“Are you still feeding?” “When are you going to stop?” I was asked these questions when my first son was very small, only months old. I knew of LLL long before I had my baby because my friend was a Leader. I saw her deftly dealing with bundles of leaflets and information sheets, wielding massive complex looking textbooks and helping people. She was helping people who needed help and as feeding went well for me from the beginning, I did not class myself as one of those people. I stayed away from meetings, thinking they were not for me, and that I should let people who really needed expertise go along and take up the space.
When we reached the magic six month milestone, and solid food was on the agenda, something happened that shook my reality. My NCT group friends were heading back to work and almost all of them had also introduced some kind of artificial milk to their baby as part of their everyday diet. I didn’t get it, didn’t understand why, so I went along hoping LLL could tell me whether that was it, my six months were up and it was time to be putting my breasts away. I knew this couldn’t be right though, it worked so well for my son and I couldn’t imagine other ways of comforting him or getting him to go to sleep at night! I was a little ashamed of this, sure I was doing it wrong. Luckily I met some wise LLL Leaders who affirmed that the body is wired in an amazing way to give babies what they need, and if it works, why spend money on formula milk and make your life more difficult?
Since then, I have become mother to three children and I have come across all sorts of interesting ideas about what happens to the milk a mother might produce for an older nursling. I have heard that my milk isn’t nutritious any more, that it’s as thin as water, that it is bad for me to mother my children so, that I should be detaching them and making them more independent. I have come to the conclusion, both emotionally and from a scientific, evidence based perspective, that this is all nonsense. Sometimes people are well meaning, often their vulnerability and discomfort with something they are not used to makes them come across as judgemental and unkind.
Breastfeeding has slipped from the intergenerational matrices of knowledge in the Western world: if our own mothers do not have a blueprint to pass on to us, and our grandmothers may no longer be alive, how do we know what’s best for our babies? My answer was to look into the evidence: I wanted to be able to say with confidence “I know this and here is the proof.” So, in case you were wondering why feeding your baby past six months, twelve months, or as long as it suits you is a good idea, you might feel reassured to know that breastmilk continues to be nutritious. Research has shown that in the second year (12-23 months), 448 ml of breastmilk provides:
– 29% of energy requirements
– 43% of protein requirements
– 36% of calcium requirements
– 75% of vitamin A requirements
– 76% of folate requirements
– 94% of vitamin B12 requirements
– 60% of vitamin C requirements 
Breastfeeding is an important factor in maintaining children’s health, with some of the immune factors in milk becoming more concentrated in the second year of feeding and the World Health Organization emphasises the importance of nursing up to two years of age or beyond.  This is definitely something you can rely on as being accurate, despite what that well-meaning armchair expert relative might think.
In most parts of the world, breastfeeding past a year is completely normal. The research of Katherine A. Dettwyler, PhD, shows that our children have been designed to expect 2.5 to 7 years of nursing.  Maybe it’s modern society that is getting things wrong, pressuring mothers to think about weaning before their nursing journey has even properly begun. Breastfeeding a toddler helps in so many ways, giving a growing child the security that needs will be met and emotional connection provided as required. It is my strong belief that breastfeeding can also help a child to learn how to be in the world, through gentle discipline.
All this was enough for me, without even taking into account how my own health as a mother would be better if I continued to breastfeed, given the lower risk of certain types of cancers and other illness. I wonder why we’re not making more of a fuss about this, and why women aren’t given this knowledge in early pregnancy.
So, if you are thinking about feeding past a year and you need any information, do speak to your LLL Leaders. Don’t just take my word for it, look at the research and evidence that is out there for yourself. It is only in this way that informed decisions can be made, with confidence. The snuggles and heart to heart connection are totally worth it too.
For more information about breastfeeding beyond babyhood check out the following LLLGB web posts:
– Still Nursing? (https://www.laleche.org.uk/still-nursing/)
– Breastfeeding Beyond a Year (https://www.laleche.org.uk/breastfeeding-beyond-a-year/)
– Thinking of Weaning? (https://www.laleche.org.uk/breastfeeding-beyond-a-year/)
– Dealing with criticism (https://www.laleche.org.uk/dealing-with-criticism/)
You might also want to borrow these books from your local LLL group library:
– ‘Mothering Your Nursing Toddler’ by Norma Jane Bumgarner
– ‘Breastfeeding Older Children’ by Ann Sinnott
– ‘How Weaning Happens’ by Diane Bengson
– ‘The Nursing Mother’s Guide to Weaning’ by Kathleen Huggins and Linda Ziedrich
Alison Jones, LLL Oxfordshire
First published in Breastfeeding Matters 224 (March/April 2018)