Time to get some writing done again. Let’s see if I can catch up a little.
So Writer’s Block Unplugged had someone who asked:
At what age do you think breast-feeding should stop? 1 year old? 2 years old? 3 years old? Does it bother you when it’s done discreetly in public? What about non-discreetly in public? Is it absolutely necessary for a mother to breastfeed? Or is breastfeeding overhyped?
Now, first let’s look at this from a science perspective. Which I guess means I’m answering question number…5 first, I guess. Is it absolutely necessary for a mother to breastfeed?
Science says that human beings belong to the class of creatures known as mammals. That is, we are air-breathing, vertebrate animals characterized by the possession of hair, three middle ear bones, and mammary glands. It’s that mammary glands things we’ll be focused on. If you are unaware, mammary glands are the organs mammals have that produce milk to feed their offspring. That’s how we got called “mammals” in the first place. Unlike other creatures that give birth to eggs that need to develop, we mammals give a live birth (with a few exceptions. Nature is weird.) The baby is already fully developed when it is born. The milk we naturally produce as mammals is what nature intended for us to use to nourish our young. It is only with the advent of science that we have created an artificial milk source for our young. Like most science, this has an upside and a downside. The upside of this is that if you have a condition where you can’t produce milk (say a tumor or something) then you can still provide for a child that can’t eat solid foods yet. The downside is that people will use that as an excuse to not do what nature intended.
So I suppose in the strictest sense, thanks to science, no it is not absolutely necessary for a mother to breastfeed. However it is not over hyped either. To breastfeed is what nature intended. It is hard to over hype something that we’re supposed to be doing. Nature knows what it’s doing so it’s got to be beneficial. The other mammals don’t use formula and nothing bad happens to them so why aren’t we following their example?
Now, science will also help me to answer the first question or so, which was about what age breastfeeding should stop. Thanks to science, we have broken down the content of breast milk and know that what it contains makes it the healthiest form of milk for babies. The World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics both emphasize and recommend breastfeeding babies, with few exceptions. (The rise of certain substances and diseases may make breastfeeding an impossibility to some mothers.) So, why is this?
First of all, breast milk contains just the right amount of fat, sugar, water and protein that is needed for a baby’s growth. The nutrients in it come right from the mother. She will also pass her antibodies onto her baby, boosting its immune system and reducing the risk of infections the child will get. It also contains anti-infective factors such as bile salt-stimulated lipase (BSSL, a pancreatic enzyme used to help break down fats. It is found in many animals, including dogs, cats, rats and rabbits.) Lactoferrin (a component of the immune system, mostly an anti-bacterial.) and immunoglobulin A (antibody for mucosal immunity.) Breastfed babies also have a better time sleeping and better arousal from sleep at around 2-3 months, which is usually the peak incidence of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.) Breastfeeding can actually cut the risk of that in half in children under 1 year. The risk of developing diabetes or child obesity are also decreased, and there may be other health benefits not fully explored yet.
Breastfeeding also has good health effects on the mother, besides developing and strengthening the maternal bond. It also releases hormones like oxytocin, which helps contract the uterus more quickly and reduces bleeding. Also, since the fat a woman accumulates during pregnancy is used to produce breast milk, breastfeeding for longer than six months can help a woman loose some of that weight. Other benefits may include reduced risks of cancer, heart disease and osteoporosis.
A side note: I do understand that there is a third option here too, which is bottle feeding with pumped breast milk. This is another parting from nature due to science and the way humans have evolved. Science figured out a way to remove the milk from the breast, which allowed us to conform more to the strange societal rules we have evolved. It too has an upside and a downside. The upside being that yes, a busy mother will still be able to give the child actual breast milk, which is extremely beneficial to the child. The downside being that you loose the maternal bonding and the milk isn’t as fresh.
Now that we know why breastfeeding is good, scientifically (thus proving that it’s not over hyped but actual fact) and that the WHO and the AAP emphasize it, we should look at for how long it needs to go on. Both organizations recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life. The WHO says that after six months:
Infants should receive nutritionally adequate and safe complementary foods while breastfeeding continues for up to two years of age or beyond.
Meanwhile the AAP says:
Breastfeeding should be continued for at least the first year of life and beyond for as long as mutually desired by mother and child.
So, the experts say definitely six months and preferably for at least 1 to 2 years. And I would agree with the experts as they are that for a reason. Personally, I don’t think you should keep breastfeeding after the age of three, but if you do I suppose it’s not my place to tell you that you can’t.
Now, the middle of the question asks for something that is definitely not something that science can step in on. That question is about breastfeeding in public. The idea of breastfeeding in public is really more of an opinion, but an opinion guided by societal norms. As our society has loosened up, I think more people accept it and encourage public breastfeeding than they used to. Most babies need to feed every 2 to 3 hours (more often if they’re really newborn) and feeding a baby “on demand” (when they show signs of hunger rather than by a clock) helps the baby obtain not only food when they need it but comfort as well. So public breastfeeding does help the baby maintain its schedule, the way nature intended.
Most states in America have laws that protect a breastfeeding mother as well. It’s a clause to the public indecency laws. There is even a Federal law that permits it to occur in Federal buildings and on Federal property and the like.
However, some people are uncomfortable with the idea. They think it’s dirty or indecent. Their ideas can influence mothers and may prevent some mothers from feeding their babies when needed. There has been movement against this, with mothers staging “nurse-ins” to public nurse their babies en masse against those who would condemn it.
Personally, I don’t mind it. It is perfectly natural and there is no reason why anyone should deny a mother the right to take care of her child, no matter where she may be.
And that’s my opinion.