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Friday, August 6, 2010

There's no such thing as extended breastfeeding

Another great article from Woman Uncensored talking about the pitfall that many breastfeeding mothers fall into: the myth of "babies need cows milk after 12 months".  I fell into it with my eldest daughter almost 7 years ago.  Quinlin took to solid foods like a fish to water and by 12 months she'd weaned herself down to nursing before naps and bed time and for comforting the occasional boo boo. I was told that she "needed" milk and panicked. My exclusively breastfed daughter got her first bottle at 12 months old- a bottle of cows milk.  Looking back I wonder how the hell I ever fell victim of that ridiculous logic: Why would a 12 month old suddenly "need" to be given cows milk from a carton, when I had perfectly good human milk available in attractive  containers that were always filled, always the right temperature, and always available? Oh so gullible, that was me. Sadly, I even fell for it a second time when my tiny pixie of girl, our second daughter, was about 15 months old. I never said I was smart.  *sigh*  Oh to be able to go back in time and fix all the mistakes we made, eh? Hindsight is 20/20.

There's no such thing as extended breastfeeding

When I first encountered the term "extended breastfeeding", I was curious.  When I learned the reasons people do it, and the benefits, I quickly saw the logic behind it.  For months I had been watching my first daughter, a toddler at the time, suck down bottle after bottle of whole milk, and I couldn't help but feel that something was wrong.  I shuddered over the unnatural crap in this store-bought milk and I hated seeing her desperate attachment to something artificial.  When I found out that her pediatrician had flat out lied when he said "She HAS to have cow's milk at a year old", I was furious.  I had let a stranger dictate my parenting decisions to me, and I hadn't even thought to question it.  We had breastfed successfully and happily for a year, and I allowed that to end for no real logical or medical reasons. 

I finally came to realize a few things that should have been glaringly obvious to me from the get go.

- My child did not grow horns, hooves, and a few extra stomachs on her first birthday, so there was no possible way she could "need" cow's milk if she still had mine!

- My breastmilk had not and would not suddenly turn from the perfect food for my child into something worthless.

- Weaning did not have to be forced at an arbitrary date chosen by someone else.  My child was capable of following her instincts and gradually weaning when she was physically and emotionally ready.

Unfortunately, all these realizations came too late for my first child.  I still had to watch her chug down that foul, over-processed milk meant to nourish an animal that needed a lot of quick bodily growth, and not a lot of brain growth:  the exact opposite of what a human child needs.  No one had told me that milk still had to make up a major part of a toddler's diet.  I assumed it could be mostly food, and just a little milk.  How I thought that transition could happen practically over-night, I don't know.  I'll use the whole "young and stupid" line here, because I just wasn't thinking.

The one problem I have with "extended" breastfeeding, is the term itself.  "Extended" implies going beyond what is normal.  While the average American may breastfeed for only a short time, if at all, that doesn't mean that is what's natural for humans.  The World Health Organization and UNICEF recommend a minimum of 2 years of breastfeeding (with solids being added after 6 months), and to continue for as long as is desired by mother and child.  To quote Katherine Dettwyler, In societies where children are allowed to nurse "as long as they want" they usually self-wean, with no arguments or emotional trauma, between 3 and 4 years of age.  Now of course, some children choose to naturally wean before or after that, but the point is that when we look at what is normal for humanity biologically, around the world, and over the course of time, it is actually really WEIRD that most people in our culture wean long before the 1 year mark.  I think the term "extended breastfeeding" implies that we are going beyond what is natural, and that isn't the case.  I think "full-term breastfeeding" would be more accurate.  Or perhaps we can call it just plain breastfeeding, and everything else is "premature weaning".  Haha, oh yeah, that would go over real well!  Alas...

HERE to read the entire article on Woman Uncensored