The question of when a mother should stop breastfeeding her child has been debated for decades (and I’m sure much much longer!!). Every mother, at some point in her breastfeeding journey has been asked when she’ll be done with it. Additionally, I have no doubt that each of you mamas out there are asking yourselves this very question, even though you haven’t heard it from others yet.
I think the better questions is….why should you stop breastfeeding? The question of when is actually more a question of why. Social norms have begun to dictate when moms should cease producing milk for their younglings, which is quite unfortunate! While I am not the one to whip out my boob wherever I am and feed my almost 2 year old, I am also not the one to sit idly by and let others be judged without a fight. Breastfeeding is the simple act of feeding your kid. That’s it! If we think of breastfeeding as providing our children with their nutritional value, then the question of when or why is no longer about societal norms or attachment issues – it’s about nutritional issues. When should your little one stop drinking MILK?
Just because I can’t help myself when it comes to research, I took a look at the history of milk-drinking as a whole, and found it interesting that we adults shouldn’t even be ABLE to digest milk. I found an article, published in PLoS Computational Biology, that used a computer model to show the frequency and relationship between individuals whom can digest dairy, dairy farming, and food gathering practices in Northern Europe. It seems that the minute population of individuals that can digest dairy have a specific allele in their gene makeup that makes this possible. The ability to digest dairy is thanks to the enzyme lactase, which when present, allows lactose – the sugar portion in dairy products that causes problems – to be digested in the body. This enzyme is present at birth, but stops being produced by the body between the ages of two and five in the general population.
Ok seriously, that comic is hilarious! So, this begs the question: why are we drinking milk? There is a long societal history of drinking milk past the age of five, whether it be cow’s milk, nut milk, or if you live in Mongolia, breastmilk! (According to this incredible article by Ruth Kamnitzer, it’s very highly valued among Mongolians of all ages) Milk is advertised as a source of great nutrition, and since that’s all we mamas want for our younglings, it only makes sense to give them milk, as well as continue drinking milk ourselves, right? It’s totally personal preference. Milk is simply another source of nutrients for your body. The general population – as much as 60% – 90% of people – cannot even digest this specific assemblage of chemical compounds, so if you can – great! If you can’t, rest assured you won’t be depriving your body of the essentials. There are many ways to receive the vitamins and minerals your body requires.
Here are the average nutrients that breastmilk gives your kiddo in the second year (12-23 months), 448 mL of breastmilk provides:
29% of energy requirements
43% of protein requirements
36% of calcium requirements
75% of vitamin A requirements
76% of folate requirements
94% of vitamin B12 requirements
60% of vitamin C requirements
So, clearly, breastfeeding past a year is still incredibly nutritious – and a great way to make sure your littles are receiving what they need!
While I do have opinions on when my child and I will stop our breastfeeding journey, I am not about to tell you when you should stop yours. The answer you seek has to come from you. If you fear that others won’t agree with or understand your choice, don’t worry! There are plenty of resources to back you up, should you feel it necessary to “explain yourself”. Otherwise, keep on pluggin’ away at being the best mommy you can be, and focus on caring for your child in your way. I am here to support and encourage you, along with a host of other mama’s around the world who read this and other breastfeeding blogs.
Share your breastfeeding journey with us below! How long did you breastfeed your child(ren), and what did you love most about that experience? 🙂