Self-Soothe
Having a bad day? You probably have a certain song or favorite treat to help soothe your frustration. Self-soothing is an important life skill that children learn at an early age. Whether it is a special toy or a certain hiding place, children find a way to soothe themselves when they get upset.
Some studies show that children who breastfeed beyond the age of one are less likely to be able to self-soothe. Instead, these children run to their mother’s breast for comfort.
Why is this a problem? Well, what if mom is not there? If the child is at daycare or school and an incident occurs, how will they calm themselves if they are used to breastfeeding for solace? If you choose to do extended breastfeeding, you may hinder your child’s ability to self-soothe.
4 There Will Be Awkward Questions About Body Parts
“What’s that?” is a child’s favorite question. If you are continuing to breastfeed after the age of one, your child may ask some awkward questions about your different body parts. While your child is discovering everything the world has to offer, they are seeing your bare breasts several times a day. This may prompt them to ask, “What’s that?” in an attempt to name their milk mountains.
Be careful what you call them because it will be repeated! Also, your child may point, touch, or grab another woman's breast since it is normal for them to touch yours. It’s common for young children to pull up a woman’s shirt or simply grab their breasts. Extended breastfeeding can lead to awkward anatomy questions, especially around strangers.
3 Society Isn't Always Accepting
Seeing a child old enough to walk and talk suckling at their mother’s breast really bothers some people. I know, you are thinking, “It doesn’t have anything to do with them, so why should they care?” Well, they do. Be prepared for looks of disgust and judgement. Societal acceptance of extended breastfeeding hasn’t made it’s way to North America yet.
In other countries, such as Germany, it is common for mothers to breastfeed til the age of five or six. The worldwide average age to wean is 4.2 years old! Clearly different countries have much more breastfeeding acceptance.
Prepare your child for those rude comments as well, especially if they are old enough to talk. If you decide to prolong breastfeeding, many people will not accept your decision.
2 Over Attachment
Technically, all babies were attached to their mom’s womb, so what is attachment parenting? Attachment parenting is a style of parenting that recently resurfaced. It focuses on the bond between the parents and child by promoting baby-wearing, co-sleeping, extended breastfeeding, and natural weaning.
Your child is basically on your hip at every moment during the day. Since there are limited studies on it, critics say this style of parenting has no research to support its effectiveness. Other critics say allowing children to indulge in every activity with their parents creates children who are narcissistic because they “run the show.”
If a child is allowed to choose to breastfeed even if they are old enough to eat something else, who is really in control? Extended breastfeeding can lead to attachment parenting, which could have negative effects.
1 If They're Old Enough To Ask For It...
Ever heard someone say, “If they are old enough to ask for it, they don’t need it anymore” when referring to breastfeeding? It is a common belief that this “sign” shows a child should be weaned. It’s one thing to have a child crying for a toy in the store, but what about crying for your breast? This can lead to some awkward public situations.
If you are in the grocery store, you don’t want to whip out your breast to appease your little one. You may find them asking for it in uncomfortable public settings. Your child doesn’t know social standards. If you decide to do extended breastfeeding, be prepared for your child to ask for your breast in the least convenient place and the fallout if you say no.
Sources: Psychology Today, La Leche League, World Health Organization