Breast Feeding: How Old Is Too Old? Mom Talk

When do children become too old for breast milk?

A good friend of ours told the story of how she had to wean her then 2-year-old son off their evening nursing routine. She was deeply saddened, but felt it was time.

When we first had Liam, I thought that two years old seemed extensive. I never expected to nurse him a full 18 months. (A very healthy child, his first antibiotic wasn't until he was 25 months!)

The head-turning Time Magazine cover of a mom nursing her 3-year-old son also has tongues wagging. How old is too old for a child to breast feed?

My husband says if the boy can walk, talk, and shave, he's too old. Other friends say they've witnessed drive-by-nursings — when kids run over and pull up their moms' shirts to latch on for a quick drink in between game playing. That's not my speed.

For many families, breast feeding an older child is usually part of the bedtime routine. The kids eats normally throughout the day. Then at night, or before a nap, there is a special moment when mom and child bond.

After the first three months of nursing Liam, an overbearing family member tried to brow beat me into quitting. She accused me of keeping my son on a liquid diet, claiming nursing wasn't good for either of us. She was relentless. As a new (and still hormonal) mom, I was in tears. Not to mention, she was totally wrong, in addition to being hurtful.

According to the countless doctors and nurses we met, research is showing that breast milk is exactly what a child needs — the more the better. It reduces cases of cancer, diabetes, heart disease and countless other ailments. Our pediatrician constantly remarks how our children will sail through minor illnesses because they've been breastfed.

Plus, I've read that instances of women's cancer are lessened in those who have breastfed their babies.

The list of benefits keeps going on and on and on. The more breast milk children receive, the healthier they are.

But the question remains: How old is too old? The answer is: As long as each individual mother and her child feel is necessary. UNICEF and the World Health Organization encourage nursing until at least two years old.

Like many children, Liam naturally decided when he was done nursing.

I applaud Jamie Lynne Grumet for being brave enough to be on a national magazine cover. She said she wanted more people to see breastfeeding so it would become more common. Good for her.

No, I'm not a fan of drive-by-nursings. However, if our children will be healthier on countless fronts, I am willing to feel bovine for a little longer. And maybe, just maybe, Grumet's bravery will give hurtful people like my family member just a little less ammunition.

Mothers, we need to make our own choices for our own children. No one knows your kid like you do.

So thanks, Time Magazine. Your cover is — like the song (sort of) goes — a thing that makes us go "moo."

Lettie Delap May 16, 2012 at 12:40 PM
3 is too old! In western culture 18monthes seems average.. It IS healthier for baby to breastfeed if the mother can.. So breastfeeding should be encourages but NOT til 3! Why did they have to use an abnormal story to showcase breastfeeding.. It makes it look bad..
Lettie Delap May 16, 2012 at 12:41 PM
She isn't doing this for the health of the kid.. She's doing it for her own emotional need..
Vanessa Holloway May 16, 2012 at 01:09 PM
Although I never breast feed my two daughter, I'm not against it. However, if this 3-year old is potty-trained, can probably dress himself and is in preschool, he is too old to be breastfed.
gater May 16, 2012 at 01:11 PM
i am sure there are alot of men that would help with her emotional needs
Jane Enviere May 16, 2012 at 02:18 PM
I don't care if someone breast feeds their child. But, it's exploitation to put a preschooler on the cover of a national magazine, latched on while mom is posed to make the most of it. If anyone read the articles where the photog was interviewed, the pics were staged to make the most of the shock value. And since people are still talking about it - kudos to him.
Janice Lindegard May 16, 2012 at 02:48 PM
The cover title, "Are You Mom Enough?" is what bothers me. Not every mother is good at breastfeeding, neither is every child. It's heartbreaking when breastfeeding is a struggle. Despite all kinds of advice, solicited and unsolicited, and lots of lactation consultants, I was unable to breastfeed my son successfully. I felt like a failure. The TIME headline feeds into the idea that breastfeeding is completely natural, easy and if you can't do it, you're a bad mother.
SoccerMom61 May 16, 2012 at 02:55 PM
Who is to say what is the right age to discontinue breastfeeding? Why do women feel the need to judge / question other mother's parenting choices? So what if the breastfeeding ritual continues more for the emotional needs of the mother and child bond than for nutritional purposes? Anyone who has breast fed a child understands the deep connection that is forged during those quiet moments with your child that goes well beyond nutrients, antibodies, etc. While I found the Time cover to be unnecessarily provacative (I would have preferred a much more tender portrayal); I applaud this woman standing up unapologetically owning her style of parenting. Her employing the "attachment parenting" style (what this article was really about; not breast feeding alone) in my opinion should not be used to make others feel like they don't (didn't) do "enough" with their children. Parenting is hard enough without facing judgements and second guessing yourself along the way.
SoccerMom61 May 16, 2012 at 02:59 PM
Really?!? That was completely unnecessary.
Kelly May 16, 2012 at 03:24 PM
The minute she posed for the cover of Time magazine in that fashion, she invited others to judge her. It was staged to be more shocking and provactive ... to start conversation. That's the point. I doubt that woman is second-guessing herself. What she should be second guessing is her decision to exploit her child like that. Years from now, friends won't be laughing at his bathtub photos like every other child, but instead this. If you keep this stuff private and inside your own home, I won't judge you. The minute you exploit your child, damn right I will.
Just Sayin May 16, 2012 at 04:25 PM
Breast feed your child as long as you want, as long as I can't see it! Use a breast pump if you need to breast any longer than 18 months...
Just Sayin May 16, 2012 at 04:28 PM
Oops - meant to say "if you need to breast feed any longer than 18 months..."
Merrilee May 16, 2012 at 06:58 PM
Well being the overbearing family member I just want to say there are always two sides to a story! At the time I felt maybe she should quit there was a lot of frustration for her and the baby! And, having been a nursing mother at one time myself I remembered the frustration, it was not fun for myself or my son. So I suggested she maybe should stop, and have been criticized ever since. I am so sorry for saying a word about.
Cindy Jacobson May 17, 2012 at 01:33 AM
Yes. Every story has two sides. From the looks of it, @Merrilee did not do anything more than make a suggestion. Honestly, it sounds like the suggestion was taken the wrong way. I do not think that the suggestion was overbearing. Just a suggestion because a family member cared. but i am not part of this family. so i do not want to get into the middle of anything. just my opinion.
Bernie Laskowski May 17, 2012 at 01:27 PM
I am a man commenting on something outside of my realm. It is important! Even if it you can only do it for a short time due to what ever the complications. We have advanced as a society and yes need to question everything that separates us from our primitive selves. It is a bond that is created which make us human. I don't think you can put a limit or should. It is unique and should represent the family unit and your values.
John Moreli May 17, 2012 at 03:50 PM
Time magazine sunk to a new level with the cover!
Karen Meier May 21, 2012 at 04:11 PM
Well I don't think any family issues or disputes should be posted on an opinion piece, Ok Erin you got your dig in, how tacky
Dragonfly June 05, 2012 at 08:52 PM
There are always people who jump up and are ready to be supportive of women who quit, but when women are fighting to keep breastfeeding there is a lack of support. Being supportive is trying to help a person achieve THEIR goals, not the ones you have set out. If she had said she was done and asked for help quitting it would have been different. Do you think that since she was having trouble nursing that it didn't occur to her that she could quit? Is she that dense she needed it pointed out to her? I'd bet she did know that was a option and was just looking to vent sometimes and needed a kind ear and shoulder. Breastfeeding can be hard for various reasons and moms often don't have the support they need from other moms who have 'been there, done that' in their family who can guide them.
Dragonfly June 05, 2012 at 08:58 PM
I always was discreet for my own reasons but never used a blanket. If there is something I don't want to see, I avert my eyes. Breastfeeding a child is a normal activity. Are you also squeamish around rubber nipples? I think that people need to understand this is normal and mothers aren't trying to shock and annoy anyone. They are trying to feed their children as nature intended. They should be supported and not harassed with sophomoric 'rules' about how to do it 'discreetly'.
Dragonfly June 05, 2012 at 09:09 PM
Janice, so sorry and hopefully you can move past feeling like a failure. There are a small percentage of people and children that just can't nurse for various medical reasons. There are lots of things I can't do - like sing. I see people winning awards and being hailed on TV for their voice and I don't feel like a failure. It just isn't what I can do. Saying you feel like a failure makes one think that there really was something you could have done and in the way you described it, it certainly doesn't sound like the case. Breastfeeding IS completely natural. Please don't think it isn't because some small percentage can't do it. We are meant to reproduce, yet some people can not. Should we say that reproduction isn't completely natural? You tried very hard and it wasn't your fault. I hope in time you can find a way to make peace with this without feeling persecuted by the ones that can.


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