Toddler Breastfeeding – Breaking Myths
We come from the land of breastfeeding and it is a pity that things are changing now. I am all for change if it is moving in the positive direction. Till about 40-50 years ago, breastfeeding was the norm. If a mother couldn’t breastfeed, someone else in the family would take up that job and feed the baby happily. There was no dearth of wet nurses then. No one knew about or spoke about weaning the baby off the breast before the child went to school. I remember my grandmothers talk about how their school going children would feed off them. Just to add that in those days children didn’t go to school before they were five.
Somehow with all the advancement in technology and the input of formula companies, the mother seems to have lost trust in her own body to produce enough milk to feed her child. Moreover somewhere along the line we have been told how formula is good for the baby – sometimes as good as breast milk, and we seem to give up breastfeeding and top up with formula without even thinking.
The fact that many women are working outside the house and the workplace is not supportive of breastfeeding is also contributing to the fact that children are not breastfed into toddler hood.
Let us see some of the myths that we hear regularly about toddler breastfeeding.
Myth #1. “There’s no benefit to nursing after 1.”
This is something I heard so often that if I had a pound for every time I heard it, I’d be super rich! Many times I hear even older women in the family, who I would consider much knowledgeable in these matters say that there is nothing in breast milk after the child turns one. Breast milk is liquid gold, it does not mysteriously turn into water the day the child turns one. The world health organisation (WHO) recommends a minimum of two years of breastfeeding and beyond with exclusive breastfeeding up to 6 months.
Myth #2. “You should stop breastfeeding when the kid can ask for it.”
I can kind of understand where this comes from. Many mothers are embarrassed when their children ask for milk in front of others in the family or in public places. There is nothing to be embarrassed. It is a great thing to be able to feed your child and give the child all the immunity. If nursing in public is the problem, remember discreet nursing is possible with a little bit of practice. Other than the embarrassment factor, I cannot think of any other reason to stop feeding when the kids can ask for it. It is not like formula feeding moms stop giving the children bottles when they can ask for it. So why should breastfeeding stop?
Myth #3. “Nursing past X months/years is just for mom’s personal enjoyment.”
OK, I agree to this a bit. Any mother will enjoy if her child falls sick less, is very immune and if she can use breastfeeding to calm her baby down and bond with the baby. If it is good, then why not? Yes, the longer you breastfeed a child, the more the immunity for the child, the less the chance of the child falling sick and even if the child falls sick, the child will recover quicker. Many times the way to calm a hungry/upset/tired/sleepy toddler is to lift the child up and feed him/her. Extended breastfeeding also reduces the change of the mother developing ovarian tumor. Yes, extended breastfeeding is good for the mother and makes life easy, but mother’s shouldn’t be guilt tripped into stopping because of that.
Myth #4. “They need solids/there’s no need for breast milk when they eat real food.”
As much as kids need solids, they need breast milk too. Toddlers are not consistent when it comes to eating solids so many times they get their nourishment and calories from breast milk and this is normal. Just by stopping breast milk a child is not going to miraculously start eating solids without any fuss. Many times I’ve been advised by well meaning friends and family to stop feeding so my kids would eat better. I am now thankful that I didn’t listen to any of them and kept feeding them as long as it was possible.
A Special Note for working mothers:
With only 12 weeks maternity leave in India, it becomes tough for working mothers to continue exclusive breastfeeding for six months. A few tips here.
- The first step is to believe that the mother can manage both work and feeding. All the formula marketing telling people that they need to give growing up milk are very unhelpful in the first instance. Add to that a lot of ‘helpful’ elders telling you that you cannot work and breastfeed can undermine the resolve to do it.
- Try and pump much earlier on before you have to resume working. Freeze the milk and the stash will help you go longer on the exclusive breastfeeding journey.
- If your office provides a creche at work, great! Else, find some breastfeeding friendly place closer to work where you can not only feed the baby in the morning before you drop and feed as soon as you pick the baby in the evening, but also do some lunch time feeding if possible.
- Find ways to talk to employers or at least your managers and see if you can get a few breaks to pump at work. You will also need a fridge at work to store the milk you pump. Some mothers feel that convincing managers and peers about long term breastfeeding is impossible.
- One worry that mothers have is that pumps become old and need to be replaced, say after four to five months of use. It is ok, as by then the child will be old enough to start on solids and feed directly when the mother spends time with the child
- Plan for reverse cycling – the child will feed many times in the night if feeding less during the day. It does get tiring but co-sleeping, dream feeding and feeding lying down helps.
- If possible find out if there are flexible options with regards to work – job sharing with another mother, working from home, working part time, working few a days in a week or all other options.
- Stress at work can reduce supply. Do offer the breast when ever you can when you are with the baby to keep the supply going.
- As the kids get older, due to their illness, or other stress in life, mothers tend to pump less which in turn will reduce supply. But as said earlier, keep offering the breast to the baby directly when and that will keep the supply going.
- One of the major reasons that mothers give up too soon is because of lack of support. Find a La Leche League leader that you can talk to. There are many online forums that support breastfeeding and extended breastfeeding. Many mothers would have gone through what you are going through and they would have ideas that have worked and which might work for you too.
- Find a pediatrician that supports breastfeeding and extended breastfeeding. Get your family to support you too. If family is doubtful, find information on the net as to why you should breastfeed longer and pass it on to your family so that you can gain their support.
- Remember, breastfeeding is never an all or none story. Try and feed as much as you can, maybe at least nights, once a day or whatever works for you. Every little bit helps.
- Exclusive breastfeeding for the first six month also reduces chances of conceiving in the first six months and longer if the child is fed on demand and is getting very little food other than breast milk (provided the mother hasn’t got back her menstrual cycle yet).
https://www.facebook.com/groups/breastfeedingsupportforindianmoms/?fref=nf – Link to the Breastfeeding support group on facebook. The group has La Leche League accredited leader.
http://www.lalecheleague.org/ – La Leche League
http://kellymom.com/ – If you are not on to facebook, this site has useful information on nearly all breastfeeding related topics.
*With inputs from other mothers in the breastfeeding forum