Sunday, December 5, 2010

How Old is Too Old? Part 1- 12 months?

When we did the poll for what subject you would like to hear about, I was suprised a little that this subject was the winner. I am not sure why I was shocked though. It is a big topic when someone decides to breastfeed.
So, I thought I would share a little information and opinion on this. Since this is a long topic, I will simply address 12 months first. I am not going to address 6 months, biting, etc at this time. If a baby must still have formula when weaned, then in my personal opinion, there is no way they are too old to breastfeed. Biting is just a small obstacle and simply about nursing manners, not a reason to say a child is too old. The AAP doesn't reccomend weaning before 12 months, so we will start there.
When I used to think of breastfeeding, I always thought that a year was a good weaning age. Not sure why I thought this. I think because I was young, naive, and didn't quite understand breastfeeding. It had nothing to do with the fact that a year is when the AAP says a child can start cows milk. I don't think I even knew that. I wasn't against breastfeeding past a year, but I thought it was probably when I would personally wean my children.
I became really good friends with a breastfeeding mom. I never thought it strange that she was breastfeeding an 18 month old child. However, I started to think that the fact that this child would reach over and tug at her shirt was a sign that maybe this particular child was ready to be weaned. Looking back, I see that once again, I was not well educated. We expect a baby to hold their bottle, pick up bites of food to eat, etc yet not know how to access the breast? I realize now that even my nearly 7 month old son is starting to realize how to access the breast and he is nowhere near ready to wean.
Then, my friend weaned her last child. This child was nearly 2 years old. They had moved across the country from us and I thought in my mind how yes, it was time to wean. They headed our way for a visit and when I saw her youngest child, I once again re-examined my line of thinking. This child did not seem too old to be nursing to me. At least not at night or first thing in the morning.
So, how old is too old?
Well first, let's start with some "common" information.
The AAP reccomends EXCLUSIVELY breastfeeding for the first six months and then continued breastfeeding to a year and beyond. The WHO (World Health Organization) reccomends breastfeeding to age two and beyond.
Calfs drink cow milk, foals drink horse milk, and human babies are made to drink human milk. Their immature digestive system simply is not ready to handle cow milk. Human breastmilk is more easily digested by their cute, tiny tummies. The AAP suggests not introducing cows milk until at least one year of age.
Is one year a good cut off then? After all, you now have met the AAPs reccomendations, your baby can now drink cows milk according to the AAP, and your little one's immune system is built up some from birth. They are also more then likely eating solid foods for the majority of their nourishment.
When this topic was the winner, I went to an online group of breastfeeding mothers and asked what age was too old to continue breastfeeding. 18 women were kind enough to respond. I was SHOCKED that 7 of them felt that anything past a year was too old!
First, I think to see if 12 months is really the age to wean, we need to look at the different factors.
In the United States, extended breastfeeding is anything past a year. However, in most countries of the world, it is normal to breastfeed to age 2 and beyond. So why do we as a nation consider 12 months the appropriate age to wean a child? I personally believe that it has to do with our sexualized image of the breasts. Our culture seems to think that it is perverted or wrong to breastfeed past a year. Does the baby somehow have a lightbulb come on at one year of age that says breasts are sexual? No. Do they suddenly not need the antibodies, have perfectly mature digestive systems, or no longer need the comfort that nursing brings them? No. There is no magic age that suddenly a child has these things happen. Will some children be ready to wean at one, sure. Will some moms be ready to wean their child at 12 months? Of course. That does not mean that 12 months is too old. It simply means that if the child and/or mother is ready, 12 months is an age where weaning is possible without having to switch to formula.
To read about benefits of nursing past a year visit THIS site.
So what is the next milestone? 18 months. That will be the next age we will look at. In our next How Old Is Too Old post.



C Tam said...

I remember reading somewhere (I think in the book Womanly Art of Breastfeeding) that there is a chart lining up all the primates and their weaning ages, age at permanent teeth, age at physical maturity, etc. When a human is placed at the appropriate place on the scale, based on all the other related factors, the "natural" weaning age for a human baby is between 3 and 7 years old. Makes sense when you hear about cultures that breastfeed through early childhood.

a_schwendeman said...

Yes! You are referring to anthropologist Kathy Dettwyler's research, and you are absolutely right.

Becca said...

Courtney- I was just about to say exactly what my wonderful friend did! Check out her guest post- it is AMAZING and INSPIRATIONAL!