Like many people, I was brought up around the idea that once a baby gets to a certain age, whether it’s one year old, when they get teeth, or “when they can ask for it” it is no longer appropriate to breastfeed. I’m ashamed to say that I had a grand ‘ol time with the majority of Game of Thrones fans ridiculing Lysa Arryn and her son Robin when they showed her breastfeeding her older child as a means to illustrate just how crazy and aloof she was (because looking back, that was definitely the goal, even if nobody said it out loud). Lots of us, not just folks in the Black community have been programmed to think extended breastfeeding is wrong, perverted, harmful to the child, etc, but that is absolutely not the case.
As you might know, Black Breastfeeding Week was August 25th-31st. The theme was “The Big Pause: Collective Rest for Collective Power” So, to celebrate the idea of rest, here are a few myths that we in the Black community (and beyond) need to …put to bed.
Okay, moving on.
Myth #1 Breastmilk is only appropriate for babies/ Once the baby has teeth, can take out the boob by themselves, etc., you need to be done
Fact: The WHO recommends exclusively breast/chestfeeding infants on demand for the first 6 months of life. From 6 months, children should be eating wholesome, healthy food while continuing to breastfeed for up to 2 years AND BEYOND. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that breastfeeding be continued for as long as mutually desired by the lactating parent and the child.
Myth #2 Extended breastfeeding is just nasty, weird or unnatural
Fact: Many cultures around the world breastfeed their children for an extended period of time. A research study done by Katherine Dettwyler, PhD has shown that 2.5 to seven years of nursing is what human children have been designed to expect. We are cutting our children off before they’ve had the opportunity to reap the full benefit of their parent’s milk!
Myth #3 Breastfeeding past infancy is really only for the mother/lactating parent. Breastmilk is useless to a child after 1 year old
Fact: This can't be further from the truth. It’s true that people who breastfeed their children can benefit from:
-A reduced risk of breast, ovarian, uterine, and endometrial cancer
-More protection against osteoporosis, regardless of their calcium intake than someone who did not breastfeed
-A reduced risk of rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular disease, and developing Type 2 diabetes in birthing people who did not have gestational diabetes.
- A reduced need for insulin for those who do have diabetes
However, there are many benefits for toddlers and children to keep breastfeeding as well. The American Academy of Pediatrics says that increased duration of breastfeeding has significant health and developmental benefits. Children who breastfeed into toddlerhood and beyond benefit from:
-Continued immune protection from the antibodies that breastmilk provides. In fact, as the child nurses less and the amount of breastmilk a person makes reduces, the antibodies become more concentrated!
-Experiencing fewer illnesses, shorter illnesses, and lower mortality rates
-Having a means to help them calm down in times of upset
-Milk that continues to adjust to their needs. Human milk produced by people lactating beyond a year has higher amounts of fat and protein- just what a growing toddler needs!
-Having a source of food at all times in case of emergencies.
-Healthier mental, emotional, and social development that comes from the nurturing aspect of nursing.
Myth #4 My opinion about someone else’s breastfeeding journey is valid. It is my civic duty to tell my friend or family member that their baby is too big to be breastfeeding anymore, make sure people who breastfeed in public cover up, etc.
Fact: You are allowed to have your own opinions, but you do not need to share them, especially if they are coming from a place of judgement or shame. Breastfeeding is completely normal and healthy. If you are feeling uncomfortable because you “don’t want to see that,” don’t look, and maybe explore why you are sexualizing a parent feeding their child. Mind your business and take comfort in the fact that someone else feeding their baby has *nothing* to do with you. Better yet, offer the lactating person some water, a snack and encouragement to keep feeding their child for as long as they and their baby(babies) want to!
Considering the poor state of Black people’s collective health and with all the benefits I have just listed of breastfeeding, we in the Black community should be the biggest champions of breastfeeding! For all we know, it could be the key to securing our health and wellbeing for generations to come.