Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Breastfeeding Older Toddlers

Nursing past three
"That is so gross," an editor said to me on the phone when I mentioned that a family I was writing an article about had a nursing toddler. "If they're old enough to ask for it, they're too old to nurse!"

That sentiment is so often repeated that it has almost become a cliché. But why are we disgusted by the idea of a toddler nursing? When I went to visit my friend Sue's family in Mississippi when we were in college her great aunt started talking about the black people in her town. "I let one touch me once," Sue's great aunt said with the same mixture of revulsion, fascination, and horror in her voice that my editor used to talk about nursing. Sue's great aunt was disgusted by the idea of a black person touching her because it went against the social norms of her generation. Though it may not be an entirely fair comparison, I think my editor (a childless woman in her 40s) was disgusted by the idea of a two- or three-year-old nursing because it goes against the social norms of her generation, not because there is anything empirically wrong with it.
. . .
When dinner is almost over, my son climbs onto my lap and leans back into me, tilting his head upward so our eyes meet, his are hazel with specks of green in them. "Mommy, can I have some nummies?" he asks, patting my cheek with his tiny hand. "Pajamas first," I tell him. He giggles happily, wiggles off my lap, and runs to get ready for bed.

Technorati Tag:


Mercurior said...

this is infantilising children, if they are treated like babies when they are 3 or 4 or even older, what will they be like when they are adults..

the only reason i see they do it is they enjoy it apparently the same endorphins are involved that give orgasms, they are in essence pedophiles. but given a thumbs up.

MottledEgg said...

Or, perhaps, it could be that one's immune system isn't fully developed until you're about seven, that all studies on extended breastfeeding (which stop well short of seven) show the benefits to intelligence increasing up till the end of the study, that toddlers will often nurse if sick when they'll eat nothing else or can't keep it down, thus staying out of the hospital, that nursing will stop tantrums... Historically, children were nursed until older, didn't seem to harm Charlemagne, Siddhartha, or Socrates. Not to mention the many other cultures for which older weaning is the norm. As for the vaunted hormones, that'd be oxytocin, same as you get from hugging or any human contact. Does hugging a sibling make you incestuous?

But I suppose your personal squick is good enough for us to stop doing what we can for the health and intelligence of the population?

L.T. said...

The health benefits to older children are debatable, but the childfree aren't alone in being squicked out by this. American society has issues with this, and unfortunately has sexualized the breast to an unnatural degree.

Regardless of how 'right' our views are, the child will undoubtedly be subjected to them in his lifetime. If a child later is embarrassed at school, or even has psychological issues from breastfeeding at 7, it is no comfort to him that all of society is wrong.

It is perfectly healthy to wean a toddler and feed him solid foods, so any supposed health benefits on the other side don't seem to justify what you're risking to the child.