Contrary to what you may hear, breastfeeding older children is more common than you might think. Some women do so in private, just because the fear the criticism of friends and family.
Extended Breastfeeding: A Growing Trend
Breastfeeding is becoming more common, especially among new mothers. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention are showing a steady growth in the number of women who begin breastfeeding their babies.
More mothers are sticking with breastfeeding longer, as well. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that babies should be breastfed at least a year, and the World Health Organization promotes nursing until at least age two. After that, both organizations suggest it should be left up to the mother and child.
With more moms becoming educated about the benefits of sustained or extended breastfeeding, it isn’t surprising that more moms are also breastfeeding their children beyond the expected one or two years. Many breastfeeding moms have weathered the storms of public opinion about nursing in public, and now the media seems to have turned to breastfeeding older children.
The Benefits of Breastfeeding Older Children
Extended breastfeeding still offers older children a boost to their immune systems. Even if they are eating solid foods for their meals, nursing once or twice a day will help prevent infections and illnesses.
Studies have also shown that the longer children are nursed, the more brain power they have. Everyone wants to do the best they can for their child’s intellectual development, and extended nursing provides a good solid foundation for your child’s success.
Nursing an older child will help to meet their emotional and dependence needs, which can make them easier to parent in the long run. Breastfeeding toddlers usually have fewer temper tantrums and other discipline problems, because the normal frustrations young children face are soothed by a quick breastfeeding session.
Toddlers and preschoolers are exposed to a lot of new experiences that may cause anxiety and stress. The comfort they find in nursing at this age can help make them more independent and secure when they face these situations and when they get older.
Criticism from the General Public
Most mothers who nurse beyond the age of two tend to work breastfeeding other children around the rest of the day’s schedule so they’re nursing in the privacy of their homes. Considering how hard it has been for some mothers to breastfeed an infant in public, they usually don’t want to expose their older children to the opinions they may attract from others.
It is unfortunate that in most westernized countries, extended nursing is not the norm. The average age of weaning in the rest of the world is around four years of age! This helps many children survive in some rather adverse conditions.
The westernized world has sexualized the breast to the point that many people have trouble seeing breasts used to feed infants at all.
Fortunately for babies, many mothers are overcoming this cultural bias to provide their children with the best nutrition they can give them.
If you are considering breastfeeding older children, you are not alone. While there are no studies or records of how many mothers are choosing to do this, the mothers who do notice their children are more secure.
By encourage child led weaning, the child is guaranteed to have his or her needs met on his or her own terms. They wean themselves when they are ready. Some parents of older nursing children celebrate when their child makes this decision with a party or special treat, seeing it as a milestone in the child’s life.
Most extended breastfeeding children are 3, 4 or 5 years old, with a few that range a bit older. Most mothers who practice extended breastfeeding find that the older the child is, the fewer times they need to nurse.
When breastfeeding older children, some may only nurse when they are upset, which could be as rarely as once a week or even once a month. The length of the nursing session is much shorter than for an infant as well. The child is able to get the comfort he or she needs in just a few minutes. It is amazing to see how much it can affect a child’s self-esteem just to have that option open as they go through toddler and preschool ages. As more mothers choose nurse their older children, it will become more accepted and normalized to the mainstream public.
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