Wednesday, July 13, 2011

My rant about weaning

I made a boo-boo today. I mentioned to a couple gals who don't have kids that I plan on breastfeeding my baby past the first year. They kind of gave me that, "ummm, you're weird" look. Maybe it's me that is in the dark here but I don't really understand why people think that's so strange. I guess, come to think of it, I used to think it was strange too. But now that I have a baby and have learned so much about the amazing benefits of breastfeeding, it just seems normal. In fact, the current WHO recommendation is to breastfeed your baby until at least 2 years of age. This is for numerous reasons but one of the main ones being the benefits to a child's immune system, which is still quite underdeveloped until around the age of two.

So here's the real question, why doesn't anyone look at a mother strangely for giving her child cow's milk at age one? Cow's milk was meant for cow babies but for some reason that is kosher, but feeding a human child milk that was meant for human babies is strange. What gives?

If you look at infant feeding around the globe, many children do not wean until close to their third, fourth, or even fifth birthday. But in North America and in some parts of Europe, that seems absolutely insane. If you look at trends across the animal kingdom, most other mammals don't wean until they have at least quadrupled their birth weight. If a human mother were to nurse her baby until he quadrupled his birth weight she would likely nurse her baby until an average of 3 years of age.

So why one year old? Doesn't that seem kind of arbitrary when you think about it? Children are considered babies until they reach their second birthday, so why are we in such a rush to move them out of the baby stage and make them grow up before their time. Don't children deserve to be children?

And what about allowing your child to decide when they are ready to give up nursing? One can assume that if there were no arbitrary guidelines or societal pressures surrounding breastfeeding and weaning, most likely the baby would be the one to set the pace. And really, why not have it be that way? In fact, a mother's milk supply is meant to sustain her child at the rate that he feeds. God created a woman's body so that she could produce milk until her baby stopped sucking at the breast, so why don't we follow that?

I'm not saying everyone needs to nurse their baby past the first year but when you look at breastfeeding around the globe, across the animal kingdom, in conjunction with the child-human's immune and digestive system, and the mother's continued ability to produce breastmilk indefinitely, the idea of "You're one, you're done" is what seems strange. In fact, from what I can ascertain, any limits that have been put on breastfeeding (i.e. scheduled feeding, weaning age, etc.) all began with uninformed male physicians in the 1920s and 1930s who knew little to nothing about maternal lactation--the same men who told women with small breasts that they wouldn't be able to produce enough milk and who pushed women to use infant formula because it was better for babies than breastmilk. However, you ask a lactation consultant, someone who has actually been trained in the intricacies of maternal lactation, and she'll advocate on-demand feeding and breastfeeding past the first year. So, why aren't the real experts voices being heard? Why are we still listening to the uninformed, uneducated voices of the past?

I guess that's everyone's choice. But, please don't frown down on me because I choose not to.


  1. I have to agree Amy, and I think as parents we've got to stop listening so much to everything else and follow those God given maternal instincts that we have. I follow my baby and listen to the cues, and follow my gut and the spirit when I determine what is right for my kids. I haven't yet had a child nurse beyond age one, but that's because they weaned themselves. Brianna was on a bottle at 8 months after I had a surgery and though I pumped she refused to nurse when I was clear to nurse again. :(
    I tried to nurse Abi longer but she didn't want to. She grew out of it at about 11 months and had no interest in nursing, though I tried. We'll see what happens with Robby. But I definitely think it's good for them and is not going to hurt them in any way.
    Ultimately I think it is up to the parent, and we need to stop judging each other, we know right from wrong, and don't need to be so hard on each other.

  2. Yea for breastfeeding! Okay, maybe that sounds weird, but I REALLY wish more women stuck with it. It seems like everyone gives it a try the first month or two, and then thinks it's kind of hard and so they go with the bottle. Erg! I am proud to say I never have given either of my boys any formula and I breastfed Eli until 14 months - he pretty much weaned himself at the end (we're still going with little Connor over here - 4 months). It is the most beautiful natural thing and it's SO good for baby AND mom. The thought of my baby's sole nutrition coming from a man-made "formula" just makes me sad. :( I know everyone has different circumstances, but I say if you can and you have the determination to stick with it even if you struggle at first, then do it!

    End rant. Sorry. :)

  3. So true! My SIL didn't even give BFing a full day of trying before giving up and doing a bottle. I have no problem with her decision, she did what she felt was best for her. But, when she found out I was still BFing my second child while pregnant with my third she was very judgemental to me. So what if he didn't wean until 23 months. He is a happy, healthy, well-adjusted child who had never been very sick and loves to eat a variety of foods (just to compare, he son of the same age basically only eats chicken nuggets and peanut butter sandwiches for the past year and a half, and at 4 years old wears size 7 clothes).
    With my 3rd child I took her to the dentist at just over a year old (she basically just tagged along with the other kids' appointment) the dentist told me that I need to make a plan to wean her because BFing was going to hurt her teeth if I continued too long. I smiled politely and we haven't been back to him since (I would have told him what an idiot he was, but we were in front of the kids).
    If you are both still enjoying breastfeeding, there is no reason to stop. Breastmilk doesn't turn to poison at 1 year, keep going.

  4. I do think it's interesting that breastfeeding past 1 seems like it is not socially acceptable. I guess at first I thought it was a little strange. I was doing some research on nutrition and learned how babies intestines develop. The research I was reading suggested children be breastfeed up to 2 yrs (and longer if possible).

    At first I thought that was so weird because in our society you just don't do that. Or at least you don't see it. But the more I learn the more I feel empowered to do what I think is right for me and my baby, regardless of what the "social norm" is.

    I think being educated is key and then each mom can make the decision that is best for herself and her child. I don't think physicians/pediatricians should be the only source for education. It is amazing to me that the will prescribe a way to do something and mom's will do it without learning for themselves if that is really the best/only option.