Breastfeeding for longer than a year – myths, facts, and what the research really shows

April 18, 2011 at 9:40 pm 11 comments

(This post first appeared on the Good Enough Mum blog as a submission to the April 2011 Carnival of Breastfeeding.  You can read the original here.)

Extended breastfeeding is the term given, in our society, to breastfeeding a child beyond the first year.  An increasing number of women are choosing to do this, and, sadly, are more often than not incurring heated disapproval for doing so. Breastfeeding toddlers or older children is believed to make them overly dependent, mothers who do so are accused of thinking only of their own needs and not of their children (that ultimate indictment for mothers), and the practice is looked on as inappropriate and downright perverse.

Fortunately, it’s now being increasingly recognised that this position is not supported by either logic or evidence.  Not only is there not a shred of evidence that breastfeeding beyond a year is harmful, there is positive evidence to reassure us on this score – the world is full of societies in which it is considered normal and expected behaviour to continue breastfeeding for considerably longer than a year, and the children raised thusly seem to be doing perfectly well on the practice.  It is, of course, hugely beneficial for children in developing countries where food can be scarce and malnutrition rife, and it has some potential benefits even in our affluent society – it can be a valuable source of nutrition for otherwise faddy toddlers, and it slightly reduces a mother’s risk of breast cancer or rheumatoid arthritis.

I’m delighted to see it becoming more widely recognised that there is absolutely no reason why a mother should feel obliged to wean simply because an arbitrary date on the calendar is approaching.  However, there’s a twist to this; the pressure is starting to go the other way.  A small but vocal minority are pushing for breastfeeding past a year to be seen not merely as an option for women who want to do so, but as a goal for everyone to aim for.  Breastfeeding a toddler (or older child) is enthusiastically touted as having a host of physical and psychological benefits.  Lactivists are advising mothers that they should do their best to continue nursing until two years at the very least, and preferably longer (nursing until the child decides spontaneously to stop is held up as the ideal).  And the problem is that there really isn’t any decent evidence to support this attempted move towards yet another blanket parenting ‘should’.

I’m not objecting, here, to an individual woman deciding that there may be particular circumstances in her child’s case – deprived circumstances, an unusual health problem, or even just food faddiness – that might lead to her wanting to continue to breastfeed in hopes that it will be of some benefit.  Also, of course, I’m talking specifically about the situation in the developed world here, not about breastfeeding in developing countries where it is indeed likely to remain beneficial for long past infancy.  My objection is to the claims that extended breastfeeding has been shown to be of general benefit even in situations where other sources of nutrition are plentiful.  It hasn’t.  And while this kind of pro-extended-breastfeeding advocacy has been a huge comfort to plenty of women who, having struggled with the pressure from others to wean before they wish to, now feel vindicated, it’s also putting some women in the position of feeling obliged to nurse for longer than they really want to, in the belief that they’ll be somehow depriving or disadvantaging their children if they don’t.  That is not a trend I want to see.

That position, of course, is controversial enough in lactivist circles that it’ll need some defending; to break up what’s now set to be a very long post, I’m going to go for the ‘Debate With Imaginary Opponent’ format.

What do you mean, there’s no evidence that nursing past a year is beneficial?  Are you trying to claim that a fluid so packed with nutrition, antibodies, and general goodness somehow magically loses all its benefits just because a child has passed the age of one?

Of course not.  What happens is that the child gradually grows, develops and reaches the point where breast milk just doesn’t have anything much further to add.  (Just to clarify, in case anyone was forgetting how I began this post, I’m fine with children continuing to nurse after that point if they and their mothers so wish.   All I’m objecting to is the claim that they should continue to nurse, which I don’t agree with any more than the claim that they should stop.)

But there’s plenty of evidence that breasfeeding is beneficial to toddlers.  For starters, one study by Gulick (1) showed that breastfed toddlers between 16 and 30 months old get sick less often than non-breastfed toddlers and get better more quickly when they do…

No, it didn’t.


It didn’t.  Although lactivist websites all over the Internet claim that that study shows a decreased rate of infections in breastfed toddlers between 16 and 30 months old, it actually shows nothing of the sort.  I know this because I’ve got hold of a copy of the study and read it for myself.  The toddlers being studied weren’t breastfed toddlers – they were toddlers who’d been breastfed in the past but had stopped breastfeeding before entering the study.  What the study was actually looking at was whether longer duration of breastfeeding during infancy had any benefit in terms of reducing infection rates in toddlerhood after breastfeeding cessation.  (It didn’t, in case you’re interested; at least, not in that study.)  Somehow, someone has managed to utterly and crashingly misreport what the study was into and what it showed, and lactivists across the Internet have simply repeated this misinformation without question.  It’s one of the biggest breastfeeding myths I’ve seen out there.

Well, come on – what about the other studies on the topic?  Look – Kellymom has a whole list of studies showing the immunological benefits to breastfed toddlers!

One of those is a study set in a developing country, showing benefit to children who are severely malnourished children.  As I said, breastfeeding can indeed be beneficial past infancy in such a setting, but it just isn’t valid to assume that those results will be applicable to children living in our relatively privileged Western settings.  One wasn’t even studying toddlers – it was a study of breastfeeding benefits in babies up to the age of 20 weeks, which is not toddlerhood by any remote stretch of the imagination.  The rest, as far as I can see, all just look at concentrations of antibodies in breastmilk of mothers of nursing toddlers, not at whether those antibodies are actually adding anything to the toddler’s own antibodies when it comes to fighting off infections.

Oh, come on.  Surely all those antibodies have to be doing something.

Not necessarily.  Bear in mind that a child’s own immune system also develops rapidly during the early years, and at some point it’s going to reach the stage where breast milk just doesn’t have a lot else to contribute.

That surely can’t be as early as a year, though.  I can’t believe that breastmilk doesn’t still have some benefit to children older than that.

You’re welcome to believe what you like.  It’s the claim that it’s been proved to be beneficial that I’m objecting to.

So have you any evidence that it isn’t?

In the one study I have been able to find on infection rates in breastfed vs. non-breastfed toddlers – a study in New Zealand that followed over a thousand children up to the age of two, looking at respiratory and gastrointestinal infections – breastfeeding didn’t show any benefit in toddlers, or for that matter, in older babies (2).  Of course, there are flaws in every study, and I can think of several possible reasons why this one might have underestimated results enough to miss a small but genuine benefit, but it does seem to me that, if that’s the case, we can’t be talking about that great a benefit.  And, frankly, when the one study we have on the subject shows a complete lack of any benefit, I don’t really think that the people claiming evidence of benefit are on solid ground.

But, what about the other benefits for breastfed toddlers?  Just look at the way that it helps an upset or tantrumming toddler to calm down.

I agree that that can be a wonderful convenience of breastfeeding.  However – and feel free to take this or leave it as you like, because we are temporarily stepping out of the realm of objective scientific evidence and into that of my own opinion – I do have my doubts as to whether it’s a good idea to do so.  After all, what message does it send children when we regularly and repeatedly teach them to turn to a sweet-tasting food source at times when they need comfort?  I wouldn’t use any other form of food or drink to distract my child from a tantrum, because that’s not the message I want to be giving to my children about how food should be used; it’s not encouraging healthy eating habits.  Why should I make an exception for breastfeeding?  I tried to avoid doing so, for both my children.  Just because something is the most convenient way to calm an upset child doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the best way in the long term.

But it has psychological benefits over and beyond just calming tantrums.  Breastfeeding for longer actually helps children become more independent!

No evidence for that claim.

Look, Jack Newman says so!  And Elizabeth Baldwin!

And they’re entitled to their opinion on the matter.  However, I don’t see any reason why I should automatically believe it, any more than I should automatically believe the equally unreferenced opinions of the doctors who claim that longer breastfeeding makes children more dependent.  Either way, they’re opinions, which are not the same thing as evidence.

But there is evidence!  Check out this quote on Kellymom’s site – ‘One study that dealt specifically with babies nursed longer than a year showed a significant link between the duration of nursing and mothers’ and teachers’ ratings of social adjustment in six- to eight-year-old children’ (3).  Or are you trying to claim that that study’s being misrepresented as well?

Oh, not with the kind of spectacular degree of inaccuracy as the study by Gulick we discussed above.  However, that quote makes the results sound far more impressive than they were.  We’re not told that the differences found were very small, that they showed up in only one of the several measures of psychosocial adjustment that were tested, that adjusting for other factors eliminated practically all the difference found in the teachers’ ratings, or that the researchers themselves were pretty unimpressed by their results.  To quote from their conclusion: ‘In general the evidence above gives only very weak support for the view that breastfeeding makes a significant contribution to later social adjustment.  The research findings tend to be both inconsistent over time and between measurement sources and at best suggest a very small association between breastfeeding and subsequent social adjustment.  Further it is more than likely that even the small and inconsistent associations that have been reported could have arisen from factors which have not been controlled in the analysis.’  As evidence goes, I have to say that that doesn’t really strike me as compelling enough to justify trying to persuade women to continue breastfeeding if they don’t want to.

So what about all the other studies listed on Kellymom?  Showing that breastfed toddlers suffer from fewer allergies and have higher IQs?

I’ve checked all five of the papers she lists as supposedly backing up her claim about reduced allergies in breastfed toddlers (full text of four of them, the abstract of the other), and none of them are about toddlers.  They’re all looking at breastfeeding in infancy.  In fact, one of them (a review rather than a study) actually mentions in passing that the existing research shows ‘some suggestions’ that longer breastfeeding may be related to an increase in allergy risk.

When it came to the studies on breastfeeding and intelligence, after a while I simply gave up.  The only study I did manage to find that looked at breastfeeding over a year didn’t find any substantial difference in intelligence or school performance between children breastfed for that length of time and children who stopped shortly before that – longer duration of breastfeeding was initially associated with a slight increase in intelligence level, but then the effect leveled out.  (That one’s not available on line, but you might be interested in checking out this one by Mortensen et al that Kellymom also links to, which also studied the association between intelligence and breastfeeding duration and reached a similar conclusion – initially the increased duration of breastfeeding was associated with slight improvement on the intelligence scales, but the effect then levelled off, with children breastfed for longer than nine months having scores no better than those breastfed for 7 – 9 months.)

I checked several other studies on her list which, again, all turned out to be follow-ups on breastfed babies, not children breastfed past a year.  So, as I say, I gave up.  Checking all the studies she lists would have taken forever and I’m afraid there are limits to the amount of time and effort even I can put in to checking references from someone who’s clearly such an unreliable source of information.  (And, before anyone gets offended at me dissing Kellymom, I do actually think she’s a great source of information when it comes to dealing with breastfeeding problems; I’ve just found her to be appallingly bad at giving accurate information on any research dealing with any question in the general category of ‘Is it possible that breastfeeding in circumstance X is anything less than incredibly beneficial?’)

So, for all you know, there might be studies on her list that do show benefits of toddler breastfeeding and you just haven’t seen them?

Well, if you find any, by all means let me know.  I mean that – I’d be interested to read them and happy to spread the word about them.  But, until I actually see a decent-quality study providing good evidence that breastfeeding past a year is actively beneficial for children, I’m not going to tell women it is.  And, given how many studies are being erroneously cited as showing benefits of toddler breastfeeding when they show nothing of the sort – frankly, I think my scepticism about the existence of any studies that do show benefits is completely excusable.

Well, I don’t care!  I love breastfeeding my older child and I want to carry on whether or not you’ve found any studies proving that it’s beneficial!  We’re both enjoying it, and that’s benefit enough!

EXACTLY!  And that’s the ONLY reason you need.  You don’t need to prove that it’s in some way superior to what all the other mothers are doing.  You don’t need to score Good Motherhood points on some imaginary scale to justify your choice to others.  You just need the confidence to believe that it’s OK and that it’s what works for you.  Enjoy nursing your toddler or older child, accept that mothers who have made a different choice from you are doing just as well by their child and shouldn’t be conned into nursing for longer than they want to, and support every mother in the choice she makes on the matter, in the knowledge that, as far as we can see from the available evidence, nursing or not nursing a child of that age are equally good options to go for and thus we can happily leave this one in the realm of personal preference where it belongs.



1. Gulick E. The Effects of Breastfeeding on Toddler Health.  Pediatric Nursing 1986; 12(1): 51 – 4. 

2. Fergusson D.M., Horwood L.J., Shannon F.T., and Taylor B.  Breast-feeding, gastrointestinal and lower respiratory illness in the first two years.  Australian Paediatric Journal 1981; 17: 191 – 5.

3. Fergusson D.M., Horwood L.J., and Shannon F.T.  Breastfeeding and subsequent social adjustment in six- to eight-year-old children.  Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 1987; 28(3): 378 – 86.


Entry filed under: Breastfeeding, Breastfeeding past infancy.

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11 Comments Add your own

  • 1. areawoman  |  April 11, 2012 at 8:20 pm

    Someone posted a link to this article on my facebook page today, and I am SO GLAD they’ve introduced me to your blog!. I disliked it, but I breastfed both my kids until they were two because I was convinced by the rhetoric that it was the One True Way to nourish my children and didn’t bother to fact check for myself. I think that the natural/”crunchy” crowd tends to decide what they believe and then convince themselves it’s supported by the evidence rather than reading the evidence and *then* deciding on the truth. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been reading a natural parenting blog where a study is linked and it says nothing like what they’re claiming, or in one case, the exact opposite.

  • 2. Angela Hartfelder  |  April 19, 2012 at 11:56 pm

    Your article highlights a trend I find very interesting… Why are people expecting randomized controled clinical studies to prove that human milk is good for humans?

    I ask this in all seriousness. I was fascinated to recently read a study that was undertaken to show that human infants could grow and develop appropriately on human milk alone for the first six months of life. This just boggles my mind. Did we *really* need a full fledged, funded, scientific study to show human milk is ok for humans? Apparently we did.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying research is bad, or that we shouldn’t do research. What I am saying is that sometimes research, or the lack thereof, is quite effectively utilized as a barrier when a barrier shouldn’t exist.

    • 3. Dr Sarah  |  May 2, 2012 at 9:31 pm

      Thanks very much for commenting, Angela! I love getting questions.

      I don’t think the question has ever been whether ‘human milk is OK for humans’. Clearly it is. In the particular study you’re talking about, the question was whether human milk is enough for babies for a full six months, or whether they need solids before that. That’s hardly something we can assume the answer to – after all, it’s obviously normal for breastfed babies to start solids at some point, and typical ages of starting solids vary extremely widely in different cultures around the world, so it makes sense to look at what age might be the best and at whether there’s a point at which breastmilk can no longer supply all nutrients. And, in fact, the answer to the study’s question was that breastmilk sometimes isn’t enough – depending on circumstances, babies will often need some extra iron before six months (which they can get from either solids or supplements).

      In the case of most breastfeeding research, the question is how formulas designed by humans match or differ from breastmilk in terms of outcome for babies. After all, while breastmilk is obviously ‘OK for humans’, we do now have alternatives, and mothers who don’t want to breastfeed or have difficulty with it may well want to know whether those alternatives can actually substitute fully for breastmilk (as manufacturers would like to claim). In fact, the research clarifies that they can’t – they will certainly provide a baby with an adequate diet, but it won’t have the benefits for immunity and brain development that breastfeeding does. So, there are still clear advantages to breastfeeding, even now that we have formula.

      We also want to know how great those advantages are, because that is important information for a mother struggling with breastfeeding and wondering whether it’s worth the struggle or not. This is a question I hope to address in a future post.

      As to this article, about breastfeeding toddlers – again, the question was never whether it’s OK for them to continue having human milk. As I make clear in the article, of course it is, and mothers can happily keep breastfeeding as long as they and their children both wish. The question is whether breastfeeding at this stage continues to carry actual advantages over not breastfeeding – a question which isn’t important for a mother who wishes to continue regardless, but is important for a mother who would like to stop but wants to know whether that decision could have a negative impact for her child. In fact, the research does not currently support any disadvantages to stopping breastfeeding at this sort of stage, so a mother who wishes to stop should also feel able to do so happily, without being given inaccurate information claiming completely unproven benefits from continuing.

      Hope that clarified.

      • 4. Angela  |  May 2, 2012 at 10:39 pm

        Although I disagree about assuming that human milk alone is enough for human babies through six months of age, I think that the assumption we need a randomized controled study to *prove* it, speaks volumes. I would argue that 10 thousand years of survival, with formula being a relatively recent occurance, and only widespread practice in the last 100-ish years, would prove that human milk is indeed enough for human infants. And that it shows is it adequate for far longer than 6 months.

        “because that is important information for a mother struggling with breastfeeding and wondering whether it’s worth the struggle or not”

        Ah, now this is indeed the crux of the matter. Why are mom’s struggling? Should we address and solve the cause of the issue, or is it better to put a bandaid on the festering wound and hope for the best?

        I’m not arguing at all that every woman must breastfeed her infant until natural weaning, or else. I’m just saying that we need to address the problem, rather than making everyone feel better about not addressing it.

        I just told a good friend the other day, I have no problem with the choices you make, as long as you are honest with yourself about why you make them. Own the decision. (it had nothing to do with breastfeeding, by the way. *g*)

        • 5. Star  |  May 3, 2012 at 4:34 pm

          But this isn’t talking about the reasons women struggle with breastfeeding. Yes, there are some that are physical or sociological or products of mismanagement of supply, but sometimes, moms are just freaking done at a certain point. When they get there, we shouldn’t ever guilt them into continuing on the basis of possible benefits. And I say this as an IBCLC and huge breastfeeding advocate who nursed one kid to 14 months and is weaning her almost 2 year old now. I think that this is what the author is attempting to address. The pressure to continue when, quite frankly, the mother doesn’t want to. I agree that we need to address why moms who want to breastfeed longer are failing, but we don’t have to hold up this standard of how everyone MUST breastfeed to x time, either. Mothers have a plethora of different circumstances.

          As far as the 6 month thing, I would argue that in most of human history, moms gave babies food earlier than 6 months. Anthropological evidence makes us believe that this is likely the case. The idea of having to wait until X time is a fairly new one that we have developed in our attempts to optimize the health of our children. Certainly optimizing health is a positive, but with the variation in cultures and availability of food and so on, we simply can’t make a sweeping statement that breastmilk alone was enough based on historical perhapses. Also, despite formula being a recent occurrence, we do know that supplementation occurred much earlier than that, probably throughout history, either with other foods, wet nursing, other animal’s milk, etc.

          • 6. Angela  |  May 4, 2012 at 4:17 pm

            I don’t think my point is being understood. Perhaps I’m not being clear. Perhaps we have such a need to make everyone feel better about their decisions, that sometimes defensiveness clouds the issues.

            What I am saying, is let parents own their decisions. They don’t need us to undermine their ability to do so by trying to make them feel better about it one way or the other. They know why they made whatever decision they did. We don’t need them to justify it to us or anyone else, and they don’t need us to make them feel better about it. It was their decision. Let them own it.

            What I am not saying is that anyone, anywhere, should “guilt” anyone into anything. Ever. Of course, there is the same old question here, is this real or perceived persecution? As an IBCLC, you are also probably quite familiar with the level of cognitive dissonance that can occur when it comes to *any* parenting decisions. And that it arises when reality doesn’t fit with their expectation.

            I’m not even saying that I women should or should not do the so called “extended breastfeeding”.

            What I am saying is that we shouldn’t be making anyone justify their decisions either way by holding up lack of randomized blinded controled studies. First, EVERY study has inherent flaws that any statistician worth their salt can rip most every one to shreds. Second, it would be completely unethical to do the “gold standard” of research in most areas of parenting. Therefore using the lack of them to justify…well…anything, is equally unethical.

            These are grown adults. They are capable of making their own decisions. They are also capable of “owning” those decisions. We don’t need to be in the business of making people feel better or worse about their decisions. They know why they made them, and that should be that. In reality, the rest of society feels a rather large urge to try and impose their own judgement on parents, and mom’s in particular. Which is why I asked about the authors citing of moms struggling with feeding and wanting to stop. It the issue is struggle, fix the struggle. Treat the “disease” not the “symptom”.

            We need to give up the parenting by proxy and let parents be parents. If they want to stop, then that is their decision and they know why they did it. If they want to keep going until the child is in high school, then that is their decision, they know why they did it. And we as a society shouldn’t need, or seek to, make them feel better about it. It sends two messages; one, that they are incapable of making an informed decision, and two, that they need to justify to others why they made that decision. This in turn leads to feelings of guilt and judgement no matter what choice they made.

            I don’t need to know why a mom wants to stop breastfeeding. I don’t need to know why a mom wants to keep breastfeeding. What I need to know is, are their any barriers to achieving her goals, whatever they may be, and how can I help her do what she has decided to do.

            So let’s stop trying to justify parenting by proxy, and stop trying to influence parents to do one thing or another, or don’t do one thing or another, and start letting parents make their own decisions.

          • 7. Becky  |  June 16, 2012 at 2:49 pm

            This is really to Angela’s last post, but I don’t seem to be able to reply directly to it. Giving parents information is NOT the same as trying to influence their decision. Parents’ decisions have to be based on SOMETHING, and if it is not based on scientific research, then it is simply based on their own biases or preconceived ideas. A lot of parents is simply about “what works for us,” but looking to see if the are possible health effects to different options is GOOD as it gives parents objective information to base their decisions on.

        • 8. Dr Sarah  |  May 9, 2012 at 1:22 pm

          Angela – With regard to mothers who are struggling, I completely agree with you that help and support should be available. However, while many breastfeeding problems are as easy to solve as “Here, try holding him this way to get him to open his mouth wider” or “Let’s get you booked in to get that tongue tie clipped” or the like, others take a lot more time and effort. So, however good the support that’s available for mothers, there are still going to be some situations where mothers wonder whether it’s worth continuing to put in that time and effort, and some of those mothers are going to want information on just what the benefits of continued breastfeeding at that point actually are so that they can make that decision.

          Coming back to the topic of this particular article – in the case of deciding whether to continue breastfeeding a toddler, I don’t even think the issue is likely to be about any specific problems with breastfeeding. After all, by the time the baby’s a year old, whatever problems his/her mother might be having are going to have been long since sorted out if they’re solvable at all. The likely issue at this stage is that a woman will simply feel she’s had enough. I’ve read accounts from women who feel this way but feel obliged to continue nevertheless because they’ve been convinced, by the inaccurate propaganda out there on sites such as Kellymom and, that it’s of benefit to their children for them to continue. I think that’s a real shame – not because there’s anything wrong with nursing an older child, but because there’s everything wrong with being conned into doing something you wouldn’t otherwise have wanted because the information you received on the subject was incorrect.

          As for the study you’re talking about, it wasn’t into whether formula was needed before six months, but into whether food was. After all, food has been around for rather more than ten thousand years, and I doubt whether mothers throughout human history have felt constrained to count off six full months before giving solids to their babies. I would say that, while it’s pretty obvious that human milk is going to be enough for a typical baby at first, it’s also pretty obvious that there’s eventually going to come a point at which it isn’t enough and at which the child will need some food as well. The question is where that point falls.

          And, as I said, the study in question showed that babies do in fact sometimes need more iron in the first six months than breastmilk can supply, and go short without a supplement of some kind. If we’d simply assumed that of course breastmilk must be good enough to be a baby’s sole source of nutrition for a full six months, and recommended this without bothering to look at whether this was the case or not… then some babies would have gone short of iron as a result. (Sadly, this is now probably happening anyway, with the way that the ‘no solids until six months’ rule is being implemented wholesale in countries that don’t seem to have noticed the part of the study about a possible need for iron supplements and hence haven’t any kind of screening programme for iron deficiency. Sigh.) Now, of course the babies and the human race as a whole can survive this perfectly well. But we’re no longer living in a subsistence society, and we want better for our babies than simply surviving long enough to pass their genes on to the next generation. If delaying solids to six months increases the risk of iron deficiency, I think that’s something most parents would actually like to know about. So, yes, the study did give us important information on the subject, which we wouldn’t have had if we’d simply assumed that the answer was obvious and so we didn’t need to research the subject.

          • 9. Indie  |  January 14, 2013 at 1:26 am

            If you are concerned with iron deficiency, I would suggest that you look into how our cultural norm of early umbilical cord clamping plays a part in this problem. There is good information available and some doctors are beginning to wait longer to clamp the cord. It is not that breastmilk is missing iron, it is that babies are starting life with lower than normal stores of iron due to cords being clamped too early. (There is an excellent grand rounds on this available on YouTube if you are interested.)

  • 10. Dr Sarah  |  May 9, 2012 at 1:07 pm

    Angela, I think the philosophy you outline would be a brilliant one for everyone to stick to. And, of course, if everyone actually was sticking to it then this blog would never have been written in the first place. The problem, however, is the amount of active misinformation out there on the subject of parenting. And I believe misinformation should be corrected.

    When a mother would actually prefer to stop breastfeeding but continues breastfeeding because she has been erroneously told that doing so will have benefits for her toddler, then that misinformation is itself a barrier to her decision. If she’d had correct information – namely, that there’s no good evidence that it’ll make any difference to her toddler’s health or wellbeing one way or another – then she might well have made a different decision. In that case, correcting the misinformation is/ removing the barrier.

    I don’t believe that it’s acceptable for people to be given inaccurate information like this, and so my aim is to set the facts straight as best I can in places where inaccuracies have been disseminated.
    It’s not about wanting to influence people’s decisions one way or the other, or about making anyone justify their decisions, or about thinking that people shouldn’t have to own their decisions, or about feeling the urge to make people feel better about the decision they’ve made. It’s about believing that people should have accurate information to base those decisions on in the first place.

    Hope that clarifies.

  • 11. Indie  |  January 14, 2013 at 1:20 am

    Breastfeeding for around two years is the norm biologically and anthropologically. It is up to those who choose to go outside the norm to prove that doing so is not detrimental. I haven’t looked into these studies, but from what you’ve written is seems to say that the studies really haven’t been done or done well. It doesn’t make sense for those who are feeding human milk to human young to bear the burden of proving it is somehow beneficial.

    And lets be honest, there are extremely few people who breastfeed past a year because they feel pressured to. There are many more who stop because they feel social pressure to stop. And there are many, many more who stop much earlier than a year for a host of reasons, in many cases not because they wanted to.

    I would love to see more and better studies if the existing ones are as poor as you indicate. And I don’t advocate guilting anyone into doing anything. But I won’t stop telling women that its a healthy and normal thing to do. If that makes them feel guilty, they have issues to deal with that are larger than breastfeeding decisions.


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