I recently came across a blog entry on startribune.com the touched on a hot button issue in American society today: breastfeeding.
In this case it was not just breastfeeding, but breastfeeding children who are 3, 4, or even 5 years old.
Breastfeeding is a polarizing issue. It starts with the decision to breastfeed, or to not breastfeed. There are advocacy groups who patrol the maternity wards of hospitals to sing the praises of breastfeeding, if not bully women into it.
Beyond that there is the issue of breastfeeding in public. Some say it is a natural thing between a mother and child and that other people are the ones who have the problem. Some feel that it is indecent exposure and should be an arrestible offense. Others fall into the middle, agreeing that it is an important bonding moment between mother and child, and along those lines should be done in private.
Regardless of those issues, I thought that breastfeeding a 5 year old would be something that everyone could agree on. I guess not.
Like some of the comments on the blog, I am immediately repulsed by the idea. On a train ride from Amsterdam to Paris I sat behind a woman who was breastfeeding her son who had to be at least 4 years old. I was shocked and appalled. But getting beyond my society-infused reactions, what is truly wrong with breastfeeding at that age?
First thing that comes to my mind is teeth. At age five kids have a mouthfull of choppers. One word: OUCH!
Second is the saying that titles the strib\’s blog post, \”If he\’s old enough to ask for it…\”. I agree, it seems like if a child is old enough to ask for it, that\’s a decent barometer that it\’s past the time to wean.
Next is the most rational reaction to the woman\’s story, the fact that she is putting off weaning her child because she doesn\’t want it to become a huge traumatic even. It doesn\’t take a psychologist to see the warning flags around a statement like that.
I also tend to agree with one of the commenters around a five year old boy having memories of breastfeeding and what that could do to him at an older age. While you can argue the evils of sexualizing breasts, the fact remains that American culture has sexualized breasts, and you\’ll have a helluva time keeping you son from being influenced by that.
But what about the other side of this coin, pro-5-year-old-breastfeeding? The science around the pros/cons of breastfeeding is somewhat mixed, and there isn\’t much information around the benefits of breastfeeding children past 4.
I obviously can\’t speak to the bonding that occurs between a mother and child, but it\’s mentioned in one comment, so I think that should count for something in the debate.
Overall I don\’t think there is one right age for a child to be weaned (from the breast, or the bottle). I think introducing solid foods is a goal regardless and I think science and common-sense tell us that a 4 year old needs more nourishment than breastmilk to grow up as strong and healthy as possible. While there is nothing inherently wrong with breastfeeding a 4 year old, I think you need to look at why hasn\’t mother or child stopped. Is it because of nutritional needs, or psychological needs? One commenter says it best: …please, examine why you are doing it. If it is because you donâ€™t want to tell your child â€œnoâ€, what other things does your child get, or will your child get, because you donâ€™t want to say â€œnoâ€? That concerns me much more, and could have much further-reaching implications, than at what age you stop nursing your child.