“Too Old” to Breastfeed (from the archives)

(From the old Custom Made Milk blog)

I don’t know why it comes up so frequently.. Maybe because it seems like an easy conversation topic. Afterall, who WOULDN’T agree that nursing a 7 or 8 year old is “too old”?

When I hear this and the inevitable “Yeah! It’s gross” comments from other breastfeeding moms, I cringe for a moment.

And then I proceed to ask… “Well… Why?”

The answer always boils down to the same old arguments.

I’m gonna tell you this now. Those arguments that breasts are only for babies under 6 months or one year or two years on the outside? They hold no more water than the idea that breasts are there solely for the husband’s pleasure.

I request this of all moms, breastfeeding or not: If you’re going to say that another mother should do something or shouldn’t do something, at least be prepared with good basic facts and studies that support your judgement of her.

I’m not even talking about the moms that say “Well, I don’t think I’d be comfortable doing that.” I’m really not. Everyone has their own comfort zones. I’m talking about the moms that are quick to say that full term breastfeeding is “perverse” “going on too long” “encouraging emotional dependence”, etc. Please, please feel free to provide links to studies that say that children that breastfeed until 3, 4, 6, 7 8… Have any psychological or physical trauma as a result. Please feel free to back up your arguments. Because I’ve searched long and hard… High and low.. And have found NOTHING that says that breastfeeding at any age is a negative.

In fact, during my desperate hunt to find out what age to wean, I’ve found some interesting things.

Those interesting things are BIOLOGICAL MILESTONES. Hard set-in-stone gold standards for when a child is “Supposed” to wean. These biological milestones are based on the child’s physical, mental, sexual, and immunological development… Milestones that similar species meet.

Milestones that aren’t just “Well the child can survive without breastmilk now, it must be time to wean.” Our children are not puppies that we’re desperate to get into homes and out of the house. Ability to survive without our milk is the first and most crucial step to independence, sure. But it’s hardly the point at which to say “Success! Weaning time.”

A child essentially has a severely compromised immune system until they are two years old, and does not reach the full adult level of immunocompetence until closer to 5-8 years of age. This means that their immune system is still intertwined with mom’s BY DESIGN.

A child’s jaw and oral development benefits tremendously from breastfeeding until their permanent teeth start to come in.

Interestingly enough, the natural disappearance of the suckling reflex also occurs at about that same time: 5-8 years of age.

Breastfed children that are not introduced to hormone-ridden soy and cow milk tend to reach puberty later, at around 13-18 instead of the 9-13 which is becoming increasingly common in this country. In most primates, weaning happens at about 1/3rd of the way to sexual maturity. With the normal range of sexual maturity this would have children weaning at about 3-9 years old…

Breastfeeding is so ingrained in our biology that having children and NOT breastfeeding or weaning prematurely actually effects our health. Breastfeeding to 13 months or longer decreases mom’s risk of autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. Or… To put it more accurately… Having children and NOT breastfeeding full-term until at least 13 months INCREASES your risk of autoimmune disorders, since full term breastfeeding is the NORM. Breastfeeding decreases our risk of breast cancer, decreases our children’s risk of childhood cancers, decreases the odds of them landing in the hospital or suffering severe versions of normal childhood illnesses… The list goes on.

If you’re going to jump on the bandwagon and squeal “It’s GROSS!” “It’s PERVERSE!”… Fine. But if you do so around me, expect to be engaged in a quiet non-sensationalized discussion about facts, biological NOT arbitrary weaning milestones, and the negative impact of premature weaning on our society and our children.

I’m not telling anyone to breastfeed until this age. I didn’t breastfeed either of my two older children until that age.

I’m simply asking you politely to refrain from engaging in unsubstantiated attacks upon women that are following the biological and healthful norm of child-led weaning and full-term nursing.

I’m simply challenging you to think before you open your mouth or tap on the keyboard. If something has SO many benefits, and NO documented downsides.. If something has the endorsement of every major health organization… How is it that a mom can be CRITICIZED for doing it?

8 thoughts on ““Too Old” to Breastfeed (from the archives)

  1. Thank-you for giving me something to think about. I am planning on letting my 16 month old nurse as long as he wants. Even though my mom makes snide “joking” comments about it. He’s my last baby, and neither of us are ready for him to wean, I will let him lead the way. I still regret weaning my 8yo when I did. She was barely one year old, and I stopped nursing her cold turkey because I found out I was expecting my third child. I didn’t feel like my body could grow a baby and feed a baby. I wish I’d known better then. She is very emotionally and physically needy, even now at 8 years old. If I was comfortable with it, she probably would have wanted to keep nursing even until she was 4 or older. I feel sometimes that my cutting her off like that has contributed to her neediness, and I feel really bad about it. I won’t make that mistake with my last little nursling though!

  2. Thank you for this post! I am still nursing my 5 1/2 year old and 2 year old, and plan to let them both self wean. I know without any doubt that this is what’s best for them, and it’s nice to see others supporting full term breast feeding. Keep up the good work :)

  3. Here here! Thanks Sarah!!! My niece still breastfeeds a little and ages almost 6! It was hard in my sister when that time magazine cover sparked so much controversy last spring. But she, like you, is very good at funding biological facts and managed to come out feeling more confident that it was ok and not a problem that her eldest was still breastfeeding. I admire your attitude and wish we could all be so supportive of others moms’ decisions.

  4. I wish more people had this view about breastfeeding. I do agree it’s especially sad when it’s other moms who are so negative towards it. We need to support healthy choices even if it isn’t something we personally would do. I will be letting my daughter self wean and even though I know I will get a lot of side-eyes from it, including my family, I feel strong enough to stick to what is best for my daughter and me.
    Thank you for this.

  5. Yea!! I am still breastfeeding my 3 year old together with my 5 month old. Sure has raised more than 2 eyebrows at a time!

  6. I breastfeed my 4yr old and 4mth old. Not something I would have ever imagined doing, but something that evolved and I KNOW is right for us. I feel sad for all the babies that are prematurely weaned, they miss out on so much. I am constantly amazed at how much, both physically and emotionally, my daughter has benefitted from ‘extended’ breastfeeding.

  7. I would like to know when do you consider appropiate to introduce solids to a baby. I have a 4 month old baby who is EBF and plan to BF for as long as I can, but as I understand, I can not do it exclusively after certain age, would like to know which is that age…
    Thank you!!!!

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