Extended Breastfeeding: When Does 'Sweet' Become 'Gross'?

Sasha Brown-Worsham

Breastfeeding is one of the most amazing gifts a mom can give to her child, and nothing in the world is comparable to the feeling of putting a new baby to the breast and giving him or her something that only you (mama) can make. We are encouraged (some might say too strongly) to breastfeed our children for at least six months, up to a year if you can, but at a certain point, the world starts to look at you a bit differently.

What was once "wonderful" becomes "icky and weird." And suddenly you're getting looks and groans. "If he can ask for it, he probably shouldn't get it," they will tell you. And I should know. I nursed until my son was 26 months old, and boy, did I hear it.

I'm an extended breastfeeder and loved the boosted immunity, relaxation, and bond continued nursing gave my son. So why does this story out of England freak me out a little?

Amanda Hurst, a mother of two in the U.K., is still nursing her son (and now her infant) who is now 6 years old. She sees no problem with it, but the blogosphere (and probably people in general) see her as some kind of circus freak show, a person to be pitied and groaned over.

Of course, Hurst says otherwise:

Listen to Amanda and it seems the only negative reaction she has had was a few weeks ago in a shop when a sales assistant asked her to feed baby William next door. "He meant in the toilets," says Amanda. "I said to him: 'Would you eat your dinner in the toilet?”’

It's an interesting concept and as someone who was willing to go to 3, but weaned because I had a long trip away planned, I see nothing wrong with waiting to let the child decide when it's time to wean.

On the other hand, aesthetically, it makes me uncomfortable. A child old enough to be in the first grade and eat anything he wants also suckling mom may seem intellectually acceptable, but from a visceral perspective, it's a bit creepy and most definitely not something I would be willing to do in my family. Like I said, 3 was my maximum age.

That said, that rule isn't for everyone and I can remember how upsetting it was to get judged for nursing my 2-year-old. I can only imagine what it would feel like had he been 6. I vehemently disagree with the notion that there would be long-term repercussions from having memories of nursing. As a person who nursed my baby for an extended period of time, I know how nice it is for both mom and child while both still want the unique relationship. 

My visceral (and visual) instinct is to say it's wrong, but the reality is there is no basis for that opinion other than just a general sense of "ickiness," which quite frankly, is hypocritical given I'm sure many people judged me for nursed "too long."

Bottom line: live and let live. This is the experience of one family in one part of the world and it works for them. There is no indication that this is anything other than a comfort for her young son, so why should it be for us to say how long is too long? And if you're grossed out by it, just look the other way, don't read the article, and most of all, mind your own business.

What do you think of extended breastfeeding?


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