Q: I am still nursing my 15 month old and I would like to continue until he weans himself. I am getting a lot of negative reactions from family — can you tell me what the benefits are to continuing our nursing relationship? I’d like to help my family understand.
A: First of all, you aren’t alone — many babies nurse well beyond 15 months, and many moms who nurse past that point here those negative comments. Most are just due to misconceptions, and it is great that you are looking for information to help re-educate them. These same people who are upset by the thought of a 15 month old nursing don’t bat an eye when they see a 15 month — or older — still drinking from a bottle.
The good news is that the benefits of breastfeeding continue for as long as you continue. And some of those benefits continue even when you stop! For example, your risk of getting breast cancer goes down with every month you continue to breastfeed. That fact alone is worth not being in a hurry to wean!
Your baby will continue to receive those important immune benefits for as long as he continues to nurse. As he nurses less and less, your milk becomes more concentrated with those protective factors. It wouldn’t be this way if humans weren’t designed to nurse longer than a year!
As your baby moves into toddlerhood, his eating habits may be a bit odd. Some days he’ll eat anything and everything, and others he’ll hardly eat enough to keep a bird alive. Your breast milk will help fill those gaps so you’ll worry less.
Okay — forget the nutritional benefits, forget the disease fighting — probably one of the best benefits of extended breastfeeding is the comfort you can provide your son. Breastfeeding a toddler is less about food delivery and more about a safe haven from a pretty scary world. If your son falls down, a quick nursing can help him feel better. If he’s sick, you can comfort him in ways medicine never will. As he learns to be independent, he’ll use you as a home base — checking in every so often to make sure you’re still there.
Tell your family that the American Academy of Pediatricians now recommends nursing for at least a year, and then as long as is mutually agreeable. How long you nurse is a decision to be made between you and your baby.
You might want to find a local La Leche League group. There you’ll meet other moms who are nursing older babies and toddlers and can get great tips from them about how they’ve dealt with the negative comments. Often humor is a great tool to use. “How long are you going to nurse him?” “Oh, about 15 minutes on a side!” “When is he going to wean?” “I don’t know, but there’s a great college in this town that he could come home between classes for a quick snack!”
Your son will wean when he’s ready. That’s often a concern for other family members. Just thank them for their concern and change the subject!
By Melissa Clark Vickers
International Board Certified Lactation Consultant
Moms & Babies Huntingdon, Tenn.