Monday, September 8, 2008

How Long is Too Long?

When I did the search on YouTube for the fainting goats, I typed in those two words. Inexplicably, in addition to the fainting goat videos, a whole list of breastfeeding videos also came up. (Note: I did it again and did not get the same results?) There was a video of a mom breastfeeding her son for the first time while the doctor looked on, there was one about toddlers nursing and then there was one about a mother who still nurses her daughter at age 8. That's right...8! That is a second or third grader. I watched part of the video, but when it got to the part where they actually showed the woman nursing her daughter, I had to turn it off because I was so weirded out. I came back later, after I had processed it a little, to watch the full video.

I should reinforce for those that don't know, I am an ardent supporter of breastfeeding. I am still exclusively nursing my 11 month old daughter and plan to continue for the foreseeable future, although I doubt that I would continue past two years. I think it is a natural and healthy thing for both mother and baby. In addition to the obvious nutritional benefits for the baby, it has saved us a ton of money in formula. And on a more emotional level, I personally feel it has created a deep connection between my daughter and myself. I do not criticize those that choose or can not breastfeed their children. I'm a live and let live kind of gal. To anyone considering it, though, I urge you to persevere. The first months are tough, oh man, were they tough, but the rewards later on are great.

So back to this 8 year old. Am I weird that I think this is beyond bizarre? This woman nursed her first child to the age of 5, which I also consider to be too old, and says she will continue to nurse her other daughter until the girl decides she doesn't want to do it anymore. I know that here in the US we have a VERY conservative attitude towards breastfeeding and that less than a third make it to six months with that number going down even further with each passing month thereafter. Breastfeeding beyond two years is called extended breastfeeding and is far more common in the rest of the world. However, I do not think it is normal for women to breastfeed their children through school age in developed countries. I don't even think it is normal in non-developed countries. I keep trying to see this from the other side, that breasts are about nourishment, that the American sexualization of them has created a situation where so few women breastfeed. The truth is, though, that I just can't get past the idea of an 8 year old girl nursing. I am repulsed by it and I feel a little shame at that because I am the gung-ho breastfeeding advocate. All I can think about is the psychological impact of that continued behavior. Would they be strangely dependent? Would they have boob fetishes? Would their peers ostracize them if they found out?

I can't decide if I'm looking for validation that I'm not a bad breastfeeding champion for thinking this is wrong or if I'm looking for people to sell me on the idea of extended breastfeeding. It raises the question for me of how long is too long?


  1. I nursed six of my seven kiddos (one is my stepdaughter who I didn't meet till she was 3!) and I have the droopy boobs to prove it! I agree that 8 is waaaay waaaay horribly, uncomfortably, selfishly too long. I think at that point, it's more about the mom than the kid! just...ewww
    good for you for exclusively nursing bean! my second daughter never had a taste of anything other than breastmilk before she was ten months old and I got a lot of flack for it! she just wasn't that interested and with my first, I was so anxious to start solid foods and it turned into being a pain and expensive. every mom and every baby is different in terms of how long they want to nurse but I think 2-ish is a good stopping point. btw, all of my kids now are totally grossed out that they were breast fed...go figure!

  2. I'm with you on the live and let live attitude towards most parenting choices. Whatever works for you and your family, that's what I'm in favor of, as parenting is too hard a thing as it is, without feeling judgment from others. However, I'm with you on the fact that there's a line where things get "too much" and I think it has to do with being a part of the prevailing culture. I worry for an eight year old nursing, not because the nursing itself is bad, but because of the trauma it may cause her when she realizes this is not what the vast majority does. Similarly, while holding and nursing your baby constantly 24 hours a day may be the norm all across the world, it really does not fit into modern American life. A mom that tries to do it and also live as a part of that culture will be exhausted and disconnected. It's not to say that it's not healthy to rail against "what others think" at times but to reject all social mores leads to a tough life unless you're willing to be socially isolated. Sorry for the long comment, but I think you raise interesting questions, and as my one year old daughter shows NO signs in being interested in weaning, they are ones I'm wrestling with myself.

  3. Firs of all, I think breastfeeding is the way to go if you can physically do it and are willing. I tried mine for a month, and this old biddy couldn't make enough for two, which in the world of evolution would have said, I would have had to choose one to feed which, because we do live in modern times, I can use formula and feed both.

    But in regards to the eight year old and how long is too long, it totally depends. Once children become comfortable feeding themselves with solid food and are capable of sustaining their own lives, breastfeeding is not as essential. That point in a child's development can land anytime after a year or so, depending on that individual child. So my question is this, can that eight year old feed herself and sustain her own life?

    For me, my kids now at 18 months have a full set of teeth and can eat any solid food I can, and want to. So even if I were breastfeeding, I would feel comfortable stopping now because they are fully capable of nutritionally supporting themselves.

    I totally admire your dedication to breast feeding and love love love that you are still at it. In fact, I'm jealous. I wish I could have done it for longer.

  4. An 8 year old breastfeeding freaks me out and makes me pretty uncomfortable too.

  5. Girl...
    I am the nursing nazi. I even want to be a lactation consultant one day...that's how hardcore I am. I nursed both my girls for 12 months, and only quit because they both self-weaned. I was devastated, to say the least.

    That being 8 year old? I refuse to speak ugly about another mother's parenting choices ('cause moms can be super mean to each other!), but 8 is a bit much. For me. I remember Diane Sawyer interviewing a mother on GMA a few years ago. That mother was nursing her 7 year old...and she admitted that she'd stopped making milk 3 years earlier. Diane was all, "So the child is just suckling your breast?" The mother replied, "Well, it's a comfort to him." Gross. Ahem.

    So how long is too long? Whatever you decide is what I say...Sophie might want to nurse another 2, 4, or even 8 months. You're her mother--do what's best for her and you and don't let anyone make you feel badly about your decision. But Cara--if she's 8 and you're still nursing I might have to talk to you a bit sternly!

  6. This makes me think of a funny video that I got via email about a grown man who takes his girlfriend home to meet his parents and much to his girlfriend's shock, jumps into his Mom's lap and starts suckling. I'll have to find it and forward it to you!

    I agree that many women give up on breastfeeding too easily. For me, I knew I wanted to do it and it came very naturally. When people were over and I felt like they were invading on my new mommy time, it was also a great "excuse" to get away. "I have to nurse. Sorry, you have to leave." :) However, I did find that as a new Mom, other Moms thought that they had to right to ask me whether or not I was breastfeeding. I mean, they literally went out of their way to ask. It made me feel bad for the women who can't physically nurse. It was actually very difficult for me to stop nursing but as I mentioned in a previous blog post, my left breast stopped making milk. I was a C on one side, a DD on the other. Try visualizing that! I tried and tried to get the left to "come back" but it just didn't work...Fortunately, I had stored up enough milk to extend Mady's breastmilk diet and then we ultimately had to introduce some formula.

    We've been so lucky that Mady has been such an easy baby. She had no issues taking to the formula and it actually came at the perfect time because she showed signs of interest in solid foods. Little Miss Independence gets angry now if you try to feed her!

  7. This is definitely something to think through. Are we grossed out because it IS gross/wrong or are we grossed out because we're culturally trained to think it is gross? I haven't done research on it, but I remember reading somewhere that historically breastfeeding usually stops by age 3-5. 8 just seems too old. I do think that breastfeeding should be done by all mothers who are able to do so.

  8. ew, ew, ew ... 8? 5? Ok, I need to lie down and shut down the mental images. I just know I am going to have nightmares!

  9. Count on breastfeeding to prompt lots of thoughtful comments! Eight seems old to me and reminds me of the Desperate Housewives episode when Lynette hires the woman who is still nursing here schoolage child as a means of weight control.

    I breastfed the Bub until about 15 months, but not exclusively. He had formula early on because he had dropped weight. I worked with a lactation consultant and got my supply back up, but since the "formula seal" had been broken, I ended up giving him a little bit of formula in addition to the breastmilk all along. A 2 ounce bottle here and there to tide him over, say, if I were in public. (I support every woman's right to nurse in public, but I can't pull it off. Perhaps it's the size of my rack . . . I do have a Hooter Hider now for the new baby and it makes it easier).

    Anyway, I was all set to do primarily breast milk with some formula as well for my second, but turns out he really can't manage the bottle. I guess I'll see how i all unfolds.

    I do think breastfeeding is a great experience despite ALL THE CHALLENGES, but I find it tough to nurse an infant while also caring for a toddler. My older son gets very angry when I am nursing his brother and I can tell he feels ignored and anxious sometimes. It's getting better, but still, it's hard.

    I respect every woman's right to make choices about feeding and caring for her child that make the most sense for her and her family.

  10. Ew. I nursed all three for the first year, but it seemed time. Once the kid is walking and talking... time for the COW to produce the milk!

  11. I might be a bit uncomfortable with 8. Maybe it's just how that girl is used to being comforted? My boy just turned two, and we're down to nursing once or twice a day. I think he will wean soon.

  12. I too am a HUGE supporter of breast feeding. I do think that 8 years is too long and weird. However, isn't everything weird coming from a certain perspective? If it were guaranteed that breast feeding for 5 years provided higher I.Q. and a cancer free life, and society started doing it (esp those in Hollywood)maybe 100 years from now it would be normal. No big deal. I don't agree, its just a thought. Side note: its sad that breasts are accepted more as a sexual object than what God intended it to be.

  13. That weirds me out too--even with kids in the 3-5 age range. And I do question myself about why I feel that way, but I do think that even though our society may be in need of improvement as far as supporting nursing mothers (and we should work to change that) you do have to consider the social implications for your child that is still nursing beyond the accepted age.

  14. OK...OK... I'm weirded out as well. 8 is way too old. A cold shiver just went down my back. If a child can ask...I dunno, it's just plain wierdness in my book. Wrong? No. Just something that gives me a freaked out feeling inside. I may have nightmares tonight.

    On a personal note...a manly note...I'm a fan of the breast and can only take so long sitting on the sidelines. After all, Mady butt-up in line and that's, well, just not right. I called first dibs. Right? C'mon me out here.

    The video that Sara mentioned is hilarious. I hope she was able to forward it to you.

  15. Wow, lots of comments. My two cents are based on an episode of "The Nanny". While not exactly scientific, it at least poses some reason for weaning by age 2 other than simply being repulsed. It is around this age that babies really become toddlers. They begin to form their own thoughts, and develop a sense of self. If they are dependent upon mommy for food, they tend to retain dependencies in other areas of development. The woman in the episode found it harder to wean her daughter than her child did, but by the end of the episode, both mother and child were enjoying the next stage of development. Sure, it was sad to say goodbye to babyhood, but childhood is pretty cool too.

  16. Wow, lots of comments. My two cents are based on an episode of "The Nanny". While not exactly scientific, it at least poses some reason for weaning by age 2 other than simply being repulsed. It is around this age that babies really become toddlers. They begin to form their own thoughts, and develop a sense of self. If they are dependent upon mommy for food, they tend to retain dependencies in other areas of development. The woman in the episode found it harder to wean her daughter than her child did, but by the end of the episode, both mother and child were enjoying the next stage of development. Sure, it was sad to say goodbye to babyhood, but childhood is pretty cool too.

  17. oops. Issues with the comment gods.

  18. Yikes! I saw that story on tv. I commend you for breastfeeding at all. I would think two years is good.

    Beyond that I agree, makes me alittle weirded out. I can't begin to wonder how attached that child is to the mom. Seems she could be doing more damage somehow than good?


Give me some sugar, baby!