Putting a Face on Extended Breastfeeding

May 14th, 2012 by Dionna | 12 Comments
Posted in Breastfeeding/Lactivism, Compassionate Advocacy, Just for Fun/Miscellaneous, Video/Interactive Posts

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Nursing during my first trimester

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.

At the Time photo shoot

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.

  1. 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.

12 Responses to:
"Putting a Face on Extended Breastfeeding"

  1. Love love love love love this video! To be honest, there’s this bittersweet feelings when I saw some of the pictures where the child weaned days/months/a while after the picture was taken… I’m still cherishing and enjoying my breastfeeding journey since March 2009!

    Cheers to all mummies!

  2. Annie

    beautiful, thanks for putting this together.

  3. Wish I’d known to send in a photo–these were so beautiful, and at the same time, I think part of the reason seeing women breastfeed is so hard for people is how awkward it can look!

    Breasts aren’t always looking perky and lifted when they are feeding a child, and that’s not odd to me, but I can see how it might disturb someone unprepared for that sight.

    Lovely pictures, nonetheless. Still nursing my 30 month old along with my 9 week old, and it’s wonderful to see other mamas doing it too.

  4. This is so lovely! I got tears in my eyes from some of these gorgeous pictures. I love love LOVE the ones where the littles are reaching up to touch mama’s face or neck. So precious. Thank you for creating this.

  5. Julia

    One thing that struck me is the really wide variety of how old these kids LOOK. It just reinforced for me that babies and kids develop at their own rate and so of course they would be ready to wean at very different ages. And just because a 3 yo looks like a 5 year old, doesnt mean they are ready for weaning. We who are watching your video (or the public who might catch a glimpse of a mother nursing her older child out and about) can’t tell how ready a child is to wean or even how old they are based on how old they appear to look. We need to see images like these more and more to learn what normal looks like and stop making snap judgements. Thank you for this video! And thank you for participating in the TIME photo shoot :D

  6. Karen at MomAgain@40   karentoittoit

    Hi Dionna Thanks for sharing this! Love the photos! I am also still breastfeeding at 40 months

  7. tessa

    I am nursing a 26 month old and plan to stop only when she is ready. I am working on day weaning but I don’t see a reason to restrict nap time, morning and bedtime. Age is simply a number. What happens on thier 1st birthday that makes them need it less? Is mothers milk suddenly void of benefits on this magic day?

  8. Olivia   OliviaStreaterL

    I’m happy and proud I put my photo here — and happy that the arm of my hubby is there too — his support and lack of judgement is a BIG reason why we have all felt comfortable to continue breastfeeding so long <3 <3

  9. Staci   staci359

    I love the video!!! this has totally inspired me to take more pictures of my kids nursing. ( I also have to mention that one of my pictures says my son is almost 4, and while he is 4 now and still nurses- he was 19 months in the picture..)

  10. Momma Jorje   MommaJorje

    Lovely! Thank you for the opportunity to participate. :-)

  11. Rachael   RachaelNevins

    Wondering if you saw this post at Scientific American. Speaking of images, that “Age of Weaning” graph sticks in my mind.

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