aloka gambhir on extended breastfeeding

Indian Lactation Educator On Myths Surrounding Extended Breastfeeding

Today when baby nurses for over a year we use the term extended breastfeeding. But is it really ‘extended’? By today’s society’s standards, yes it is. It’s quite common for mothers to feel proud to nurse for any length of time from 4 months to one year, as they should be. Breastfeeding is hard work. But when it crosses the one-year mark it’s common to hear a lot of questions.

‘You’re still feeding!!?’ ‘When do you plan to stop?’ ‘Are you still getting milk?’ ‘Is it normal?’

But when breastfeeding is a regular part of your mothering, when you don’t schedule it and use it to your advantage for long flights and to heal hurts and for everything in between, you can’t pull the plug when your baby turns a year just because some societal milestone has been achieved.

You may also like: Breastfeeding resources for Indian moms

Taking into account the child's needs:

When you nurse for over a year or even two and you follow your child’s lead to drop breastfeeding at a stage that matches the child’s developmental need, it becomes a conversation between mother and child and a mother can stop nursing taking into account the child’s needs as well as her own.

Breastfeeding has been a big part of my life as a mother. I went into motherhood knowing I wanted to nurse for two years. My first son nursed until 3 years and my second at 2 years and 4 months is still going strong though we both know it’s going to end soon, more so because I don’t want to nurse anymore. We talk about it and he says he will be sad and miss nursing and I tell him I will be there to hold him and cuddle him whenever he misses nursing. But I feel that taking into consideration my children’s feelings about something so important to them is the best part about natural term weaning.

I prefer using ‘Natural term weaning’ over ‘extended breastfeeding’. That’s because extended breastfeeding is not really extended at all. Breast milk changes as children grow and can be a great boon to a toddler as well as a baby. Before infant formula gained popularity and before the industrial revolution it was not uncommon for children to feed for a few years. So what we see in today’s times as ‘extended’ is more of a norm for the major part of human history.

Have you downloaded the exclusive KSP Breastfeeding Guide? Check out our homepage now!

Why is breastfeeding over one year considered extended?

  • Women are leaving their children for extended periods for work. Staying at home and feeding on demand for months let alone years is a luxury. It simply isn’t practical anymore. However, plenty of families make it work by nursing when the mother is available.
  • Infant formula is big business. There’s definitely more money to be made by MNC’s if babies wean sooner as compared to if they are breastfed.
  • Myths about breastfeeding are abundant. Doctors, paediatricians, well-meaning relatives, and others, raise eyebrows and ask you to stop nursing. Many paediatricians feel that breast milk isn’t nutritious once the child crosses one. Though how something so jam-packed with good stuff can lose all it’s nutrition over-night puzzles me.
  • The hurry to make children independent. Many new parents feel nursing on demand or giving into the baby’s needs will ‘spoil’ the baby or make them dependent. The truth is, babies are dependent and continue to be emotionally and physically dependent on the parents for a long long time. Efforts to push children away prematurely, before they are ready many times back fire and result in a clingy child as opposed to one who has all her needs met at a developmentally appropriate pace.
  • Thinking that breastfeeding is purely about nutrition. It’s not. The need for a baby or toddler to nurse is way more than pure nutrition. The breast is the baby’s home and the toddler’s safe haven. Toddlerhood and childhood are difficult phases and giving them this support may just be what they require.

The bottom line is, breastfeeding is a very personal and beautiful relationship between mother and child. There is absolutely no reason to stop unless YOU or the child is ready or wants to. There is no one else who should have a say or should try and come in the way of this relationship. However, if it isn’t working for the mother and you really want to stop then nothing should pressure you to continue either. The important thing to realize is that it is a two-way relationship between two people and both of your decisions matter.

Tune into KSP Radio to know all about breastfeeding that a new mom should know:

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