It happens to be World Breast Feeding Week. Many months ago I came across some beautiful images of mothers breast feeding their children. These were not ordinary photos, they had a unique twist highlighting the bond between mother and child. The nurturing and nourishing aspect in these photos is what has been coined “The Tree of Life”. This style of image became so popular it went viral, Mothers were capturing images of themselves and their babies while nursing and inputing it into an app to be transformed into a beautiful work of art.
Creating my own “Tree of Life” image got me thinking back to my early days of breast feeding. I recall at our first “baby and me” Naturopathic Doctors appointment when asked how long I intended to breast feed, I figured a year was a great goal. I hadn’t really given it much thought past that, a year was good right, wasn’t that “normal”!? With that said, what is considered normal when it comes to breast feeding? What does our culture accept?
Then and Now
If you would have told me that I would still be breast feeding Z at his current age of 3, I would have told you that you were crazy. Why would have I thought that, what preconceived notions had I formed about extended breast feeding? What I have learned about breast feeding is that you don’t really know what is going to happen. Will your body be able to produce enough milk? Is your child going to react to your milk, causing you to stop breast feeding all together? Will they have a poor latch? There are so many unknown variables that you just have to go with the flow – literally.
So why have I chosen to breast feed this long? Well it wasn’t intentional, as all parents know you do what you have to do and nursing was a coping mechanism for us. Z tends to be itchiest from his eczema during the night. Breast feeding has been the only thing that would soothe him and get him back to sleep. Sleep is EVERYTHING, so if breast feeding was the means to and end and would allow him to sleep, so be it. Another factor in why we chose to extend breast feeding is all the benefits it is said to provide. Being that Z has an allergy to cows milk, we felt if I could provide him with beneficial nutrients through my Breast milk it was the best option for him. As they say “Breast is Best”, when possible.
At the end of the day, you have to do what is best for you and your family. For some its bottle feeding and that is what works. Not everyone’s circumstances are the same, we cant judge the choices one Mother has made over the other. We are all trying to nourish our babies the best way that we know how and that is what is “normal” to us. Having said that, there isn’t anyone that I know that has breast fed for the duration that I have, which makes it an entirely new experience for me as well as those around us. It hasn’t always felt “normal”, perhaps from never having experienced it before from any other perspective, other than mine. Extended breast feeding is what has worked for us, so we’ve rolled with it. That said, how long does one continue to “roll with” breast feeding?
When Should We Wean
I get asked questions from our family “when are you going to wean” and I don’t really have an answer to that. I’m sure that most of them would have thought we would have weaned ages ago. I am thankful that I have been able to provide this type of nourishment for Z and keep up the supply for this length of time. He is weaning himself, so I suppose that’s a bit of an answer to that question. We breast feed at night and on the odd occasion in the day if he is really upset. With that in mind, what is the recommended weaning age? According to the World Health Organization:
“Infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life to achieve optimal growth, development and health. Thereafter, to meet their evolving nutritional requirements, infants should receive nutritionally adequate and safe complementary foods, while continuing to breastfeed for up to two years or beyond.”
In another article written on NCBI – “Weening from the Breast” they suggest the ages of weening to be in the range of two and four years. They state weaning to be a natural stage in a child’s development, but that it is a complex process involving “nutritional, immunological, biochemical and psychological adjustments”. There happens to be very limited evidence regarding weaning, most of the recommendations are based largely on expert opinion or a degree of consensus. Here are some other interesting facts to consider:
“Ancient Hebrews completed weaning at about three years. Most children in traditional societies are completely weaned between two and four years of age.”
“Anthropological theories have recommended final weaning at the following points: when the infant acquires four times his birth weight; when the infant’s age is six times the length of gestation (ie, 4.5 years); or when the first molar erupts.”
So for all the Mamas out there Breast Feeding beyond what you thought you would, good for you, high five! To every other Mama who has chosen a different path, high fives to you too! Mom life certainly isn’t easy, you pick and choose your battles. Nourishing our children the best way we know how is one of the greatest gift’s we could ever hope to provide for them.