Some moms only nurse a few months, and others nurse for a full year. And there are plenty of mothers who continue nursing for another year or two, or even beyond that. Breastfeeding is kind of a weird concept in society—moms are shamed when they don't do it, but they're also shamed when they do it out in public. And if she breastfeeds a toddler or preschooler? People lose their damn minds. This has led to a lot of oddball myths and silly misinformation about nursing beyond the first year, and here are a few of which that could all use serious retirement right about now.
1. Once a baby can ask for it, it's time to quit.
Dude. So silly. When babies are born, they're basically requesting to nurse right out of the package—by crying. They continue to wail when they're hungry for months. Some babies learn to sign "milk" at four months of age. Are these kids too old to nurse? No. It actually sounds kind of mean to think that when a child's fine motor skills have finally developed to the point where she can say some version of "milk," this is the time to cut her off. Sure, if you want to do it this way, go ahead, it's your kid. But to expect all moms to do it this way? Nope.
I know the prospect of a tiny mouth lined with teeth gaping at your nipple might sound like a scene from your worst nightmare, but it's often less of a big deal than one might think. For starters, the first teeth to erupt are the lower central incisors—front and center, bottom jaw. These teeth, sharp as they are, are covered by Baby's tongue during nursing. Yes, you will have to learn to read your baby's body language, because once they're satisfied, they can nip—and yes, it does hurt.
Once your child's other teeth come in, it may be a little more daunting, but remember: When a kid is actively nursing, they cannot bite you. Learning your baby's cues will help, and most moms realize that nips are few and far between—and like many things in motherhood, those fleeting moments of pain are worth it when you consider the benefits and value of breastfeeding a child.
Just because a kid breastfeeds, that doesn't mean that this is the only thing he consumes.
3. Breast milk has no nutritional value after such-and-such age.
Does broccoli stop containing nutrients once you get over 50? Does yellow squash become worthless once you enter your 30s? Sound dumb? That's because it is. Breast milk is breast milk no matter what your age is. The nutrients don't magically disappear once the calendar turns over for your baby's second or third year—or beyond. While the composition of breast milk may change as a child grows older, it's still valuable nutrition tailor-made for the child drinking it, and it really comes in handy for picky eaters, or kids who get sick and are only able to nurse.
4. Older breastfeeding kids must not be able to eat regular foods or use a cup.
Welp. I've definitely heard this, and it's extremely silly. Just because a kid breastfeeds, that doesn't mean that this is the only thing he consumes. Breastfed babies are similar to their formula-fed peers in that they gradually experiment with baby food and table food as they grow older. A 12-month-old child is likely breastfeeding far less than he did just four, six or eight months ago. This means—you guessed it—breastfeeding toddlers eat actual food and drink from actual cups.
5. Kids should be drinking cow's milk by this age.
Um, what? Really? So the breast milk of a cow is preferable to the breast milk of a child's own species? Strange.
6. If a mom wants to breastfeed an older child, she can pump and offer it in a cup.
Well yes she can, but that defeats many of the purposes of nursing a child. For one thing, a mother's milk interacts with her child in a way that pretty much completely customizes the milk for that child. For example, if a child is getting sick, Mom's milk changes composition quickly, so the next feed contains antibodies that can help reduce the length of illness.
Also, keep in mind that nursing provides comfort, nurturing and bonding time that aren't as easy to come by when placing a cup of pumped milk into a child's hand. And let's not forget that a pump is no match for a child when it comes to emptying a breast. Pumping can actually make it more difficult to maintain a mom's supply.
7. Moms who nurse past one year are doing it for their own benefit.
Finally, we have the creepiest myth of all. As if a mother could force a child to nurse who wasn't interested in it. As if breastfeeding is sexual in any way, shape, or form. I know it's a popular rallying cry of people who don't understand the special relationship a mother and her nursling have, but this sentiment is pretty awful and needs to stop.