Extended Breastfeeding – How to mind your own business

I recently took a motorcycle course to get my endorsement and it was difficult but a lot of fun! Toward the end of the class, I asked the instructor how much longer the class would be, I needed to know if I could make it to the end of the course or if I needed to pump. He was accommodating and asked how old my little one was. I reluctantly told him he was 18 months and boy did he have some things to say about that!

I (only half-jokingly) told him that he is welcome to talk to my little one about it because I’ve already tried! I only planned to breastfeed for his first year, but my son has shown no signs of slowing down but honestly, I’m ok with it. I don’t really feel ready to be done either and it seems right for our family right now. However, I’ve been very surprised with the amount of judgment or disapproval I’ve received about extended breastfeeding from friends, family, AND strangers now that he’s reached the 18mo mark with no signs of self-weaning soon.

Breastfeeding has become a social norm and the preferred method of feeding a baby for moms who are able. Movements like #normalizebreastfeeding have been great for helping mothers talk about breastfeeding, find resources for help they need, and feeling comfortable breastfeeding in public.

But when it comes to breastfeeding beyond the one-year mark, others seem to be very opinionated about what they think needs to happen.

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Things that extended breastfeeding moms here frequently:

  • “Once the baby can crawl up your shirt and ask for it, they’re too old to be breastfeeding”
  • “I would never breastfeed past one year old”
  • “I wanted my body back, I’d never breastfeed that long”
  • “They’re just using you as a pacifier”
  • “Just give them a bottle, just cut them off, just feed them more solids…etc weaning advice”
  • “If you go much longer you’ll have to go with them to Kindergarten!”

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  1. “Once the baby crawls up your shirt or can ask for it, they’re too old to be breastfeeding.”

Why does EVERYONE use this as the standard to stop breastfeeding???? Babies are smart and even at 6-8 months, some babies use sign language to ask for milk. They also know where their food is coming from and it’s common for breastfed babies to be very comfortable in seeking out the area where they find nourishment and comfort, often in anyone who also has milk makers.

A little one is used to finding love, comfort, and a full belly after breastfeeding from its mother so it’s no surprise they continue to seek it out! It can be a little shocking to some when a 3-year-old asks for milk in a complete sentence, but seriously… is it hurting you, the observer? It’s time to stop judging others for their choices when they don’t affect you in the slightest.

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  1. “I would never breastfeed past one year old”

Ok, that’s great but come on, what is the purpose of your comment? There is a much kinder way to discuss what you do/did without shaming her for what she’s doing.

Even if you do find that weird or feel a little awkward about it, try to be genuine and either move on or ask some questions! Most mothers would be happy to answer any questions you many have like, what made you decide to continue breastfeeding? Does it hurt more now that they have teeth? These are personal questions but most women would gladly answer these than try to come up with kind responses to blatant objections and subtly rude comments.

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  1. “I wanted my body back, I’d never breastfeed that long”

Trust me, we all feel this! It’s hard to be tied to a baby, limited in the clothing you can wear, and having to plan everything around milk and feedings. Reminding her that she’s still dealing with a few extra things in her life is neither helpful or necessary. You’re not selfish for wanting your body back, and she’s not a saint for continuing to sacrifice hers. Just try telling her your impressed she’s still breastfeeding or just change the subject.

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  1. “They’re just using you as a pacifier.”

Yes, some of the time they probably are. There are many different reasons babies nurse and they still apply to older babies. Why does it matter? If both mom and child are OK with this routine of providing comfort, you should be too. Why is a pacifier better than a breast for this purpose?

Babies breastfeed when their hungry or thirsty, but they also breastfeed for comfort and protection. Some mothers with difficult toddlers continue to use breastfeeding as a way to calm an upset child or bond after a rough tantrum. There are many things out there encouraging mothers to stop judging how a parent chooses to raise and handle their children and this should apply to breastfeeding too.

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  1. “Just give them a bottle, just cut them off, just feed them more solids, etc”

Most moms who are trying to slow down have tried these things and unless she asked for advice on how to wean a baby it’s best to keep your suggestions to yourself.

Just because her baby is older than a year doesn’t means she’s actively trying to wean them!

Not everyones breastfeeding goals are the same, and that’s OK. Here are the guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the CDC, and ACOG, but they’re only guidelines. How long a mother chooses to breastfeed her baby is between her, her baby, and the overall family needs. It literally doesn’t concern you AT ALL. If it comes up that she’s struggling to wean and you have some advice or can offer helpful suggestions, please do! It takes a village to raise a child and we’re all in this together, but try not to assume she just doesn’t know what she’s doing when it comes to weaning an older child, because she might not even be trying at all!

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  1. “If you go much longer you’ll have to go with them to Kindergarten!”

Has this EVER happened? And even if a child was still breastfeeding occasionally at age 5, why would you care? A 5-year-old child would not need frequent feedings like a newborn would and frankly it’s none of your business how long a woman chooses to breastfeed her child anyway. A remark like this might be meant jokingly, but it comes across a little condescending especially if the mother is sensitive to or getting comments like this a lot.

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If you feel weird about a woman breastfeeding an older child, just move along. There’s no need to insert your opinions or unwanted advice on something that literally doesn’t concern you AT ALL. Try something like “That’s awesome you’re still breastfeeding” or “Good for you!” or if you can’t honestly be kind than just change the subject altogether.

If you are actually curious why she’s still breastfeeding her child, ask away! Most mothers will happily answer questions or tell you why they do what they do when they don’t feel attacked or judged. There are many reasons women choose to do extended breastfeeding including:

  • The extra health benefits to her and baby
  • The baby finds comfort
  • They’ve tried to wean unsuccessfully
  • The baby has a food allergy and is still receiving much of their nutrition through breastmilk
  • She enjoys breastfeeding
  • The baby enjoys breastfeeding
  • Continued anti-bodies and protection from illness
  • And more!

Try to be open-minded, kind, and helpful to all mothers. Everyone has different goals, experiences, and ways to raise a child and the world is a beautiful place because of it.

Happy (extended) Breastfeeding!

Did you breastfeed your child longer than you thought you would? Comment below, I’d love to hear your experience!

~ All things for you and your new little life ~

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