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:
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.