Since the anniversary of my baby boy's birth, I've started getting the "are you still nursing" and "when are you going to wean him" questions. Often times it's from simply curious, nursing their babies still, mommies. Other times it's from people that are obviously thinking I'm some sort of pervert, sicko, weirdo, or over-protective-one-of-those-kinds, mom. Many do not understand why anyone would continue nursing past the nutritionally necessary one year mark. I'd be happy to shed some light on the topic.
First, to answer those controversial questions:
Are you still nursing? Yes
When are you going to wean him? I have no idea. I do believe in child led weaning, though I've never been in a position to nurse past 15 months since that is when Carter weaned himself. I can easily see us making it to two years. GASP I know... I told you I was a sicko. But, only time will tell.
Now, the more important question is, why continue nursing past a year?
When you breastfeed past your infant's first birthday, you are entering the time known as "extended breastfeeding." I'm guessing that's a term only used in America... I can't imagine how old a child would have to be in other countries for it to be considered so out of the ordinary that it needs a special title like extended.
One of the big reasons to continue nursing is purely emotional. Why take away what has been your baby's complete source of nutrition and comfort since the moment he or she was born? Just because a book says to? Because people look at you weird? (maybe they just look that way all of the time... they may not be directing that weird look at you at all...) One of my favorite quotes, from I can't remember where, is "the baby hasn't read the book.." This can be applied to labor and delivery, sleeping, eating, sitting up, crawling, walking.. anything! Breastfeeding is no different. Your one year old doesn't understand that there is some wacko societal reason that he can no longer breastfeed... and even if he could understand, I assure you he would not care. So, taking my cue from my new toddler, I am choosing to also not care.
The second reason to nurse past a year is medical. Breastmilk changes its makeup EVERYTIME you breastfeed your baby. It changes in water, calorie, and fat content depending upon what your baby needs each feeding of the day. As your baby grows and ages, your body sends different signals to the milk factory to change it more. No matter how old your baby or toddler is, your breastmilk is still being produced to be the most optimal source of nutrition.
It is probably not new news that breastmilk is packed full of antibodies. (especially colostrum - babies first milk that is produced in the days before actual milk production begins in new mothers. It typically takes 3-5 days for a new mother's milk to "come in.") These antibodies do not go away just because your baby turns into a toddler. Your 16 month old that contracts a stomach virus will benefit just as much from being a nursing tot as your 4 month old would. You can even prevent your toddler from catching those nasty virus's by continuing to offer mamma's milk to them.
A nursing mother will actually reap more health benefits the longer she breastfeeds. Uterine, ovarian, and breast cancer risks can all be reduced simply by breastfeeding. The longer you do it, the more you cut your chances down. Many women can keep the "old hag" away as long as they breastfeed. No PMS? Isn't that a reason to keep nursing? Moms that breastfeed, especially to and after one year, also reap vanity rewards. All of that maternal fat you store up during pregnancy is stored for one purpose: making milk. The more milk you make, and the longer you make it, the more of an opportunity your body has to burn the stored fat to take the rolls off of your tummy and put them onto your baby's thighs. Combine this with a healthier eating plan and a bit of exercise.. and you can be one hot mamma! (it's definitely one of my diet secrets. Guess the cat's out of the bag.)
So, call me what you will... but with all of the benefits to mother and baby that extended breastfeeding has to offer... I just can't think of a single reason to stop!