I breastfed all of my children for different lengths of time. I nursed my first child for four months. The nurses in the hospital nursery were giving her formula, which affected my milk production. I never did develop a good milk supply and, when I complained to my gynecologist about pre-menstrual symptoms without a period, he advised me to stop nursing. When the second one came along, I was determined to make it work. At St. Charles Hospital, breastfeeding children do not receive formula, and I nursed her faithfully every 2-3 hours. She continued for 13 months. I also nursed my third child for 13 months. My fourth child, who gave me the most trouble as a newborn, continued nursing at bedtime until she turned 4. So I do think this answer depends on your situation and personal inclinations, and that any amount of breast milk will be of benefit to your baby.
I spoke to Beverley Rae, MSW, IBCLC, a Board Certified Lactation Consultant at Breastfeeding Resources in Manhasset. I asked her, “How long do you recommend that mothers breastfeed?”
“I suggest that they set short-term goals like “I’ll nurse for six weeks” and then see how they feel. In the beginning, breastfeeding can seem daunting. Even six weeks seems like a LONG time to a sleep-deprived new mother. For some, hanging in for one more day may be all they can commit to. And the full year of breastfeeding that is recommended by most authorities looks like an eternity. So, I encourage new mothers to coax themselves along until breastfeeding becomes easy and enjoyable. Then, deciding how long to continue is their decision, whether it’s weeks, months or years. Read ‘How Long Should I Breastfeed My Baby?’ [at http://www.breastfeedingresources.net/article.htm ] and learn about the benefits at every stage.”
At my last daughter’s one-year checkup, my pediatrician asked me if I had started my daughter on whole milk yet. I answered no, that she seemed to be getting enough milk from me. He seemed pleasantly surprised that I was still nursing at 12 months.
It seems to be popular in America to wean by one year. However, in other nations women commonly nurse until ages 4 to 7. And in America, more and more mothers are quietly feeding their babies until two to three years of age. It is so difficult to obtain statistics on this, as they are reluctant to admit this practice.
In “Weaning Ages in a Sample of American Women who Practice Extended Breastfeeding”, (Clinical Pediatrics, Vol. 34, No. 12, 642-647 (1995)), Muriel Sugarman and Kathleen A. Kendall-Tackett examined age and method of weaning in a sample of 179 women who practiced extended breastfeeding. The average age for weaning was between 2 years 6 months and 3 years 0 months and ranged from 1 month to 7 years 4 months. [Read the abstract at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8665742?dopt=Abstract.]
If more mothers let others, including their doctors, know that they’re nursing an older baby, it might lead to greater acceptance of this normal practice.
La Leche League [ http://www.lalecheleague.org/ ] encourages mothers to nurse as long as their baby seems to want to continue, and to lovingly wean them, very gradually, if possible. The benefits of nursing to both baby and mother have been well-established in the medical community. Doctors say these benefits are directly proportional to the number of months spent nursing.
Beverley Rae comments:
“In the words of a former US Surgeon General, Dr Antonia Novello, it’s “the lucky baby who nurses until age two”. And the World Health Organization and UNICEF both recommend two years of nursing. Extended nursing is normal but sadly our American culture hasn’t caught on. For this reason, I find that mothers who are nursing older babies often feel isolated and need lots of support. I encourage them to come with their baby to a group like my Toddler Group or to seek out La Leche League for an opportunity to share their experience.”
Contact information for:
Beverley Rae, MSW, IBCLC
Board Certified Lactation Consultant
64 Manhasset Woods Rd
Manhasset, NY 11030
‘Helping Mothers to Breastfeed since 1986’
*This interview was conducted as part of a series of interviews on breastfeeding by the author with Beverley Rae in 2010. All contact information is still up-to-date as of this re-publishing o 8/20/2015. Please look for the rest of this series under the topic ‘breastfeeding’ in this column.