Image by Mel ‘GW’ Stampa
I know a lot about nursing.
Okay, so, my nearly 3 year old is still nursing [a little]. We nursed through my second pregnancy, and have continued with tandem nursing for about 18 months now. I’ve definitely “extended” nursed given their ages. I’m pregnant again and we’re still nursing through that! Obviously I’m a big supporter of extended and tandem nursing.
I’ve noticed over the last couple of years that there are a lot of weird attitudes and misconceptions about extended and tandem nursing. I think that’s sad, because a lot of women who might otherwise try it are deterred by a lack of information or the attitudes of those around them. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “I really wanted to keep going…but people thought it was weird, so I stopped.” I’ve also heard a lot of people say, “That’s wrong. It’s disgusting. It’s sexual, the mom is making the kid,” and so on. Clearly we have some serious misconceptions here!
Today I’d like to address some of the most common misconceptions and explain them. I’d also like to note that extended and tandem nursing is not for everyone, by any means! But for those who choose it, they should receive understanding and support.
[And yes, I really have heard all of these before!]
1. “Extended” nursing is beyond 6 months of age. Sorry, no. Some define “extended” nursing as past 1 year of age, which is the minimum that the AAP recommends. Others define it as past 2 years, which is what the WHO recommends. A child who relies primarily on milk for nourishment is definitely not in that category, which should be the case at 6 months of age.
2. Nursing past a certain age [1, 2, 3, etc.] is, by definition, just wrong. The “normal” weaning age is no more than 1 year old. Actually, the world wide weaning age is about 4. Years, not months. Nursing past a certain age may not feel right or be the right choice for you, but there is no way to set an objective standard. A nursing relationship should end when a mother and child feel that it is time. Remember that the WHO recommends at least 2 years, and as long after as the mother and child wish to continue. Our perspective is skewed because very, very few mothers do nurse much beyond three months in the U.S.
3. Nursing becomes sexual and therefore inappropriate at an older age. Nursing is never sexual. Yes, it involves the breasts, but children don’t think about breasts as being sexual. They are a source of nourishment and comfort. Children don’t develop sexually, normally, until they are in their pre teen or teen years, by which time all known children have ceased nursing. 7 or 8 is the upper limit, in general, and that’s rare; most children have not started to develop by then. The only people who see nursing as “sexual” are those on the outside who do not understand the relationship and are interpreting it through an adult’s eyes. But between a mother and child, it simply is not like that.
4. The mom is “making” the child continue to nurse when he doesn’t really want to, because she can’t let her baby grow up. She has weird hang ups and dependency on her child. Anyone who thinks this has probably never nursed a child, and certainly not an older one! And may not even have a child. Have you ever tried to make a 1, 2, or 3 year old do anything they don’t want to do? They are extremely contrary. They are very stubborn. You cannot make a child nurse, no matter how much you try [many moms try around 8 or 9 months when their babies still really need milk but are easily distracted, and it doesn't work very well]. Many moms eventually develop a love/hate relationship with nursing. They love having quiet moments and snuggling their children, but they hate demands for milk at odd times, acrobat behavior, and tantrums when they don’t get to nurse immediately. Nursing is about both the mom and the child, but the mom is definitely doing it for the child, not for herself!
5. Breastmilk provides no health benefits beyond 1 year of age. This is just ludicrous. Breastmilk is known to be probably the healthiest, most natural substance we can possibly ever consume. Its benefits are so lengthy we don’t even know them all yet. This doesn’t magically cease to be true when a child turns 1! Breastmilk continues to provide immunologic benefits to children as long as they are nursing, and it actually helps to develop their immune systems, not complete until around age 6. Benefits are in no way negated or even lessened by a child growing older. The only way they’re at all “lessened” is because the child slowly gets fewer and fewer calories at the breast, and more and more from table food.
6. If a mom wants to give her kid the benefits of breastmilk, she should just pump and give it in a cup. Nursing is about far more than just the health benefits, which are important. But it’s also about the snuggling, the closeness, the bond between mom and child. As the child ages they will often replace nursing sessions with cuddling sessions. On occasions Bekah doesn’t nurse now, she will say, “Okay, I want to snuggle with you instead.” No adults have a problem with a child cuddling with their parents, nor would they suggest the child cuddle a stuffed animal instead. Nursing is the same: it’s about the bond and closeness, and pumping milk into a cup just isn’t the same. Also, it’s often impossible. Many moms can never pump much, and even if they can early on, their supply regulates to the child’s demand and suction levels [which are very, very efficient, especially at an older age] and a pump just can’t match that and can’t get any milk.
7. The child’s friends will laugh at him or make fun of him if they find out he is still nursing. This assumes that first of all, his friends will find out. And they probably won’t, because it’s just not something a child talks about. Even if they do, most children will be merely curious. Think I’m wrong? Over Christmas, Bekah demanded to nurse in the mornings in front of our extended family. Her 5 year old cousin was merely curious. She did not think it was weird, and no one made a big deal of it. No one laughed. Younger children are truly just curious and accept things. The “laughing at each other” stuff doesn’t happen until around age 8 or 9, by which time the child has likely long since weaned.
8. An older child nurses many times a day, and the mom will need to come to school to nurse during recess. An older child probably only nurses once or twice a day, and may even skip some days. Nursing is a comfort reserved for certain times of day. Bekah typically nurses twice a day, and the second nursing is very short [sometimes only seconds long]. Usually, first thing in the morning and right before bed are those times. Parents certainly would not ever go to school to nurse a child during recess! The only time a child would probably nurse more frequently is during illness, in which case they wouldn’t be in school anyway. Nursing decreases in frequency more and more until it just stops one day.
9. You can’t nurse during pregnancy. It’s dangerous and will cause a miscarriage. Nope. As long as you are healthy enough for sexual activity, you don’t have to worry. The oxytocin produced is not enough to cause serious contractions or problems. It may, however, make your baby wake up and bounce around like “What is going on here?!” But it won’t hurt the baby.
1O. An older child can’t nurse at the same time as a baby, the baby will not get enough milk. While you do have to pay attention to this, especially in the early weeks while establishing your supply, you’re more likely to have too much milk than too little. It’s important to let the baby nurse first if possible, then let your older child nurse. Your body will produce enough for both. As long as you’re nursing the baby on demand, your baby will not starve.
11. You’ll have increased sibling rivalry if you let the older child nurse. Nope. Usually works the other way. The older child doesn’t feel forced to wean or like you’re taking “his milk” away and giving it to the baby. He knows he can still have it when he wants it [which might be often for weeks or months after the baby comes]. He knows he will have “special time” with mom, too, so his sibling rivalry is less. Sometimes, especially once the baby is a few months old, siblings will actually nurse at the same time, and will snuggle into each other or hold hands. [Or fight...lol.]
12. The milk can only be made for one child at a time so it’s going to screw someone up. No. The milk will be made for the baby’s needs, since the baby is entirely dependent on you for nourishment and your older child is mostly eating table food. Your older child may gain some weight from the fatty new milk, and may have loose, breastmilk poop for awhile, if he nurses often enough. This is normal and in no way harmful to either child.
That’s all I can think of right now! What myths and misconceptions have you heard about extended or tandem nursing?
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