Breast Feeding: How Old Is Too Old? Mom Talk

When do children become too old for breast milk?

A good friend of ours told the story of how she had to wean her then 2-year-old son off their evening nursing routine. She was deeply saddened, but felt it was time.

When we first had Liam, I thought that two years old seemed extensive. I never expected to nurse him a full 18 months. (A very healthy child, his first antibiotic wasn't until he was 25 months!)

The head-turning Time Magazine cover of a mom nursing her 3-year-old son also has tongues wagging. How old is too old for a child to breast feed?

My husband says if the boy can walk, talk, and shave, he's too old. Other friends say they've witnessed drive-by-nursings — when kids run over and pull up their moms' shirts to latch on for a quick drink in between game playing. That's not my speed.

For many families, breast feeding an older child is usually part of the bedtime routine. The kids eats normally throughout the day. Then at night, or before a nap, there is a special moment when mom and child bond.

After the first three months of nursing Liam, an overbearing family member tried to brow beat me into quitting. She accused me of keeping my son on a liquid diet, claiming nursing wasn't good for either of us. She was relentless. As a new (and still hormonal) mom, I was in tears. Not to mention, she was totally wrong, in addition to being hurtful.

According to the countless doctors and nurses we met, research is showing that breast milk is exactly what a child needs — the more the better. It reduces cases of cancer, diabetes, heart disease and countless other ailments. Our pediatrician constantly remarks how our children will sail through minor illnesses because they've been breastfed.

Plus, I've read that instances of women's cancer are lessened in those who have breastfed their babies.

The list of benefits keeps going on and on and on. The more breast milk children receive, the healthier they are.

But the question remains: How old is too old? The answer is: As long as each individual mother and her child feel is necessary. UNICEF and the World Health Organization encourage nursing until at least two years old.

Like many children, Liam naturally decided when he was done nursing.

I applaud Jamie Lynne Grumet for being brave enough to be on a national magazine cover. She said she wanted more people to see breastfeeding so it would become more common. Good for her.

No, I'm not a fan of drive-by-nursings. However, if our children will be healthier on countless fronts, I am willing to feel bovine for a little longer. And maybe, just maybe, Grumet's bravery will give hurtful people like my family member just a little less ammunition.

Mothers, we need to make our own choices for our own children. No one knows your kid like you do.

So thanks, Time Magazine. Your cover is — like the song (sort of) goes — a thing that makes us go "moo."

John Moreli May 17, 2012 at 03:50 PM
Time magazine sunk to a new level with the cover!
Karen Meier May 21, 2012 at 04:11 PM
Well I don't think any family issues or disputes should be posted on an opinion piece, Ok Erin you got your dig in, how tacky
Dragonfly June 05, 2012 at 08:52 PM
There are always people who jump up and are ready to be supportive of women who quit, but when women are fighting to keep breastfeeding there is a lack of support. Being supportive is trying to help a person achieve THEIR goals, not the ones you have set out. If she had said she was done and asked for help quitting it would have been different. Do you think that since she was having trouble nursing that it didn't occur to her that she could quit? Is she that dense she needed it pointed out to her? I'd bet she did know that was a option and was just looking to vent sometimes and needed a kind ear and shoulder. Breastfeeding can be hard for various reasons and moms often don't have the support they need from other moms who have 'been there, done that' in their family who can guide them.
Dragonfly June 05, 2012 at 08:58 PM
I always was discreet for my own reasons but never used a blanket. If there is something I don't want to see, I avert my eyes. Breastfeeding a child is a normal activity. Are you also squeamish around rubber nipples? I think that people need to understand this is normal and mothers aren't trying to shock and annoy anyone. They are trying to feed their children as nature intended. They should be supported and not harassed with sophomoric 'rules' about how to do it 'discreetly'.
Dragonfly June 05, 2012 at 09:09 PM
Janice, so sorry and hopefully you can move past feeling like a failure. There are a small percentage of people and children that just can't nurse for various medical reasons. There are lots of things I can't do - like sing. I see people winning awards and being hailed on TV for their voice and I don't feel like a failure. It just isn't what I can do. Saying you feel like a failure makes one think that there really was something you could have done and in the way you described it, it certainly doesn't sound like the case. Breastfeeding IS completely natural. Please don't think it isn't because some small percentage can't do it. We are meant to reproduce, yet some people can not. Should we say that reproduction isn't completely natural? You tried very hard and it wasn't your fault. I hope in time you can find a way to make peace with this without feeling persecuted by the ones that can.


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