In my early 20′s many of my older friends were already embarking on the journey of motherhood. I’m ashamed to admit that I was quite vocal with my opinions on parenting at the time and remarked once, “Are you STILL breastfeeding her? Isn’t she like 3 months already?”.
Obviously, I had no idea!
A year or so later I embarked on the same journey only to discover that breastfeeding was a beautiful, rewarding part of my relationship with my newborn. In fact, the more I read about the benefits of breastfeeding the more passionate I became!
I set myself goals. The first goal was to get to six months and despite initial problems we made it. The next goal was 12 months. With baby no.3 our breastfeeding relationship had been smooth sailing so we set another goal for 18 months which was uncharted territory for me!
The more I’ve chatted with other mums, the more I discovered that quite a few friends and family members had breastfed their babies (in secret!) for way over 12 months – even up to 3 years! I felt challenged to find out why breastfeeding rates drop dramatically after 12 months given that it still provides so many benefits both nutritionally and emotionally. It also concerned me that these mothers felt ashamed of their extended breastfeeding relationship and therefore kept it secret.
According to a 2000 Australian study, only 14.6% of breastfed babies continue beyond the first year.
It seems that breastfeeding beyond this point is not a mainstream choice. The common belief is that it is unnecessary, nutritionally inadequate, weird and a little bit gross to have an older baby attached your boob!
The question is why?
Does the advertising and marketing of toddler milks and formulas has something to do with it?
Toddler milk advertising is everywhere on TV, in the shops, magazines, newspapers, hospitals, maternal and child health centres, websites and even through handing out free samples! The ads in themselves aren’t a problem but the collective impact of ALL the ads normalise the use of toddler formula in our minds. We begin to believe that toddler milk is the normal and mainstream choice for babies over 12 months.
Infant formula advertising is banned in many countries around the world including Australia but toddler formula isn’t (see article). The marketing of toddler milk undermines the value of breastfeeding as it reinforces the common misconception that breastfeeding ceases to be beneficial at a certain point.
One TV commercial even comes out and says “I breastfed him for 12 months but then I needed something to supplement his solids”. Most other advertisements aren’t so bold but imply that children need the added nutritional supplement of toddler milk (see article on toddler milk and advertising). It simply isn’t true!
According to the World health organisation (CDR/93.4)
Breastfeeding your toddler (over 12 months) can provide
- 95% of vitamin C needs
- 38% of protein requirements
- 45% of Vitamin A requirement
- 31% of daily energy needs!
……..as well as other benefits to both toddler and mum!
The choice to breastfeed or continue to breastfeed beyond 12 months is a personal one and often times a sensitive one but let’s just make sure it’s an informed one.