Recently a friend from college found out that I'm weaning Bear at 27 months, and she said "wow, you're more dedicated than I am. I'll go to 12 months but then I am DONE!" Now I don't think she's a bad parent, but her particular choice of words got me thinking. Dedicated? Um, if I wasn't willing to be dedicated to my children, then why would I have them? Seriously, if you want a pet, get a dog or a cat. If you want a child, you'd better plan on being dedicated. Is that such a strange notion?!
But that's not really the point of this post. The point of this post is that nursing beyond 12 months is not about dedication, it's about practicality, simplicity, and health for both me and the baby. Consider these facts:
- Human milk is the perfect food for little humans--as much so on the day after their first birthday as it was on the day before it. (In regards to physical maturation, what is a birthday but an arbitrary date anyway?!)
- For every year that a woman breastfeeds, she lowers her own risk of breast cancer.
- For as long as a child breastfeeds, they get the benefits of mom's immune system. Considering that kids are at the peak of their exploratory phase (and still putting everything in their mouths) at age 1, it seems logical to continue giving them that extra protection through that stage.
- Nursing provides a great way to re-connect with a toddler who is in that busybody exploratory stage...they may be walking and running, but they are still not very old, and every mother I have talked to agrees that their nursing toddlers benefit from continuing that special one-on-one mommy time.
- Nothing calms a tantrum like nursing.
- Many mothers find the nursing time a calming break in their daily routine.
- Many 1 year olds do not have many teeth yet, or are not interested in many solid foods, but continued nursing ensures that their nutrition does not suffer. (Bear had only one molar at that age--so obviously he couldn't chew much, and could only eat limited foods--knowing that he could still get all the nutrients he needed from me was a great comfort.)
- Nursing longer means that you can wait longer to introduce common allergins (like cow milk). The longer you wait, the less likely the child is to have a severe response to those foods.
- Breastfeeding is really really convenient for traveling with a toddler (especially one who still has a limited diet). No matter where you are, you can bust out a breast--no need to pack snacks, worry about dehydration, or stress about whether appropriate foods will be available for your child.
- When they do get sick, and won't eat anything, the average toddler will still nurse--so they can continue to get the nutrition (and immunilogical boost) that they need.
- Primary brain myelination is not complete until age 2 (myelin is a sheath of fat that covers the neurons, allowing them to move faster--something like greasing them. The high fat content of mother's milk (which greatly exceeds even 'whole' cow's milk) contributes greatly to this process. Incomplete or improper myelination = slower brain function. In other words, nursing longer may make your kids smarter (actually, research suggests that it does).
- Breastfeeding on demand (ie, when the child wants it, rather than on a schedule) usually causes lactational amenorrhea, or the lack of ovulation, for an average of 14 months. Depending on your child spacing plans, this can be a very convenient form of birth control. (Please note that 14 months is an average; I was infertile for 20 months, but I've had friends who were fertile again in under 6.)
- The worldwide average age for weaning is around 4. I happen to feel comfortable with weaning anytime after 2, but I know many mothers (yes, in the USA) who are nursing their toddlers until 3 or 4. It may not be something that is seen very often in public, but that doesn't mean it's a bad idea.
- (if you have others please comment and I'll add them, this is just what came to me off the top of my head!)
And because I know it's bound to come up, yes, there are potential cons to extended breastfeeding. Toddlers don't like to let mommy be discreet. Toddlers may prefer nursing over table food and refuse to eat many solids. Obviously things can become complicated if mother becomes pregnant and/or is tandem nursing a toddler and a newborn. I thought about a lot of these things when making my decision about how to proceed with Bear. The simple truth is that I feel that the pros far outweigh the cons, at least with nursing until 2. Now that he is past 2, I think the scales have shifted a bit, and given the other circumstances, weaning feels like the right choice. As I said before though, it would take some pretty extenuating circumstances to make me consider weaning before 18-24 months.