Breastfeeding Beyond Two Years: It is Normal!
Nona D. Andaya-Castillo, IBCLC
Former Philippine Ambassador to the United Nations and Supreme Court Chief Justice Hilario Davide shares something in common with many children whose mothers were assisted by Breastfeeding Philippines. He was breastfed for four years!
Breastfeeding beyond two years has been a way of nurturing our children for many generations until the marketing of artificial formula milk became a profitable business.
Thankfully, with the stronger advocacy on breastfeeding nowadays, more and more women are empowered to go back to this tradition.
Although this indigenous practice was formally affirmed in an official document by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2002, it has earlier declared that “the practice being introduced in some countries of providing infants with specially formulated milks (so-called "follow-up milks") is not necessary” in 1986.
Mother’s and Child’s Delight!
Mothers are pleased to note that their breastfed children are more expressive, calling the breasts or breastfeeding with imaginative, affectionate names and verbally expressing their satisfaction and gratefulness to their mothers after they nurse. Thumb sucking or other signs of boredom and insecurities are less frequent among them too. One mother among our patients even taught her daughter to say grace before breastfeeding.
Many people including medical practitioners are not aware of the nutritional importance of breastfeeding beyond two years and they tend to discourage mothers to continue to do so. In fact, a significant amount of nutrients to fulfill a child’s dietary requirements can still be absorbed from breastfeeding to help prevent malnutrition. As your child is continually exposed to the tastes of the foods a mother eats during breastfeeding, there will be fewer chances for him to be a picky eater.
Children below six years old are more susceptible to illnesses. With one teaspoon of breastmilk alone, a mother provides three million germ-killing cells, an effective armor against dangerous bacteria, viruses and even parasites. More importantly at this point that the child gets more of his nutrients from family foods, breastfeeding’s anti-infective properties reduce the severity of illnesses. If ever a breastfed child gets ill, he will most probably turn to breastfeeding as his sole source of food. A mother will be assured of his food and fluid intake and be spared of worries that the child is not eating anything during hospitalization or recuperation.
Toddlers are apt to explore and in the process hurt themselves. Breastfeeding can provide them instant relief from pain through the hormones that a child secretes from his brain while suckling and through the hormones that his mother secretes through the breastmilk. One doctor related to us that instead of initially giving medical treatment to her child’s badly bruised knees during a family outing, she instinctively breastfed her child and immediately quieted him down. It became easier for her to clean his wounds later.
The local phrase “nakukuha sa isang tingin” (one look is enough) to communicate most probably applies to breastfed children. With plenty of eye-to-eye contacts during breastfeeding, a child is accustomed to respond positively and appropriately to his mothers’ body language avoiding emotional collisions. Tantrums can be averted magically by nursing a grouchy child.
There are many benefits to mothers when they breastfeed extendedly. In Africa, where many children are customarily breastfed beyond two years, it was observed that mothers can delay their menstruation up to four years!
Protection against anemia, cancer and osteoporosis increases with a longer nursing period.
Breastfeeding Beyond Two Years: The Social Benefits
There are many stories of mothers and children getting caught in emergency situations and surviving the ordeal because of breastfeeding. Due to the high number of vulnerable populations in our country, disasters can occur as natural and man-made hazards are very frequent. No less than 20 typhoons a year enter our country annually. There are earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and floods due to environmental degradation. Ensuring breastfeeding at the community level should be among the measures of disaster preparedness.
Both girls and boys who breastfeed beyond two years tend to play and breastfeed dolls. This is also normal and helps poster a nurturing habit that instills among children that breastfeeding is the natural way of caring for our generations to come. When they become parents themselves, girls will breastfeed their children and boys will support their wives to breastfeed.
Men who were breastfed during childhood report to us that they see breasts as a source of nourishment instead of something that can stimulate libido. Even fathers who see their wives breastfeeding said their perception of the breasts changed into something nurturing rather than sexual objects. Former UNICEF Country Representative to the Philippines, Nicholas Alipui said that breastfed boys tend to “remember that lifeline that you set apart in terms of relationship with your mother.”
This relationship develops an instinctive feeling of protection towards the mother figure in his life and extends to other women, he noted. This healthier way of looking at breasts can help prevent sexual aggression against women in men’s later years.
To sustain breastfeeding beyond two years, here are some tips:
- Exclusively breastfeed your child for the first six months and ensure night feedings to boost your breastmilk supply. If you are working outside the home, ensure breastmilk expression at the workplace at least twice during daytime. Offer your breasts to your child frequently while you are at home.
- Avoid using pacifiers and rubber nipples. This is especially important if you will go on a long trip that will require separation from your child.
- If the child refuses to eat complementary foods at six months and there are no problems with his weight gain, let him continue to exclusively breastfeed.
- When introducing foods to complement breastfeeding, breastfeeding FIRST before giving solid food.
- Learn natural family planning methods to effectively space conception and birthing before your child turns six months.
- Meet and socialize with families that are breastfeeding their children beyond two years to create a social support for your decision.
- Politely answer queries from well-meaning friends and relatives on why it is important to breastfeed well into childhood.
Many commercials for unnecessary follow-up milks are flooding the TV screen again as a hopeless effort of milk companies to generate sales. Hopefully, mothers will notice the warning labels on artificial formula milk that “Nothing can replace Mother’s Milk,” and “Breastfeeding is best up to two years and BEYOND.”
This was the fruit of a concerted effort of government agencies, non-government organizations like Nurturers of the Earth and mothers that reached the halls of the Senate, Congress and the Supreme Court. During preparations for these legal battles, we met and worked with Ambassador Davide who even in his senior years unabashedly proclaimed “I love my mother so much!” to strangers like us. If you opted to breastfeed your toddlers and preschoolers, this could be your greatest reward!
Read Follow-Up Milk Is Not Necessary!