Despite the fact that the World Health Organization, multiple Surgeon Generals, UNICEF, La Leche League, and just about any doctor worth their salt recommends breastfeeding at least until the age of 2 and beyond, many people find it strange when a mom is breastfeeding a toddler.
In an effort to lessen the weirdness of it for some people, I took a look at some of the more popular myths about breastfeeding toddlers. I'll debunk those myths, explaining the reality, in hopes of clearing up confusion and stopping the spread of misinformation.
Myth #1. "There's no benefit to nursing after 1."
As a lovely friend of mine once put it, this is like claiming that spinach loses nutritional benefit once you're, say, 15 years old. Something that is healthy and nutrient-rich never stops being good for you.
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In the second year (12-23 months), 448 mL of breast milk provides:
- 29% of energy requirements
- 43% of protein requirements
- 36% of calcium requirements
- 75% of vitamin A requirements
- 76% of folate requirements
- 94% of vitamin B12 requirements
- 60% of vitamin C requirements
-- Dewey 2001
We know that the majority of brain growth is done in the first three years of life, and that fat is one of the things that the brain needs to grow. Human milk fat is the thing the baby's body is designed to use best, so it's the optimum food for brain growth in the formative years. Considering there are toddler formulas shows that even the formula market knows that toddlers still need that extra composition of milk fats and other vitamins and minerals past the first birthday (and toddler formulas are designed to go from 12 months to 36 -- until that third birthday).
Myth #2. "You should stop breastfeeding when the kid can ask for it."
This one is just silly. Parents think babies babbling "baba" is asking for a bottle and eventually do train the child to say that as a request for a bottle, but nothing is seen as wrong with that. Many children who are taught basic sign language start signing "milk" or "nurse" around 8 months old -- obviously too early to wean. And of course, this is just plain illogical -- if your child asked for broccoli, would you tell them they were cut off? They learn to ask because it's a common part of their day. Punishing them by cutting off the thing they've learned to ask for makes no sense in any logical universe.
Myth #3. "Nursing past X months/years is just for mom's personal enjoyment."
Oh yes, moms of toddlers just force them to the breast, pry open their mouths, and say, "NURSE! Please, kick me in the face! Try to stand on your head! Pull my hair and try to dance! It's so much fun!" Okay, I'm being insanely sarcastic here. Toddlers, frankly, can be a major pain in the ass to nurse. They don't want to stay still, they get easily distracted, and they run off a mere minute after screaming to nurse. They like to pick on mom the whole time by seeing what "Nursing Acrobatics" they can accomplish because they don't like being still. Nursing a toddler is something moms do for themselves, sure. Because it reduces mom's risk of cancers, and also is better than Pedialyte when the kiddo is sick. And, yes, the bonding and cuddles are sweet and unbeatable, but moms are nursing toddlers mainly for the same reasons they nursed them months sooner -- they're still biologically designed to be breastfed and it's healthiest for them as well.
Myth #4. "You cut out bottles and formula at 1, so breastfeeding needs to go too."
You know how I said toddler formulas existed with the recommendation being to use until the third birthday? Yeah. That's because it's not the formula or milk-nutrition you're weaning a child from at their first birthday -- it's the bottle. Bottles function completely differently in the human mouth than a flesh nipple.
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While mom's nipples actually work to develop the child's mouth, tongue, and jaw in a beneficial way, an artificial nipple actually requires sucking done in a different way that is actually damaging to the palate, teeth, and mouth formation in general. You're weaning from the silicone nipple -- not the liquid that's in it.
Myth #5. "They need solids/there's no need for breast milk when they eat real food."
Do you drink a glass of water with your dinner? Breastfeeding toddlers eat "real" food too, and nurse the same way formula-fed babies eat food and get a bottle. Over the second year, the ratio of solids to breast milk start shifting away from breast milk. It's intended to be a process, not a sudden event.
What do you think of nursing a toddler? What's the weirdest myth you've ever heard?
Images via © iStock.com/santiphotois ; Judith Cera