Breastfeeding the Older Child is Normal!

It’s been a while since I have written about breastfeeding the older child and I thought it was time to champion the practice again because it seems the message is still failing to hit home. There are people who still think it’s weird and there are all kinds of misconceived notions that it is somehow perverted and that it creates psychological issues for these children. Probably the most disturbing part is that the people who think this are not ignorant or poorly educated. Some of them are even trained in health with medical knowledge. And if the people who should know better don’t know any better, then how can we expect the general population (the lay public) to know better?

Recently, I was at the pharmacy trying to buy some antihistamines. I told the pharmacist I was breastfeeding and was looking for either loratadine (Claritin) or cetirizine (Zyrtec). The pharmacist asked what I was using the antihistamines for and I said allergies. He then replied that was fine but if it was for cold and flu, it would be recommended that I stop breastfeeding. I was a bit surprised because there are very few reasons when a mother should stop breastfeeding and a cold or flu is not one of them. Here is a perfect example of misinformation regarding breastfeeding. It’s no wonder so many misconceptions about breastfeeding exist.

If you want to know anything and everything about breastfeeding and the do’s and don’ts, KellyMom is one of the few websites I trust completely.

I’m digressing… Breastfeeding a 3 year old is normal. Your child will not be psychologically scarred for life if you do. It is not weird or strange or even abnormal. I think the biggest irony is that we think it’s normal to feed our children cow’s milk but strange if they drink human milk after the first two years of life.

“It’s not perverted, it’s not sex, it’s not women doing it for some perverse need… It’s normal like a nine-month pregnancy is normal.” – Katherine Dettwyler, a professor of anthropology at the University of Delaware in Newark.

I wanted to write about breastfeeding the older child because I still get asked when I plan to wean my child. Isn’t it time? Isn’t he getting a bit old for it? Aren’t I worried that he’ll have psychological issues when he grows up because of his awareness? Personally, I find it offensive that I get asked these questions. I don’t ask another mother when she plans to stop feeding her child formula milk. That’s her family’s business – not mine. And why are people so concerned about my child’s psychological health because of a practice that should be considered normal and healthy?

Never has there been a parenting decision I have made that has been challenged as much as my decision to breastfeed my children. It started with the suggestion that I should keep a tin of formula milk in the house “just in case” I don’t have any breastmilk. It should be stated right now that it is a myth that some women don’t produce enough milk. The problem is lack of understanding about how breastfeeding works and lack of support for the new mother whose first experience with breastfeeding is her first baby.

The arguments with my decision to breastfeed continued with suggestions that Aristotle’s poor food consumption was due to the fact that he was still breastfeeding. And then when I was pregnant with Hercules, there was concern that continuing to nurse Aristotle would put my pregnancy at risk. It should be noted that it is safe to continue nursing while pregnant unless you have a high risk pregnancy.

After that, there was concern that Aristotle would consume all the milk leaving none for his baby brother if I persisted with tandem nursing (which is again false because there is enough milk for two). Through all this, I continued to breastfeed and everything was fine. Even after all this, I still get asked when I plan to wean Hercules. I grow weary playing the broken record.

Aristotle was breastfeeding until he was 3.5 years old (which in the natural world is actually considered early). Hercules will be 3 years old in November and he is still breastfeeding. I have no plans to wean him as yet. Why am I sharing this? So that other mothers who want to continue breastfeeding their “older” child might have some of the support that is lacking in our society. It is normal. We should not have to hide this fact like some dirty secret.

According to Katherine Dettwyler:

“It isn’t until age 5 or 6 that “95% of brain growth has been reached, and that’s also about the time that the child’s immune system is ramped up to full production.” In some primates, the natural weaning age is when the first adult molars appear (this is about 6 years old for humans).

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Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of Figur8.net (a website on parenting, education, child development) and RightBrainChild.com (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

16 thoughts on “Breastfeeding the Older Child is Normal!

  1. I breastfed V until 4….and back then I didn’t even know I would cause psychologist ripple effect to my child.. The thing is I totally don’t believe the so called ” psychologically scarred for life” to be happened on V because after 6, she turns out so normal and healthy. So the moral of the story is to continue breastfeeding until you have some other reason excluding the one on “psychology scarred for life” to a child.

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  2. Hi Shen,
    I’m still breastfeeding my son too, and he will be 4 next month. We are leaving it to him to decide when he is ready. At the moment, he says he wants to stop when he is 4. He wakes up some mornings asking if he is 4 yet before happily asking for his feed.

    My daughter was breastfed till 2.5yrs. I had abandoned her for a 2-week vacation. When i returned, altho supply was diminished, she just didn’t want anymore. She didn’t even try.

    And of course, I’ve always been questioned when i was going to stop breastfeeding my kids. I always tell them the great mongolian tale of rising champion wrestlers.

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    1. Hi Sharon – yes, I love the Mongolian reference, too!

      Sometimes we get so caught up in the day, I realise I don’t take enough time to cuddle the boys and my younger will come to me to nurse. My older boy misses a lot of that and I have to specifically make time to connect with him.

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  3. Nobody asks me when I am going to wean leh. JR will be 4 next month. Probably most people don’t know he’s breastfeeding, and among the many who know, it’s no big deal. I breastfed his older brothers for 2.5yrs and 3.5yrs.

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    1. karmeleon – I’m glad to hear that your nursing experience (at least in this respect) has been smooth. I expected mine to be as well and was shocked to discover so much resistance.

      I was using piriton, too, but lately found it hasn’t been enough so I wanted to try something different. Zyrtec and Clarityne are both fine as well for nursing mothers.

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  4. For flu/allergies, I just use Puriton (Chlorophenaramine). It’s cheap and good. S$1.50 for a huge pack? It’s said to have drowsy effects, but I don’t get any, so I’m fine with it. And it’s definitely fine for breastfeeding moms. I bought Zyrtec once for holiday … so expensive and so very few in the packet (so sad). And didn’t seem any more effective than Puriton anyway.

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  5. Good job all the mommies here!! Am still breastfeeding my 2yo, but nowadays she only feed when wake up in the morning, for nap time, and for bed time. I wonder are you guys still pump to maintain the supply? or just direct latch your child when they request for it? hope to feed till my gal is 4yo too 🙂

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    1. Hi Ng,

      Glad to hear your desire to continue breastfeeding your girl. I don’t know what the others do but don’t pump any more. I just feed my son directly whne he wants to nurse and it seems to be fine for us.

      Your pattern of nursing is similar to the one I had with my first son. By this time he was also only nursing in the morning, nap time and before bed. My second son’s nursing pattern is very irregular – there appears to be no routine to it at all.

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  6. I’m still breastfeeding my 30 mths old ds. there was a point where i wanted to wean quite badly but failed. didn’t know how to start. wasn’t ready to face the reality of weaning. has difficulty weaning. I’m WFTM so i only feed him at night, directly. I’m a little annoyed sometimes that i have to be the pacifier. he couldnt sleep on his own at this age.
    people will be shocked when they find out I’m still breastfeeding. they will ask if there is still milk. or if ds is only playing around. or if he just wants to suckle. ??
    anyway, i guess i’ll wait till ds is ready to self wean. 🙂

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  7. I’m glad to know there are moms who do extended breastfeeding in our community 🙂 My son is turning 3 years old soon and still feed on demand. Thanks for posting this!

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  8. Keep it up! I have already seen shock on some people’s faces when I told them I am still breastfeeding my daughter, and she is only 1! I even had the maternal health care nurse tell me that I should wean as my then 7month old wasn’t interested in food, because I only had a small window to get her to eat or she never would (she eats everything now AND she still breastfeeds on demand) – even though she was in the 99th percentile for weight, so clearly she was getting all she needed from my breastmilk. After that I didn’t even want to mention that I was still co-sleeping and planning to breastfeed on demand, even at night, until she self-weaned…
    It really saddens me that breastfeeding isn’t widely accepted as normal. For most of the people I know, I was actually the FIRST person they saw breastfeeding EVER – not just in public. Every time I do feed in public though it still surprises me how many non-approving looks I receive…Wouldn’t it be wonderful if as a breastfeeding mother we received support for feeding our child when they were hungry, and that society didn’t view it as ‘inappropriate’ or ‘obscene’. Maybe then the children who witnessed dozens of babies being breastfed in all situations would grow up to be adults who didn’t even notice women breastfeeding as it seemed as normal to them as someone eating a sandwich on a park bench.
    And don’t get me started on the whole animal-milk thing…

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  9. Shia – I know what you mean… Hubby calls me the human pacifier! :-p Sometimes it gets a bit tedious but then I remember that this phase won’t last long and I will soon miss the times when I get to cuddle my son like this – then I appreciate the whole experience a lot more.

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  10. Charmaine – glad to be able to share! I was quite shocked to discover how many people frowned upon extended breastfeeding myself. I used to think it was a well-accepted thing.

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  11. cc11 – Absolutely! I think so many women have this false idea of breastfeeding because they get told all these “falsehoods” about breastfeeding by people who don’t even know what they’re talking about. That’s the biggest irony I found when I first said I wanted to breastfeed – having people with no knowledge of breastfeeding tell me why I would have trouble or why I should have formula for back-up (in case). My goodness, isn’t that like the blind leading the blind?

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  12. Hi Shen-Li, thanks for your sharing.
    haha.. yup yup.. human pacifier…!! my hubby also saying the same thing… haha!! sometimes i think the same too, my gal dun use pacifier, so i’m the moving one.. haha!!
    though i found one ‘side effect’ about breastfeeding, couldn’t get a second baby as planned…. until now still trying to get a second baby… hope to get one soon cause age is catching up :p

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