Monday 24 October 2016

The women who continue to give breast milk to their toddlers

The practice of breastfeeding older children has become a somewhat controversial issue, but Arlene Harris speaks to two women who plan to continue giving breast milk to their toddlers

Published 07/10/2015 | 02:30


Everyone knows that breast is best when it comes to providing nutrition for babies, but many people baulk at the idea of continuing to give breast milk to children who are able to drink from a cup and eat proper food.

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However, some women are happy to continue, and we spoke to two mothers who have been breastfeeding their children since birth and will carry on for as long as their youngsters are happy to do so.

Caz Koopman tandem feeds her two daughters Líobhán (3 ½) and Éirú (1 ½) - she says there are a huge amount of benefits to breastfeeding older children.

"In the early days, when sleeping is thrown all out of routine, breastfeeding is easy because nobody has to get up and sterilise anything or prepare any food, it's quick and easy and right there," she says.

"But as they grow older it's also great for helping them stay connected, particularly if they are frightened, or tired, or feeling slightly unwell. We're blessed in that the girls have never really been sick, apart from Líobhán getting the vomiting bug one Christmas when she was two.

"The doctors told us that if she hadn't been getting so much nourishment from breast milk, she would have been hospitalised to ensure hydration."

The Dublin woman says breastfeeding is 10pc nutrition, with the remaining 90pc all about health development and protection from illness.

"Breast milk responds to the child's needs because as they develop and are exposed to more and more in the outside world, breast milk will adapt to create antibodies for whatever the child has been exposed to," she says. "So if a child has diarrhoea, the breast milk will ensure adequate nutrient balance - it's incredible."

And despite Ireland having a poor uptake of breastfeeding in general, Caz says she has always had a positive reaction from strangers.

"I've had the odd look when I tandem fed in public the first time, but mainly if anyone ever approaches me, it's usually to cheer me on, or to ask questions," she says.

"I have had grannies asking for advice for their daughter or daughter-in-law as they had no experience themselves and even two men who said they were the envy of their workmates because their wives breastfed and they were the best-rested new dads in the office.

"Every mum is trying to do her best and I don't feel there is any need for a 'them and us' attitude between breastfeeding families and non-breastfeeding families. As women we should be empowering one another, encouraging one another and supporting one another.

"My motto is 'you can always tell who the real women are, they're the ones building each other up instead of tearing each other down'."

Jan Cromie of La Leche League Ireland says the organisation will support women for however long they decide to breastfeed their children for - but says very few continue up to or beyond the toddler years.

"Not every woman is going to feel comfortable breastfeeding a toddler, particularly as we have a very strong bottle-feeding culture in Ireland," she says.

"While the rates of breastfeeding newborns has definitely risen in recent years, the drop-off rates after a couple of weeks are very steep so the percentage of women still breastfeeding when their child reaches toddler stage is probably only in singular figures.

"And those that continue on do so mainly to offer comfort and security to their child as the actual amount of milk they would be getting at this stage is quite small.

"However, our role is to support women for as long as they want to breastfeed for - whether that is a few days, weeks or years - when they decide to give up is not our decision but we will always be there to offer support and advice."

Kerry-based Tania Lawlor has four children Oisin (9), Elsa (7), Muireann (4 ½) and Einín (1). She has been breastfeeding for almost a decade - only weaning at a school age - and says her children have really reaped the benefits.

"My eldest child stopped when he was nearly three, the two middle girls were over four and I am still feeding the baby," she says.

"There are so many positives to breastfeeding as they have never really been sick other than having runny noses or a cough and whenever they had a tantrum or hurt themselves the 'booboobs' have been there to comfort them and help to deal with a difficult situation."

The mother-of-four believes that children gain more independence when they breastfeed for longer and although some people have a problem with older children being breastfed, she is comfortable with her own choice.

"Children gain independence and feel secure through breastfeeding as I believe they need to feel safe and attached first in order to become independent," she says.

"Loads of my friends feed their children up to three years and over and as Ireland has such a low breastfeeding rate, many people get a shock when they see this - but they shouldn't do because the natural age (to wean) is between two and seven.

"Formula has become so anchored in our lives that we have forgotten the normal way to feed children and almost see the breast as something dirty or sexual - which is wrong.

"When someone acts negatively towards me now, I just smile at them as I don't believe I am the one with the problem - I am very comfortable with my choice."

Tania (who is originally from France) says there is always someone available to help women to succeed at breastfeeding.

"I wish mothers would stop feeling guilty about not breastfeeding because instead they should feel angry towards a system which is failing them," she says. "There is too much misinformation out there and in my opinion for every breastfeeding problem, there is always a breastfeeding solution. So I would advise women to ditch the books, go back to their roots and follow their instinct."

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