Friday, August 3, 2012

Why I (STILL!?!?) Breastfeed My Two-Year-Old

Many people express shock and sometimes even horror when they learn that I still breastfeed my 2 1/2 year old. However there are several important reasons why, despite their discomfort, I will continue until she is ready to wean. Here are just a few:

She's not biologically ready to be weaned.

At the age of two, a child has usually just gotten their 2 year molars and is just starting to be able to chew foods correctly. It can take a year or more for them to master chewing their food well enough to digest it fully. When we use cows milk we are merely using a substitute nutritional source for breast milk.

Dairy products are far from an ideal substitute, especially since large scale dairy farming has limited our access to fresh unpasteurized milk that is full of infection fighting enzymes and antibodies. Johne's disease, which is rampant in most cattle herds, has been correlated with Crohne's disease in humans. "BOTH Johne’s in cattle and Crohn’s in humans are increasing worldwide in all industrialized countries." ( Medical testing for MAP organisms, organisms that are disease causing in cattle that are correlated with Johne's disease, was found in 50% of those with Crohn's disease in one Florida study. "One study, conducted by the Marshfield Clinic in Marshfield, Wis., found viable MAP organisms in samples of pasteurized retail milk in California, Minnesota and Wisconsin." If you add to this the hormones given to the herds to increase milk production, knowing that these same hormones DO end up in the milk, there is plenty of reason to avoid weaning a 12 month old onto cows milk.

The WHO suggests that 7 is a better upper limit than the current 1 year that many American pediatricians push. There are many factors in when this happens, including the temperament of the child, the age in which the adult teeth start to emerge, and whether or not mom's milk supply is able to be sustained. Certainly none of this should be due to societal pressures to quit, but sadly there is a tremendous burden that is placed on moms to stop before their child is ready, especially in the American culture.

The World Health Organization says to.

The World Health Organization has taken a global liking to the breastfeeding movement, not just because they represent less developed cultures, but because they know it is good for babies. The WHO recommends that babies be fed nothing but breast milk til 6 months of age and then continued breastfeeding up to and including 2 years of age, "or beyond." They also assert that breastfeeding is, "the normal way of providing young infants with the nutrients they need for healthy growth and development." These recommendations are echoed by the AAP and other health organizations as well. 

Both of us enjoy it.

The bonding that happens during the breastfeeding relationship is irreplaceable. The skin to skin contact, the mutual trust, and the mutual respect that are developed during the course of extended breastfeeding encourage social development that must happen in other ways when the breastfeeding relationship is severed pre-maturely.

It also is not what some outsiders, often male, make of the relationship. While breast stimulation during sexual arousal is both pleasurable and erotic, breastfeeding is pleasurable (sometimes) but is not erotic for most people. Think of the time when your toddler said, "I love you" for the first time. That "awww" feeling is the same feeling we moms get when we are meeting the needs of our children in this special way.

It teaches personal boundaries.

Speaking of social development, being this close to your toddler several times a day can teach boundaries of appropriate behavior much more easily and with less casualties. For instance I can teach my toddler not to pinch or bite, and I don't have to apologize to any other moms for my daughter assaulting their child. She is learning physical boundaries with me instead of her playmates fingers. She also learns about others needs. When she's nursing and the phone rings, or one of the other children need something, or I have to go to the bathroom, she learns that sometimes other people have needs too.

It is what my breasts were designed to do.

Anytime you look into breast cancer statistics, you'll find that women who breastfed for a longer period of time are less likely to get breast cancer. I believe this is because once the hormones of pregnancy have stimulated the breast tissue to produce milk, that milk needs to go somewhere. Otherwise the body must reabsorb the fluid and hormone levels drop even more severely postpartum. Not breastfeeding can literally cause postpartum depression.

Also, breastfeeding for extended periods of time are linked with a decreased risk of many types of cancer. Many cancers are linked with estrogen, one female hormone, and estrogen is literally neutralized by the act of breastfeeding. A pool of 47 studies found that breastfeeding for 1 year during a woman's lifetime has a small reduction in breast cancer risk, while breastfeeding for 2 or more years can have up to a 25 percent lower risk. The risk of other cancers, such as ovarian and uterine cancers, are also lowered as well. Extended breastfeeding is linked to lower rates of childhood cancer as well. So both bubs and boobs benefit.

It helps protect her against infection.

The NIH says it like this:

"Breastfeeding is superior to infant formula feeding because in addition to breastmilk's nutritional advantages, it protects against infections through specific and non-specific immune factors and has long-term consequences for metabolism and disease later in life" 

These immune factors are known to increase as the child grows into young toddler hood. This makes sense because that is when the little one is starting to play with other children and explore more of their world. 

As a personal anecdote, when my baby was 13 months old a very nasty strain of the flu went through our house. Everyone of the other family members had high 102 to 104 degree fevers for anywhere from 2 to 3 days. My little one did not get so much as a sniffle. You can say that is just a coincidence until you learn that there are 5 other people in the house, and all were sick at nearly the same time, that is except for my happy nursling. Had I quit when she was 12 months like some people encouraged me to do, she would not have had the rush of antibodies from my milk to keep her from getting sick.

It helps with cognitive development.

The brain building nutrients don't magically stop at the 12 month mark, and brain development doesn't stop then either. So why then are we encouraged to believe the brain building benefits stop then? Massive changes occur in the the brain during the first two years of life. Even though those changes are a bit slower in the second year, doesn't mean they slow to a point where the natural, bio-available DHA and ARA have no effect. Science has yet to discover every benefit breast milk has on cognitive development. Why stop?

It lets her know her needs are important.

The main reason I "still" breastfeed my 2 1/2 year old is it lets her know her needs are important to me. While some may balk at her so called "dependence," the security that comes from knowing that her comfort needs are met enables her to know that the world is a safe place. It lets her know that mommy is there for her, which enables her to take on new situations. She is sure that when she gets hurt, mama will be right there to comfort her, with the boob if necessary.

So I'll keep going until she is ready, no matter what anyone thinks. I already see the tide is slowly turning and we will be done soon. During this trip to the pool she announced, "NO BOOB SNACK AT THE POOL MAMA!" This was totally unprompted. I guess letting them find their own way really does work. :)

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