Infants & Toddlers
November 29, 2016

4 myths about extended breastfeeding


Nursing rates plummet as babies grow. But as some moms follow recommendations for extended breastfeeding, here are answers to questions they might get.


Most women have heard that “breast is best,” but there’s less guidance about how long to breastfeed and even less information about the benefits of extended breastfeeding. You may remember the cover of Time that featured a breastfeeding kindergartner. The image set off a hailstorm of commentary, both complimentary and critical.

Unfortunately, despite the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendation to nurse for the first year and then “as long as mutually desired by mother and infant,” nursing rates plummet as babies grow. In Tennessee, only 14.8 percent of babies are breastfed at 1 year of age. And as any parent knows, strangers often like to dole out unsolicited parenting advice. So what does a nursing mom say when faced with commentary about her feeding choices?

Myth 1: “Babies don’t need to nurse once they have teeth.”

The development of teeth is not an indicator of the stomach’s ability to digest and absorb solid food. After all, some babies have teeth at 3 or 4 months. Teaching a baby good nursing manners can stop biting in its tracks and is an early lesson in how to socialize with others.

Myth 2: “If a baby can ask to nurse, she is too old for it!”

Babies nurse for a variety of reasons, thirst and hunger being just two. A toddler may ask to nurse if she is sleepy, not feeling well, or just wanting some extra cuddles. As baby starts exploring the world more, it’s nice for them to be able to have a safe place in mama’s arms.

Myth 3: “If you give her a bottle, she will sleep through the night!”

Studies have shown that babies fed solids and formula do not, in fact, sleep better than breastfed babies. Sorry to disappoint. Babies sleep through the night when they are developmentally ready, which can be months after the parents are ready, but the frequent waking is a short stage in their lives and this too shall pass.

Myth 4: “You can start baby on milk at a year old. There’s no need to nurse!”

Nutritional benefits don’t magically stop as baby celebrates that first birthday. Toddlers are notoriously picky eaters, so nursing is a great way to fill in the gaps on the days when they subsist solely on bananas and crackers.

For a variety or reasons, not every mother will choose to breastfeed past the first year. Just as we support their choice to wean, we should also support those mothers that continue to nurse. After all, worldwide the average age of weaning is 4.2 years and the World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding for the first two years of life. Happy nursing!


Bethany Sanders is a certified nurse midwife and cares for women at the West End Women’s Health Center and Cole Family Practice. While originally from the Midwest, she is thrilled to have called the South home since graduating Vanderbilt in 2006. When not attending births or measuring pregnant bellies she can be found at the local park chasing around her two young children and discussing babywearing, cloth diapers and breastfeeding.

Infants, Breastfeeding

13 thoughts on “4 myths about extended breastfeeding”

  1. localboy says:

    “As baby starts exploring the world more, it’s nice for them to be able to have a safe place in mama’s arms.”
    They don’t need to nurse to being finding comfort in mama’s arms…sorry, try again.

    1. Rach says:

      A hug is very different from nursing. The bond created by and during breastfeeding is very strong. Yes, infants and toddlers breastfeed for food as well as comfort. And that kind of comfort is one that cannot get anywhere else.

  2. deborah says:

    I breast fed both of my sons. The first one was only about 3 months. My milk dried. I think because I went back to work and the pump did not stimulate enough. The second about 8 months. My mother couldn’t handle it. The stress was simply too much. As for age of nursing, you see toddlers wagging a bottle around and no one thinks anything of it. Even though they no longer need to nurse or take a bottle for nourishment, young children take a bottle for an afternoon nap and at bedtime. So why not nurse? however, I do have one pet peeve about nursing uncovered in public. I always kept a receiving blanket or shawl with me for that purpose. It is not about sexualizing nursing, although some perverts probably think that way. It’s about modesty and respecting others’ sensibilities. It is about keeping a very special love between mother and child. It is about what is natural. It is about good health of both mother and baby. Nursing is one behavior that female bodies have evolved to do.

  3. sharper says:

    I nursed my son for 18 months and my daughter for 4 years. Never thought I would nurse that long. I don’t regret it for a second. I loved nursing my kiddos. They absolutely found comfort with it and I’d do it all over again if I could.

  4. Beth says:

    I was blessed to have my children in Europe which breast feeding there is a norm. I breastfed my son until 3 years old. I breastfed my daughter until 9 months because we had to move back to the states. With my daughter, I was subjugated to rude people who thought they knew best. Now they are adults. My son never gets sick. My daughter is chronically sick. I believe if I could have breast fed to 3 years old. She would have had a better immune system.

  5. Alur Lyrx says:

    We’re not like the other animals. There are social considerations as well as psychological considerations of breast feeding after a child develops a “sense of self.” If a mother goes overboard to prove a point that doesn’t exist, she may be doing harm that far exceeds any possible benefits of breastfeeding. The life-expectancy and well-being of children in the United States shows that breast feeding in excess isn’t necessary.

  6. Gary Canant says:

    I was born 1945 and am the oldest of four sisters and two brothers. I often heard mother say to her lady friends, “After my experience with sore and cracked nipples nursing Wayne!
    I bottle fed the rest of my litter.”
    Mother went to her grave in 2007 with this question on her lips!
    “Wayne, I wonder why you are the only one of my children not sick and happy most of the time?” I pondered that question until I woke up one morning with the answer. I didn’t want to break my mothers heart again, so I kept the answer to myself!
    ANSWER: Mother you breast fed me and gave of yourself the very ingredients to be a winner in life!”
    My belated THANK YOU!, to Anna Belle (Garner) Canant 1922~2007

  7. Willie-O says:

    I’m sorry, but nursing a child at his/her request or when they’re old enough to “navigate” the situation independently is just strange. Pump, bottle, feed. Simple enough.

  8. Karen Edwards says:

    I elected not to breast feed either of my children; I had a career that would have made it very difficult and I didn’t want to do it anyway. I was amazed at the number of people who felt they needed to tell me how awful I was for not breastfeeding. BTW, my children, who are now young adults, have always been much healthier than my sister’s kids (she breastfed each one till the next one came along), have no allergies except poison ivy (hers all have asthma), did not have colic ever (hers all did) and are perfectly happy and well adjusted adults. We held them while we bottle fed and they got lots of cuddle time. My husband was able to share the feeding duties which meant a lot to him. If you want to breast feed, fine, but people need to stop pressuring everyone else to do it. Some of us just don’t want to and it doesn’t make us any worse as mothers.

    1. Maura Ammenheuser says:

      Karen, thank you for the reminder that good parenting comes in many forms. We hope that women who choose to breastfeed into their children’s toddler years will also be free of the kind of pressure you’ve experienced.

  9. Evonne says:

    Just wonder if everyone that thinks breastfeeding is done in excess, do you also tell moms when they should quit letting the child have a pacifier? A bottle? Rocking? Lying down with your child? Breastfeeding offers immunity from disease at all ages. It’s not a drug, so more is better! It doesn’t spoil, drop in the floor and get dirty, or get filled with koolaide, juice or coke! Parenting comes in many forms. If you don’t want judges for bottle feeding, don’t judge breastfeeding either.

  10. Lori Davies says:

    I was told by my daughter’s pediatrician since she was so small at birth, and stayed below average height and weight, to not only breast feed, but also put her on Similac with Iron and double the recommended scoops, along with breastfeeding her till she was almost 5 years old. As a result, she is now going on 12 years old, and has almost caught up to her 13 year old brother. She mainly only needed to breast feed from age 3-4.5 when she was ready to go to sleep.

    1. My Southern Health says:

      So glad to hear your daughter is doing well. – Cynthia

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