I’m not sure why I opened What to Expect the Toddler Years (Eisenberg/Murkoff/Hathaway, 1994/1996). Morbid curiosity I guess.
The books in this series are notorious for maintaining the status quo, but they do so in a typically non-invasive way, especially if you go into it wary-eyed. Early in my pregnancy, I learned to take everything with a grain of salt (except my food, which I took with many grains of salt). So barring any blindly ideological fundamentalism, which really turns me off, I have been able to pick and choose, from a range of sources, what bits sound good to me. Like a buffet, with a lot of different options: nothing too plentiful, nothing too sparse. I take a little bacon, a little avocado, a little kale, and am able to pass over with little fanfare the starchy things that are bad for my gut.
But this, my friends, from the section titled “When to Wean From Breastfeeding,” is like a big steaming pile of seitan forced upon someone with celiac disease.
My toddler still breastfeeds, and I’ve read/heard a lot that supports that. I’ve read/heard some things that aren’t crazy about it, but this is the first thing I’ve read that is actually opposed to toddler nursing, offering a detailed list of reasons to wean by your kid’s first birthday.
As I read it, however, I found some of the arguments to be pretty inadequate, some outright silly. So I decided to share it with you, for a laugh, and to add my own commentary.
(A brief search of the “What to Expect” web site alludes to their potentially toning down their stance on this issue, but it’s still fun to pull this out of the much-too-recent archives.)
Before I get started, I want to say that if there’s one thing I’ve learned from “parenting science,” it’s that science can apparently be skewed to support anything. Have you noticed how contradictory parenting views all have their own studies to back up their stances?
This can be true. After my son turned one, he began to understand and communicate his desire to nurse, mostly by sticking his hand down my shirt and attacking me every time he saw cleavage. I imagine that weaning now would not work very well, whereas it may have six months ago.
However, I have spoken to a few mothers whose children were nursed longer, and they said weaning became easier, rather than harder, once the child got past the initial clingy toddler phase.
I think this is a point where there is no hard and fast rule, but rather just something to be considered.
Everything else I’ve read has said just the opposite (again with the “everything has its own pet science” idea): there are plenty of nutritional benefits to nursing your toddler, particularly with immune system strengthening.
And I’m pretty sure that most toddlers are also on solid foods, with breast milk being supplemental (“a little something extra”), rendering the “breast milk can no longer meet a child’s nutritional requirements” argument moot.
If you actually read this entire paragraph, it is not an argument for weaning completely, but rather for not nursing your child all night long, and for maintaining your child’s hygiene.
And lots of things decay a child’s teeth. (Such as the plethora of sugary toddler snacks marketed as healthy. In fact you’re hard up to find toddler snacks that don’t have processed sugar in them, even at places like Whole Foods (yes, evaporated cane juice is processed sugar).) Like lots of things cause illness. (Such as Purell moms who disinfect their child’s immune system into oblivion.) Like lots of things cause cancer. (Such as life.)
Giving our toddlers cow’s milk is fully sanctioned, as is juice (which decays a child’s teeth). Hydration is important. Breast milk is a form of hydration.
Friends, this doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing thing. I think it’s about balance, about knowing your child.
Most toddlers go through picky phases, regardless of whether or not they’re nursing, that may raise nutritional concerns. In these cases, I personally would much rather supplement with breast milk than something like PediaSure.
Or when the child is sick. My son got an icky viral infection, and sores in his throat made it painful to eat, drink, swallow, cough, live. He barely ate or drank for days; he only wanted to nurse. Good thing—otherwise, he may have succumbed to dehydration, a common symptom of the illness.
Seriously? Is this really a valid concern? I’m pretty sure that even the most
boob-crazy toddlers have plenty of time in their schedule for other things.
As for energy, well, lots of things use up a parent’s energy.
Wait, I thought you said that “there are no nutritional benefits to nursing now”? This random benefit of extended nursing, thrown in an the end of a paragraph in the midst of a whole spiel of reasons to not practice extended nursing, is, much like this sentence, dubiously convoluted.
It’s funny how many of these arguments for the original stance, which to me reads pretty adamantly, are not “clear-cut issues.”
As a single parent, I will not be addressing the “Daddy” issue. Except when I do later.
Again (and again, and again, and again) this does not have to be an all-or-nothing thing (are we only capable of extremes?????). Mothers don’t have to nurse their toddler every time they’re upset. But it is a nice option, when nothing else works, or if you are in public and want your child to quiet down quickly. (Oh no, did I just mention public toddler nursing?? That’s one for the next issue, my friends.)
On the other hand, divorce rates are really high, but blood lasts forever.
Just sayin’. There’s more than one way of looking at these things.
Archaeology and anthropology show that what we now call “extended” breastfeeding was unequivocally the vast majority of practice throughout the history of humanity, regardless of the availability of nutrients in food. (See In Search of the Natural Weaning Age for Humans for more on this.)
When mothers couldn’t or wouldn’t breastfeed, children died. Now, there are other options, which allow these children to live.
The point is, there is not always an easy blanket right-or-wrong answer. As a culture, we apparently cannot deal with a range of options, of practices, without assigning good or bad, right or wrong to them (ahem, violent hierarchies). We decide on a norm, and demonize everything else, ignoring context.
But maybe, as individuals, we can try to be a bit more nuanced and careful with our thinking, and try to stop using science to simply reinforce our dichotomous views.
Read more about extended breastfeeding:
- The Truth About Breastfeeding (Oh, The Things We’ll Make!)
- 10 Reasons I LOVE Breastfeeding My TODDLER (LittleOwlCrunchyMomma(
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