After Emma posted a beautiful photo of her feeding her five year old into various breastfeeding groups, a journalist picked up the story and it quickly became viral, with Emma being invited onto Good Morning Britain for an interview.
Articles have been posted on news sites such as the Daily Mail, The Sun, BBC, Ladbible and more. As you can imagine, the comments sections were unsurprisingly unsavoury toward the idea of natural term breastfeeding.
If you are reading this as a member of one of the many breastfeeding groups on Facebook, natural term breastfeeding is probably already normalised to you. Many of you are breastfeeding five year olds (and older), but don’t tend to shout about it for fear of judgement from peers and family. We know it’s normal. Everyone else is yet to catch up.
Most of the articles written were generally positive towards Emma’s breastfeeding journey, however, still managed to leave out some bits of information which I’m going to lay out here and now.
Note to journalists: please try and get quotes from reputable IBCLCs rather than paediatricians.
What is natural term breastfeeding?
Often misrepresented as ‘extended breastfeeding’ (which implies that you are feeding BEYOND what is needed), natural term breastfeeding is defined as continuing to nurse beyond the age of two years. This can continue for as long as the parent and child are happy to do so. The human natural self-weaning age is usually between 4-7 years but can end sooner or later depending on the child.
How long should you breastfeed for?
The NHS recommend a bare minimum of 6 months exclusive breastfeeding and to continue for as long as you and the child wish to. The World Health Organisation recommend a minimum of two years and to also keep going as long as possible.
What health benefits does feeding beyond the age of two give the mother and child?
Unfortunately, there haven’t been many studies about the composition of milk beyond infanthood (likely because they wouldn’t be profitable to a certain industry sector), however, some observations have been made including the following:
- Breastfeeding toddlers between the ages of one and three have been found to have fewer illnesses, illnesses of shorter duration, and lower mortality rates (Mølbak 1994, van den Bogaard 1991, Gulick 1986).
- “Antibodies are abundant in human milk throughout lactation” (Nutrition During Lactation 1991; p. 134). In fact, some of the immune factors in breastmilk increase in concentration during the second year and also during the weaning process. (Lawrence & Lawrence 2011, Goldman 1983, Goldman & Goldblum 1983, Institute of Medicine 1991)
- “Human milk in the second year postpartum contained significantly higher concentrations of lactoferrin, lysozyme and Immunoglobulin A, than milk bank samples” collected from donors less than 12 months postpartum. (Perrin 2016)
- Per the World Health Organization, “a modest increase in breastfeeding rates could prevent up to 10% of all deaths of children under five: Breastfeeding plays an essential and sometimes underestimated role in the treatment and prevention of childhood illness.” [emphasis added]
- A couple of studies have shown a positive relationship between longer breastfeeding duration and social development.
— Duazo 2010, Baumgartner 1984
- “A shorter duration of breastfeeding may be a predictor of adverse mental health outcomes throughout the developmental trajectory of childhood and early adolescence.”
— Oddy 2010
References for above here.
Parents who lactate can also benefit:
- Breastfeeding reduces the risk of breast cancer(References). Studies have found a significant inverse association between duration of lactation and breast cancer risk.
- Breastfeeding also reduces the risk of ovarian cancer(References), uterine cancer(References), and endometrial cancer (References).
- Breastfeeding protects against osteoporosis. During lactation a mother may experience decreases of bone mineral. A nursing mom’s bone mineral density may be reduced in the whole body by 1 to 2 percent while she is still nursing. This is gained back, and bone mineral density may actually increase, when the baby is weaned from the breast. This is not dependent on additional calcium supplementation in the mother’s diet. (References).
- Breastfeeding reduces the risk of rheumatoid arthritis(References).
- Breastfeeding reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease(References).
- Breastfeeding has been shown to decrease insulin requirements in diabetic women. There is also a decreased risk of Type 2 diabetes mellitus in mothers who do not have a history of gestational diabetes (References).
Sorry Dr Hilary but it’s more than just for comfort.
Facebook comments section FAQ:
But don’t toddlers need food too?!
I have seen so many comments which assume that a breastfed child solely relies on their parent’s milk for nutrition. Now we all know toddlers can be fussy little creatures when it comes to food, but I can tell you now that most children over the age of one will have solids as their main nutrition and all by year two. Think of human breastmilk as a nutritional top up, you know, like those who drink cows breastmilk and give it to their children.
But how do you have time to keep breastfeeding a toddler?
It is not anything like breastfeeding a newborn. Well, somedays you might find yourself pinned down when your small one needs antibodies or is struggling through a developmental leap but by the time you’re breastfeeding a three year old, most only feed once or twice a day (some more, some less). This number decreases over time as weaning approaches.
Isn’t breastfeeding completely for the benefit of the parent, beyond a certain age?
Now I can’t speak for all those who lactate, but I can tell you that natural breastfeeding is not always easy. And it is NEVER for the parent’s benefit (my sore nipples from a lazy latch will confirm that). Why should we take away our child’s biggest source of comfort if we are physically and mentally able to keep going (of course, not everyone is in the position to do so).
Breastfeeding an older child is sexually perverse
My stomach turns every time I read a comment like this. Not because of my decision to breastfeed to natural term, but because there’s people out there who think of sexual perversity when they see natural term breastfeeding. These people need to seek urgent professional help. You couldn’t get any further from the truth – especially with nursing aversion.