Putting a Face on Extended Breastfeeding
What Is Extended Breastfeeding?
Extended nursing. Child-led weaning. Full-term breastfeeding. Nursing beyond infancy. It goes by many names, but it’s rare that the general public can put faces to those names.
What is “extended breastfeeding?” It is breastfeeding past the age of one (or thereabouts). In the United States, most mothers nurse for only a few months. According to the 2011 U.S. Breastfeeding Report Card, only 23% of mothers are breastfeeding their babies at one year; another survey revealed that only about 8% of 18 month olds still nurse.1
With such a low rate of children who breastfeed past infancy, it is a given that the number of women breastfeeding their toddlers and preschoolers in public is even lower. Not only are many nursing mothers uncomfortable breastfeeding in public (no matter the age of their nursling), but the amount of time an older child nurses diminishes with age. After children begin to obtain more and more of their calories from food, breastfeeding becomes more of an act of nurturing than one of nourishment. Consequently, they’re more likely to nurse at home (often before nap or bedtime or upon waking) than out and about.
So of course extended breastfeeding can seem strange to many people in Western culture – we rarely see it.
To Normalize Extended Breastfeeding, We Have To See It – A Photo Shoot with Time Magazine
I must admit, when Neil Harris of Time Magazine asked me if I’d be interested in flying to New York City to do a photo shoot on attachment parenting and extended breastfeeding, I was skeptical.
“Are you trying to show what attachment parenting really is, or are you trying to make us look like freaks?” I asked. He assured me that the article was not intended to scandalize either topic. And so we packed up on about 12 hours’ notice and made our way to NYC.
Time asked four families to participate: my family (I’m tandem nursing my 5 month old and 4 year old), Jaime (who nurses her 3- and 5-year-old sons), Jessica (who breastfeeds her 2.5-year-old daughter), and Melinda (who tandem nurses her 9 month old and 2.5 year old and also has two older children). They only needed one picture, but they wanted plenty of people and poses so they could get the perfect cover photo.
How will posing for Time Magazine normalize extended breastfeeding? I discussed that question with a couple of the other mothers in NYC, and we agreed: to normalize breastfeeding past infancy, we need people to see it. When the public sees an image over and over, it is no longer surprising or shocking. Look at the breasts that are publicly accepted: Victoria’s Secret advertisements would have been completely scandalous 25 years ago, but not so today.
And let’s get something straight, our breasts should not just be publicly acceptable for your viewing pleasure.
There has never been anything scandalous about extended breastfeeding. We’re just trying to increase its public acceptance as well as encourage other mothers to consider breastfeeding past infancy.
To help put even more faces on “extended breastfeeding,” I’ve compiled some pictures of mamas across the globe breastfeeding their little ones. Thank you to the mamas who sent me pictures, you are all so beautiful!
Enjoy, share, and take a moment to educate yourself about at least one reason to breastfeed past infancy. I’ve created a page devoted to Breastfeeding Past Infancy that has a plethora of resources.
- 2011 Breastfeeding Report Card PDF; Breastfeeding Among U.S. Children Born 2000—2008, CDC National Immunization Survey.
Approximately 16% of Canadian mothers continue to nurse after one year. See 2009 Canadian Breastfeeding Statistics.
Breastfeeding to at least two years is quite common worldwide. See ChildInfo.org. ↩
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"Putting a Face on Extended Breastfeeding"
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