made this painting, “Breastfeeding a Toddler,” last fall, right around the time when Fiona turned two. You might notice that it is similar to the painting I did when she was three months old, “Breastfeeding,” except that she has aged by two years and grown hair.
I had been ever so slowly weaning her with the intention to stop nursing when she turned two. Two years old was the age that I weaned my other two children and it seemed the logical thing to do with Fiona. But with my other two children, I was also pregnant when they were two and I could not get enough to eat and continue breastfeeding. I was perpetually starving.
Fiona turned two and I was not pregnant. In fact we had long decided not to have any other children and suddenly I was no longer externally driven to wean at age two. It was a source of calming, comfort and cuddles before nap time and bed time for her and continues to be, at age two and five months.
The average worldwide weaning age is about 4 years old, which means that many are far below that. The United States, for example, has an average weaning age of about 2-3 months because that is when many women go back to work.
Yet to make an average worldwide weaning age to be 4 years old, it means that many, many more are breastfed long after the age of four. In Mongolia, for example, extended breastfeeding prevails and is so highly cherished that “there’s an oft-quoted saying that the best wrestlers are breastfed for at least six years – a serious endorsement in a country where wrestling is the national sport.” This comes from a humorous and eye opening article by Ruth Kamnitzer about the different culture norms of breastfeeding, based on where one grows up, “Breastfeeding in the Land of Genghis Khan.” If you have grown up a country where extended breastfeeding is considered taboo, this article is sure to blow your mind.
Though not my primary intention in extending breastfeeding, it is nevertheless interesting to learn that extended breastfeeding promotes greater immune health, fewer infections, protection from SIDS, higher intelligence, less diabetes, less childhood obesity and less tendency to develop allergic diseases.
When I hold my sweet Fiona close to me and nurse her before bed time, all cuddled up under a cozy blanket, she is nurtured and loved and I am at peace.