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Breastfeeding Past One Year

by Woo Lai Chang

My daughter turned two recently. Not very remarkable, and perhaps not worth writing about, except that we are still breastfeeding. My family has long since given up trying to persuade me to wean, but I believe my doctor is not alone in thinking I "should have" weaned one year ago.

Some of the new mothers I have spoken with sound very surprised that a baby can actually be breastfed past the standard recommendation of four to six months. A few are incredulous that any woman can produce milk for two years and more. Let me assure you that it does not take superhuman effort, nor superhuman-sized breasts, to breastfeed past one year.

I can understand how a new mother with a screaming newborn at her sore breast may think that even one year is an eternity, but, believe me, it only gets easier. It is so easy now to just pop one nipple into my daughter's mouth and watch her drift to sleep contented. It is amazing too to see how my breasts can soothe away all her hurt and make her world right again. My breasts are the unparalleled source of food, comfort and security for her. Really, over the past two years it has become so habitual to offer the breast, that I did not realize just how easy it has made my mothering job, until that time I tried to help my mother-in-law put my cranky, overtired 20-month-old nephew to sleep.

I am often asked whether breastfeeding a child for so long causes her to make a habit of it. I guess it does, since my daughter has this habit of asking for the breast whenever she's upset or tired. But so do other children make a habit of sucking their pacifier or biting their favourite blanket. I think I would rather have my daughter seek comfort from me than from an inanimate object.

Another question I am commonly asked is whether this would not make my daughter overly "sticky" to me. We recently enrolled her in a weekly playgroup with other toddlers her age. She is the only child who has not cried at any of the three sessions when the mother left the room. This is the child whom, as a baby, I had to carry with me even to the toilet. I believe her show of confidence is the direct result of our close breastfeeding bond, and of having her demands for constant attention satisfied as a baby.

The concern of my family doctor is more tangible: she feels that a one-year-old (that was when I last saw her) should be drinking milk from a cup. I really fail to understand the logic in this. My daughter has been drinking water from an open cup since her first birthday, at the age when most other toddlers are still drinking from a bottle or spill-proof training cup. In what way is breastfeeding incompatible with the skill of drinking from a cup? I presume it is the skill that is important, not the type of liquid in the cup.

Despite her criticism of our continued breastfeeding, my doctor is always impressed by how well my daughter looks whenever we see her. I must mention that we usually see her for my daughter's sensitive reaction to bites, not illness. Even that one time when we were seeing her for my daughter's unexplained high fever, she was impressed by how active and cheerful her patient was, and how little the fever seemed to affect her tiny system.

Beyond the health and emotional benefits, breastfeeding a toddler is more rewarding than breastfeeding a baby. My daughter has a name for each breast - the left is "nee-nee" and the right "nay-nay". When asked what her favourite food is, she replies without hesitation, "Nay-nay." She bargains with me for "one more time", then takes one quick suck and says, "Done. Thank you, Mommy." She watches patiently while I eat durians, then asks for "durian nay-nay" immediately afterwards. When we shower together, she insists on helping me to wash the "nay-nays". She says that the rubbish truck eats rubbish because "it has no Mommy to give nay-nay". What would I have missed if I had weaned her at one!

Of course there are times when I wish she could do without "nay-nay", usually on days when I am trying to meet a project deadline (I work at home) and so do not spend as much time with her. She will then ask for "nay-nay" every half an hour to remind me of her existence - irritating, I agree, but still preferable to those infamous two-year-old temper tantrums.

At this point, some of you must be wondering when I do intend to wean. I leave that decision to my daughter. What if she decides to breastfeed past her third, fourth and fifth birthdays? I am even asked what I would do if she is still breastfeeding when she enters school. Really, does anyone seriously expect a six-year-old to skip classes to breastfeed? Even at two, my daughter understands that there are places and times when she cannot have the breast; she will settle for water and patiently wait until we get to a convenient place. Then there are those times when she is having so much fun that she entirely forgets to ask for "nay-nay". If she is still breastfeeding at four, I expect it to be only at bedtime - a time when I will happily make myself available to her, and feel thankful that we still have this time to connect and bond before she grows up and lives her own life independent from me.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Woo Lai Chang
is a Breastfeeding Counsellor with the BMSG(S) since January 1997.
Her daughter is now 2 and a half years old and they are still breastfeeding. She is expecting her Second Child in July 1998.
 (written in Nov 1997)
 
 

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