Breastfeeding exclusively and for longer

By Elizabeth Harrop

17 March 2010

toddler breastfeedingThe World Health Organization infant feeding recommendation advocates that infants be exclusively breastfed for the first six months and for breastfeeding to continue up to two years of age or beyond.

Breastfeeding past two years has a range of scientifically proven benefits for children. These include nutrition, being sick less often and for shorter duration, and having fewer allergies. For mothers, breastfeeding is linked to reduced risk of various types of cancers.

Research by anthropologist Kathy Dettwyler “suggests that the normal and natural duration of breastfeeding for modern humans falls between 2.5 years at a minimum and about 7 years at a maximum”.

However Western values hold that “breastfeeding becomes wrong when they start to talk”, yet adult men have been happily hanging off women’s breasts for centuries.

As a society we have become confused about what women’s breasts are for – elevating their status as titillators and denigrating their function as nurturing life-givers. The same can be said of how the role of women in general is viewed by society.

Two common comments:

  • To mother breastfeeding toddler: “Should you still be breastfeeding her?”
  • Said teasingly to the toddler: “You don’t want booby, that’s for babies. You’re not a baby are you?”

Both of these comments are made without malice, but also without thought to the social and cultural conditioning and assumptions which lie behind them. Two key assumptions being:

  • That a small child can only be breastfeeding for comfort and
  • That comfort feeding is inappropriate.

However, let’s say comfort was breastfeeding’s only role – to provide intimacy and warmth when a child feels hurt or vulnerable. Surely that is a good thing. It is certainly evidenced anecdotally by my 27 month old who would come running to me after a fall saying “I want booby, booby make it better”.   In fact, comfort is just one of a range of scientifically proven benefits to both child and mother, of extended breastfeeding.

See the KellyMom extended breastfeeding factsheet and for information about exclusive breastfeeding beyond 6 months see Heed Natural Timing before Infant Introduction to Solid Food.

Please also see my articles Breast intentions and For mothers, worst place in world is breast place[EWH2] , and Women’s Health Action Trust Storm in a D Cup.

Liberty & Humanity

Photo by Cleyder Duque