How Long Is Too Long?

I’ll be the first to admit that I used to think extended breastfeeding (which I prefer to call full-term breastfeeding instead because of the negative connotations of the word “extended”) was weird. I specifically remember saying when I was pregnant that if they can ask for it, they’re too old.

Guess what? They start asking for it from day one. They ask for it by crying at first, then maybe pointing, then maybe signing, then maybe actually calling it something. We choose to call it milk. I’m sure that one day Peanut will come up to me and say “I want milk!” and I will give it to her. Why should I stop giving her something she loves (and something that benefits her immensely) just because she can form the words to ask for it?

Valerie posted a question on Facebook as her status:

1.5 years old and still bf’ing. Should I be concerned? How long should I let my son bf? #breastfeeding

After all of the responses (many positive about her breastfeeding and many not) I decided to pose my own question.

Breastfeeding becomes inappropriate/gross/sexual/etc. beyond age {fill in the blank}. No repercussions, just give me your honest answers. Treat it as a poll.

I was amazed at some of the ages/markers that people came up with on both mine and Valerie’s posts.

Of course, people said that the don’t need it anymore when they’re a toddler. While it is not technically necessary when they are older (yes, I consider breastfeeding necessary when they are infants), toddlers still enjoy many benefits of breastfeeding. The first six months are more important than the second six months which are more important than the third and so on, but a child still continues to benefit from breastfeeding as they get older. Actually, there are studies that show that the longer you’re breastfed, the more you benefit from some of the benefits like less illness and higher IQ (mentioned in this article).

Another common marker for stopping breastfeeding that I hear is “when they get teeth.” I tend to think that people who come up with this one don’t have children. Maybe if you don’t have children you don’t realize how young they are when they get teeth? That’s the only logic I can follow with this one. The majority of kids get their first teeth at six months, but some get them as early as two weeks! So if you stop when they get teeth, they don’t even get to the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendation! The same goes for “when they can walk” because the majority of kids start walking at one year and that doesn’t make it to the World Health Organization recommendation.

There were a lot of different qualifications. Some people throw out random ages without any explanation (because nursing at 2.99 years is different than nursing at 3 years?). Some people say a binky or thumb is better than breastfeeding beyond a certain age (which is actually bad for mouth formation and speech). Really, there are as many qualifying milestones or ages as there are people.

So what’s my end point? I know I always say that I’ll nurse Peanut as long as she wants, but at the same time I can’t see myself breastfeeding a seven year old. Though if you talked to me a year ago, I probably couldn’t see myself nursing Peanut now. I believe that breastfeeding is inherently non-sexual (unless you’re an adult with a fetish I suppose) so I don’t believe that it can ever be perverted (as some people mentioned on the threads). The bottom line is that there is no end point. No one can decide this end point for you and you can’t even decide your end point. To quote Justice Stewart (without the intention imply breastfeeding is obscene, because it’s not) “I know it when I see it.” You’ll know you’re end point when you’re there—and it’s different for every breastfeeding relationship.

With Teeth

Peanut waited beyond the “normal” time to get her teeth. Quite honestly, it worried me a bit. Then BOOM! she gets 5 teeth over the span of one month—believe me, it wasn’t fun. Now, while I’m quite enjoying her toothy grins, I’m amazed at how many people expect me to stop breastfeeding.

For some it was the first response. I showed one friend her newly acquired first tooth and she immediately says “I guess your ‘relationship’ is done?” Of course, being the knowledge spewer I am, I go off into an inappropriately long explanation of how breastfeeding with teeth works.

How does it work you say? According to all of the internets I’ve read on the subject (because I was quite afraid of teeth before they started sprouting) your nursling shouldn’t be able to bite you so long as the latch is correct. It makes sense because so much of the nipple is in their mouth that they can’t really bite down (at least not very hard).

Even my mother-in-law has asked me whether or not we’ve had problems with biting. Yes, there have been instances of her starting to unlatch and accidentally biting in an effort to get the nipple back in her mouth. Yes, there are times when it feels a little weird because I can feel her teeth while she’s eating. Yes, there have been a couple times when I shout in pain and have to set her down for a moment.

From what I hear, it’s just another learning experience. We will eventually get used to these new teethies being involved in our breastfeeding relationship and avoid upsetting situations. I bold the word “we” because they’re new to Peanut too. It’s a learning experience for both of us.

I’m sure that teeth is just the beginning of the “Aren’t you going to stop breastfeeding because of (insert event)?” questions. When Peanut was six months old my mother’s friend asked when we planned on stopping. Six. Months. Old. In a month and a half, we’ll get the “Aren’t you going to stop breastfeeding because she can have cows milk now?” When she’s two I’m sure I’ll get “Aren’t you going to stop breastfeeding because you’ve reached the WHO recommendation?”

So a quick answer to all of you out there reading this—we’ll stop when we’re ready. When that will be, I don’t know. So. Stop. Asking.