During my son’s first year of life, I had several breast infections. In addition, due to my son’s Gastro Esophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), my diet was severely restricted. As a result, after about a year of breastfeeding, I was sick of it. However, my son wasn’t really ready to stop and he didn’t tolerate cow’s milk well. As his reflux improved and I went months without an infection, I found nursing to be a positive experience. Thus, I ended up nursing him up to his second birthday. Extended breastfeeding isn’t common in the United States. In fact, some people even think it’s strange or inappropriate. Yet, I’m not worried about what other people think. Here are a few reasons why I continued nursing past my son’s first birthday.
According to the CDC’s breastfeeding “Report Card” for the U.S, 75% of babies start out being nursed. However, a little over 44% are still breastfeeding at six months and 23.8% at 12 months (both not exclusively). At three months, 35 percent of moms breastfeed exclusively, compared to 14.8% at six months. Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of statistics out there about the percentage of moms nursing after one year. However, to me, it doesn’t really matter what everyone else is doing. What matters is what works for each individual family.
People have plenty opinions about breastfeeding. When you have a newborn, breastfeeding is encouraged, admired and even exalted over formula feeding….until the baby reaches one year of age. Then, the tides change. People start making comments such as, “Oh you’re still breastfeeding” and “When are you going to stop?” In America, nursing in public has been a big debate where women are told it’s not appropriate to nurse out in the open. Instead, they are told to nurse in the bathroom or behind closed doors. This, in part, has to do with the over-sexualization of breasts and their purpose. I have always been more a private person and covered up when I was nursing. Since my son was only nursing “part-time,” it was easy for me to do so at home. However, I’m happy that laws have been put in place to protect the right of a mother to breastfeed. According to, healthychildren.org, “as of 2010, forty-four states, plus the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands, have laws allowing mothers to nurse in any public or private location.” There are also laws to protect working mothers who need to pump in the workplace.
Breastfeeding has its benefits and so does extended breastfeeding. Although some doctors urge mothers to wean at a year, the La Leche League International says “there is no indication that nursing beyond one year has any negative effects.” On the other hand, there is plenty of evidence that supports the benefits such as good nutrition, “immunity to disease” and “avoidance of allergies.” Furthermore, as a baby matures and nurses less frequently, “the immunities in breast milk” are said “to increase in concentration.” Also, breastfeeding can be a source of a means of comfort for the child. Sounds good to me!
In our “get rid of the training wheels” culture, we are encouraged to move our babies into big beds and potty train before two. Thus, to some, the idea of breastfeeding after one signals dependence. Although I try to encourage my kids to do things on their own, I’m not in a rush to hurry my children along. And, while some think breastfeeding may hinder independence, experts, such as female psychiatrist Dr. L.R. Waletzky “believe early forced weaning may actually hinder emotional development and increase dependency needs.”
In the end, how long you breastfeed depends on your entire families’ needs, wants and limitations. For my son and I, two was the magic number. You can call me weird if you want to.
More from Melissa:
First Person: My Baby Has Gastro Esophageal Reflux Disease
How to Survive Sleepless Nights with a Newborn
Irritable Children? How to Banish a Case of the ‘Grumpies’ in Your Home