Normalizing breastfeeding remains a struggle in our society, especially as the baby grows into toddlerhood. When should a mother wean her nursling? The answer is obvious to me; whenever mother and child are ready. It seems that everyone has a strong opinion on this topic. Strong social and cultural pressures can influence a mother’s decision to wean early. My colleague at work once said “walking equals weaning”. A quick survey revealed that most of my coworkers believed that breast milk had benefits up to 6 months but that its necessity was close to none once solid foods were introduced. The thought of a child lifting his mother shirt to nurse was laughable! In Canada, too many families wean their babies early and thus breastfeeding rates are less than 10% at 1 year of age. Let’s explore what the experts have to say about prolonged breastfeeding and what common sense points to:
Why breastfeed past 6 months?
It’s a non-refutable fact that breast milk ensures healthy growth and development into childhood by protecting against multiple infectious diseases and childhood obesity. In fact, as the child nurses less frequently and breast milk volumes gradually diminish with natural weaning, the properties in breast milk are more concentrated in every drop. The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding up to 6 months, with continued breastfeeding and appropriate complementary foods thereafter. Of course, a mother also benefits from prolonged breastfeeding by reducing her risks of developing diseases such ovarian cancer and breast cancer. (Statistic Canada, 2015)
Simply put, human milk is designed for human babies. Human milk contains nutrients, growth factors and cells important for brain development that artificial formula lacks. (AAP, 2018) Breast milk is basically food for the growing human brain. Not to mention that purchasing artificial formula after 6 months is expensive and unnecessary when mother and baby are willing to breastfeed. AAP recommendations include no cow’s milk (if at all) until 1 year of age due risks of allergies and gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhea. Breastfeeding will not only save a lot of money, it’s also environmentally friendly and nutritious!
How can we increase breastfeeding rates in Canada?
As per Statistic Canada, mothers who breastfed for less than 6 months weaned because they believed not to have enough milk. Mothers also reported technical breastfeeding problems which led to premature weaning. One simple solution is to educate healthcare professionals about breastfeeding care. The Public Health Agency of Canada reported 39% of nurses and 9% of healthcare practitioners received breastfeeding training. There is obviously a lot of room for improvement! Canada has made efforts to promote and protect breastfeeding by supporting paid parental leave. However, we must continue to advocate for breastfeeding rights in the workplace; such as employers providing time and space for women to express and store breast milk at work. Non-profit-organizations such as Nourri-Source in Quebec also play a vital role in supporting breastfeeding families. To learn more check out their website http://www.nourri-source.org
As a society, we need to start questioning why the intimacy of breastfeeding a toddler throws us off. Why does breastfeeding a toddler seem to be an issue in western culture? We want the best for our growing child and yet we fail to recognize the vital role of breast milk for their development. With the right information and support systems, breastfeeding an older child will no longer be frowned upon in our society. The natural process of weaning will happen when mother and child are ready. Similar to walking, talking and sleeping through the night, each child will meet their individual milestones at their own pace, some at 18 months others at 4 years old. Trust that your child will wean when he is ready to let go and follow your maternal instincts to know what is best for your child and family.
Health and happiness always,
Nesha Joshi RN BSN IBCLC
Edited by: Rachel Morasse
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Schwarzenberg, S. J., Georgieff, M. K., & Nutrition, C. O. (2018, January 22). Advocacy for Improving Nutrition in the First 1000 Days To Support Childhood Development and Adult Health. Retrieved January 31, 2018, from http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2018/01/18/peds.2017-3716