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ABC Dubs Breastfeeding Toddlers “Extreme”

If you are a mom that has breastfed your child past the standard norm in the US, then you are an “extreme” breastfeeder.  Get those boobies ready for the X Games!

Seriously though, when most of the world breastfeeds their children way beyond infancy, why would the mainstream media call it “extreme” in the US.

Oh, sensationalism gets your attention, and how dare a mother use her breasts for feeding a child rather than for sexualization.

This is actually an old story, nothing new here, but sometimes news takes awhile to travel. Although ABC featured the story a year ago, SF Gate brought the story to my attention yesterday. The Mommy Files reports:

Breastfeeding a child until he is age 4 is unusual in the United States. The American Academy of Pediatrics reccommends exclusive breastfeeding for about the first six months and support for nursing for the first year and beyond, as long as mutually desired by mother and child. But only 23 percent of women in the U.S. make it until age 1, according to the Centers for Disease Control. It’s simply not part of American culture to nurse a toddler.

Jennifer was aware that long-term breastfeeding is considered taboo, and so she didn’t freely share that she was still nursing her 3-year-old son in the morning and at night before bedtime. She only told friends who she figured wouldn’t criticize her. “I knew I was getting into weirdo land for a lot of people,” she says.

She only breastfed in her home and told her son to keep quiet about it. “When he was about 3 years old, I remember having a discussion between the two of us,” Jennifer says. “I told him that what we’re doing is private and we don’t need to talk about it outside the house.”

Ann Sinnott, author of the new book Breastfeeding Older Children, nursed her daughter until she was six-years-old.  She surveyed parents in 48 countries on their breastfeeding practices wishing to “challenge the negative perceptions of many psychologists who contend that breastfed older children are emotionally damaged.”  Sinnott explains in the Irish Independent:

If, as a result of my book, more mums breastfeed their babies for a year, I’ll be happy. If they breastfeed until the child is two I’ll be happier still, and if they allow they child to self-wean I’ll be happiest of all.

Breastfed children are happy. They rarely cry because their needs are being met. My daughter, at six, was serene and incredibly independent, yet she had the need to continue breastfeeding. I went along with her until she was ready to stop.

Child psychologist Will Braun told ABC News, “I think a child really needs to learn to develop the capacity to soothe oneself, the capacity to tolerate frustration.  When a child is constantly given a breast, it might thwart that from happening.”

Mainstream media’s portrayal of breastfeeding beyond one year as “extreme” upsets me, as well as comments from child psychologists who do not know world statistics. Even ABC News admits, “The average age of weaning around the world is 4 years old and there are no studies saying it is harmful.”  So, why do they need to dub breastfeeding toddlers “extreme”?


  1. Wow. I breast fed for 2 years and would never think that was extreme. But I guess, according to ABC I am an extremist. Call me what you will, ABC. I have a healthy, happy, well-adjusted toddler who had his needs met until he was ready to be finished with nursing.

  2. Ann Sinnott says:

    As author of Breastfeeding Older Children, my challenge to Will Braun is this: as a psychologist you are a science-based professional and so I ask you, what is your evidence-base for making this assertion? The answer, of course, is that you have none. There have been few psychosocial adjustment studies of breastfed children and NONE have been conducted on children breastfed for longer than ONE year. Your comment is based on fallacies common in your profession (still labouring under the influence of Freud) and reflects nothing more than the prevailing culture and its values. Cultures, however, evolve and attitudes change.

    The substantial and significant anecdotal evidence in Breastfeeding Older Children (2000+ mothers/fathers, 4000+ children, 48 countries – and this is only the tip of the iceberg) comprehensively refutes your inaccurate assertion.

    My confident challenge to your profession is this: conduct a largescale psychosocial adjustment study of long-term breastfed children and let’s see who is right – your profession, who rarely see these children, or their parents, who have first hand knowledge, and whose comments echo and re-echo each other irrespective of location.

  3. It always amazes me that so called scientist want to tell us that something that has been natural since the first humans on earth and is still natural in most parts of the world is not good for you. If it wasn´t supposed to be like that mother nature wouldn´t have done it that way. When will people finally go back to trusting their feelings about what is right? It is ok to breastfeed your child until you or your child decide to end it just as much as it is ok to share the same bed with your baby or to pick up your child when it cries even though it´s past bedtime.

  4. katie Davies says:

    I couldn’t agree with the above comments more! Ann, your book is wonderful. Keep up the good work and don’t let the ignorance of others get you down.

    Katie x

  5. Interesting… why did they not mention the recommendations of UNCIEF and WHO, both of whom recommended at least 2 years.

  6. Whoohoo! I’m extreme!

    Well, almost, this round. She’s turning 1 really soon and nowhere near ready to wean.

    I’m much a fan of child-led weaning. My two older kids both chose to wean around 18 months. I don’t doubt I could have encouraged it longer if I wanted, but I was satisfied that they were ready. We’ll see when this one chooses to wean.

    I have to agree with Ann about the psychologist’s comment. What nonsense! If you’re going to make a claim about how a child develops, have some evidence.

    In my own experience, breastfeeding a toddler is a great way to soothe him or her and it doesn’t keep them from learning to self soothe. Breastfeeding is simply one method of soothing.

  7. As a Lactation Consultant and a doula I work so hard to help moms and dads doing the best for their babies–then they have to deal with family member who watch silly programs like this and ask them if they’re “sure” about “whole breastfeeding thing”!

    Babies and children are meant to breastfeed and we should allow them to do so as long as it works for that family (period).

  8. I have to say they I have been breastfeeding for over four years now and it really is completely natural. I always said that she would stop whenever she wanted to and I felt that pushing her away from something she loves so dearly would send the wrong message. I fully understand that some mothers need to wean early due to jobs or stress or illness and that is their business to do so. For me, she cosleeps and nurses at night and in the morning, it’s just a natural part of her routine. If she hurts herself or is upset, it soothes her like nothing else. One day she will no longer be a child and I will look back at the years I breastfed her as the most rewarding years of my life. I have never before been given the opportunity to give so much of myself to someone else and I am truly happy to be able to do this for her.

  9. I have 3 children. Ages 22, 19 and 3. I didn’t nurse my first two very long mostly due to lack of support, knowledge and the need to go out and work. I was also very young. Both of my older children suffered with ear infections, allergies, sinus problems and my oldest contracted meningitis when he was 3 and not only could have dies but suffered brain damage or loss of limbs. He turned out to be ok thank the Lord. When I was pregnant many years later I was remarried, and very established in my career and relationship with my husband. We had a baby together and did alot of research on breastfeeding. We were determined to breastfeed my now 3 year old for a minimum of 2 years- the world pediatrics organizations recommended minimum.

    I was let go from my job because I breastfed my child past 12 months and was unable to perform my duties at my job. I was a police officer (over 10 year veteran) and was told I had to qualify at the shooting range and go back to work by the time my child was 12 months old. They figured since she could “medically” drink cows milk by then I should just give her that. I am leaving out a lot of info here because it is just too much but basically I was fired and not given a light duty position as other male officers were given for extended periods of time because I chose to breastfeed past what is considered “normal”. Not illegal for those of you fuming by now and yes I filed a complaint with the Oregon bureau of labor and yes I contacted an attorney. BOLI said it wasn’t right what my department did but it wasn’t illegal. Point is, you should be allowed to do what is healthy for your child and have the CHOICE to do so and keep your job. My now 3 year old still nurses. I am ready for her to be done, she is not. Could I expect my employer to give me special duty for 3 or 4 years so I can nurse- no I can’t but I can tell you that had I been given light duty, (instead of 9 months leave with out pay) just the distance and time lapse of nursing vs. bottles (my daugher NEVER would accept a bottle- I tried to pump trust me!) would have depleted my milk supply and eventually we would have weaned “naturally”. Now I run my own business (certainly do not make money like I used to) but I am able to bring her to work with me. I can see the health benefits and security it provides for her and she is so determined to keep nursing that when nap or bedtime come, Daddy gets that pleasure. I “juice her up” as we say and he puts her to bed. What a wonderful bond we have and share as a family and that isn’t something you can buy!! She is 3 now and I am ready to be done but I know that I will miss it as I miss her being a baby. I don’t miss a step with her now and am happy about my decision because everyday that passes is a day gone. We lost our home due to the loss of income and will suffer in our retirement years if I don’t go back soon but again- I do not apologize for my choice and think all mom’s out there should do what is comfortable for them and their family!!

  10. Ann Sinnott says:

    Thanks, Katie. Positive comments from many mothers’ who’ve found value in the book have been a real pleasure, and why criticism from the uninformed just runs off like water!

    Debbi – your post underlines just how long we still have to go, but we WILL get there! The treatment you received from your employer was disgraceful, and I’m so sad for the negative repercussions. But how lucky your daughter is to have you as a mother! Well done! Just want to say: now that your daughter is 3 there is no reason why continuing to nurse precludes returning to work. Children of this age easily adjust and a feed before you leave for work will see her through until you return. Having said that, I completely agree that everyone should do what is most comfortable for them. I’m sure you will wean your (probably reluctant) daughter gently, gradually, with much love and kindness.

  11. It is annoying how the only people who commented here are mothers who support breast feeding into older ages. As a mother, I personally think it is weird and bizarre. “oh my child will weane when they want to”. Yea, the same way they would wean themselves off candy! They trust what you offer them, but I think what you offer them, your breast a 4 YEARS old is for your comfort level and is seldish. Let tour children eat food like normal kids at 4 years old! Ann’s first post sounded about as clinically dull as the psychologist she was bashing. The truth is, there is no scientific study your “way too long” breast fed kids are any happier or healthier. You all just sound like a bunch of insecure women who look to giving their boob to their kids for that comfort. Instead of doing that at bedtime, go look for that comfort by having sex with your husband… who probably also secretly thinks it is weird as he’ll!

    • Weird,

      First of all you really do live up to your name. You obviously weren’t breastfed yourself or you would have a higher IQ and be able to recognize and correct all of your misspelled words and grammar errors, even if only by using spell check. Thats the little “abc” icon on your toolbar. Its ashamed to see how blatantly misinformed you are. It’s sad that there are people like you who make mothers feel like they are doing something wrong by BFing past 6 weeks old. My daughter is almost 2 and I BF her in the morning, when I get home from work and right before bed. She eats plenty of other foods to include fruits and veggies and even whole milk. Her pallet is extremely varied, something else I contribute to BFing. I think she considers my milk more as a treat. It’s not the only thing I nourish her with. Although no other food I give her can give her as much as my milk does, which is tailored specifically for her and her needs. I plan to BF as long as she wants. You have no right to call BF moms selfish. It’s probably the most unselfish thing I do. It does add some inconvenience to my life and makes little day-to-day decisions difficult (attire, missing out on social breaks at work so I can pump, extra time it takes to BF when I don’t have to at all, worry about what kinds of medicine I can take that wont hurt her…). The only reason I continue to BF is for her and her health and happiness. She gets the occasional cold, but they are very mild and has never had any other sicknesses. I’ll admit my mom watches her while I’m at work so she isn’t exposed to germs at a daycare but still gets exposed to germs when we go to playgrounds, church functions, store and other places. The research is there, we are not making up these facts about how beneficial it is not only for the baby/toddler and mother but for society as well. It is a beautiful MIRACULOUS thing, something you will obviously never get to experience or understand. You sound like the kind of mom who spanks her kids if they are getting rowdy in public. It’s a shame you cant calm them down with the love mothers’ milk can provide. Something you are unable to comprehend. I cant imagine my words reforming you or you ever choosing to support us but you could at least keep your uninformed, ignorant, uncouth, judgmental mouth shut!!

  12. I still breastfeed my child at 19 months, nap and bed. She eats foods, breastfeeding is simply soothing to her. When she happens to be sick or has a fever I am especially thankful that we still breastfeed to give her that extra comfort.

    Breastfeeding is not for everyone, but to the author Weird I really don’t think you can compare breatfeeding with eating candy. Sounds like you are a working mom who probably didn’t breastfeed past 1 year and are now trying to comfort yourself in your parenting skills by lashing out on other moms who you feel threatened by.


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