Thursday, June 9, 2011

They're NOT Your Boobs So You Can Just Suck It!

I recently read an article about so-called extended breastfeeding and it got me thinking.  Dangerous, I know.  But it made me wonder why it is that people (even pediatricians if you can believe it!) imply that breastmilk is no longer beneficial to the child once they hit their first birthday. Why would it be so wonderful (and it is) in infancy and be of no consequence (or a detriment) in toddlerhood?? 

It just makes no sense and it aggravates me to no end that so many believe that one-year is the maximum length that a child should receive breastmilk.  I know that I fully weaned my son at just at 13-months, but I have often felt that I should have let him nurse until at least around 18-months.  Yes, I believe that I weaned him too young.  After all that I've learned about breastmilk and nursing in general, I would go so far as to say that I feel that one-year is the bare minimum that I would want to nurse a child of mine. 

Okay, I heard the groans from some of you.  Yeah, yeah, yeah, get it out of your system so you can pay attention and you might actually learn something or, at the very least, get a little food for thought.  Here, I'll write what you're thinking so we can get on with it:  that Heather is such a hippie (guilty!), she's just trying to keep her son a baby (uh, okay?), I suppose she would have nursed him through High School (no way), what pervert wants to nurse that long (you need to look in the mirror to see the perv), doesn't she know it's not healthy to nurse that long - SCREECH - Stop!  This is the one that boggles my head.

I have found that even people who support breastfeeding for six-months or one-year will balk at nursing that goes beyond the first birthday.  I'm sad to say that even pediatricians are guilty of using this faulty logic.  What I don't understand is how someone can believe that breastfeeding is important for an infant, but somehow also think that the milky fountains should be shut off as soon as the child hits toddlerhood.  What do they think happens?  The milk is made fresh throughout the day so it isn't like it spoils or goes bad.  It certainly isn't unhealthy from a nutritional standpoint (and oftentimes is the only nourishment that the child will accept while ill or feeling unwell) so what exactly is so "wrong" about breastfeeding after the birthday cake has been enjoyed?

Does 18-months sound too "old" for breastfeeding?  Really?  One and one-half years is too old?!  Seriously?  I suppose it might seem that way to some, but understand I'm coming from the viewpoint that breastfeeding is the normal and natural way to feed, soothe, comfort, and generally "mother" our children and a 1 1/2-year old child is still very much a young toddler who needs all of those things.  I know it's popular to believe so, but our children really aren't mini-adults who need to be pushed to grow up too soon.

What's that you say?  It weirds you out to see a walking toddler suck milk from the source?  Why would that weird anyone out?  Breasts may well be fun in the sack, keep crumbs off your lap, and help enhance sweaters, but they do definitely serve a dual purpose and producing milk for human children is the reason our breasts are equipped with milk ducts.  Why keep breasts in only the "sexy" compartment when they are also designed to fill another purpose?  Don't hold back the ta-tas, they are incredibly versatile and really can fill many roles!

Sure, breasts are hot.  But breastfeeding isn't sexy, it's simply feeding a child.  If you wouldn't be disgusted or offended by a mother bottlefeeding, you shouldn't feel either negative emotion about a mother breastfeeding.

Interestingly enough, I don't have a lot of breast tissue, but they are sensitive and I'll admit that I did worry about whether or not I'd get "turned on" when my baby nursed.  I shouldn't have wasted my time on such a dopey thought.  Seriously, it turned out that breastfeeding is probably the least sexy thing I've ever done.  Let's start with the fact that I cried when I tried to nurse in the early weeks because it hurt so darn bad!  Thanks to that awful early experience, my advice to everyone is to see a lactation consultant while still in the hospital if at all possible because I suffered needlessly for far too long!  Once the initial seven-weeks of torture was over, breastfeeding was easy and awesome though it wasn't remotely sexy.  Sex literally was the furthest thing from my mind when my son nursed, but nipples dripping (okay, spraying) milk all over the place just doesn't do it for me so I acknowledge that your results may vary.

If you have an issue with seeing a young toddler breastfeeding, well, you're the one with the issue - not the mother and certainly not the child.  You can just suck it if you don't like it. . .just don't suck them or you'll likely get a knuckle sandwich courtesy of mama.

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The benefits of nursing your child until one year of age are well documented and known to most of the general public.  I thought it would be good to list out the benefits of so-called extended nursing (that is, nursing that goes beyond one year) for your baby:

- Nutrition.  Breastmilk is still nutritious and healthy for a toddler.  Sure, it's composition is different than what you'd produce for a one-month old, but a toddler is also eating solids and doesn't require breastmilk for all nutrients.  Understand that this does not mean there aren't any nutrients in breastmilk (honestly, that's about the most absurd thing I've ever heard), it just means that the toddler also gets nutrients from other sources.
- Decreased risk of illness.  This is huge to me because sick kids aren't any fun!  Breastmilk contains anti-bodies that are very beneficial to the child's immune system.  In fact, some of these immunological factors are actually increased in the 2nd year of lactation until weaning occurs!  Breastfed children suffer far fewer colds and illnesses than their formula/cow milk fed counterparts.
- Reduced allergies.  Breastfed children as a whole have far fewer allergies than their formula/cow milk fed counterparts.  I've read that this is due to having a healthier gut lining, but haven't really researched it as allergies don't run in our families.
- Confidence & Independence.  Seems counterintuitive to say that extended nursing will raise a more confident child, but studies have shown that it does because that child's needs have been lovingly met and the child received plenty of consistent nurturing.  Is it possible to do both without breastfeeding?  Sure, but whipping out the twins is easy, natural, and normal and I'm all about doing whatever's easy, natural, and normal.
- It's encouraged by experts.  Don't just take it from a middle-aged suburban blogger, listen to the experts.  Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization recommend breastfeeding beyond age one for the health benefits to baby and mama.  Indeed, WHO recommends it continue beyond age two! 
- Convenience.  Unlike bottles and sippy cups of formula or cow milk, your breastmilk is always there, always safe to consume, always ready for your child.
- It's comforting.  Toddlerhood can be a scary time for a child and most don't have the ability to express their concerns and fears so they throw tantrums.  Countless breastfeeding mothers can attest to the fact that a little comfort nursing can head off most tantrums and soothe even the most upset child.

In case the benefits to your child aren't enough, what about the benefits afforded you by nursing?  This list isn't specific to extended nursing. . .breastfeeding for any length of time is beneficial.

- It's easier.  Waking up at all hours of the day and night to prepare and clean bottles & nipples wasn't very appealing to me.  What could be easier than putting the baby to breast and then putting them back to bed?  One could argue that co-sleeping mothers have it even easier as they don't even have to get out of bed.  Heck, I didn't want to deal with bottles during waking hours either!
- Easier weight loss after pregnancy.  What woman hasn't lamented how they looked after delivery?  The body expects the mother to breastfeed and stores up fat to help facilitate breastfeeding.  The easiest way to move that fat off your body is to breastfeed!  Most, not all, women find that breastfeeding makes post-partum weight loss extremely easy.  Note that this isn't a green light to chow down on double cheeseburgers or you might find that you're just as heavy or heavier as when you were pregnant!  Remember that you only need around 300 extra calories each day while breastfeeding.
- Lowered risk of many cancers.  Breast cancer risk in particular is lowered through breastfeeding, but ovarian, uterine, and endometrial cancers are also lower in women who breastfed their children.
- Delayed return of menses and ovulation/fertility.  This is primarily true for exclusive breastfeeding (ZERO supplementation with solids or formula), which is recommended for the first six months of an infant's life anyway, but most women find that menses doesn't return for a loooong time if they are committed to nursing.  While it's possible that one may ovulate without experiencing a period, it's most often true that you aren't ovulating if you aren't getting periods.  Of course, you should use a backup form of birth control if you aren't exclusively breastfeeding.
- Increased emotional well being.  Prolactin, the hormone that helps produce milk, naturally promotes relaxation and relieves stress.  Speaking for myself, I always felt the world simply fell away when I was nursing my son and sometimes would be shocked to discover that I had actually dozed during the nursing session.  Given my history with insomnia, the extra rest was awesome!  Oxytocin, stimulated during let down, is called the bonding hormone because it inspires loving feelings.  I lost count of the number of times that I felt my heart would burst out of my chest with love and joy for my son while nursing.  Sure, my love burns for my son like the fire of a thousand suns, but my feelings were somehow magnified by the oxytocin while nursing.

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A friend of mine summed it up perfectly when she said, I'll paraphrase, if it's not your kid or your boobs why do you care?

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