The World Health Organization (WHO) and National Health Services (NHS) both recommend breastfeeding children to aged 2 and beyond, setting no upper age limit. Yet many of us feel shamed in to hiding the fact we are 'still' breastfeeding older babies. In fact only 1:200 of women in the UK are breastfeeding their baby at one year.
During my own experience of breastfeeding I can only recall two occasions where a supportive word has been offered. Once by an older family friend when he was 5 months old and I was trying to settle him at a party. The second came from a Nursery worker when settling him in to the childcare setting, he was one. I did however have A LOT of people ask me when I will stop breastfeeding. I have always struggled to answer this question and end up muttering something about when he's ready, which is normally met with a raised eyebrow or some sort of 'bitty' comment.
Asking a mother when she is going to stop breastfeeding seems a strange question to me and a sad reflection of society's current feelings towards breastfeeding. Why does it matter to you how long I breastfeed my child for? Why would I want to stop doing the very thing many people struggle trying to achieve? Why would I stop doing something that's recommended by many national and international professional bodies? Why would I stop doing something that is beneficial to mine and my babies health? And why would I stop doing something that is undoubtedly my most useful parenting tool?
It makes me chuckle when people ask why don't I just stop. Anyone who has breast fed for a significant amount of time will know that stopping breastfeeding is not an easy thing to do, weaning is a process and only to be considered when it is the right time for that child and mother.
Here are the top 10 reasons I continue to breastfeed and will do until my bear cub decides he's had enough:
1. It's good for your child's health.
There are numerous, well documented health benefits to breast milk and these do not magically stop when the child reaches a set age.
2. Less time off work.
Breastfed children statistically get sick less often and if they do get ill, they recover more quickly. Happier children and parents all round, plus less time off work to take care of them means a happier employer!
3. It's good for my health.
People often forget that breastfeeding is linked to lower incidence of female related cancers, diabetes, obesity, osteoporosis and the longer you do it the better the benefits.
4. It settles him to sleep quickly and easily.
No tears, no being left to cry and no dreaded 'sleep training'.
5. It calms big emotions.
Childhood 'tantrums' can normally be attributed to one of two things. Hunger or feelings that overwhelm the child. Both of these things can be easily fixed by latching on.
6. If offers comfort and pain relief in when he has a bump or fall.
A crying child can immediately be soothed via the power of the boob.
7. It gives me a chance to sit down!
A much needed 10-20 mins on the sofa, even better if I've managed to prepare myself a drink and have the remote within reaching distance. From day one I have observed that breastfeeding feels like natures way to get tired mums a bit of rest.
8. It's a god-send when travelling.
The suck-swallow mechanism helps balance pressure in the ears when flying, easing discomfort and making for a more pleasant flying experience for all.
9. It continues to be a great bonding experience.
It allows us time to connect during the day or at the end of the day if we've been separated.
10. He absolutely loves it!! Why take away such a source of enjoyment and pleasure if you are both still happy doing it?
The top cited reasons that women in the UK give up breastfeeding include public attitude, embarrassment and lack of support. There are many reasons to stop breastfeeding but don't let it be societal pressure. So all you mama bears out there, show everyone how wonderful breastfeeding is and keep going 🐾🤱
Are you breastfeeding an older child? How old is your child? Tell me about your experience, I'd love to hear from you.
Midwife Mama Bear works part time for a NHS trust and has hosted numerous midwifery positions over the years in three different hospitals, including a large London teaching hospital. She supports families to achieve the birth they desire, in pregnancy, labour and the postnatal period.