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.


7 thoughts on “How Long Is Too Long?

  1. Over the course of this pregnancy, I’ve considered night weaning my daughter, but every time she gets another tooth in, I can’t bear to not let her nurse: she’s in so much pain! We’ve cut down her night nursings a lot, but she still nurses at night.

    Anyway, I was thinking about how I can’t imagine nightweaning her at such a young age (a few months past 2) and then I realized most people have completely weaned their kids by now. Funny how that is. She’s still so small to me.

  2. I stopped breastfeeding my daughter at 19 months, but not because she was on a time limit. IT was just I wanted to breastfeed as long as possible and then I reached a point where I just couldn’t stand it anymore. I was like permanently touched out.

    But then a few months after I weaned her there was a World Breastfeeding Challenge I was helping to organize and I was totally jealous of all the mommies with older children BFin’. I went home and offered it to miss G, but she refused and I guess there is no looking back from there.

  3. I’m not sure I could give an age where breastfeeding seems inappropriate. I tend to think that if a child is in school, they are too old…but I haven’t been there.

    I bf my son from birth until 35 months. At no point did he seem like he was too big/old for it, but I was pregnant with twins and couldn’t handle the pain of breastfeeding, or providing nutrition for 3 other people as well as myself, so I weaned him. Now I look at him, and can’t imagine breastfeeding him, he is soo big! But part of that is because I have two littler ones and I am used to their size on my lap.

    I know that the whole breastfeeding relationship past 1 year made pretty much all of my family and my inlaws uncomfortable. Even my husband. My mom did not breastfeed, and my MIL is very proud that she did, but when asked, she only did for 3 months, then switched to formula. Toddlers are a whole different ballgame!

    My twins are my last children, so I plan to breastfeed them until they choose to wean. I’m guessing it will be earlier than their brother, they are already down to 5-6 times per day, while he was nursing about 10 times per day at this point still.

  4. Hi,

    I weaned my daughter at the age of 2. I would have gone longer but she didn’t really seem that interested.
    I am currently a Breastfeeding Peer Counselor and have read many articles about this. I think my favorite is about Mongolia. In Mongolia, breastfeeding is the norm and if you breastfeed in public it is not uncommon to get a thumbs up or some kind remark from a stranger. The woman who wrote the article even talks about one girl who nursed until she was nine, which is very common there.

    I wish we could make it the norm here!

    Sorry, this is the only link I could find, although I’m sure you have read it.

  5. I also used to say that if they’re old enough to ask for it, they’re too old to be nursing. You’re right though, they start asking for it right away. Even a newborn will flop to the side and position him/herself.

    My little guy is 16 months old. I had him down to 2 nursing sessions a day when he was 14 months, but he just wasn’t the same happy kid.

    Now I’m letting him guide me again. I trust that at some point, he’ll let me know when he’s ready to stop. I wish family and friends could be more supportive… and I hope that he’ll stop before he starts school!

  6. Before and even during my pregnancy I never saw myself nursing 1yr but, once we got to a year I saw no reason quit. Now my eldest is 19 months old and still nursing, I even nursed him through my second pregnancy and am nursing TWO babies now (youngest is 4 1/2 months). If I would of stopped when he got teeth he would of been way to young he was only 4 1/2 months old when his first tooth came in. And he’s been asking to nurse ( he says “nih nih” for nurse nurse hehe) since he was 10 months. I still enjoy the time we have during breastfeeding because it’s pretty much the only time he’s calm and quiet (lol) and lets me just hold him. Sometimes I think I’m ready to wean him but then other days I’m definitely not ready and neither is he. So for now I think we’re just going to go with the flow.

  7. I guess the question I would ask a critic is, “Would you be comfortable with him having a pacifier? What about sucking his thumb? You know those are both substitutes for the breast just as much as a bottle is, right?”

    As for myself, though, I don’t know what I’ll do. My husband assumes we’ll stop at one, though we haven’t really talked about it. I’d really rather go till at least two, though, because there are some stomach problems in my husband’s family and I’d like to give him all the protection I can.

    In theory, I think the age of weaning varies a lot, just like some kids don’t need their binky after two and some are reluctant to give it up when they go to school. If a child was adamant about nursing, I guess I’d want to keep going … but at some point you do have to consider your own wishes and needs as well (do you have another child? are you all touched out? etc.).

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