The loneliness of breastfeeding the older baby (or toddler)

I got a call recently from I mom I helped about a year ago when her son was a newborn. She worked hard to resolve her early issues and breastfeeding has been going great since the then.

But now that her baby is a year old, she’s feeling lonely. In her peer group, most moms who haven’t already done so are beginning to wean. And she’s not alone in her loneliness. I remember looking around the park as I got ready to breastfeed my toddler and feeling distinctly out of place (but it didn’t stop me from nursing).

Despite the American Academy of Pediatrics’ official position–which is that breastfeeding should continue for “at least 12 months and for as long thereafter as mutually desired”–I often hear of moms going in for their babies’ 9-month checkups and hearing from the pediatrician that they should start to think about weaning.

I firmly believe that how long to breastfeed is completely up to each individual family. However, it’s a decision that, like deciding about whether or not to have pain medication during labor, can’t be made with partial or incorrect information. If an anesthesiologist says, “Oh, epidurals are very safe,” he or she may be correct in that very few mothers suffer the most serious side effects. However, because the anesthesiologist’s only patient is the mother, this assessment of risk may not take into account the effect on the baby and the mom’s experience of labor.

Unlike the anesthesiologist, whose information about risk to the mother is based on evidence, the medical professional who says, “There’s little benefit to breastfeeding after a year,” is misrepresenting or leaving aside a large body of research, summarized well at about just how beneficial continued breastfeeding can be. You may be surprised to learn that breastmilk continues to be a valuable source of nutrients and immunity-building compounds beyond a year. Children who are breastfed beyond a year are not more dependent. Nor is it more difficult to wean an older child.

Groups like La Leche League International and Attachment Parenting  International provide support for moms who are breastfeeding past a year. If a mom is lucky, she’ll be able to connect with other like-minded moms. But perhaps the most important support comes from within the mom herself, who knows she is doing what feels right to her and what’s right for her child.

— Audrey

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