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StorkNet > StorkNet Site Map > Breastfeeding > Breastfeeding Articles

Long Term Breastfeeding
~ A Message Board Archive

From Diamondwife: I was reading the thread "watch TV tonight, extended nursing" and saw a couple things in there I had questions about . . . one was about a joke of being too old to breastfeed when the kid can unbutton his moms shirt with one hand and the second was in reference to the lady in the park who was breastfeeding a 4-5 year old. My question is, do any of you REALLY breastfeed or plan to breastfeed that long?????

From KAH: Interesting you should ask. I've been thinking about this a lot lately, since DD is 11 months old and still mostly nursing. (As opposed to having solids. She has two little meals every day, but is still not interested in more than that.) I don't know if I'll really be nursing that long or not. Before I decided to breastfeed, and even when DD was a few months old, I said the exact same thing! In exactly those words, even! But as she's gotten older, I've read the parts in The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding about weaning and extended nursing, and I just picked up a copy of Mothering Your Nursing Toddler. Both books talked about setting limits, and about the fact that a toddler is old enough to understand "not right now" or "when we get home" or "that's mommy's." Unlike with a tiny infant, who gets all nutrition and hydration from breastmilk, and gets hungry and thirsty quickly, a toddler doesn't have to nurse as frequently, and can have some fruit or crackers if hunger strikes when you're out and about. Also, toddlers are beginning to understand about privacy and that people generally keep their clothes on.

I hope I'm not rambling too much. Like I said, I've been giving this some thought lately. But I guess my point is that whether or not a toddler unbuttons his mom's shirt is not only about extended nursing but also about what limits or "rules" the mom wants to have for her child. And if a mom wants to extended nurse, but isn't comfortable or feels like she's turning into a walk-up self-serve restaurant, it's possible to teach a toddler that "we do that at home," or "ask first" or whatever she's comfortable with.

From laj: You know, it's all relative. I only nursed my first baby for 2 weeks. Even now, I look at photos of her at one and can't IMAGINE nursing her. No way! In fact, I didn't understand why people nursed past a year!

With my second daughter, I nursed her from day one, often, every day. It was just our relationship. It was completely natural. She weaned herself at two. She use to "ask for it" and put her hands down my top. Some people didn't really like that, but it had nothing to do with them. I really learned that it is about the nursing relationship you have with the individual child. Nothing could have been more natural for me. So, I guess even though my personal choice would not be to nurse for a VERY extended time, I came to respect what they were doing. Each to his own became my motto.

From Clio: Keep in mind that extended nursing has become a cultural taboo in the western world. In many places in the world, children routinely breastfeed to 4 or 5 years old. The whole idea of it might seem "shocking" to you because you're not used to it. But there's absolutely nothing wrong with it; it's normal!

From Diamondwife: I guess I am asking "how old is TOO old?" I just heard a story from one of my nurses in the hospital when Mikayla was born, about a lady she knew who nursed her daughter until she was 5!!! I plan to go to one year with Mikayla. That was my goal with Seth but we quit at 10 months cause of thrush. 5???

From serj: i don't think anyone plans on nursing that long; it just something that happens if you practice child lead weaning, and nurse as long as both mother and child want to. My mother breastfed all of her children . . . her first only for one year and her last (me) until I was 3 months shy of 5 years old. My friend's son is almost 4 1/2 years old and still nursing. i can tell you that there is NO WAY you can make a toddler nurse if they do not want to. My dd weaned at 2 years and even she knew how to wait until we were home or somewhere comfortable to nurse. So to answer your question, no, no one starts nursing their newborn saying I am going to do this until he's 5, it just happens!

From Cararocky: Lets see, with my first I planned on three months. I was going back to work and never heard of pumping. So, I got my pump and the goal was one year. We almost made it. With # 2 I planned on 18 months to two years. She's now 4.3 years old. I never planned this but I am open to what ever she has planned. Also worldwide, it's not unusual for a child up to the age of 7 to nurse. Mine only nurses about 10 minutes a day, once or twice per day.

From Gayesy: This is a very interesting topic! My own child will be turning FOUR (hard for me to believe it!) in a couple of weeks, and starting kindy next week (like Preschool in the U.S. I think - we have kindy at 4 then preschool at 5, then school at 6). I am still nursing him whenever he wants. I even offer if he doesn't ask in the evenings. He usually only nurses for a brief time twice a day (first thing in the morning and last thing at night).

When I started nursing, I always thought I would nurse until a year, when he would then wean and have cow's milk in a cup. Now there would have not been anything wrong with this, mind you, but the longer I breastfed him, the more I enjoyed it, the more I saw how important it was to Thomas, and the more I found out about how beneficial it is. I kind of "fell" into extended breastfeeding!

I found that the benefits don't stop at a year, and as Thomas had reflux problems, it was advised that he not have any cow's milk products for as long as possible. This also clinched the decision. The real thing that hit me, which I hadn't even considered before I started breastfeeding, was the emotional aspect to it - I always imagined it was just for nutrition and boy was I wrong. Looking back, I can't imagine how I would have coped with the toddler years without nursing Thomas - it helped him so much through those tumultuous times!

If someone told me four years ago that I would still be nursing Thomas when he was four, I think I would have probably laughed in their face (well, maybe not openly, as that would be rude! ). It just kind of happened that we kept on going. I learnt about child-led weaning and decided that was what I wanted to do. I am going to keep nursing Thomas until he doesn't want it anymore, no matter when that might be.

I have researched quite a bit about ages of weaning and find Dr. Katherine Dettwyler's work absolutely fascinating! She has found that a natural age of weaning in humans should be somewhere between 2.5 and 7 years, and that in societies where children are nursed until they decide to wean, this usually occurs around the age of 3 or 4.

I personally don't think any age where the child is still nursing is "too old", except perhaps in a VERY RARE situation where there are emotional problems in the family and the child is somehow encouraged to stay dependent. A 15 year old nursing would be "too old" but it simply wouldn't happen!! Children will stop sometime when they are ready, and that is unlikely to be over the age of seven.

From rockmom: Well, I wouldn't say that I am planning, on nursing for 5 years, but I am open to the possibility. I know people who nursed that long as children and I know mothers who nursed their children that long. The all seem perfectly normal to me so I am just not going to worry about and take each day as it comes.

From Ursula: Somehow 2.5 to 3 years seems right to me, but maybe my baby will want to wean sooner or later. I'll just have to see how it goes. I think that when women breastfeed 5 year olds, they tend only to have one session in the evening before bed. I'm not sure about that, but that seems fine to me.

From Erin: To be quite honest, I've never heard of someone who is nursing a 4-5 year old doing so in the middle of a busy park. So while it's not unusual for babies to nurse to that age, it IS unusual to see it. They don't generally ask for a "snack" like the kid on TV, did. As for whether I'll do it for us or not, I don't know. We'll have to wait and see I guess. I was originally going to go for a year, but now that we're almost there, I don't really see the point in quitting.

From JrandJakesMama: My son is almost 4 1/2 years old, and is an active nurser. If someone had told me when he was born I would be nursing him at this age I would have laughed. But I did want to nurse for at least a year. My firstborn nursed for 15 months, and it saved his life. Turned out he has a rare stomach disease and formula would have killed him.

But back to Jake, how did I come to nurse a 4 1/2 year old? It just happened. I could see nor find any reason to wean. He loves and must need it for some reason. Why wean? Because society frowns on it. Who cares? Most important thing is, he has a need and I meet it. You CANNOT force a child to breastfeed. I have asked him if he wanted to talk about weaning, and I got a flat-out NO.

We were reading a book about feelings, this book was meant to help children talk about their feelings. The first time we read it, and each time since, when we get to the loving page, and it asks "What makes you feel loving," my son replies, "When my mama gives me num-nums". How can I say no to that and why should I? He rarely nurses in public. The rare times, I am as discreet as I can be. Most think he is sleeping. I would never pull my shirt over his head, as that woman did. I think he would think I was crazy. The most important issue is him. I will continue nursing as long as he needs to. I love him.

From mama2ema: It's all up to Ema. I'm open to what is comfortable for her. I guess I don't need to say that--I'm her mother, so, of course, I'm open to her needs.

From Miche: My son is still enthusiastically nursing at 18 months and I am 10 weeks pregnant. I really do see Tommy tandem nursing with his little brother or sister. I have cut him back some because some days my nipples hurt so bad it is agony to nurse, but he is still nursing a minimum of six times a day. I'm actually a little sad because today I kept telling him no because I'm sick and feeling dehydrated and just don't want to be touched and instead of nursing he crawled into my arms and fell asleep at 11pm. I had been lounging on the couch all day and didn't realize he hadn't nursed for 8 full hours! That has to have been a first! Fortunately for him my milk supply doesn't seem to have decreased significantly with this pregnancy. But I do think the taste has changed. This will cause some children to wean, but not my boy! He looked at me one day several weeks ago and made the kind of horrible face he makes when he doesn't like a food then shrugged, smiled and went right back to nursing!

I have a friend that is nursing her almost 5 year old and her 2 year old and is pregnant again. She said that when her oldest was a baby she used to think that people who nursed past one were crazy! I have known her just over a year and have never actually seen her 5 year old nurse, but I have seen him ask. She still nurses her almost 2 year old on demand, but when she got pregnant she cut back to naps and bedtime with her 5 year old. He is a very articulate little boy and will consistently ask for "num num" even when he knows the answer is no. The last I talked with her he was finally cluing in to the idea that there won't be a num num for him when the new baby comes! He and his brother each have their own side and he realized that there is no third side for the baby and he knew that means he will have to give up his! He's not too happy about this. My friend assured him that he could just share, but that yes, he will have to be giving up nursing as much as he used to. He's coming to terms with it. Hearing him talk out his feelings really helped enlighten me to how important nursing is, even to a 5 year old! It's not "normal" in the sense that the average person doesn't do it, but it is completely natural and normal in the eyes of a nursing child!

As for unbuttoning Mom's shirt with one hand, my 18 month old can do that now. Is he too old? NOPE!

Personally if Tommy wants to nurse until he is 5, yes, I will let him. I doubt that will happen though. I will have two babies two years apart come August and by the time Tommy is 5, there will probably be another on the way as well. If he is still nursing then I will most likely be like my friend and it will just be now and then, at bedtime perhaps or when he gets hurt or is sick.

From MusicMomma: I am planning on nursing for at least a year, and to be perfectly honest I would love for it to go to 4 or 5 years. I'm just going to let JJ tell me when he doesn't want to nurse anymore.

From LisaJo: As others have said, the nursing relationship grows one day at at time, and for me seemed natural and normal and wonderful. DS weaned at 3-1/4 years, but by then he was just nursing before bedtime, and not every day. At that age I never nursed him in public though, and could easily deflect his requests till we were home. I look forward to a long nursing relationship with my baby girl too.

From djk42: This is a personal matter with some people. My local LLL leader says she will not nurse past the age of three (her son was encouraged to wean, but allowed several months to do it in when he was 2.5 years. Due to a high risk pregnancy she needed to encourage his time table a little, but she didn't want to nurse past three anyway so it worked out for them). However, many in our group are nursing 3 to 4 year olds (none have turned four yet but many are close). The average age of weaning is over four (the same age when many people stop producing lactase, the enzyme that digests lactose [milk sugar]). But in many places, five is considered a normal weaning age (in India extended nursing is a matter of prestige; if your mother nursed you until you were 7 you are honored). Keep in mind that the USA is a melting pot, and many cultures mix here. To that woman in the park nursing until 5 or 6 may be the norm in her culture, whereas British doctors tend to advise weaning before a year (and American doctors at exactly a year, though some go against the AAP and say earlier). The UN has stated that it is healthiest if a child nurses until the age of two and then let the individual mother and child decide when to wean after that point, so world wide, anywhere UNICEF goes, nursing until at least two is strongly suggested. The AAP has said that the only reason they do not issue the same recommendation is that they fear many mothers will not nurse at all if they feel they will "have to do it" for two whole years, so saying one year is actually more beneficial to more infants in our country because mothers will commit to that shorter time period, even though they [AAP] know nursing for two years is healthier. This said, I think that the earliest age a mother should wean is 2 years, 2 months, because taking 2 months or more to gradually cut back is considered healthiest for both the mother and the child. Notice I said the earliest age a mother should wean, some babies desire to wean earlier than this and "wean themselves".

Aren just turned three and nurses sometimes before bed and sometimes before nap (usually not on the same day). Though I do not nurse him in public (stopped when he was two), I will happily continue sleepy-time nursings until he wants to stop (or turns 7!)

From Shanah: My daughter turned 4 the end of November. My son turned 1 the first part of December. I had planned on having her completely weaned by four. I had a talk with her and everything. Well, she isn't weaned, but she rarely nurses and it's more for comfort. But right now she is sick as all get out and the only thing she will hold in her tummy is breastmilk. I believe wholeheartedly in letting your nursling decide how long they want to continue nursing.

We also co-sleep, and a lot of people have a problem with that. Yanno what though? What others think really doesn't matter much. I never planned on nursing her this long. And I don't nurse her in public. Not because I am not comfortable with it - but she has never asked. *shrugs*

From Psnyder: Ok this may sound very strange but dd weaned at about 25 months. When she was 4 1/2, I had a new baby. Of course I nursed him and DD asked the QUESTION, could she nurse? I said okay and she tried it. All the books I have read on nursing say that an older weaned child will not continue once they have just tried it. DD started out nursing every day but has now dropped to nursing every couple of days over the last 3 months. DD has to wait until DS is done (my rule) and when DS nurses DD cuddles with me. We are enjoying ourselves but in the back of my mind I know that there there are people who don't really understand. DD is 5 now but we have certain rules about her nursing. She can't nurse in public and not in front of anyone except immediate family. I never planned to breastfeed that long. When DD was born, I thought I would only breastfeed for about 3-4 months since I didn't want to breastfeed when DD had teeth or could talk about nursing. We were enjoying ourselves and nursed for about 24 months. Now we are in this re-nursing (?) situation. I didn't plan it but it feels right. Both kids are healthy and have good dispositions. That's the whole point of parenting and nursing is a part of that.

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