Extended Breast-Feeding: Is It More Common than We Think?

It’s hard to ignore TIME’s May 21 cover. There’s Jamie Lynne Grumet, looking every bit the supermodel in superskinny jeans, ballet flats and a strappy tank top with the neckline tugged down to make way for … her nearly 4-year-old son. He’s breast-feeding. Over the past few months, breast-feeding has grabbed headlines as moms have staged nationwide nurse-ins to draw attention to their right to breast-feed in public. Mothers with babes in arms have collectively bared their breasts in Target stores; they’ve had their infants latch on at Facebook’s headquarters and at the state capitol in Georgia. But the campaign for greater acceptance of nursing in public — and all those detractors who recoil when they see a mother feeding a baby just as her body is programmed to do — pales next to the startling image of Grumet feeding a boy who clearly doesn’t need breast milk to thrive. Or does he? (MORE: My Sister, My Surrogate: After Battling Cancer, One Woman Receives the Ultimate Mother’s Day Gift) In a society that still gets squeamish when a baby is nursed in public, the idea of continuing to nurse that baby until he’s a toddler or even a preschooler is a real show stopper. But much of the world doesn’t share the U.S.’s uneasiness. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends breast-feeding up to a child’s second birthday “or beyond.” Most U.S. mothers don’t even meet the recommendation made by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the U.S. Surgeon General that they skip infant formula and breast-feed exclusively for six months. According to the CDC’s 2011 Breastfeeding Report Card, 75% of U.S. mothers start out nursing their babies, but only 44% have stuck with it by the time their child is 6 months old — and just 15% are breast-feeding exclusively by that point. By baby’s first birthday, less than a quarter of mothers are breast-feeding at all. From that small remainder emerges an even smaller group of extreme breast-feeders like Grumet. Which women are crazy enough to continue to nurse a child … Continue reading Extended Breast-Feeding: Is It More Common than We Think?