OC moms open up about their firsthand experience with the growing trend of extending breastfeeding’s typical timeline.
By Karen Fuller Beck
Breastfeeding is nature’s way of bonding mother and child, supplying the infant with nutrients and aiding in the growing process. It’s a natural course of development that, at one time or another, we have seen discreetly performed in public. However, what if there was feet belonging to 3-year-old poking out from under the nursing poncho?
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, and then introducing nutritionally-adequate and safe complementary (solid) foods together with continued breastfeeding up to 2 years of age and beyond. The organization further states that breast milk is a critical source of energy and nutrients during illness, and reduces mortality among children who are malnourished.
Yalanda Oglesby from Aliso Viejo struggled to breastfeed her oldest child during the first year. He suffered from allergies and wasn’t receptive to breastfeeding. After one year, she phased out of breastfeeding using a combination of solid food and formula. She later found success in breastfeeding with her two daughters who were only 18 months apart. They both breastfed well, and since Yalanda enjoyed nursing, she made the choice to tandem breastfeed them until her oldest daughter turned 3. Oglesby explained, “My eldest daughter started to compete with her sister for my attention, so I weaned her off breastfeeding. I didn’t really have a process in mind, so I just incrementally shortened the length that we breastfed her. After weaning her, I found more energy for the activities we did during the day. Having nursed for so long, she had a strong immune system. I noticed that my girls get sick a lot less then my son. I really do believe that it has something to do with how long I breastfed them.” Oglesby is still breastfeeding her youngest daughter who is now 4 years old. “I’ve always been one to cover up when nursing in public, but as my daughter grew into a toddler she was too hot and uncomfortable covered up. I’m always self-aware in public, but sometimes people are curious and it will spark a conversation about extended breastfeeding, and I think of it as a ‘teachable moment’,” Oglesby said. “There is a law that a mom has the right to breastfeed in public and it’s illegal for someone to make you cover up or stop. I was at a learning center for preschool children and Bria wanted to nurse, so I let her nurse. Upon leaving, the director asked me to step outside to nurse because another mom was uncomfortable with it. For the purposes of mediation, I spoke to the other mother about it and wrote the director a letter a couple of weeks later. I did that for all of the other nursing moms out there.”
La Leche League International, a worldwide support group that promotes natural mothering through breastfeeding, suggests women breastfeed their children, “For as long as mutually desired by mother and child.” Amie Parre from Lake Forest and mother of three, nursed her now 11-year-old son for five weeks after his birth. He had a condition called Tongue-tie, an unusually short thick or tight band of tissue connecting the tongue’s tip to the floor of the mouth, which interfered with his ability to breastfeed. However, Parre had more success when nursing her daughters. Her 9-year-old daughter was breastfed until she was 2, and Parre plans to breastfeed her 20-month-old daughter until she’s 2 as well—then determine if she is ready to wean.
“It was hard for my youngest child to latch on, she was a bit lazy and there were so many issues with her. I just wanted to get to six months, and then it was a year. Now our next goal is 2 years old. It has gotten easier as time goes on. I see that she really enjoys it and I stay at home with her and I’m able to have the flexibility to nurse her,” Parre continued. “She’s 20 months old and she’s having frequent tantrums. Nursing changes her whole attitude, it’s very soothing for her. I didn’t have this tool during my first child’s toddler years, and I remember how tumultuous it was because we didn’t have any way to soothe him.”
The scientific community also supports the concept of nursing beyond a child’s first year of life.
As stated by Mayo Clinic, the benefits of extended breastfeeding for a baby include:
- Balanced nutrition. Breast milk is considered the gold standard for infant nutrition. As your baby gets older, the composition of your breast milk will continue to change to meet his or her nutritional needs. There’s no known age at which breast milk is considered to become nutritionally-insignificant for a child.
- Boosted immunity. As long as you breastfeed, the cells, hormones and antibodies in your breast milk will continue to bolster your child’s immune system.
- Improved health. Research suggests that the longer breastfeeding continues and the more breast milk a baby drinks, the better his or her health might be.
Children aren’t the only ones who benefit from long-term breastfeeding—so does the provider. The benefits of extended breastfeeding for a mother include:
- Reduced risk of certain illnesses. Extended breastfeeding—as well as breastfeeding for 12 months-plus cumulatively in life—has been shown to reduce the risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes.
- Improved health. Research suggests that the longer breastfeeding continues and the more breast milk a baby drinks, the better a mother’s health might be.
Lesli Mitchell, an OC-based artist and author, has a strong point-of-view when it comes to her decision to breastfeed her daughter. “I come from a very health-conscious family. My older sister breastfed her kids until about 2 years of age,” Mitchell explained. “In addition to my work as a family therapist, I did social work with children in foster care. I’ve seen the worst of people not connecting or attaching to their children. As a result, I was very tuned into the emotional well-being of my daughter and the benefits she received from nursing. So I wasn’t going to just snatch that away from her because society says there’s a deadline.”
There are many socio-economic factors that go into a woman’s decision whether or not to breastfeed, or what the duration of nursing should be. Lack of affordable daycare and inadequate maternity leave can take away a mother’s decision to breastfeed beyond infancy. However, there is little debate about the benefits of extended breastfeeding. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months after birth—and breastfeeding in combination with solids foods until at least age 1. A common thread that connects women who breastfeed beyond infant years is the tremendous comfort they believe their children experience. Whether it be to soothe their children’s tantrums, anxiety or need for maternal contact, it is apparent that these mothers consider extended nursing to be an organic process involving an emotional continuum of connectedness.