The Indian Academy of Pediatrics (IAP), the UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Breastfeeding Promotion Network of India (BPNI) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of a baby’s life and continued breastfeeding for up to two years and beyond with adequate complementary foods as the GOLD Standard and most appropriate feeding strategy for infants and young children. This is stated in the Infant and Young Child Feeding guidelines (IYCF) of the IAP.
Most mothers need immense encouragement and support to continue breastfeeding beyond the first 6 months of exclusive breastfeeding period either due to breastfeeding challenges, going back to work or societal pressure to wean especially from their ill-informed doctors. While the need for exclusive breastfeeding period of 6 months is well documented and supported by most said authorities and society, it is hard to find great support for mothers who chose to continue beyond the first year. Yet It may be surprising to you to know that despite lack of support, several mothers still nurse their children at three or five years of age in secrecy of their homes just to avoid disapproval.
New research tells us that children who breastfeed for beyond infancy are gifted with high quality nutrition, a boost of immunity, faster recovery from illness, significant degree of prevention from incidence of hospitalization, a boost of self-autonomy, confidence, closeness, compassion towards fellow beings and less aggressive behavior and much more including lower incidence of emotional depression and aggression later in life.
Also if you study primates’ behavior, you notice that many primates wean their young when their first permanent molars erupt. Isn’t it also interesting to note that the permanent molar erupts between 5 to 7 years of age along with maturing of the immune system? Further Dr. Katherine Dettwyler in her research review also notes that according to some anthropological studies it has been noted that weaning period for babies is approximately 6 times the gestation age which is around 4.5 - 5 years again.
Again several studies reveal that in prolonged lactation, the fat energy contribution of breast milk to the infant diet might be significant since breastmilk is species specific and also growth specific as per growth of the baby. This is contrary to popular belief that breastmilk loses its nutrient content by the time baby starts to have solids.
The other false understanding about prolonged breastfeeding are:
Weaning is an interactive process between you and your toddler/child. Your child continues to nurse for many reasons: for comfort, security, for a way to calm down and for reassurance besides nutrition. It is ‘home’ for your child in her ‘world’ of chaotic exploration.
Breastfeeding creates a bond and relationship you and your child and you will be the best judge to know the needs of your child. It might help you to know baby can be completely trusted to wean herself as her needs slowly get fulfilled and is not a habit that needs to be broken. This is a milestone reached at their own internal pace like walking, talking and other milestones are different for each child.
Mothers who are mindful of the needs of their child may consider any intervention such a use of potions or herbs to wean as breech of trust in the relationship between mother and child which was so carefully build from nursing since birth.
Need for sucking is a biological need and is restorative for rapidly growing little children so much so they are many children who are restricted to nurse resort to thumb sucking, fingers, hair, blankets and pacifiers. Sucking is a tool for growing and is a healthy need of baby. According to Norma Jane Bumgarner in her book "Mothering your Nursing Toddler" says "..a baby is learning to trust and depend on other human beings, especially his mother and to suppose that nutrition is primary significance and that attachment is secondary will be a mistake."
Consider accessing the LLL Pan-India library and reading wonderful books such as "Mothering Your Nursing Toddler", "How Weaning happens" "A Mother's Guide to Weaning' which can be helpful.
Also working with your private International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) knowledgeable about natural weaning may have unique understanding to hears and acknowledges you and could help you in your individual journey of weaning.
Contribited article for Mother & Baby print and Online Magazine published in August 2016
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