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'I still breastfeed my 22-month daughter, and this is what everyone gets wrong about it.'

At a recent visit to my GP I was asked how often my 22-month-old daughter was breastfeeding.

When I guessed it was perhaps six times in 24 hours, the doctor then asked me if she was eating solids.

I was so shocked by her question. “Of course she is eating solids,” I said, “look at her, she’s plump and healthy.”

There is much misinformation and lack of knowledge around breastfeeding in our society. According to lactation consultant, Virginia Thorley, despite Australian and international health authorities recommending longer breastfeeding than was usual a generation or two ago, mothers and their health advisers can feel confused when health questions arise because they are only familiar with short-term breastfeeding.

Research from the 2006-2007 Longitudinal Study of Australian Children found that at 12 months 28 per cent of children were still being breastfed but at 24 months that figure had dropped to five per cent.

The World Health Organisation advise mixed feeding for two years or beyond, while the National Health and Medical Research Council recommend mixed feeding for the first 12 months and beyond. Natural weaning occurs anywhere between age two and eight.

This is what breastfeeding looks like around the world:

Video by MMC

Virginia says human milk continues to provide meaningful nutrition at any age, including macronutrients, micronutrients, and protective factors. There is still a good amount of prebiotics, too.

“There is good evidence that breastfeeding continues to provide a significant percentage of nutrients and immunity, no matter how old the baby. That is good news for the mother of a toddler going through a ‘picky eater’ stage,” Virginia says.

In the second year of breastfeeding, 448ml of breast milk provides 29 per cent of a child’s energy requirements, 43 per cent of their protein and a whopping 94 per cent of their vitamin B12 requirements.

I was feeling tired and as I am also vegetarian, I was a little concerned about my iron levels. A blood test confirmed it was on the lower side and my GP told me my daughter was taking all my iron.

However, Virginia says this was not correct.

“Women often go into pregnancy with already low iron levels so low iron levels are often still present at the start of breastfeeding – which is why doctors may recommend iron tablets to pregnant women,” she explains.

“Contrary to popular belief, breastfeeding takes less iron from the mother than if she doesn’t breastfeed. Breastfeeding doesn’t ‘drain’ the mother of iron.

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“Breastfeeding helps the mother to retain her iron load better after the birth as her body loses very little through her milk. If she doesn’t breastfeed at all, or weans very early, her menstrual periods will return early, and more iron will be lost over the next few months through menstrual bleeds. Exclusive or full breastfeeding usually delays the return of menstruation, conserving the mother’s iron stores.”

Lactation consultant and baby care author, Pinky McKay, fed five children with breast milk for a period of 20 years.

“There is a load of ignorance around how long to breastfeed. There are some really good things about continuing to breastfeed,” she says.

“A lot of new mums think that six months is the end point. A lot of women don’t know they can continue on.

“The immune factors are concentrated in that second year so that is great when the toddler is socialising with other children.”

People used to say to me, ‘[The babies] are taking too much out of you,’ and I’d say, ‘no it’s just milk’,” Pinky says.

 

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With mummy blogger @keepingupwith_karisha and her beautiful baby at the #Sydney @babyandtoddlershow

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However, she advises mothers to check their iron and thyroid levels, and says all mothers need to nourish themselves.

Virginia says any mother with a baby who is walking, or who is not yet walking but getting heavy to pick up, is bound to be feel tired.

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“In fact, mothers of mobile babies or toddlers often feel quite worn out, irrespective of how the child is feeding,” she says.

Pinky believes a lot of health issues are attributed to breastfeeding, which often have nothing to do with it.

She said prolactin and oxytocin released when breastfeeding do make mums feels drowsy. Plus when you have a mobile child and are breastfeeding, you will be burning calories.

Pinky explains that breastfeeding mums may experience vaginal dryness and it may affect their sex drive, but this is more than likely related to natural dips in the menstrual cycle and other factors impacting on individual women’s lives.

Pinky says mums breastfeeding older children often don’t advertise it and could find it isolating.

when to stop breastfeeding 22 months
Cindy with her 22-month old daughter. Image: Supplied.

She says women breastfeeding older babies and toddlers may experience negative and silly comments from people and she advises mums to have responses ready.

“I used to get told my children would end up gay. I’d also get told I’d be going to the school to feed them at lunchtime and I would say, ‘No, he can come home at lunchtime’,” Pinky jokes.

Pinky says weaning should always be done gradually with love, unless there is a medical reason for having to stop quickly.

Do you have much experience with extended breastfeeding? Tell us in a comment below.

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