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Extreme Breastfeeding

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How old is too old?

Breastfeeding has been everywhere these days: Salma Hayek breastfeeding another woman's baby in Africa, the Facebook flap over breastfeeding photos, and that beautiful W cover shot of Angelina Jolie breastfeeding. Seems like everybody's got breastfeeding on the brain. But when is a child too old to be breastfed? Some moms shockingly say five, six, seven, eight -- or beyond.

By now, you've probably seen the video of Veronica, the woman who breastfed one daughter until age five and is still breastfeeding her eight-year-old, Eliza.

According to the CDC, 20% of mothers were still breastfeeding at 12 months. No one keeps count how many women breastfeed their kids beyond 18 months, not even La Leche League International, reports the Boston Globe. But evidence shows the "extreme breastfeeding" trend is growing. Katherine Dettwyler , the nation's leading breastfeeding researcher, says women who continue to nurse typically keep quiet about it, sometimes even to family members, because the culture is so biased against it.

"People say, 'Oh, he's going to think he's having sex with his mother!' " she says. "Well, no. Only if you socialize him to think that way. This is a biological process. Human beings are wired to naturally wean sometime after 2 1/2."

"There's no reason to think it is abnormal or pathological or sick," says Nancy Holtzman, a board-certified lactation consultant.

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124 comments so far | Post a comment now
ruthla October 17, 2008, 2:28 PM

My son nursed until age 4- a year and a half after starting preschool.

His classmates never knew he was still nursing, as he only nursed at home. It didn’t cause ANY social problems for him whatsoever, and he weaned when he was ready to.

Lactivist78 October 17, 2008, 3:07 PM

I keep reading all these comments that state that women who breastfeed beyond a certain age are doing it for themselves.

That’s the most ridiculous statement I’ve ever heard. My daughter is young, 21 months, but let me tell you, this is ALL about her. If it were all about me, we would have already weaned.

Nursing a squirmy toddler is annoying a lot of the time, but being a logical and educated woman, I know that my daughter is far too young to wean.

I will let her nurse until she’s ready to stop. My body, my baby, my breasts, PERIOD.

E.K. October 17, 2008, 4:13 PM

Lactivist78, I agree with you. The statement that women nurse their toddlers for “themselves” honestly leaves me scratching my head. Or the idea that these kids must have been trying to wean themselves and their mothers are somehow forcing them to nurse.

My daughter is 3yo and I can tell you that she loves nursing, she’d be very sad to lose it, and the only pleasure I get out of it is feeling like I’m a good mother. I’m just ASSUMING the suggestion that nursing is only for us is based on some idea that I’m orgasming or something while nursing - which is so ridiculous I’m not even going to spend any effort refuting it. If it’s something else, I really don’t know what it could possibly be. Surely it’s not social approval or anything - since obviously that’s not one of the benefits of nursing past 12 months.

I’m also trying to figure out how someone makes a baby or toddler or child (who ostensibly wants to wean while wicked mother wants to orgasm while nursing… or something…) nurse. As a mother who has nursed for 3 years, I have some skill and knowledge of nursing, but I simply don’t know how that could possibly work. I suppose I could push a breast in my child’s face, but how do I MAKE her latch on, and stay latched on? Maybe I could offer bribes? Hmm, what would my daughter enjoy? Oh, looks like I don’t need bribes since she likes to NURSE!

Tari October 17, 2008, 8:57 PM

I am currently nursing my 6 1/2 month daughter (who hasn’t even started solids yet, and won’t until she shows a need/interest :P) and plan to continue nursing her until she weans.
My original thinking was until age 2, unless she weaned herself before that… But my views seem to be changing a bit as I can’t find a logical reason why a child should be weaned before they are ready.
I don’t give a rats behind about societal views as they are generally wrong in the “great” US of A. More and more I am turning away from what people here see as the “norm” because I am finding it sickeningly against nature and the way our bodies and minds are supposed to work.
There is nothing wrong, sick, et cetera with child-led weaning. It is providing what your child needs as long as they need it, and frankly, I think America and so called “developed” countries need to do things that benefit their children more often and sorely need to re-evaluate their social morals.

circumcision is wrong, find out why October 18, 2008, 12:27 AM

Breast is best! Personally I don’t know when my son will be weaned, either when he’s ready or when I’m sick of breastfeeding him, I suppose. I can’t imagine breast feeding him as an adult, however. That would just seem a little too weird! ;)

thepsychobabble October 18, 2008, 8:59 PM

“The results are skewed because people who don’t have the same view as you are voting???????”

No, the results are skewed because people who are self-proclaimed “lactivists” are voting, some multiple times, while as far as we know, there are no “pro-formula” boards specifically directing traffic over here.

I have no problem with extended breastfeeding, however, by school age, these children should be learning other methods of coping with stress.

Sammi October 20, 2008, 10:50 AM

I think it’s fine for an infant or a young toddler who wants to breastfeed.

I am appalled at court rulings that an 8 year old who doesn’t want to nurse anymore must nurse because the mother wants them to.

Once the child wants to stop, it’s up to the parent to honor that child’s desire.

sara October 20, 2008, 9:23 PM

Sammi, when has there been a court ruling that says an 8 year old has to continue breastfeeding?

Courts try to force a child to wean in custody battles all the time, but I’ve never once heard of a court ordering an 8 year old (or child of any age) to continue breastfeeding.

Billie October 21, 2008, 1:21 PM

Sick that is just plan sick that you have to have a full length sofa. Pump if you are so obsessed with nursing.
And Erin a water fountain? That is the place with the highest bacteria in a school, doesn’t quite taste the same.
Think of the psychological effects this could have on a grown man. Wow!!!!

Stephanie October 30, 2008, 11:18 PM

” once the children they attend school with see this, they may get teased and who would wish that on their child?”

How on earth would the kids at school see an older nursling nurse? I don’t go to the school to nurse my child. She is 4 and is nursing usually 1-2 times a day at this point but never at school. I don’t think it comes up much honestly.


Kiliaro December 14, 2008, 4:00 PM

This is natural. You people are all sick perverts esp. from usa.

Stephanie February 19, 2009, 2:28 PM

Surprisingly, breast feeding was one of my favorite parts of being a new mother. I was not nursed and no other woman in my family has breast fed their children so it was (at first) unusual for me. My son weaned at 15 months and it was not a traumatic experience you might be led to believe it will be. My thoughts on extended breast feeding is that it is serving a purpose more for the mother than the child. It seems to me that there HAD to be points along the way (to age 8) at which the child has lost interest in breast feeding but was encouraged to continue.

Mimi T February 19, 2009, 4:12 PM

While nursing beyond toddlerhood isn’t my cup of tea (eldest child self-weaned at 14 mo., younger one got cut off at 10 mo. when she started biting on a regular basis and thought it was funny), if both the mom and the child are content and comfortable with continuing into older childhood I guess I don’t really see an issue. I have known a mom or two for whom extending their child’s nursing was definitely a control thing - and it wasn’t an emotionally heathly choice for either the mom or the child. But if we’re talking about an otherwise independent, confident and self-assured child, and a mom who doesn’t define herself through her nursing, then maybe it shouldn’t be such a big deal.

SesshoumarusGirl February 19, 2009, 5:07 PM

I really wish our society would stop with the “only X is acceptable” kind of BS. There should be no “standard” for nursing. Women should do what they feel is best for their childern, if that means bf’ing for three months, so be it. Three years, so be it.

Extended nursing is nothing new, people.
In ancient times babes were nursed up to four years. How about instead of judging each other, we all just be supportive?

not February 19, 2009, 5:46 PM

Sorry, but if your kid is old enough to ask, then it is time to quit. Oh, and why are the nursing mothers here trying to justify how smart there kid is now because of nursing? Just a question. I am new to mommy wars and look forward to spending hours on the computer while my life drifts away and I get fat and old. Oh wait, I want to be like all you guys!

Jeanine February 19, 2009, 5:47 PM

My daughter self weaned at 8 1/2 months…end of the story. It was a sad time, because I loved the bonding time we got to experience. But she called the shots there. Every mom has the right to raise their kids as they see fit. Personally I couldn’t imagine nursing once my child asked for it using words.

short term February 19, 2009, 6:31 PM

I have a question for long term breast feeding moms. I nursed all 4 of my children for several months but not past the point when engorgement and leaking weren’t a constant issue. I wore a bra with nursing pads securely in place 24/7. Whenever I weaned one of my kids it felt so good to go braless again, especially at night. Is that still an issue for you moms who continue to breastfeed long term?

mercaties February 19, 2009, 7:09 PM

I’am a mother of three (8-6-2) and because of a seizure disorder and the medication I take for it, I couldn’t breastfeed. I would just like to say I don’t buy this bonding BS about breastfeeding for one second. I’am extremly close to all three of my children. Also, my older two children haven’t been to the doctor for anything other than a check up in years, so Breastfed babies aren’t necessarily healthier either. Ask your pediatritan, if a child needs breast milk or formula after the age of one and they will tell you no. By the age of one Assuming there are no allergys a child should be on whole cows milk. If your breastfeeding beyond one year it is for your benifit not your childs. I’m sorry but breastfeeding a child who is old enough to be in school is sexual abuse!!

Anonymous February 20, 2009, 1:34 AM

Its going to spoil the child psychologically. He or she would be come to attached to the mother and may not lead a very independent llifestyle. This is really wrong.

anonymous February 20, 2009, 9:29 AM

Is you running out of ideas MomLogic? Isn’t this the same story that ran several months ago?

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