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Why Moms Breastfeed Longer Than a Year

Two Reasons to Reconsider Extended Breastfeeding

Nursing older children is a very touchy subject, even among moms who breastfeed their infants. But one thing's for sure: moms who do it, either in public or in private, are passionate about it. As Cynthia A. explains, "Extended nursing is not for everyone, but those of us who have nursed for longer than six months or a year have our reasons both for ourselves and for the physical and emotional health of our children."

Truth is, you might be surprised to find out how many "closet nursers" there are in your neighborhood, church, or preschool. Here's a look at the extended breastfeeding issue from three perspectives: physical, emotional, and societal.


It's pretty obvious that kids don't depend on breast milk as their primary nutrition once they reach preschool age. However, there are physical benefits that extended nursing provides for children, and these benefits are recognized by groups such as the World Health Organization. "The World Health Org. recommends nursing at least until age 2, and to do otherwise deprives the child of custom-made nutrients and antibodies," Circle of Moms member Sarah L. explains to naysayers. The WHO also says, "Available evidence suggests [continued] breastfeeding may also have long-term benefits such as reducing the risk of obesity and type two diabetes.


Immunity benefits are another benefit of continued nursing. "The immunity benefits increase the longer the child is breastfed, so two and even three years is terrific," states Delia, a registered nurse.

Extended-breastfeeding moms in our communities also talk about how they use nursing to quickly calm and soothe kids, especially at nap or bedtime, and they're not imagining it: nursing lowers a child's heart rate and blood pressure.


You might be wondering, as I did, whether or not the nursing bond is emotionally healthy for preschoolers. Many moms who continue breastfeeding to the age of 3 or 4 years old say it's not only healthy, but also necessary, at least for their kids. Laura, mom to a 3-year-old, admits that she would prefer to have stopped nursing by now, but her son still needs it emotionally.

Theresa shares a similar story: When she tried to wean her son before he turned 3 years old, it was "torture." So they happily continued breastfeeding until he was ready to stop. She says, "It was getting to know and understand my son and his specific needs that had us go 3.25 years regardless of the people who couldn't understand or respect that decision."

Another extended breastfeeding mom, Sylvia H., describes in detail how her nursing 4-year-old daughter has learned to find comfort in other ways and function well in full-time day care, while still occasionally nursing at home: [Extended nursing] doesn't prevent a child from learning to comfort herself or to accept comfort from other people. [My daughter] had no problem falling asleep for naps at day care, and she certainly was able to be comforted by her day care teachers."

At what point does breastfeeding an older child become harmful to them, emotionally and psychologically? Some say that depends on when they really begin to develop peer relationships and become at risk for teasing and bullying. Johnny is one of a number of moms who say grade school should be the cutoff: "There becomes a greater potential for social issues if the other kids discover that a child is still nursing. So one is either going to have to be OK with offering a kid up to another big opportunity for bullying or tell their child to hide it. Either way, it becomes shameful and embarrassing, and to me, that just puts an unpleasant end on a lovely thing."


There seems to be one common, indisputable argument against extended breastfeeding. It has nothing to do with the welfare of the child or any actual negative effects. Simply put, nursing past one year is not widely accepted in our society today. As Janice C. says, "I think it can be hard in our culture to be open about extended breastfeeding because so many people don't get it."

Sometimes negative attitudes about extended breastfeeding arise when people can't really wrap their minds around how it works. This is true even for moms who nursed infants, because we experienced breastfeeding in a totally different way. For those who can't imagine nursing a 3-year-old, Sylvia H. does a great job of explaining what it's actually like: "Many, many times I ended up explaining to people that nursing a preschooler is not just like nursing a newborn, only bigger; they don't nurse every hour on the hour for an hour. If it's not an appropriate place or time, you can ask them to wait, and they may not like it, but they understand. They don't ask to nurse by rooting and sucking their hands anymore; they use their words. A nursing 3- or 4-year-old might just be nursing once a day for five minutes but it's still important to them."

Because of the reduced frequency of feedings, and due to the reactions they get, a significant number of extended breastfeeders don't nurse their kids in public past the first year. As a result, by the time they reach preschool age, often even close friends and family aren't aware that they're still breastfeeding. Hanna R. is one of these moms; she keeps the fact that she still nurses her 2-year-old on a need-to-know basis: "Some people know, some people assume she was weaned before 1, and I haven't corrected them — my own mom included!"

Join The Conversation
Sheila15197804 Sheila15197804 3 years
I'm a pretty young mother and at first I thought it was going to be weird but the very first time she latched on I knew I wasn't going to stop... She's a year and a half now and hasn't slowed down on the milk lol I still breastfeed her in public though, with the media shining a very flattering light on us prolonged breastfeeders.... I'm starting to become uncomfortable with breastfeeding her in public... just last night I hid in an isle to feed my daughter and I can't help but feel ashamed for hiding something so important to her and I..aanyways... I decided 8 months ago that I can't take it away from her and though she's got a mouth full of teeth and my nipples become extremely sore at times I can't see myself stopping her. Anytime I think about stopping I cry... lol but obviously it's beneficial for the both of us, I just do research every so often to remind myself that it's worth it :-) my daughter was born with a heart condition and has had surgery so knowing that I'm keeping her blood pressure down and hear rate is just.... Purely awesome :-) thank you for posting this :-) and for anyone who has to say that we're pedophiles..... we're doing it for the etear sake of our children. The gift we give them is more than any dollar could buy. We're proud of our children and we go that extra mile... you should be ashamed of yourself; anyone who incinuates pedophillia in this sacred bond of a mother and her child, well that says more about you than anything else. Shame on you.
MichelleLane11865 MichelleLane11865 4 years
I nursed six.. My 3 yr old still nurses. Collectively, I'm at 13.5 yrs. nursing
Sylvia14789274 Sylvia14789274 4 years
i'm still nursing my 21mo older simply because she doesn't take NO for an answer and im a stay at home mommy so why not...
Nursingalltheway Nursingalltheway 4 years
I'm nursing my 2 year old - she loves it, and I wouldn't dream of stopping now, it would be cruel. And besides her fondness of nursing, there are too many benefits to forfeit. For example, breast milk is full of hormones that support brain growth and 90% of human brain growth takes place between the age of 0 and 3, so breastfeeding until that age certainly makes sense. Breast milk contains hormones to support the development of the immune system which doesn't mature until the age of around 6 - supporting anthropologists' ideas that breastfeeding human babies until the age of 7 make sense. Interestingly, that age is also the defining end of the early years. And the reduced heart rate and blood pressure gained from nursing certainly helps with toddler emotional outbursts! I'm not sure where I will go with my own nursing, we shall see how long it takes before one of us opts-out. But until then I won't let ill-informed peer pressure inform my decisions, especially when the 'peer norm' is to give babies fake and not real baby milk. I think our prevailing culture has long lost sight of what is natural and normal. Anyone considering extended breastfeeding needs to study it, because the more you do the more you see the benefits and the more it makes sense.
Melanie14505914 Melanie14505914 4 years
my daughter is 3yrs old and im still breastfeeding. a lot of ppl tell me "that's grose" "she's too big" "do u do it for pleasure?" "its bad for them". i think its stupid how society is now. even my child development teacher said that breastfeeding a 3 yr old is bad because it lacks they're communication. that was dumb cuz my daughter talks A LOT. she goes to preschool & her teacher tells me she so talkative and listens all the time. & the ppl who call me grose when they're the one thinking nasty. its a bond between me & her. well anyways, i only breastfeed her once or twice a day for maybe 5-10min. i do it because its soothes her and makes her feel better. Also, im happy i did it for this long because she hardly gets sick, she's thin and healthy, & her doctor check ups & dentist are perfect.
MelissaChartrand14888 MelissaChartrand14888 4 years
I breastfed my son until a few months before he was 3 but had my daughter when he was about 18 months, Tandem nursed them for around 16 months. Still nursing my youngest who is 19 months, and all together I have been nursing for 41 months!!!!
jessyyoung90761 jessyyoung90761 4 years
13 months was my cut off. she was remarkably fluent in asl and she signed "no breast milk, I want meat and potatoes" i was heart broken. she utterly refused after that fateful day
SamanthaGuregian SamanthaGuregian 4 years
14 1/2 months and still going. His feedings have reduced but he is still not emotionally ready. No harm, no foul I think it is a great gift that I am able to give my child :)
reneeswafford reneeswafford 4 years
I was only able to nurse my daughter about a month because I had such a bad bladder and kidney infection from the hospital catheter. I wish I would have been able to nurse about a year. She has been fine tho, no where near as sick as some of my other friends' kids that did not nurse at all. When I have another one, I plan on nursing to about a year.
Lindsey57614 Lindsey57614 4 years
I am still nursing my 3 year old and I agree with everything above. He is fine. I am fine. Hardly anyone knows, but it's very important to us and my husband fully supports it.
LeonauraRhodes1361817255 LeonauraRhodes1361817255 4 years
I should add that the WHO guidelines are for the whole world. I think their guidelines, are largely aimed at developing countries, where food/water hygiene is more difficult: breast milk is sterile.
LeonauraRhodes1361817255 LeonauraRhodes1361817255 4 years
I struggled at first but fed both of mine, till about 10 months, when they both naturally stopped (I was down to nighttime only) neither of them ever drank from a baby bottle. I loved the bonding time and felt I was really helping them with ideal nutrition. I think the medical evidence shows that breast feeding is beneficial up to 12 months, after that the health benefits to the baby are questionable.
JessicaMcNeely JessicaMcNeely 4 years
With my first I was perfectly happy nursing and blissfully unaware of a hard societal cutoff until my son turned a year old. Then everyone asked in tones ranging from casual to concerned when I was going to start weaning him. At first I just kept saying "I don't know, when he starts to wean himself" but continued to get pressured to start weaning right then "since he's already a year old, he really should be weaned about now" so they told me. Well being a first time mother I was clueless so gave in to pressure and have regretted it ever since. Is it strange to mourn weaning too early? I know there are hormones and whatnot involved but I just felt a very special connection and strong emotions connected with nursing. Around the time he was turning a year old it started to become even more so since he was nursing less often than infancy and I felt less like a cow for milking and more like a mother with her baby. Several years later I still get emotional, and now that I'm pregnant with my second I FULLY intend to nurse -a minimum- of 2 years, d@#n the scrutiny!!! I'm trying to armor myself with facts and support this time, and thankfully my husband is fully behind me :o)
DanielleEgner DanielleEgner 5 years
Breastfeeding a child at five years old! That is absolutely ridiculous! What the hell is wrong with you having a SCHOOL AGED CHILD breastfeeding! Time to let go MOM!
JulieMorgan32601 JulieMorgan32601 5 years
I breastfed my first until his first birthday (the day I also happened to find out I was pregnant again) and he didn't like the new taste with the hormones. With my second, I only made it til only 9 months bc of a food allergy. My third joyfully nursed until he was 2 1/2, despite fighting mastitis for 4 months straight (had 7 bouts of it) and needing to dry up one breast entirely bc of the repeated infections. Even through all the problems, he managed to thrive, and our breastfeeding specialist at Cincinnati Children's has asked if she can use my scenario as an inspiration to others who are struggling with breastfeeding issues, because the end to my story is "the epitome of breastfeeding success despite struggles." I fully intend to breastfeed my fourth, who is due in June, until he is at least 2, if not longer. (And I never hid the fact that my toddler was still breastfed!)
ChristianeStraight ChristianeStraight 5 years
Breast feeding when they are babies is a wonderful bonding experience. I breast fed my daughter until she was almost 6 months old. But I believe that once they start eating table type food and walking that it should be no longer an option. It makes the child the possible target of ridicule and teasing among other children, as well as the long term social effects to their psyche from such bullying. I have seen a couple of mothers still nursing children as old as 6-8 years old and I am sorry but I think at that point it is crossing the line into pedophelia.
KristinLounsbury KristinLounsbury 5 years
I breastfed my daughter for 13 months, at which point she self-weaned very suddenly. My son breastfed until age three. I encouraged the weaning at that point, since he was no longer very consistent about it. We went on vacation for a week, during which he never once asked to nurse. When we came home and he asked, I had to tell him the milk was all gone. He asked a couple more times over the next two weeks, but was really fine about it. For both kids (and I), breastfeeding was a wonderful experience. My reasons for breastfeeding past one year? Pretty much everything you described under sections 1 and 2. As for society... I really couldn't care less.
LeyaCollins LeyaCollins 5 years
I breast fed my son until he was 9 months and he had trouble with my one inverted nipple and that breast was no longer producing milk so we weaned to bottles and it was much easier than I thought it would be. My daughter, on the other hand, was only nursed a few weeks and she developed very bad reflux that I could not keep up with. But my point is my daughter is the healthy one and my son who was breastfed so much longer has seen a ton of specialist and has weight issues. So if we have another one, I am all for fattening them up with formula and I do not feel like I missed out on any bonding with my daughter.
nikkilewis49429 nikkilewis49429 5 years
Great read:)
TiffanyOakland TiffanyOakland 5 years
I have to say that although I've heard all these stories about how wonderful breast feeding is my first child I breast feed for 6 months I did not lose any weight in fact I gained she was sickly all the time was kinda thin & when she started cutting her teeth she started boreing me ill be honest it was never a comfortable experience for me at all so I weaned her @ 6 months now my 2nd child I also tried for a month she refused to latch on correctly I tried pumping & was producing very very little..she is healthy as a horse seldom gets sick & strangly I started loseing weight I have met a dozen other moms who have told me that they also didn't lose weight while breastfeeding & this is a big "selling" point with doctors & at the health department& I'm not saying I'm against it I'm just baffeled that iv never met anyone in person who lost weight while doing it & maybe with me their is somethin.g wrong & I'm simply not able to produce enough nutrition or enough at all any thoughts
JacquettaWheeler JacquettaWheeler 5 years
Well said Taryn Moore...I completely agree with every single point you made!
SondraJoy SondraJoy 5 years
I breastfed my son until he was just a bit older than 2 (this is just a few months ago) I would of loved to kept going but I am pregnant and my milk supply greatly reduced. He would say 'Its all gone". On occasion he still ask (its usually when he's feeling insecure) so I let him try to nurse, even though he isn't getting anything I want him to know mommy is there for him. I am due in 4 weeks and I wonder if he will want to nurse again. I have no problems with tandem nursing, it was what I was planning on doing anyway.
VictoriaUhlhorn VictoriaUhlhorn 5 years
I breastfed until my daughter was 2 years and 1 month old. I had to stop because I needed to take a medication at that point that wasn't compatible with breastfeeding. It's been over a month since she's stopped. She stopped on her own and I gave my doctor the okay when she hasn't nursed for 2 weeks. Every so often (when she's really upset or sick) she would try to pull up my shirt, but I say there is no more milk or simply not today and she would put my shirt down and snuggle up to me. I will say this though...she hasn't nursed in 1 1/2 months and she now goes to oh man her immune system got hit and hit hard. Sick 2x! She got her first earache EVER a couple nights ago. Luckily the pain was gone yesterday. When she's sick it's not for long goes to show you that extended nursing does have benefits both physical and emotional. She's a sweet baby and it created a long-lasting bond with her (very affectionate towards family and well mannered for her age). She still prefers mommy even though I don't have the milk anymore.
TarynMoore TarynMoore 5 years
Breasts were made for nursing. My daughter weaned at 9 months - literally refused the breast - but from my point of view - for as long as its child led and not parent led then have at er! Our society is really the only one that has put time limits on whats "acceptable" or even whats possible, we have other things filling our lives, jobs, bills, preschool, playmates, houses to clean, events to attend, all that stuff!! Were the ones that sexualized breasts, were the ones the have victorias secret lingerie etc. Head to tribal africa, or really ANY society that hasn't been exposed to western ideology and nursing ALWAYS every single time lasts longer then here, but then again - they don't have all those other things taking up there time and filling their lives. Im not saying I wan't to eat bugs, or have to physically kill my dinner, or run around with no "wardrobe" beyond a loin cloth or have farm animals in my yard - I like my westernized life! - but on the topic of breastfeeding what our bodies were meant for and how long we ought to nurse SHOULD have nothing to do with whether or not a child will get teased in school if he's still nursing - pretty sure that preschool wasn't part of the package when we started roaming the earth - nursing was. Im not saying that there aren't social or life repercussions for extended nursing or that they aren't part of giant pool of decisions that mother have to make about what works best all around for us every day - its just from a purely anthropological point of view all that has nothing to do with it. (just my humble opinion :)
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