Twenty-one Months. That’s how old my youngest child is. And for 21 months now, I’ve nursed him every opportunity I’ve had. I constantly get questioned about when I’m going to stop, or why he is still being nursed, or my favorite: “What are you going to do when he becomes too reliant on you and doesn’t know how to do anything on his own? That’s what happens to breastfed babies, you know.” This sings the choir of uneducated moms who have never breastfed a baby a day in their lives.
And honestly? Oh, please.
Most of the time, I don’t go off on a tangent like I would like to. But, boy, would I like to. I am probably the only person in my family who has ever breastfed their baby, let alone practiced extended breast feeding. Even my own mother, who had 7 children, never nursed once – because she balks at the idea of feeding a baby with your own body. “Babies shouldn’t do that,” she once said to me. “I just don’t understand why or how anybody could do that.”
I suppose it’s not entirely her fault that she was raised uneducated on the topic. Her own mother fed her babies goats milk and canned milk mixed with water. I guess it’s just a thing they used to do. But…hasn’t breastfeeding existed for centuries? Of course it has. God created mothers to nurse their babies. It’s natural human nature. So, why is there such a stigma surrounding the topic? Why is it so strange to some, even in today’s world, in 2017, where there are far more shocking topics of discussion than someone daring to breast feed their child? And why is it so surprising that anyone should want to do as God intended?
For shame. Shame on society. Seriously.
Let me give you a little bit of insight into what breastfeeding has done for my little guy – and for me.
During this time of breast feeding, Richi has only had one mild cold ever. He’s nearly two. He has never had an ear infection, or a flu. He’s only had three episodes of diaper rash in his life – one of which I had no control over as he was in the NICU. He hasn’t had a cough, a runny nose, rashes, allergies, eczema, or other childhood ailments that affect most formula fed babies. He hasn’t had an iron deficit. He is healthy as can be!
Now, to really get into what breast feeding did for him:
It allowed him to recover so much faster in the NICU than he would have if he were a formula fed baby. From the moment he was born, I pumped for him and continued to do so until his release from the NICU and until he was completely weaned to breast only. I felt victorious when I heard he beat bradycardia, and he could finally come home. He was born at 33 weeks, and baby boys born that young don’t tend to fare very well – and he grew, healed, and became stronger every day thanks to breast feeding. He would have spent far longer than a month and a half in the NICU – and every minute he was in there was torture, believe me (feel free to read our NICU story here).
What it’s done for me is provide me with a sense of purpose far greater than just being his mama. I’m still tethered to him via this beautiful bond we have created together through breast feeding. Aside from that, it’s kept me healthier, and has warded off ovarian and breast cancer – and my chances of developing either of them are far less likely to happen now that I’ve been an extended breast feeding mom. Which is fabulous for me, because many women in my family are plagued by both – and I have had cervical cancer cells removed once and had a scare with it another time. So, the benefits are amazing.
Some women lose a ton of weight while breast feeding – and while that wasn’t the case for me (rather, I gained because my appetite was increased drastically due to the extra calories needed to sustain making milk for a baby) but it really never bothered me that I wear some extra pounds. That can be lost. I can get skinny again. I wouldn’t trade this experience for any pair of size 7 skinny jeans (I say 7 because that’s what I was before I got pregnant with Richi, and that’s where I felt comfortable) in the world!
Here are some things extended breast feeding offers to babies.
Many people have a misconception that babies who are breast fed longer than 12 months no longer gain any nutritional value. That simply isn’t true. In fact, the nutritional value is exactly the same – but your breast milk changes with your baby’s needs. Breast milk is amazing! So, my little one still gets Vitamin A, calcium for strong bones, protein, fats, and many other essential vitamins and nutrients that they just cannot get from cow’s milk or formula alone. Also, let’s not forget HAMLET – the protein which obliterates cancer cells on contact!
Immunity to Illness
As stated, my tiny has only been sick one time. Even when we have had flu’s, gastrointestinal illness, rashes, and other weird childhood illness moving throughout the house thanks to the kids being in school, he has never been touched by any of it. His immune system is as strong as an ox – and I owe all of that to breast feeding, and extended breast feeding.
Helps Mom Ward off Two Types of Cancer
Moms who breastfeed for any amount of time, rejoice – because you have gained protection from breast and ovarian cancer. As most of you know, both of these types of cancer can become aggressive very quickly, and can move quickly and spread fast as well. This is one of the biggest benefits to mom from breast feeding – and I am so thankful for the protection my sweet baby has given to me. I count it as a gift!
Brain Development Gets a Boost
DHA and AHA are two fatty acids important for brain development in babies. Breast fed babies get natural components of this in breast milk, which will help your baby and toddler’s brain to grow into a healthy, smart one capable of catching on to things quicker, retaining knowledge learned faster, and growing into the intelligent little human you dream they will be. Also, when you breast feed, you are switching baby from one side to the other which also stimulates their brain as they can reach and grab for different things, and see different shapes, colors, and objects.
Time to Connect
Last, but certainly not least, breast feeding creates a bond that will last a lifetime between your child and yourself. Long after the last breast feeding session you and your baby will ever have occurs, the bond that can’t be broken will last an eternity. Breast feeding allows you to snuggle with your little one and take a break from the day. It gives your baby a method to soothe themselves when stressed or upset about something, and it gives the both of you something to look forward to.
Here are a few fun facts about extended breastfeeding retrieved from Breastfeeding Magazine:
• The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that moms breastfeed their children from birth until 2 years and then as long as mutually desired.
• In most of the world’s cultures, it is perfectly normal and expected that breastfeeding continues for at least 2 years.
• The worldwide average age of weaning is 4.2 years!
• The Director General of the Health Department in Pakistan claims that 22 percent of infant deaths could be prevented if the mothers had breastfed for at least the first six months of the baby’s life…even more if they breastfed longer. (Isn’t that amazing?)
• The Scottish parliament is considering a bill that makes it a criminal offense for anyone to stop a mom from nursing a child up to 2 years old in a public place. Similar bills are also being considered all over the world to protect a baby’s right to eat!
• Cancer risk decreases the longer a mother breastfeeds.
• After 6 months breastfeeding is usually a pleasure – Mothers and babies are comfortable and are in sync. Why give up before then?
• Studies have shown that kids who are breastfed grow up to be more secure and self reliant than their bottle-fed peers. (This one is my answer to the people who asked that ever-so-silly question in my first paragraph.)
• Practicing ecological breastfeeding helps to naturally space children.
The list goes on.
Need I keep going?
Breast feed your baby for as long as you and your baby both enjoy it and feel comfortable in doing so. I know I will.