People love to express their opinions about “alternative” parenting practices, including extended breastfeeding. My daughter was nursed until she was two-and-a-half years old, which, although quite normal in most cultures, proved to be a controversial choice in my area. Although the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control, American Academy of Pediatrics, and my daughter’s own pediatrician fully support extended breastfeeding, many well-meaning critics insisted that it would make my daughter clingy and overly dependent.
Does extended breastfeeding make toddlers clingy? Here are what my own experiences and observations tell me.
1. Extended breastfeeding provides security. When my daughter was nursing, there were few problems that couldn’t be solved with a booby. Instead of clinging to a pacifier, toy or blanket, she could find almost instant comfort from cuddling and nursing. It provided the confidence she needed to overcome small obstacles. In my opinion, it is far healthier to rely on human contact to overcome bumps and bruises, instead of forming strong and unnatural attachments to objects like pacifiers and quilts.
2. Weaning won’t make your child independent. At one point, a well-meaning friend suggested that I end the practice of nursing my toddler to sleep. She suggested that my toddler would learn to fall asleep independently if she did not have this night-time ritual. No such luck– after my toddler self-weaned, it actually became far harder to soothe her and get her to sleep, because her primary source of comfort had been removed. I don’t think that early weaning would have made her any more capable of “self-soothing.” I also believe that it is very natural and normal for a baby or toddler to be dependent on his parents; you shouldn’t expect independence from a baby.
3. Some children are naturally clingy. My daughter was a “velcro-baby” from the moment she was born. My neighbor, who parents in a manner very similar to me, had a son who had little to no interest in being snuggled, rocked or held. All babies and toddlers are clingy to varying degrees, regardless of whether they are extended-breastfed. If you practice extended breastfeeding and your toddler is clingy, it’s likely that she is simply hard-wired to be this way. Nothing you do (or don’t do) will change your toddler’s innate personality.
4. Extended breastfeeding is good for you and your child. The evidence is extremely clear– toddlers and babies who are breastfed for one year or more benefit tremendously from the practice. Human breast milk remains a healthy source of nutrition far beyond a baby’s infancy. And, despite what the naysayers may tell you, there is no evidence that extended breastfeeding makes toddlers clingy or excessively dependent on their parents. It is healthy for a child’s physical, emotional and mental health.
Consult your child’s pediatrician if you have any questions about the relative benefits and drawbacks associated with extended breastfeeding.