Can We Stop Using the Term “Extended Breastfeeding”?

In honor of Breastfeeding Awareness Month, let’s nix the term “Extended Breastfeeding”!

Let's Nix The Term Extended Breastfeeding

In America, the term “extended breastfeeding” is, in my opinion, an oxymoron. Breastfeeding does not have a “term”. It is not something to be completed at a certain time or milestone. Breastfeeding is an intimate and intentional relationship with your child that NO PERSON, besides mother and child, should put limits on. Yes, I am even excluding Daddies. It is imperative to have positive support systems around the breastfeeding mother. Having a partner is incredibly important to a family and especially to a growing child, BUT do I feel that the father/partner/spouse should place time restraints on how long a mother should breastfeed? No.

A mother and her breastfeeding child(ren) should be the ones determining how they feel about weaning or for that matter, not weaning. 

I know these views are not popular. I am aware that a large majority of parents will disagree with breastfeeding past 6 months, or a year, or two years old. Everyone seems to have their own vision of when it becomes “gross”. But it is a very AMERICAN viewpoint that women wean their children SO early.

Here are some worldwide statistics from the CDC:

  • Among infants born in 2015, 4 out of 5 (83.2 percent) started out breastfeeding. This high percentage of babies who start out breastfeeding shows that most mothers want to breastfeed and are trying to do so.
  • Almost half (46.9 percent) were exclusively breastfeeding at 3 months.
  • Only one-third (35.9 percent) of infants were breastfeeding at 12 months

That, to me, shows that very few American women are breastfeeding to the point where one would use the term “extended”. But here is what the World Health Organization says about it: 

Exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months is the optimal way of feeding infants. Thereafter infants should receive complementary foods with continued breastfeeding up to 2 years of age or beyond.”

Up to two years and beyond.

So, if we are going to use the term “extended” shouldn’t we maybe apply that to the “beyond” two years part? The majority of the rest of the world seems to know that breastfeeding should happen until the baby decides he is finished. Similar to walking or talking, the baby develops at his/her own pace. Perfectly healthy children born into similar demographics will walk at vastly different times. They are unique. So, why place an imaginary sticker on how long each baby should breastfeed? Why is that not a unique timetable as well? 

If for any number of reasons you do not like breastfeeding or you don’t want to, can’t, won’t, etc, at LEAST hear me out regarding mothers who do

Most of us know perfectly well how our society feels about nursing toddlers or preschoolers.

We’ve seen the talk shows, we’ve noticed the stares, and we can hear the whispers. We get that people think it’s “weird” or that our baby is “too old”. But it is a shame and a disgrace to women that we cannot band together to stop the belittling and shaming that happens when a mother continues to breastfeed her child. There is nothing but health benefits for mother, child, and planet, so why do many people view this as a negative thing? It should be more like, “Oh look! She is still breastfeeding- HIGH FIVE!” or “Yes, kids, she is breastfeeding that toddler, isn’t he cute!?”

Or even just smile, look away, and mind your own business instead of having an opinion at all! 

It’s absurd to ask a woman when her monthly cycle is, how much money she makes at her job, or how much she has in her bank account. Those types of questions seem too intimate and too invasive for lunchtime chit-chat. But I and my breastfeeding mama friends have been questioned more times than I can keep up with: “When are you going to stop breastfeeding?” 

The long answer? SEE ABOVE. The short answer: when the child wants to. 

For more reading, see the resources below:

https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2018/p0820-breastfeeding-report-card.html

https://www.who.int/nutrition/topics/exclusive_breastfeeding/en/


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Kari (Pronounced Carrie) is proudly married to a Law Enforcement Officer and is a mama to four children. Born and raised in the South, Kari found her love here and now all of her favorite people are Iowans! In her "spare" time (WHO has that?!), you can find her reading, folding a never ending cycle of laundry, or snuggling up with the tiny humans she made. She loves being a stay at home, homeschooling mother, even in the thick of it, and feels blessed to share her snippets of life with the community!

3 COMMENTS

  1. So true! I wasn’t able to breastfeed my 5 babies, but I fully support my friends who do for whatever length of time that is. Every child has different needs – why would breastfeeding be any different!?

  2. Kari…Thank you SO much for stepping up to this “topic” in such a gracious way! It makes me want to have coffee with you…I could help fold laundry. I am a Mom of four also, they’re all grown up, ever a Mom! I am also a “retiring” lactation consultant…hard to leave that passion behind! Thank you for celebrating World Breastfeeding Week/Month by sharing your heart. The gentle influence of Moms like you is the best promotion of the wonders of breastfeeding. May you have strength (and courage!) for each day!

    • Oh how I’d love to have coffee and discuss everything lactation! I’m dreaming of becoming an IBCLC someday but this season calls for me to be at home with my little ones!

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