Breastfeeding your toddler will lead to psychological problems

Home » Advice » 'Breastfeeding your toddler will lead to psychological problems later in life' – oh great, another thing to worry about!

Don’t worry, that wasn’t a quote from Psychology Today or any other childhood study, it was just my dad.

Being a mum is one rollercoaster of a ride…… I used to love rollercoasters…now I get anxious and want to throw up at the first sign of an uphill climb! I can wholeheartedly admit that having a child is much harder than I ever anticipated- it’s a learning curve that spins into the abyss. There are moments when I feel I will never return to planet earth and then there are days when the curve ball of parenting stops spinning and things are just like in the movies….the ones where there is a newborn and a toddler and the mother looks like Charlize Theron all the time and her husband romances her with massages and candle lit dinners, where the mum and dad can have a two hour dinner in a restaurant while the baby plays with French bread sticks, oh yes and the one where the baby sleeps all night- that’s a good one!

I was well aware that there would be conflicts of opinion as to how to bring up my child- the usual, “you are holding him too much, he should be sleeping in the crib by now, you need to leave him to play by himself so he can get used to his own company, should you really be feeding him such a big slice of apple”… You get the idea. However, never did I expect that breastfeeding would be a source of intense scrutiny. Like most mothers, breastfeeding was something I felt rather strongly about, especially once my son was born and theory turned into reality.

It was hard…my goodness it was hard. The latch wasn’t quite right and as a result my nipple was cut and of course because of the constant feeding, it was never given the opportunity to heal. It bled, and scabbed and bled some more. I cried at every feeding and the profanities that came out of my mouth should have been censored! I was tenser than a bum cheek in a bikini and felt terrible that this experience was not how I had expected it to be. I was however determined not to give up- I saw a lactation consultant, I tried creams, I pumped and spoon fed my baby (this was an experience!) and I had several meltdowns where I thought I could no longer take the pain. However, after 6 weeks, all the discomfort suddenly disappeared, and now 2 years on, I am still breastfeeding.

So… this is where the interesting part comes in. It was my sons 2nd birthday and I was Skyping with my Dad. As my son started pulling at my top, my father looked into the screen with a look of complete disgrace and said,

ARE YOU STILL BREASTFEEDING?

I rolled my eyes and said “Yes Dad”. Here is the communication that followed, via email:

‘Following our Skype, and the fact that you told me you were still breastfeeding Oliver gave me a bit of a shock as I have never heard of this being carried out so long before. I took some advice on this and what I got was that it may affect his long term development and could create some later physiological problems by you being over protective with him. So please think about it!

Love to all

Dad xxx’

It took me a few days, but here was my response:

‘Hi Dad,

Thank you for your email, and for your concern about Oliver, he is a lucky boy to have such a caring grandfather in his life.

I am intrigued to hear who gave you this advice?  Please share.

Anyway, I have learned a lot, through trial and error (hopefully none of these decisions have delayed emotional consequences on my darling child!), through making emotional connections with other mothers and also through working with a pregnancy company – where the women have spent their entire lives studying, learning and being a part of pre and post natal care.

Now I did not at all think that I would be breastfeeding for this long…it just kind of happened, the nights when he would wake up constantly to feed, those were the times when I was counting the days til I stopped, however when his smiling face met mine every morning- I forgot about the nights and well I never stopped breastfeeding.

Unlike when he was 4 weeks old, I don’t sit around all day breastfeeding; he only feeds 2x a day, for a few minutes. Now, rather than this being his main source of food (come on, he is 2 years old and I’m not a cow!) this is a close connection that Oliver and I share in private. It’s comforting, it’s caring, it’s a few moments of quiet from the chaos outside, and well….. it just feels right.

Benefits of breastfeeding

Now I know you are a man of facts so rather than bombard you with emotional blurb, I am going to give you the hard facts… the ones you may not be so aware of- the benefits of breastfeeding are undeniable:

1- When breastfeeding, a transfer takes place, where the toddler’s saliva is absorbed by the mother, the mother’s immune system creates antibodies and at the next feeding sends updated antibodies back to the child (think antivirus software updates).

2- It has been well shown that children in nursery school who are still breastfeeding have far fewer and less severe infections than the children who are not breastfeeding. The mother therefore loses less work time if she continues breastfeeding her baby once she is back at her paid work.

3- With all the information we have at our finger tips we can be overwhelmed. However, not all of this information is from a reliable source, therefore as you know it is vitally important to be sure that this comes from a ‘trusted’ source. Therefore, some research I would like to highlight are from two very trusted sources, The World Health Organisation, that recommends 2 years + for breastfeeding: “Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended up to 6 months of age, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond”.

They also highlight the long -term benefits of breastfeeding: “Beyond the immediate benefits for children, breastfeeding contributes to a lifetime of good health. Adults who were breastfed as babies often have lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol, as well as lower rates of overweight, obesity and type-2 diabetes. There is evidence that people who were breastfed perform better in intelligence tests “.

You highlighted independence and this is a quote from the Jack Newman Clinic that I think you will appreciate:

“So you believe that breastfeeding makes the toddler dependent? Don’t believe it. The child who breastfeeds until he weans himself (usually from 2 to 4 years), is usually more independent, and, perhaps, more importantly, more secure in his independence. He has received comfort and security from the breast, until he is ready to make the step himself to stop. And when a child makes that step himself, he knows he has achieved something, he knows he has moved ahead. It is a milestone in his life of which he is proud”.

Often we push children to become ‘independent’ too quickly, to sleep alone too soon, to wean from the breast too soon, to do without their parents too soon, to do everything too soon. What it so wrong with enjoying every moment of a time which will itself pass too soon. Don’t push; the child will become independent soon enough. What’s the rush? Before you know it they will ask you to drop them off at the bottom of the street when they go to a party, because your car is too embarrassing.

Dr. Newman continues, “If a need is met, it goes away. If a need is unmet (such as the need to breastfeed and be close to his mother), it remains a need well into childhood and even the teenage years.”

I believe that we cut our children off from breastfeeding prematurely because society says it is inappropriate to do it past a year, or because we are going back to work and don’t think we can continue doing it, or because if enough people tell you something is ‘weird’ or ‘different’ well then we stop doing it.

I absolutely agree that parents need to allow children to be independent- however each child is different and what works for one child may not work for another. I do not believe that cutting Oliver off from what he enjoys, from what benefits him, and from what comforts him is a way to foster independence. When the time is right and with gentle encouragement it will happen naturally.

You always told me- “would you jump off a cliff if s/he did?” Well the same goes with breastfeeding in my mind; just because one person jumped off the breastfeeding cliff doesn’t mean that I will (cheesy analogy I know!).

Hope that’s enough reading for you Dad! Love you,

Ingrid’

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Ingrid Prince is a mother to her 2 year old son Oliver and one of bebo mia’s fabulous HypnoBirthing instructors.

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