Lately, it seems, breast-feeding toddlers and breastfeeding older children has gained a lot of attention on the internet and in the news. Very few habits a mother could display are as controversial and heated as a mother who provides extended nursing to their child. As a response, mothers across the nation are baring their breasts in public, anywhere from shopping centers, in restaurants, to outdoor activities. Considering the United States is still fairly on the fence about nursing infants in public, it is no wonder that heads are being turned at those that decide that breastfeeding toddlers in is the way to go.
Perhaps part of the reason many are hung up on mothers breastfeeding toddlers or breastfeeding older children is because we live in a culture that sexualizes a woman’s breasts so much that they forget why Mother Nature put them there in the first place: to provide substance and nutrition to our infants. It is indisputable that mother’s milk is jam-packed with nutrients, but what is even more remarkable is that it evolves to meet the wants and needs of the child it is nourishing. However, just because our culture is not used to it does not make it wrong. Many find extended nursing strange or weird simply because they are not used to it.
It is hard to dispute that breast-milk is not the healthiest, not to mention free, choice for children, yet there are other factors to consider. It is difficult to say, for instance, how the emotional impact is on a child whose mother chose extended nursing. It could easily be argued that a parent’s role in their child’s life is to help them become independent and function in society, and that breastfeeding older children may stunt or interfere with their emotional well being. Others may argue that it is the parent’s role to set an example and establish boundaries, not the child’s. Perhaps when one sees an older child being breast fed, it is difficult to ignore the questions that arise with it in combination with a lack of knowledge on the subject and circumstance.
Mothers who breastfeed long-term would disagree, believing in just the opposite. They see it as a chance to give the child control of the separation process, thus giving them a stable foundation for independence and self-confidence. And while it is true that not breastfeeding for long enough can harm your child and is recommended exclusively for the six months of an infant’s life, there is no solid studies or information to say that extensive breastfeeding does harm.
One thing to consider when thinking about long-term breastfeeding is the father. Men are able to bond with their infants, but it is inarguable that a lot more work and action must be taken in order for that bond to stay strong. What happens to the father when the bond between a mother and child who extensively breastfeed carries on for such long periods? While some men take it in stride, others can be much more less tolerant about the issue.
Whatever your stance on the issue, clearly more and more mothers are choosing to breastfeed their toddlers and older children, and the issues surrounding it does not appear to be disappearing on its own. While few people would disagree that breastfeeding for the first six months of an infant’s life is integral to their growth and development, the continuation of breastfeeding beyond two years of age becomes a much more controversial topic. Perhaps over the next few years the United States will see a change in their views on breastfeeding older children, but despite what a culture says in the now, ultimately it is up to the parents to decide what the best course of action is for their child.