In a recent ABC article, mother of three Robyn Paul has some good things to say about breastfeeding children beyond infancy.
“In this culture, breasts are viewed as sexual,” Paul said. “We use breasts to sell everything from beer to motorcycles, then a toddler is in mom’s arms nursing for what they’re supposed to be used for and everybody freaks out.”
I agree one hundred percent. Nobody should bat an eye at a nursing toddler. But a nursing Kindergartner?
Enter Paul’s 6-year-old son, Tiernan. When he’s tired or upset he requests “nummies” from mom. “We’ve had conversations about what it tastes like and he says it’s very sweet,” saith Paul. Like vanilla ice cream.
She says it’s “perfectly normal.” I say that’s debatable at best. Worldwide, average weaning age is reportedly 4 years old. I understand that children in developing nations are breastfed long past infancy for nutritional purposes, a practice I heartily applaud. But psychologically, there’s a big difference between a 4-year-old and a six-year-old. A kid who’s old enough to attend Kindergarten is old enough to learn and use self-comforting measures.
So why should I care? I don’t, not much. I mildly resent people who try to stretch the boundaries of “perfectly normal” in an area (ahem) that’s already so controversial. Let’s reserve the breastfeeding media hype for moms like Heather Farley, who dared to show (gasp!) a scrap of nipple on her Facebook profile photo.
But mostly, I just wanted to take this opportunity to write a post featuring the term “nummies.” Now I can die happy.
“A kid who’s old enough to attend Kindergarten is old enough to learn and use self-comforting measures. ”
I think the need being filled here is the mother’s, not the child’s. The child is still too young to quite know what’s going on as far as cultural mores are concerned. Every so often stories like these make it on the news or “pop-news” programs and usually it seems to me that the mother propagates it due to her (selfish?) need to keep the child dependent on her, allowing her to fulfill her idealized role as a mother/nurturer/provider. That and the oxytocin addiction.
Matt, I hear you. The mom could stand to learn some self-comforting measures herself. Oxytocin is only one letter short from Oxycontin!
Well I just don’t know; my wife loved nursing and did it until the child refused to stop biting her. All the women I know who nurse in public create a zone of privacy with a blanket, and I remember over in Europe that there were aprons specifically designed for nursing. Women would use them during the sacrament meeting if the need arose and the child was not disruptively noisy.
epic lolz for post title/association.
Umm, I think this is what happens if you take the concept too far.
Definitely some British, Monty Python-esque humor there, but Youtube has it rated for all audiences. Rated 4.5 stars, over 500,000 views.
Dittos on the lol-speak.
What Steve said. Also “Om nom nom nummies” would have worked too.
If the world averag weaning age is four, and many, if not most, of Canadians and Americans are weaned by a year old, does that mean elsewhere in the world, children are weaned at seven?
Little Britain rocks. Thanks for the link, Bookslinger. There have been other times I’ve wanted to include a YouTube link to a Little Britain moment, but always fear getting in trouble with the permabloggers.
Want bitty mummy!
The oxytocin addiction or else the brownie addiction. One of the things I hated most about weaning my kids was having to wean myself from my nightly dose of hot fudge sundaes.
Farley seemed to be a kook with to much down time. That aside, I loved this post although I’m not sure why.
I’m forever in your debt.
Kim, I was wondering the same thing. The stat seems fishy to me–not sure what the source is, I just lifted it from the report. I’d think that after factoring out the States, Canada, and other nations with similar cultural mores the average could very well be 4 years old (say, perhaps, a third @ 4, a third @ 3.5, a third at @ 4.5). But I have a hard time believing there are millions of seven-year-old breastfeeders out there.
And Shelah–you’re making me hungry.
(Not for THAT.)
I nurse our first daughter until four years old. She only nursed ocassionally, but when I got pregnant with my third child I explained to her that I couldn’t nurse her, her brother AND be pregnant. I suggested she could have chocolate milk instead and she readily agreed.
I have nursed the rest of my children around two years. The idea of nursing a four year old ( I have a son who’s four now ) seems BIZARRE, but with my daughter it seemed completely natural. Still, I really can’t be critical of a mother trying to be sensitive to her child, and I think it is overboard to label the behavior as selfish.
Here’s some comments by Katherine Dettwyler, PhD on her research into “natural” weaning age. She does suggest 6 years old in a few places!
ldslara, thanks for speaking up. You too, Rob P.
I breastfed six of my seven children (preemie with Down syndrome couldn’t–long story there). I’m a big supporter of breastfeeding, generally speaking. But looking at that terribly awkward photo of Robyn and Tiernan, I think it’s within the bounds of reason to say there’s something indulgent going on, for the child, the mother, or both. I wouldn’t burden my kids (particularly my sons) with conscious memories of suckling dear old mom. I would do all I could to prevent any kind of infantile behavior from continuing into the school years, for a number of reasons. And if I felt it truly necessary to breastfeed my six-year-old, I certainly wouldn’t label it “perfectly normal”–because it’s not. I’ll go out on a limb and say it’s at the far end of the bell curve. Sure, people do it, but let’s not lump the behavior in with breastfeeding toddlers or even preschoolers. It significantly dilutes the legitimate complaint Robyn makes at the beginning of the article.
I agree with Kathryn.
I breastfed all eight of my children. Any where from one year to two years. I am an advocate of breastfeeding.
But, Kathryns comment (#14) says it all. It is not “perfectly normal”. It’s “at the far end of the bell curve”. I would say the very far end.
To say breastfeeding a 6 year old is the same as breastfeeding a toddler is wrong. And it gives those who are against breastfeeding fuel for their fire. And can make it difficult for the rest of us.
How does the old joke go? The benefits of breast milk (as compared to bottle feeding) are: Healthy for the baby; builds immunity; bonding time; convenient; no allergies, yada yada . . .
. . . and also, the stuff comes in such cute containers!
I’m waiting for evidence that breastfeeding beyond what is comfortable for you is damaging or wrong. There isn’t any. I hate the speculation that this mother is breastfeeding for selfish reasons. It’s mere speculation. Live and let live. It is certainly not the norm in western countries, but everywhere else it certainly is. Is it less wrong there?
It is not merely for nutritional reasons in other countries either–an older child only breastfeeds for a few minutes once or twice a day.
Well, clearly isn’t normal, at least in our culture, which she and her son are a part of. Normally moms wean before the age of one in our culture. But still, to say it’s selfish – and fulfilling her own “needs” – it makes it sound to me like its child abuse or something, but maybe that’s me. It’s definitely odd, but I’m not convinced that it is harmful for her son. I watched the video, and she seemed honest in her intentions, and I willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. Her older kids seemed fine, and the report said they nursed until six as well. The whole family seemed fairly normal and healthy.
With my daughter (the one I nursed until 4), I think it was more laziness and/or exhaustion than any kind of selfishness or insecurity….it was easier to get her to take a nap when I was pregnant by just laying down and nursing her – and I needed that nap! (Was that selfish?). Then after her brother was born she only asked occasionally, in private, and she was usually very upset or tired, and it really helped her with that feeling kids get when they aren’t sure they like the fact that a new baby has come along and displaced them. It was a very easy way to comfort her, and didn’t seem unhealthy. When we did wean it wasn’t for her own good or anything, to help her be more independent, we stopped because I was tired of it. That sounds a little selfish, but she was ok with stoppping, and I found other ways to comfort/spent time with her. Who know how long she would have continued if I hadn’t decided we should stop. When I weaned my son at two I felt a bit guilty because he still wanted to nurse fairly often, but again we stopped because I just didn’t want to any more, it was more about me than him.
My current ‘baby” just turned 18 months old, and will start nursery this Sunday. DH has to teach Sunday School, so I will stay with her, at least for awhile, and I will probably stay for the whole thing. Since I will be there, I am worried she may want to nurse. They have two comfy rocking chairs in the nursery, but even if I cover-up, I worry that some other mom will be offended if I nurse her there. I’m hoping she doesn’t ask to nurse at all, but nursery is from 11 to 1, so she might get tired. She still seems very young to me, but I am sure there are others who would be shocked to find out I was still nursing her, and even offended. This happened when I nursed my son in Relief Society (in a different ward) when he was 15 mths. It was very disturbing and humiliating to be called into the bishops office and be assured that while I wasn’t being immodest, nursing outside the mother’s room was not acceptable, and that a child as old as mine could certainly wait until we got home I understand that the people who have commented here would be supportive of my nursing a child under two, but for many of the people I go to church with the idea of nursing so long is as foreign to them as this story might seem to us. I just hope that they see I am trying to be a good mom and give me the benefit of the doubt.
mmiles, I’m not implying that breastfeeding beyond what I’m comfortable with personally is harmful. I wasn’t comfortable nursing my kids beyond 18 months, but I don’t care if you or anyone else keeps going throughout early childhood. Here’s the thing, though: early childhood is generally considered to end by the time a kid hits Kindergarten.
Obviously I have no evidence that Tiernan is going to have emotional or sexual problems as a result of his mother’s willingness to continue nursing him into school age, but my common sense raises all kinds of red flags. Still, as I said before, I don’t really care if this woman breastfeeds her kid until he’s thirty. She just shouldn’t try to convince me and the media that it’s “perfectly normal.”
Kathryn, everyone, ditto. I have a nursing toddler. I really don’t feel Paul or Farley are helping promote breastfeeding normalcy… I’d hate for moms-to-be to see their examples and think that’s what breastfeeding is like. Sheesh. Most nursing moms aren’t posting exhibitionist pictures on facebook or nursing six year olds.
My mum’s policy for when to stop breastfeeding her children was quite simple: as soon as her kids could bite, they started on a bottle.
I have always understood that mother’s milk provided important nutrients, etc. that a baby would not be able to get otherwise. But when a child is old enough to eat other foods, then there is no longer a need for breast milk. I am more than willing to admit being wrong here, as I am neither a nutritionist nor a pediatrician, but that is what I have generally held to be true.
As far as breastfeeding in public, I think that those who do it are simply trying to “rock the boat”. There is absolutely no reason to breastfeed a child without using a blanket or something to cover up.
As a tangential note, I am a nursery worker in my ward, and parents are not encouraged to stay in the nursery (unless said parents are also nursery workers, which is true in one case). So, to me, the idea of breastfeeding a child in the nursery during nursery time is a moot point. Children with dirty diapers are taken out of the nursery to be changed. Children who are extremely disruptive are also taken out of the nursery. And a nursing child would, I assume, be taken out of the nursery. (If any of the children in our nursery are still nursing, I am not aware of it, so this is currently in the realm of the theoretical.) Besides, every chapel I’ve been in has a room specifically set aside for nursing mothers. Why not use it?
ldslara, I’m shocked by your last story. I think breastfeeding in RS is perfectly normal. It’s a bunch of women! Besides, in the nursing mother’s lounge you miss the entire RS lesson, and often it’s the same place where a changing table is located. Not that I don’t like to sit two-feet from someone else’s child getting their bum changed- oh wait, I really don’t. So I’m not sure I would’ve had an easy time complying with that request. As long as you were being modest about it, there’s no reason for you to have to go hide in the mother’s room.
I have a very nice nursing shield (hooter hider) that I bought on the internet (great selection at http://www.mebo.etsy.com). I use it everywhere! In fact, we were just at Red Robin eating dinner two nights ago and I breast feed my son during our meal. If anyone stared, I didn’t notice.
I stopped caring what people thought about breastfeeding in public after my first son. I spent far too much time feeding my baby in public restroom stalls (eww!) so everyone else would feel comfortable not seeing me feed him with my breasts (Can I say that? Is “Breast” a naughty word?). The breaking point was at the airport. My son was getting too heavy to nurse standing up in a stall, I didn’t want to sit on a toilet, and there were no chairs in the bathroom. So I bit the bullet and nursed him (under a blanket) at the gate while waiting for our flight. People stared. I was uncomfortable. And then I noticed a room across the hall. A very comfortable room, with leather chairs and big windows. A smokers lounge. How convenient for those people. A special, comfortable place where they can go to suck down their nicotine-fix without bothering anyone else. What about my baby and his milk-fix? No fair!
And then I didn’t care. If society wasn’t going to afford me at least as much comfort as the people smoking cigarettes, then I wasn’t going to worry about offending the public with my racy-nursing activities. They could deal with it. And once my mind was made up, I handled it better too. I hardly noticed the stares.
I’ve often thought of the campaigns put on to persuade mothers that breast-milk is best for their infants. I think if the focus was on convincing everyone else that modest-breastfeeding is decent and allowable, then more mothers would naturally choose it. I try to do my part for breastfeeding-acceptance by unapologetically nursing my babies, modestly, where ever I am.
About the age. If this women wants to nurse her children till age six, then whatever. I’m not going to tell her what’s right or wrong for her children. However, her actions would indicate that she is a breastfeeding advocate and she must know that going-public about breastfeeding a six-year-old is unusual and will attract disdain. Even so, I doubt she intended to perpetuate the negative-stigma that the rest of us are laboring to eradicate. If I ever nurse my babies past the age of two, I might keep that little tidbit to myself.
alanna, I share your views on public breastfeeding. And I echo your alarm re ldslara’s RS story. A rant for another day.
Just to be clear, though, my criticism of Robyn has little to do with her breastfeeding choice. My message to her is: Don’t take your unusual personal choice and hold it up as the golden standard. It messes with others’ attempts at forging a reasonable standard to begin with. I’m sure she didn’t intend that effect, but it’s there anyway.
And again, nursing past two isn’t the same as nursing past six. If you were to tell me you nursed your four-year-old, I’d say better you than me, and that would be that. I only have persnickety words for those who breastfeed school-age children and then tell me I’m out of line to raise my eyebrows.
For the record, my children weaned long before these ladies. I just don’t think it’s fair to attack them when, the media sought them out as a freak show to feature on 20/20 and they simply tried to defend their positions.
The thing with nursing my 15 month old was I had been in the ward since he was a baby. I had nursed him in RS and even Sacrament meeting numerous times. The problem (I believe) was his age. I met with the the Bishop and the RS president about it, and it was the RS president who actually said that he was old enough to get through the meetings without nursing. She also said that reason why there WAS a mothers room was so women would go nurse there. When I pointed out the mother’s room only had two chairs and women changed diapers there as well, she stated again that he was almost nursery age and could probably wait until after the meetings. And both her and the bishop agreed that I was very modest, though the RS pres did say she had watched me and had “seen skin” sometimes. It was very creepy. But the ward split two months after that which was a big relief as I then got a new Bishop and RS pres.
Generally, I only nurse my kids at church until they are 18 months old and in nursery. I don’t always go to the mothers room because I kinda like hearing the lessons, and feel like I need to “strive to attend my church meetings.” Since I am comfortable nursing in public and do so everywhere else I go, it is annoying to think I might need to take special precautions at church. I have four children, and I have never had any other problem or concerns raised about it though, so I think it was the RS president’s problem in that ward. I think she felt like since it bothered her, and she was RS Pres, it was her responsibility to make it stop. I think it had bothered her for some time that I sometimes nursed in public, and the fact that my son was 15 months old pushed her over the edge.
As far as nursing in the nursery (LOL), dd never asked to nurse at church. She just wanted to play. I stayed the whole time because it was her first time in nursery and she has never had any nursery type of experience before. I want her to like nursery, and feel safe there. So I did what have done with all my kids, go with them until they feel comfortable. It usually only takes a few times. Then I stop going. No nursery leaders have ever had a problem with it – they didn’t even seem surprised. Actually, the new nursery manual specifically states in the Letter To Parents to “Remain in the nursery class with your child if he or she is afraid.” I think that is a good policy.
What I meant to illustrate by sharing my experience was that while six seems too long for many of us (including me), others feel the same way about two,,,or 18 months …or once a baby has teeth. So who’s right? Who cares! As long as there isn’t any evidence that the child is being hurt, then I would have to conclude that even this woman is just trying to be a good mother, and I am happy to support her in that! :)
in that! :)
i’m with mmiles. out of my comfort zone, but i won’t throw stones. as for alex (#21), yes, you are incorrect. breastfeeding beyond the point of introducing solids has many well-documented benefits. it would be an idiot of a physician who would recommend weaning solely because an infant has started on solids. regarding biting, it’s silly to cold turkey wean a baby because of a single biting incident. and, yes, i’ve been bitten. hard. covering up, i have found that a blanket just draws more attention to what’s going on. i nurse my babies blanket-free and still don’t show skin. and i’d be beyond livid if i was called into the bishop’s office over nursing my baby. i’ve nursed my girls for 1.5 to two years apiece, even at church, and no one’s ever called me out on it, though i have heard general discussion about people breastfeeding at church.
I have no evidence that Tiernan is going to have emotional or sexual problems as a result of his mother’s willingness to continue nursing him into school age
I think the problems are more likely to surface because mom felt compelled to put him–nursing at six years old–on national TV to prove a point. It’s obviously not normal in American–which she seems to understand since she’s trying to change public opinion–so why is she intent on making Tiernan the poster boy for abnormalcy in his own country?
I didn’t know anyone was opposed to breastfeeding infants.
Toddlers? Parent’s discretion. Let us also hope the parents in question show some discretion.
Kindergartner? The big red flag is up, at least for me.
Alex #21, It’s good to hear you are more than willing to admit to being wrong, because you really, really are.
And now, a little funny to lighten the mood: http://www.zazzle.com/nursing_blanket_shirt-235869954275396089
I would have to concur that Alex (#21) is wrong. Sorry. But my babies start teething at 2 months and I have to teach them not to bite down by 4 months. There’s not a doctor or nutritionist that would tell me to ween my babies at 4 months. It’s fairly simple to teach them not to bite.
In my own defense, weaning a child is not the same thing as “going cold turkey”. In fact, the very concept of weaning indicates a process of moving from one thing to another (in this case, from breast milk to other foods). (And also remember that starting on a bottle does not mean going to nothing-other-than-a-bottle.)
Also, I did not say that there were no benefits of breast milk after a child has started on solids. I only wondered if it is necessary.
And in my mum’s defense, I suppose she was lucky that none of her kids had teeth in just a few months, which is why she chose teething/biting as the time to begin weaning.
All that being said, I am not saying that I was not wrong. Just clarifying some points.
And on a side note, I would argue that if alanna (#30) were married to a Cullen and her doctor were Carlisle, he’d prolly encourage weaning way earlier than 4 months!
Oh my… Should have read the comics before posting…
lol. Alex, I’m totally a Twilight fan. That was hilarious. :)
And I really wish my boys would teeth a lot later than they do. Since it’s something I can’t control I just teach them not to bite. My first wasn’t interested in anything besides the breast till after a year, and my second (7 months right now) isn’t showing much more enthusiasm. I’ve been told that they don’t actually “need” anything beyond breast milk until after a year or so.
To be clear: I’m firmly in the nursing toddler camp.
What you should be asking yourselves is when did it become weird to nurse a Kindergartner? Not as long ago as you might think.
My grandparents remember kindergartners who used to go home to nurse. It’s in LIVING MEMORY! What, exactly, happened in the past 50 years that makes nursing children so strange? So strange, in fact, that child protective services have been set on mothers of nursing preschoolers?
The average age of worldwide weaning is 4, and for that to be average, how far into childhood must nursing go in some locales?
And if you’re going to wonder about the psychological harm of nursing into childhood, you’d have to consider the psychological harm of forcing plastic mother-substitutes, like pacifiers and bottles, into babies mouths at ever younger ages. See how silly that argument sounds when you turn it around?
Some children still suck their thumb well into childhood, which is a straight out exchange for a child who probably would have been still nursing. There’s a reason why children’s first set of teeth are called ‘milk teeth’ not because you stop nursing when they come, but you stop nursing when they fall out.
Look, would I personally nurse a school child? Probably not. Do I care if someone else does? Of course not. Their child will probably be healthier, have fewer allergies, a better immune system than my kids, and probably more emotionally secure; it’s a trade off that every family makes when they decide when, if, and how long to nurse.
I just think it’s funny that something that is so culturally specific, so culturally proscriptive, rifles so many feathers when it’s done in a different way.
I don’t even want to touch the RS nursing thing because you can probably guess how I feel (here’s a hint: I despise ‘Hooter Hiders’ and I’d sooner ask my husband if I was allowed to wear shoes than if I was allowed to nurse in the RS room.)
Ruffles? Riffles? Rifling feathers would be an odd thing to do. So would despising people for not showing their breasts, of course.
Re #14: “I wouldn’t burden my kids (particularly my sons) with conscious memories of suckling dear old mom.” This is a very sad statement to me. My boys both nursed long enough to remember and have only the sweetest things to say about it. (The day after he stopped nursing my oldest son gave me a top 10 list of favorite things about nursing, including “it tastes like strawberries.”) The thought that the memory of nursing would burden children is absurd. What might burden them is the inability of our culture to accept nursing (yes, even of a child who can talk) as normal and healthy. Weaning age is obviously a very personal choice (driven both my mom’s comfort level and baby’s needs), but I can’t help but think that if more adults had actual memories of nursing (which would always be good memories, I’d dare say), then much of the highly charged discussion about nursing would never arise. The saddest part for me of all of this is the added burden it becomes on moms who may want to breastfeed but don’t have the energy or guts (which it can require) to deal with so much intensity (and at times ignorance and hostility) and the resulting emotional and logistical challenges, esp. when added to the sometimes considerable physical challenges of breastfeeding.
The American Academy of Pediatrics site states that “Although breastfeeding _initiation_ rates have increased steadily since 1990, exclusive … breastfeeding rates have shown little or no increase over the same period of time.” http://www.aap.org/advocacy/releases/feb05breastfeeding.htm
Is it any wonder that they are fighting an uphill battle? Robyn Paul (the subject of the ABC piece) may be an exception (or maybe she’s just gutsy…), but as this discussion highlights, one person’s 5 year-old is another person’s 15 month-old, so the issues here are germane to the broader discourse on breastfeeding, even of very young infants. When loaded, often critical words pepper almost every non-medical discussion of the topic, it’s easy to see why the rates of something so important and so beneficial increase so slowly, even with all we know. (“Abnormalcy” “unusual” “discretion” “alarm” “attack” “offending” are just a few from this discussion, admittedly out of context, but still…)
What should really get us up in arms is not an individual mother who nurses longer than the squeamish masses can handle and worrying about whether her son will be messed up by the experience, but the millions of mamas who don’t have the broad societal (or even, alas, familial) support they need to breastfeed their babies for even the minimum amount of time we know will make a long-term difference. Instead of judging the mom we’re convinced is an aberration, how about making sure we are never part of any vibe that might ever keep even one mom from breastfeeding (whether for a single feeding or at all). Smile at every nursing mom you notice and advocate for breastfeeding support at your workplace or place of business, not to mention in your family. It matters!
I must admit that until I had my own kids I was one of those “If they can ask for it then they’re too old to nurse! people. But I ended up nursing my first son until his 4th birthday (after nursing him through my 2nd pregnancy and tandem nursing him and his preemie brother for a year). And I nursed #2 well past his 4th birthday. I didn’t set out to nurse either so long but followed my instincts and the needs of each child, with full support of my wonderful husband. And I have no regrets–just lots of very sweet (and often hilarious) memories. And when my boys are fathers, I feel confident that the memories that will return for them will be of feeling safe and nurtured and loved and that they will want to support their wives in offering the same for their babies, for however long is best for each one.
Sorry, I wrote my comment notepad and forgot to check the spelling.
And my nursery-aged child still nurses.
I don’t despise women for not showing their breasts, I despise what the ‘Hooter Hider’ says: that what you’re doing is so wrong, so gross, so backwards that it must be hidden. Tents draw attention to a nursing baby, announce it, mark it, and make the act seem abnormal.
I can certainly nurse and not show my breasts, and so can most women with a little practice and confidence. I’m all for whatever will keep women nursing, and get them nursing someplace other than a back room, a car, or in a public restroom.
However, the very idea that women are persuaded to purchase these items says far more about what we *really* think of nursing women as a culture than it simply being a modesty issue.