11 Pieces Of Extended Breastfeeding Advice I'm Really Glad I Ignored
The world is full of advice. Some of it is good, some of it is bad, but more often than not "advice" is just a sanitized word people use for "unsolicited opinions." So, with this in mind, please know that there's a ton of extended breastfeeding advice that I'm really glad I ignored.
A word on extended breastfeeding, so we're all on the same page as to what that means: it's simply nursing past your child's first birthday. That's it. Whether you stop nursing at 14 months or seven years (which is a thing, by the way, and it's totally fine even if it's not your thing) it's all still "extended breastfeeding." The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that parents exclusively breastfeed their babies until six months, at which point they should introduce foods and continue to breastfeed until 12 months "or beyond."
"Or beyond" has created some contention among parents and childcare experts because, well, what does that mean? What's optimal? The truth is we really aren't sure, though I'd suspect that the best definition of "or more" varies from person to person. For me, "or more" was 17 months for my son and 22 months for my daughter. For my friend "C" it means continuing to nurse her 4-year-old. For yet another friend, it means she happily closed up the Milk Bar the day after her daughter turned 1.
Breastfeeding is an intensely personal experience, so advice pertaining to it can be good for one person but not another. Here's some of the things I heard that, for whatever reason, was not the best for me:
Don't Go Past One Year
A lot of people were just entirely opposed to the idea that extended breastfeeding is something one should even attempt. It's kind of funny to me, to be honest. Especially when some of them are like, "Definitely go to a year, per AAP recommendations! It's so natural and normal and what's best for the baby... but not one day past that!" Like there's a huge difference between a 12 month old and a 13 month old. (Or like the AAP doesn't nebulously recommend 12 months "or beyond" in its breastfeeding recommendations.)
Look, there's absolutely zero issue with deciding to stop breastfeeding when your child is 12 months (or 6 months, or 3 months, or 12 days). But it's not a hard-and-fast deadline anyone has to live by.
Go Until At Least Two Years
Some people will rightly point out that the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends breastfeeding until at least 2, which is great! Cool! Go for it if that's you're thing.
It was not my thing.
I stopped nursing because I was done. I didn't want to go on any longer than I did. Because continuing in order to hit a largely arbitrary checkpoint would have changed my breastfeeding experience. I know it would've become something I resented, instead of something I really loved, and I didn't want to get to that point.
Let Your Child Wean Themselves
Hahahahahahahahaha. Yeah, no.
I honestly wouldn't be shocked if my almost 7-year-old son would still be nursing and, per my last point, I was totally ready to be done before the two year mark with both my children. So... nah. If that works for you that's cool! Nothing wrong with it, but definitely not advice I wanted to follow.
Give It Up All At Once
It's not a universally bad strategy or anything (though you might want to be prepared for engorgement ahead of time, just in case), but quitting cold turkey wasn't how I wanted to go about it. I gradually whittled down nursing sessions from on demand to a few favorite times a day, and then continue to stop them one by one until my kids were only eating their "favorite" session. For my son that was first thing in the morning. For my daughter it was after dinner (it was like a baby version of an after dinner glass of port).
This worked well for us. Other people have other experiences, but while I appreciated advice I'm glad I didn't take this particular tidbit.
Don't Use Pacifiers To Help You Wean
"If you give her the pacifier when she'd normally be nursing then you're going to wind up having to break her pacifier habit pretty soon and that's not fun either."
Dude. I get it, and you're not wrong. And, again, it's not bad advice. But using a pacifier worked for us for a few reasons. For one, it made weaning so much easier. For another, it allowed us to transition from our evening nursing session to "paci and a cuddle" time, which was awesome for everyone involved and allowed some "emotional weaning" as well. Yeah, weaning her off the pacifier wasn't fun or easy, but when you're a parent it's always going to be something right?
Take A Trip & Then Don't Nurse When You Come Back
I know me, and I would have felt super uncomfortable with this idea. I know it's not, but it would have felt like a form of gaslighting to me. Like, "You want to what now? Breast... feed? What is that? I don't understand. We've never done that. Run along and play now. We'll have no more of this silly talk."
Again, obviously not how it works. And, in fact, a vacation can be a great opportunity to break the habit and wean once and for all. But after 17 and 22 months of nursing I couldn't leave it off like that, personally. It would feel like the text-message break-up of weaning.
Don't Do It In Front Of People
"It's one thing when they're babies, but once they get bigger... no one needs to see that!"
Yeah. No. You can be as uncomfortable as you want, but this is normal, wholesome, and nothing I need to keep hidden or a secret. In fact, I think we as a society could stand to see more extended breastfeeding, specifically to avoid priggish advice like this.
Stop When They Can Walk/Talk/Get Teeth
My son took his first steps at 8 months. My daughter said her first words around the same age. If I'd weaned them then I would have to have given them formula, which is fine, but if the argument is "if they're old enough to walk/talk they're too old to nurse" that's demonstrably false since I'd have to give them a synthetic version of breast milk. As for teeth, my nephew cut his firs tooth just shy of 4 months, which is way too young to be off formula or breast milk.
Keep Them In Bed With You Until They Wean
Hahahahahahahahaha. Yeah, no.
The Venn Diagram of people who co-sleep and extended breastfeed is hardly a perfect circle, but there's a lot of overlap. So I found myself on the receiving end of advice from moms who saw the two as connected.
I enjoyed co-sleeping... until I didn't, at which point I needed those little monsters out of my bed. Oh they still come in occasionally, even now, but I absolutely could not deal with their shenanigans on a regular basis once I had decided I had enough.
Wean When They Start Solids
Again, not bad advice, but not for me and by no means necessary. A lot of people believe that once a kid starts eating at the table with the rest of the family they're getting all the nutrients they need to grow big and strong. This isn't necessarily untrue, but a kid still gets a lot of great benefits from breastfeeding even when they're also eating "people food." And even if they didn't, it's by no means detrimental to continue to nurse.
Encourage Other Moms To Do Extended Breastfeeding As Well
Look, I want everyone to know it's an option, and I think that not enough people really recognize that (probably because so many moms who extended breastfeed are advised to stay out of public view). And if someone expresses (no pun intended) an interest I am happy to encourage them and share my own positive experiences with extended nursing. But I'm not going to tell all nursing parents across the board that this is something they should be doing, because only they can know whether it's right for them.
When it comes to extended breastfeeding, I didn't want to be pressured into (or out of) anything. I want to extend the same courtesy to everyone else.