The Joys and Benefits of Breastfeeding a Toddler
by Jan Andersen
My daughter is 22 months old and still being breastfed. She enjoys it immensely and I derive pleasure from knowing that not only have I given her the best start in life, but that my breasts have fulfilled the purpose for which they were intended, in addition to having saved a small fortune on formula milk!
There are a minority who think differently, however. I recently read a scathing article by a so-called humour writer who openly branded women who breastfed their babies for prolonged periods as paedophiles. I feel very sorry for this misguided woman and her bottle-fed babies. She has obviously been sucked in (forgive the pun) by the male notion that a woman's breasts are merely sexual objects, bestowed upon us to satisfy the most basic urges of men and thereby leading her to falsely believe that any contact between mouth and breast is sexual.
The one and only reason women were given breasts to nurture their children. Naturally men are fascinated by the shapely mounds on the front of a woman's body because, firstly, their own nipples are on a level with the rest of their body and, secondly, a woman's breasts fulfil a function, whereas theirs are just like inactive and decorative press studs. However, just because a woman chooses not to have children or chooses not to breastfeed, does not automatically mean her breasts become an object for sexual gratification.
It's only the western culture that considers early weaning to be the norm in fact. In many parts of the world babies are breastfed up to the age of five and beyond. In poorer areas of the world the cost and availability of formula milk means that most women have no other choice than to breastfeed their children. There is also no medical reason why a child should stop breastfeeding at a specified time, but many women concede to social pressures and maybe insensitive remarks and suggestions from friends and family. In fact, research suggests that not only do breastfed children become more independent, but that extended breastfeeding can help to reduce a woman's chances of developing breast cancer.
There is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that children who are breastfed for extended periods develop Oedipus complexes, become gay or develop an abnormal fixation with breasts. If that were the case, then a huge proportion of the world's population would fall into these categories, thereby redefining the parameters of "normal".
One of most irritating and hurtful comments a mother who is breastfeeding a toddler can receive is that she is doing it purely for her own gratification and not acting in the best interests of her child. Nobody can force an unwilling child to breastfeed and more often than not a child will wean itself or simply lose interest in taking the breast, so the previous argument immediately becomes invalid.
I did not make the personal choice to feed my daughter for this length of time. She has chosen not to want to stop nursing. My other three children, now aged 19, 15 and 14 effectively weaned themselves at around a year of age. However, my youngest daughter clearly derives comfort from sucking, not to mention nourishment, but has always refused a bottle and pacifiers, although she does occasionally suck her thumb as a substitute if I am unavailable. She is an extremely robust little girl, which I attribute to having been afforded excellent protection against illness as a direct result of extended nursing.
Other children form attachments to comfort rags, toys, dummies and even a bottle, objects that can all be mislaid, forgotten or lost. The beauty of breastfeeding is that my daughter's source of comfort is permanently attached to me and, besides, as far as I am concerned, anything that has the ability to pacify a restless child in the evening, and particularly at 2am, is a blessing! She falls asleep within a couple of minutes of latching on, whereas I have heard friends complain about having to spend long periods of time performing bribing rituals in order to get their children to go to sleep.
Naturally, breastfeeding a toddler is not without its problems. Firstly, I have had to teach my daughter that if I sit down, it is not an automatic invitation for a comfort suck and this particularly applies when we are in situations when it would not be prudent to feed her, such us in public for example. Although I have no problem with breastfeeding in front of other people, I am also sensitive to others' feelings and I would not wish to offend anyone with an open display of nursing a walking, talking child.
Secondly, breastfeeding ties you to your child, which can be viewed as a problem if you wish to spend a night away on your own or with a partner. However, none of the small number of dilemmas involved is insurmountable.
Finally, the most important factor in any choice that you make with regard to breastfeeding is that it has to be your decision and no one else's. Forget social pressures, forget "well-meaning" advice from friends and family and ignore insensitive or callous comments. You have to do what you feel is right for you and your baby. If you are feeling ambivalent and are coerced into doing something against your will simply to please others, you could end up feeling guilty, resentful and unhappy.
Listen to your inner voice and act accordingly. Above all, enjoy your baby!
This article (c) Jan Andersen 2001
You can see more of Jan's articles on various subjects including pregnancy & parenting at Jan's Worldwriter Site