by Mary Jessica Hammes
December 21, 2008
Kelly Rutherford, an actress currently starring in the television show Gossip Girl, is still breastfeeding her 2-year-old son—and predictably, anonymous responses online have veered more to the “ew, gross” territory.
Shocking, I know. It’s absolutely appalling that a woman might choose to breastfeed her child according to standards supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which recommends breastfeeding exclusively for six months and then at least up to a year, with “no upper limit to the duration of breastfeeding,” and the World Health Organization, which advises “breastfeeding up to two years and beyond.”
How dare she…I don’t know…decrease her child’s risk of developing childhood cancers, chronic bowel diseases, urinary tract infections, respiratory infections, diabetes, obesity and asthma—or decrease her own risk of breast, uterine, and ovarian cancer.
The health benefits of breast milk are well-known and documented in numerous studies—and those benefits don’t simply turn off just because a child is growing.
So, when do babies naturally wean themselves? We often hear the age is around 4, but it’s more variable than that, according to Katherine A. Dettwyler, an anthropologist at the University of Delaware, author, lecturer and breastfeeding expert (who, she says at her website, breastfed her daughter until she was 4 years old).
In fact, trying to pinpoint an exact worldwide average might not be a very helpful exercise, suggests Dettwyler.
“It is meaningless, statistically, to speak of an average age of weaning worldwide, as so many children never nurse at all, or their mothers give up in the first few days, or at six weeks when they go back to work,” she writes. “…In societies where children are allowed to nurse ‘as long as they want’ they usually self-wean, with no arguments or emotional trauma, between 3 and 4 years of age.”
As for me, I feel all tingly knowing that at last I share something in common with a celebrity—I, too, still breastfeed a 2-year-old.
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