Why Should I Call it “Extended”?

Welcome to the November Carnival of Natural Parenting: What is natural parenting?

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our Carnival coincides with the launch of Natural Parents Network, a community of parents and parents-to-be who practice or are interested in attachment parenting and natural family living. Join us at Natural Parents Network to be informed, empowered, and inspired!


Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

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As I gaze upon my sleeping two year old, passed out at naptime, I can’t help but think about how precious she is to me, and how fast she is growing. No matter what kind of morning we’ve had, or what kind of things I have lined up for my naptime chores, I always take a minute to be happy about the growth of my baby, and also about my decision to let my child wean from the breast on her own. I put away my boobs, click on her sleeping music, and leave the room, taking a final glance at her sleeping form, and I smile – knowing that my milk still keeps her healthy, strong, and happy – and that nothing can replace that benefit, as long as she still requests it from me.

Though I have never gotten a “negative” comment about my continuing to nurse Abbey past infancy, I know that my friends have some differing opinions, and they have expressed them to me in one way or another. In addition to questions or concerns about my peaceful parenting/gentle discipline techniques, some fellow moms will say things about breastfeeding like “I decided it was time to wean at 15 months… once they are moving around and playing with others, it just gets weird” – or I’ll get the genuinely well-meaning “You know, there are other ways to comfort a child.” Mostly, though, especially from those who know that I am a trained breastfeeding counselor, I’ll get questions: “If you don’t choose when she weans, will she ever wean?” or “What kind of benefits does a toddler get from breastfeeding?” as if breastfeeding is just what moms do for their infants. Recently, I have been getting the- “But you’re pregnant now! Don’t you have to stop nursing her?” Our society has just rammed into our brains over decades that there is a certain logic to the development of children that makes breastfeeding inappropriate (or even dangerous) after a certain age. But that common thought is just plain unfounded, and the facts actually disprove every angle. The wild range of ages that ordinary people quote as the appropriate “weaning age” should be our first clue that society might be wrong about so-called “extended” breastfeeding.

I hope that one day, the facts about full-term (normal-term, or child led weaning) breastfeeding practices will be common knowledge. Here are just a few of those facts, courtesy of Kellymom.com (a great site to access all sorts of timely information on breastfeeding):

In the second year of life (12 to 23 months), breastmilk provides 29% of energy requirements, 43% of protein requirements, 36% of calcium requirements, 75% of vitamin A requirements, 76% of folate requirements, 94% of vitamin B12 requirements, and 60% of vitamin C requirements. (Take that, pediatricians who say there is no nutritional benefit to breastfeeding past 12 months!) (Dewey 2001)

Nursing toddlers between the ages of 16 and 30 months have been found to have fewer illnesses and illnesses of shorter duration than their non-nursing peers (Gulick 1986).

At this time no medical study has been done on the safety of breastfeeding during pregnancy so it is impossible to list any definitive contraindications. Miscarriage or pre-term labor is a common worry, but it does not appear to have a strong foundation. A recent review of research on the pregnant uterus reveals that there is actually no theoretical basis for the common concern that breastfeeding can lead to miscarriage or preterm labor in healthy pregnancies. Instead the uterus has many safeguards preventing a strong reaction to the oxytocin that breastfeeding releases. Interestingly, experts on miscarriage and preterm labor are not among those who see a potential link between breastfeeding and these pregnancy complications. Miscarriage expert Lesley Regan, PhD, MD, quoted in Adventures in Tandem Nursing, saw no reason that breastfeeding should impact pregnancy, even if the mother has a history of miscarriage or is experiencing a threatened miscarriage.


Breastfeeding is a warm and loving way to meet the needs of toddlers and young children. It not only perks them up and energizes them; it also soothes the frustrations, bumps and bruises, and daily stresses of early childhood. In addition, nursing past infancy helps little ones make a gradual transition to childhood.

“Meeting a child’s dependency needs is the key to helping that child achieve independence. And children outgrow these needs according to their own unique timetable. Children who achieve independence at their own pace are more secure in that independence than children forced into independence prematurely.

- Elizabeth N. Baldwin, Esq. in “Extended Breastfeeding and the Law.”

Add to that that the immunological properties of breastmilk actually appear to increase as breastfeeding continues. So toddlers (who are naturally exposed to many germs during play and socialization) are getting even more benefit from their mother’s milk than when they were infants! Isn’t your body SMART?

As I have said before, I am incredibly happy about my decision to let Abbey decide when she is done breastfeeding. My mom made the same decision with me, and I jumped off her lap and said “no thank you” at 14 months. Other children (my own included), breastfeed into their third, fourth, or even fifth year of life, and then say it’s time to move on. Some women report that as soon as their children start drinking cow’s milk, they lose interest in nursing, and there’s no more breastfeeding going on. Whichever way the transition happens, I feel that it is important to leave the decision up to your nursling, for nutritional and developmental reasons.

I sometimes feel that the decision to breastfeed full-term or practice child-led weaning is one made by only a select few really passionate moms like myself, and that somehow I am part of a small club of women who do this wonderful thing for their families. But as I have gotten more serious about blogging my passion for natural parenting and breastfeeding out into the world of information on the internet, I find more and more that this group I thought was small . . . really isn’t. There are more families practicing child led weaning then you think, more moms giving their time and love to their children, working through nursing strikes and using patience and a careful discernment when it comes to feeding practices, making full-term nursing work for their lifestyles . . . and that is a great inspiration to me. It means that more children than you think are getting the full benefit of the “best start.” Breastfeeding a child for three days is good. Breastfeeding a child through infancy is awesome. But breastfeeding into childhood and allowing your child to lead you to the stopping point is the greatest gesture you can make to provide health and well-being for your family. No weaning battles . . . no allergic reactions to cow’s milk . . . no feeling guilty for having stopped nursing too early . . . just a healthy, happy child, who has fond memories of nursing and a body packed full of immunities from it.

This is why I am proud of my position as a full-term breastfeeding mom to my two-year old, and soon to be tandem nursing (unless Abbey weans before 2 ½) mama to my toddler and newborn. And I truly hope that someday, people won’t be surprised to hear that. I hope that more and more people will start asking themselves the question: “Why call it extended?” and that someday, we won’t even have to answer that question anymore.

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Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaStop by Natural Parents Network today to see excerpts from everyone’s posts, and please visit a few to read more! Visit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants. Three of the participants below will instead be featured on Natural Parents Network throughout the month, so check back at NPN!

This list will be updated by afternoon November 9 with all the carnival links. We’ve arranged it this month according to the categories of our NPN resource pages on “What Is Natural Parenting?”

Attachment/Responsive Parenting

Attachment/responsive parenting is generally considered to include the following (descriptions/lists are not exhaustive; please follow each link to learn more):

  1. PREPARE FOR PREGNANCY, BIRTH, AND PARENTING:

  2. FEED WITH LOVE AND RESPECT:

  3. RESPOND WITH SENSITIVITY:
    • Attachment Parenting Chose Us” — For a child who is born “sensitive,” attachment parenting is more a way of life than a parenting “choice.” Dionna at Code Name: Mama shares her experiences. (@CodeNameMama)
    • Parenting in the Present” — Acacia at Be Present Mama parents naturally by being fully present.
    • Parenting With Heart” — Kat at Loving {Almost} Every Moment parents naturally because healthy attachments early in life help our little ones grow into healthy, functioning adults.

  4. USE NURTURING TOUCH:

  5. ENSURE SAFE SLEEP:
    • Sometimes I Wish We Coslept” — Sheila at A Gift Universe has started to add cosleeping into her sleep routines and has found frequently unspoken benefits. Watch for her post, which will be featured on Natural Parents Network on Tuesday, November 30. (@agiftuniverse)

  6. PROVIDE CONSISTENT AND LOVING CARE:

  7. PRACTICE GENTLE/POSITIVE DISCIPLINE:
    • Unconditional Parenting” — The philosophy of Alfie Kohn resonates with Erin at Multiple Musings, who does not want to parent (or teach) using rewards and punishment. (@ErinLittle)

  8. STRIVE FOR BALANCE IN PERSONAL AND FAMILY LIFE:

Ecological Responsibility and Love of Nature

Holistic Health Practices

  • Supporting Natural Immunity” — If you have decided against the traditional vaccination schedule, Starr at Earth Mama has some helpful tips for strengthening your children’s immune systems naturally.

Natural Learning

  • Acceptance as a Key to Natural Parenting” — Because Mrs. Green at Little Green Blog values accepting and responding to her daughter’s needs, she was able to unravel the mystery of her daughter’s learning “challenges.” (@myzerowaste)
  • Let Them Look” — Betsy at Honest 2 Betsy makes time to look at, to touch, and to drool on the pinecones.
  • Why I Love Unschooling” — Unschooling isn’t just about learning for Darcel at The Mahogany Way — it is a way of life. (@MahoganyWayMama)
  • Is He Already Behind?“Ever worry that your baby or toddler is behind the curve? Danielle at born.in.japan will reassure you about the many ways your little one is learning — naturally — every day. Watch for her post, which will be featured on Natural Parents Network on Tuesday, November 16. (@borninjp)
  • How to Help Your Child through Natural Learning” — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now offers tips on how to understand and nurture your child’s natural learning style. (@DebChitwood)

Healthy Living

Parenting Philosophies

Political and Social Activism

Comments

  1. All so true! What a great gift you are giving your baby :-)

  2. This post is going to be placed on NPN’s “breastfeeding past infancy” resource list – what excellent research to support full-term breastfeeding! Whatever the research says, nursing Kieran past infancy has been such a wonderful blessing for our relationship. I’m still nursing proud, he’ll be 3 yrs old next month :)

  3. That was such a beautiful and gentle post – thank you so much for sharing your wonderful story. I was determined to do child-led weaning as well and my daughter finished at 2 years. I felt so proud to have achieved this because it wasn’t easy at all. Compounded by people who were telling me she would never wean, that she couldn’t incarnate properly all the while I was feeding her and citing numerous amounts of ‘research’ to try and ‘prove’ that I was doing the wrong thing. So well done you mama, and thank you for all that you are doing to help others do something that is normal, natural and wonderful :)

  4. Thank you, ladies!!! What a joy it was to write about, too. I hope someday that our “natural” parenting will be the new “normal” parenting.

  5. I couldn’t agree more, drop the extended. My twins weaned around 38 months (I can’t remember exactly). The weaning process progressed naturally and we all were able to move on to the next stage without any trauma or tears.

    Thanks for all the facts from KellyMom, my girls have rarely been ill and I attribute that partly to breastfeeding.

    An anthropologist named Katherine Dettwyler studied breastfeeding historically, in different cultures, and other primates, and came up with a range of 2.5-7 years as a range for self-weaning. Here is a link to her site:

    http://www.kathydettwyler.org/detwean.html

  6. Ah, love this post, what great writing! Thanks so much for sharing your story. I totally relate to the bit about cherishing those peaceful moments — one of my favorite parts of the day is when I am sitting there after girls have nursed to sleep for nap. I know this will end all too soon — such precious moments.

    The health facts & quotes were great, too, woo hoo! I haven’t gotten much flack when I mention still nursing my toddlers, but a lot of folks do seem surprised and I think don’t know what to say (or maybe they are just biting their tongues, ha ha).

  7. An excellent point – the word extended is of no use – it is, and should be *normal* to provide such great nutrition for our children! Did you ever see the article “Breastfeeding in the Land of Genghis Khan?”

    Thanks for the great information, and the encouragement to other nursing moms :)

  8. Kristin, I have another baby coming, so I know that even when Abbey weans, I’ll have another babe to nurse. Looking forward to the day that all our future children are done nursing is pretty far in the future at this point, but it does seem that it would be just a tad bittersweet :)

    I haven’t gotten any flack publicly for nursing past infancy. I just wish that more moms and people in general knew that the normal course of breastfeeding doesn’t stop at the magical 12 month mark, and that someday, nursing young children til they are ready to wean isn’t something that needs to be advocated for – it’ll be something that is again part of our society.

    Seems like in going forward, we have gone backward in our way of raising and caring for children. Out with the natural nourishment, and in with the processed cans and jars and bags – out with respect and empathy, and in with tight reins and power struggles.

    Anyway, that’s a topic for another post. Thank you for reading and commenting ladies!

  9. Love, Love, LOVE this! I can completely relate to every word of this. (In fact, I just “put my boobs away” and am sitting here next to my napping 2-yr old.) My daughter just turned 2 last month and I’m due with my 2nd baby in May. Everyone seems shocked that I’m still nursing, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Thank you for this wonderful post full of great scientific facts. Not sure if you’ve ever read this before, but this is one of my favorite posts on child-led weaning: http://www.normalfed.com/Why/wean.html

  10. Beautiful! Why indeed do we have to call it extended? I’ve had that argument over on my blog, too! :)

    Mikko’s 3 and a half and still nursing, AND I’m pregnant. I never worried about breastfeeding and miscarriage, even though I’ve had one before. I know it’s still important to Mikko to continue: nutritionally, immunilogically, and emotionally — and I certainly don’t mind, so here we still are! Thanks for this informative post. I especially like the quote about the nutritional percentages breastmilk gives to 2-year-olds. How fun to have it quantified like that!

  11. Truly great article. I’m adding it to one of the upcoming sunday surfs. This really can’t be said enough.
    PS you can change the size of the SS logo by adding height=”125″ width=”125″ to the code (you can do this for any logo and change the size to ho many pixels you want 120/125 is a regular button size)

  12. Thanks, Mamapeokie! I’d be completely honored to have you use my post :)

    I know I’ve been meaning to change the size of the button forever – every time I go to do it I get distracted and forget why I was in my design mode in the first place. Classic preggo parenting a toddler, trying to blog, right? I’m going to go do it RIGHT now!

  13. Greetings from Malaysia!

    Way to go Mama! I too agree with letting our child decides when it is enough. I’m still breastfeeding at 21 months now (not a speck of formula at home yet…)

    ~ Jenny @ I’m a full-time mummy
    (http://www.imafulltimemummy.com/)

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