ControverSunday: Extended Breastfeeding


As always, thank you to Perpetua from Our Lady of Perpetual Bread Crumbs for hosting ControverSundays and Accidents from Accidents will Happen for the amazing badge!

Participants this week:


Ramble Ramble

Fearless Formula Feeder

Excellent Walker

Oh goodness. I don’t know where to go with this. First of all, sorry to anyone who read my past posts on breastfeeding where I promised I was done with the topic on my blog. But I can’t turn down a ControverSunday topic. For those of you who didn’t read those posts, here is a brief summary:

I breastfed, unsuccessfully, for 3 1/2 months, until I finally came to my senses and figured out the kid was just not getting enough and was never going to get enough. (She weighed the same at 3 months as at 2 months, just in case you think I am exaggerating.) In those three months I was miserable, sad, and yet still determined that my baby HAD to be breastfed. But despite the ridiculous amount of time, effort, drugs, herbs, galactagogues, pumping, breast massage, switch nursing, Supplemental nursing systems, cluster feeding, ect. ect. to try and get my milk production up…. there were just too many odds stacked against us. So A happily sucks back her soy formula and I have finally come to peace with that ‘choice.’

So I kinda feel like I have ‘no comment’ on this topic. I can only speculate what I would have chosen if breastfeeding had worked out. And I really have no opinion when it comes to others choices on the matter. Knock yourselves out. (And I really don’t mean that in a sarcastic way or a ‘I’m jealous of you’ way or a ‘your crazy’ way. I just mean that I really have no opinion on others choices in the matter.)  Despite this, I will continue to discuss the matter for about an other 800 words. I know, I have amazing abilities to ramble on about a topic.

First of all, I will define. Because, well, I do that. To me, extended breastfeeding is longer then two years. Why two years? Because:

1) WHO recommends breastfeeding for 2 years

2) Alberta Health Services (who rule the land where I live) recommends breastfeeding for 2 years (with the minimum recommendation being 6 months)

3) I read somewhere that the world wide breastfeeding average is 2 years

So the number 2 seems to come up a lot, therefore it makes sense to me to be the cut off where beyond is ‘extended.’ Quite honestly, I think anyone who figures out how to breastfeed successfully for six months (or 1 day or 1 week or 1 month or 3 months…. you get the picture) deserves a standing ovation. I take that back: Anyone who gives it try deserves a standing ovation. (And anyone who chooses not to try…I am sure you get a standing ovation for something else…. I support you too. It’s just, well, breastfeeding is hard.) I know that it can also be wonderful but easy it is not. I don’t know anyone, successful or not, who told me it was easy, at least at first. Anyway, I digress. Extended breastfeeding definition a la amoment2think: Two years.

When the nurses first asked me what my goal was I said I wanted to breastfeed to two years, but would be happy if we made it to a year (ha! That turned out to be a bit ambitious for my body!) And if all had gone well I might have very well have done that. But I do wonder….. My daughter doesn’t exactly like to sit still. By 6 months I couldn’t cuddle her when giving a bottle, she would squirm and scream until I sat her up and faced her out to drink. You see, a bottle is a lot easier to move around to suit a squirmy baby then a boob is, I assume. (And while I know there are Mom’s out there that have successfully managed breastfeeding squirmy baby/toddlers, I am not sure if I would be so tolerant of the antics.) Now I can’t keep the kid still for any length of time. This week she started refusing our long honored tradition of cuddle in the glider reading “Goodnight Moon” before bed. I could read the book if I wanted, but staying on my lap she was not. Anyway, my point is: When I said that I wanted to breastfeed to two years I had only been a Mom for a couple days and I really didn’t know what a 6 month old or a 11 month old or a two year old was like. So what I would have actually ended up doing…I don’t know.

What would I do if/when we have baby #2? Honestly, I would be pretty darn happy if I could breastfeed exclusively for 6 months and have the little monkey gain weight. Anything beyond that would be icing and totally optional in my books. (If that didn’t work out I sure wouldn’t put myself through the guilty I felt this last time around. Whatever works is fine with me.)

But beyond two years? I don’t think I would do that. Why? I don’t actually know. Because I think I would be ready to say goodbye to that stage? Because I would feel like I have met my WHO obligations and therefore had ‘done my time’? I don’t know. I just wouldn’t. I don’t think. Cause I wouldn’t.

I know some people that think any child that can articulately request to breastfeed is probably too old to breastfeed. (You know, like “Mother I would like to nurse now” versus “Mama, milk?”) But whatever. I don’t see the harm in it. If a family feels it is to their benefit or their preference- go for it!

I can’t say I wouldn’t look twice if I saw someone breastfeeding a four year old…. I mean that is not something you see every day. But would I disagree/be bothered by it/ judge it… no. It might be worthy of notice, but none of my business. And if the international average is 2 years, there must be a fair number of Mothers breastfeeding 4 and 5 year olds in other parts of the world to make up for the prevalence of under 3 months and under 6 months in North America. So I see nothing wrong with it. I just don’t see what the benefit would be such that I would consider it for myself/my child. And, as I said, I would be so happy to just make it to 6 months… so 3 years just doesn’t even make it to my radar.

What I will say though, is that I wouldn’t follow any advice to leave the decision totally up to my child. Why? Extended breastfeeding or not, the decision to continue or not continue that arrangement should be mostly up to me. I am the adult, the parent, and the one with the boobs. I know there are those out there who talk a lot about things should be ‘child-led’ and I agree that paying close attention to the changing needs of your child and not pushing them too hard, too soon. But only if it is working for you. If somethings ISNT working for you then I don’t think you should have to wait for your kid to take the lead. As the parent, I want to be leading the situation in the direction I want it to go and think is best for them. So -aware of where my child is at and the impact on them of a transition- yes. Tailoring the transition to a rate at which your kid feels comfortable and recognizing if they are struggling with the transition and being flexible -yes.  Letting the kid call all the shots and being held at “booby ransom” by my kid- no. But that is just me.

Lastly, I don’t think I should end this post without acknowledging that the practice of extended brestfeeding is linked in North America to the general parenting philosophy of attachment parenting. And while I agree that forming a strong bond to your child is important and I think the attachment parenting tool kit  has some good ideas that both make life easier and promote a strong bond (like babywearing and co-sleeping) I disagree with elements of the philosophy, especially practiced at its most ‘to the letter’ form. (Not to mention some very strong claims and polarizing discussions by AP ‘experts’, particularly online.) But I am not going to go into it. Because, as I said on an other blog recently, I think most parents pick and choose methods and practices from a wide range of philosophies based on what suits them best. Even if someone is practicing one philosophy or an other in a “to the letter form”, I believe that no matter what philosophy we follow, some kids will grow up happy and well adjusted and some kids will grow up messed up. This is more about how someone applies their choices and preferences, rather then certain choices= messed up kid. And so, instead evaluating extended breastfeeding as a part of attachment parenting, I am choosing to not go there and just look at it as an isolated practice. Ask me about attachment parenting an other time. The topic has come up a lot lately, so I may just have to take that one on.

Oh- look- I did have an opinion!


28 responses to “ControverSunday: Extended Breastfeeding

  1. Bree March 21, 2010 at 8:13 am

    I nursed Wes for something like 13-14 months. Once back to work, it was hard to nurse frequently enough to continue, and I was not willing to pump. Weaning wasn’t hard. I didn’t refuse Wes, I just stopped offering and he slowly drank more cow’s milk until he stopped breastfeeding entirely. I plan to do the same with my daughter. I expect to gradually offer water during the day in my last month before returning to work, but I will continue comfort nursing at night until it feels right to stop. I can’t imagine nursing to two years but I wouldn’t rule it out.

  2. Julia March 21, 2010 at 8:41 am

    Good discussion!… This one I wanted to comment on because I recently was privy to what I thought was a funny but surprising exchange in the hospital: a toddler tantrum about the kid demanding to be breastfed and the mother trying to get him to take “anything else”. I don’t know the whole story, but I was in the area writing some notes on another patient, and the discussion I heard went like this (the kid was about 3, I would say)… kid: “BOOB!”, mum: “no, you don’t get that until you have some juice”, kid: “NO! BOOB!”, mum: “honey, you have to drink something else first”, kid: “AAHH! BOOB!(crying for a bit)”, mum: “have some chocolate milk”, kid: “NO! BOOBY”. (and on it went until I left the room to go do more work elsewhere…)

    So, I agree, I can’t make any sort of comments on what I will do, because I haven’t made it to mommy-status yet, but this exchange got me thinking. First, I had to try not to laugh throughout this whole exchange, but then I definitely thought to myself – when the kid can demand the breast (especially in that lovely way he did) and it turns into a full on tantrum, it’s been too long. Just my thoughts though 😉

  3. Brooke March 21, 2010 at 8:45 am

    I address the topic of the 4 year old breastfeeding in a restaurant while trying to conduct a business meeting. It is actually quite disruptive mostly because to me it’s like a guy streaking through the restaurant- out of the bounds of our societal norms. Now I know there are those who would like to change those norms, but that’s for them to discuss.

    I also disagree very much with child-led decisions. Mostly because I think my 27 years of wisdom trumps there 18 months. I’m the mom. I am here to teach them what’s appropriate and what’s not and guide them through their formative years. I’m not sure how I’m supposed to do that if the roles are reversed and they become the teacher.

  4. amoment2think March 21, 2010 at 12:32 pm

    Julia and Brooke,

    I think the examples you both present is what most people think of when they think extended breastfeeding. And in both cases I think I would have a hard time seeing that and not thinking there was something wrong about it. But I can’t help but wonder if the issue is less about breastfeeding and more about the way in which that child respects/relates/communicates with their mother.

    I guess this was what I was hinting at when I mentioned attachment parenting. I don’t think the individual choice on its own is the problem, but I think that the extreme practice of the parenting philosophy that encourages it can lead to a parent child relationship that can be unhealthy. But I also think there are some that may practice extended breastfeeding without developing an unhealthy parent child relationship. Does that make sense?

  5. Mama Tortoise March 21, 2010 at 12:51 pm

    Interesting post. I wanted to add that the WHO’s recommendation on breast feeding is two years as long as it is ‘mutually beneficial’. This means that the decision should take into account both beings – the babies right to breast milk and the mother’s physical capability, willingness, etc.

    As for extended breast feeding past your definition of two years… it wasn’t that long ago that one year was the standard recommendation. When I had my daughter (now four), I was hoping to get to that one year mark. Anything beyond that seemed strange. I had friends tell me that it was disconcerting seeing a baby who could walk want to nurse. Since the time line has been extended, that two year mark now seems to be the marker on which people judge the ‘strangeness’. Interesting how a public policy stance can change cultural norms so quickly.

    (Incidentally, I did nurse my daughter until she was two and a half – but at the later stages, it was only before bedtime and first thing in the morning with a cuddle. I am now nursing my four month old. Funny, I don’t think she’ll nurse quite as long…)

    • amoment2think March 21, 2010 at 1:24 pm

      Thanks for your comment!

      I actually haven’t read the WHO’s recommendations, I have just been told that 2 years is what they recommend. I am glad to hear that they clarify that recommendation to suggest 2 years only if it is “mutually beneficial.”

      In terms of the one year definition giving way to two years, I think there are many people who probably would define extended breastfeeding as after one year. But I do think things have changed in a large part due to the public policy of the WHO and here, where I live, our local health policy.

      I think for me, one year or two years, it matters not. If breastfeeding is mutually beneficial and working at any point then there is nothing wrong with it. If it isn’t working for either then I see nothing wrong with the parent initiating the end of that relationship.

  6. Cheryl March 21, 2010 at 1:03 pm

    That makes perfect sense, to me anyway! I also agree with Brooke on part of the job as a mom being, “to teach them what’s appropriate and what’s not and guide them through their formative years.”

    This is an interesting topic for me. I breastfed until about 6 months. My son’s first teeth came in at five and a half months and I spent the following several weeks trying to teach him not to bite me. I failed. (Poor choice of words, perhaps.)

    I commend anyone who can successfully nurse once those teeth get in the way. It just wasn’t working for us. (I’d love to hear from anyone who conquered biting, by the way. Maybe I’d have some things to try if that happens the next time.)

    I can safely say even without the biting, I would most likely not have breastfed past the one year mark. I knew even at six months that I was starting to want my body back. Is that selfish? Sure! But it’s true!

    • amoment2think March 21, 2010 at 1:31 pm

      Yes, I totally agree with Brooke too about our role as parenting.

      Yeah, we didn’t get to the teeth stage, but near the end of our 3 1/2 months of breastfeeding I was getting bitten because she was getting frustrated that there wasn’t enough milk. And damn that hurt! I can’t even imagine with teeth! I know there are lots of women who find a way around this challenge and lots of women for whom it spells the end. I don’t think you failed! It was just time for it to end for you.

  7. clara March 21, 2010 at 1:35 pm

    Can’t stop laughing at the mom trying to get her kid to drink chocolate milk.

    I nursed my first till he was 13 months; I weaned him partway so I could go back to work at 12 months but then I got pregnant again and he weaned himself the rest of the way. Not having gone back to work after #2, I am still nursing #2 a couple times a day and we’re 1 mth from his 2nd birthday. It has been agreeable to both of us, thus far, but I see a time in the not-distant future when I will end it. I’d like to get to the end of cold/flu season but then I think I’m ready to have my breasts back.

    I think you make a good point when you say, up thread, that it’s often “less about breastfeeding and more about the way in which that child respects/relates/communicates with their mother.” We have to teach our children to respect our boundaries and our bodies whatever that means for us personally. For some people, that’s stopping bfing at 6 months. For some people, it means going to 4 years.

    If my kid pitched a fit and shouted BOOB at me I’d be right pissed at him because a) he’s never heard that word from me and b) that’s inappropriate and disrespectful. He knows how to say “nurse, please,” and that’s what I expect of him.

    ps: my boys both got squirrelly as hell from 6 -9 months too and I had to nurse them in dark, silent rooms or they wouldn’t eat. I was in public one time and had a blanket over his head to make it dark and this woman said “Oh you don’t have to cover up, dear!” and I was all, yeah, I know but I do or he won’t eat.

  8. Accidents March 21, 2010 at 1:38 pm

    Brooke–I agree that societal norms should be taken into account, and I think the issue is that a four year old is old enough to abide by politeness and discretion (or to be encouraged in that direction and thus refused by the mother in that situation). But, I have to take issue with comparing breastfeeding an older child in public to streaking. You can think the first is strange or tacky, but likenening it to public indecency, I’m not sure. You likely meant from your perspective–ie, it’s distracting to you and other observers. But it’s hard for women to breastfeed a child of any age in public knowing that others compare it to something sexual or exhibitionist–it’s a line of thinking I’d hope we can all avoid.

    • Brooke March 21, 2010 at 4:36 pm

      It’s hard to compare it to anything that can’t be taken as a sexual or exhibitionist situation given that it is baring a body part, you know. I have many friends who breastfeed in front of me, and I have absolutely no problem with it. But that made our jaws drop. Is it right? Maybe not. But I do think there is a point at which societal norms play into our decisions. Of course there are those that say Fuck it to society, and more power to em. But I think we’re more likely to advance breastfeeding in public when it isn’t such an extreme display, you know?

      • Accidents March 21, 2010 at 4:49 pm

        Oh I very much agree about the situation violating social norms–and a four year old should be being educated in those norms, therefore probably shouldn’t be breastfeeding in public. I guess I just wish we could think about those norms in a way that is not comparing breastfeeding to a deviant or sexual act. Like could we say that the mother and four year old are doing something public which should be private, without saying that it’s like exhibitionism? The woman is probably oblivious to the fact that she’s causing a scene (part of the problem, sure)–whereas a streaker is trying to cause a scene. They are both disturbing/distracting, but the analogy makes public breastfeeding something sexual/exhibitionist, which makes me uncomfortable because of the extension of the argument to all breastfeeding.

        We agree that feeding a kid is feeding a kid. Feeding a kid THAT old in that way…is socially awkward, but is it deviant? I think we basically agree on the fundamentals here–I’m for recognizing how breastfeeding older children can make others uncomfortable and at that point you should bow to social norms and not make people uncomfortable. I would also be like WOAH if I saw that, despite the fact that I’m breastfeeding a one year old. But I think we should all fight against social norms labeling breastfeeding as sexual *in any way* at whatever age. But that’s my “soap box” because it’s something I have to deal with almost daily.

        (Though I’m with you on the idea that at some point sexuality can enter the picture, which is why we don’t breastfeed 8 year olds…most of us).

      • Brooke March 21, 2010 at 5:07 pm

        For some reason I couldn’t reply to yours, so I’m replying to my reply for you.

        I definitely agree that there is a difference in intent between the mother and a streaker. So maybe we need to think of a better example!

  9. Ginger March 21, 2010 at 1:55 pm

    I like your point that it shouldn’t be up to the child, instead up to the parent. Make the decision that is right for you and your child, but “booby ransom” (heh, I love that) can’t be right. There’s child-led and then there’s being LED by your child, you know?

    I also find the discussion fascinating as someone who lives in the US where the AAP recommendation is “Exclusive breastfeeding for approximately the first six months and support for breastfeeding for the first year and beyond as long as mutually desired by mother and child. ” But with the short (or non-existent) maternity leaves in the states, that “support” becomes a defining factor much of the time. For example, because I work, I have to take into account pumping, which I loathe, in the determination of how long to nurse, which I love. It makes the conversation seem a bit different from my eyes.

    • Brooke March 21, 2010 at 4:42 pm

      Anyone who pumps more than a day is a hero in my eyes. With baby #2, I will breastfeed when possible and supplement as needed. I refuse to hook myself up to a machine ever again to get milk. It was the most defeating experience I could have imagined.

  10. ironicmom March 21, 2010 at 3:26 pm

    Great discussion. I think breastfeeding’s a personal decision, with the mother at the helm of the decision. Whenever I hear/read debates about breastfeeding that sound vicious, I always think that it’s impossible to tell which of us adults were breastfed 3 days or 4 months or 34 months….just like it’s impossible to tell which of us were born at 35 weeks or 42 weeks.

    • Brooke March 21, 2010 at 4:41 pm

      EXACTLY. I often ask about outcomes (and do on my blog as does the Fearless Formula Feeder ( If you can’t tell how long someone was breastfed then the benefits can’t be THAT much more than formula or milk, right?

      • Accidents March 21, 2010 at 4:52 pm

        I think the benefits are SO overblown, and will reflect on that if I ever get to that in my post. Why the extremists on the pro-breastfeeding side craft these crazy arguments is beyond me.

        Why can’t we say breastfeeding is a good thing to do, in general, and so women should feel support to do so, without having to villainize the alternatives? It can also be argued that having the mom at home is great for a baby, or Hey! That having lots of money is great for baby! But we don’t ostracize working moms or tell poorer people that they are not doing the best for their baby.

        Oh wait–society DOES ostracize working moms. And moms who stay at home.

        Oh f*ck, there is no way to win any of this, is there. : )

      • Brooke March 21, 2010 at 5:07 pm

        Nope. No one wins.

    • amoment2think March 21, 2010 at 6:57 pm

      Oh I sooo agree with this! Good point!

  11. Megan March 21, 2010 at 7:13 pm

    I love that you guys all seem to be on the same page as far as not leaving it up to the child. That makes me feel less guilty.

    See, Charlotte is a year on Wednesday, and I’m DONE. I’ve been mentally and physically exhausted by nursing her for some time now. But, when she refused the bottle and formula in general, I felt is was pointless to force the issue, and that I would just wean aggressively at the year mark.

    But, lately I’ve been feeling guilty about this, and I’m having a hard time picturing telling her “no” when she starts pulling at my shirt. Maybe I can just not offer it, offer cow’s milk frequently and only nurse when she “asks” for it? But, at some point I think I’ll just have to refuse because I’ve had a very complicated relationship with nursing, and I really just need my body back now, you know?

    But, oh the guilt!

    • amoment2think March 21, 2010 at 7:24 pm

      Don’t feel guilty. Don’t. If it isn’t working for you any more then there is nothing wrong with deciding that change needs to happen. I think your plan to not offer it, give her lots of other fluids and nurse only when she asks for it is a good start. She might surprise you and be okay with this. And if not, and you have to say no to her, there is nothing wrong with that. As I said, I think that it is great to take your child’s reaction into account when planning how to make a change, but I don’t think you should continue as is when you are not happy with the situation.

      I am sending you supportive vibes.

  12. Pingback: ControverSunday: Extended Breastfeeding « Accidents will happen.

  13. Perpetua March 22, 2010 at 5:14 am

    I think we had similar experiences as far as the weight gain frustration goes, except that we quit after a month (I just couldn’t handle it at that point).

    It’s interesting that the Canadian rule (medically and culturally?) is two years, whereas here the general idea is one year. I wonder if that has to do with your longer maternity leaves?

    • amoment2think March 22, 2010 at 6:09 am

      Perpetua- I should have stopped at a month- you were smart. I was just very very very very stubborn. 🙂

      It is interesting, isn’t it? I suspect that is probably part of it. But I also suspect that is has more to do with Canada preferring to set policy (particularly on matters where they are giving advice about health) based on someone else’s authority. You know, we like to follow. And we like to be “good global citizens” by playing nice with the WHO. I think the US is much more likely to evaluate and make that kind of decision separate from any ‘international’ recommendations. But that is just my take.

      In terms of medically versus culturally, I haven’t seen any numbers, but I suspect most children (for whom breastfeeding was working) are weaned at about a year, despite the recommendations. So it is probably more a medical rule, then a cultural rule. However, I haven’t talked to a lot of Mom’s in Canada about this issue- so I am not sure if others would define extended at 2 years like I do.

  14. Fearless Formula Feeder March 22, 2010 at 2:27 pm

    Great post, as always.

    Funnily enough, I also talked about the association between extended breastfeeding and certain parenting “philosophies” or “types”, which have colored my opinion on the matter. I make a conscious effort to separate the action of extended breastfeeding from the person in my head who chooses to do so. That person is judgmental and holier-than-thou. The reality? For the most part, it’s the polar opposite. So far the extended breastfeeders I’ve met have been the coolest, least judgmental moms of all. Funny, that.

  15. Partial March 23, 2010 at 9:33 am

    So glad to hear that someone else hated the SNS as much as I did. I used to call it “the milky catfish”. ugh.

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