Time magazine recently posted some controversial photos about mothers breast feeding their not-so little children. The cover depicted a hot mom posed somewhat provocatively with her 3 or 4 year old son standing on a step stool with her breast in his mouth, looking at the camera. This sparked a debate on Facebook pages and blogs like wild fire. I saw many defensive comments from mothers citing the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations about breast feeding to age “2 and beyond.” In North America this appears to be an attachment parenting debate. Many argue that it’s completely natural in many other societies and that it’s only recently in western culture that it’s not as accepted.
I didn’t remember the WHO recommendation of to “2 and beyond” from when I had my first baby, so I thought I would check out the change and see why.
First, the recommendations include breast feeding exclusively to 6 months, and then using breast milk as complimentary. There are many good and sound research based reasons for that, but that’s another blog post entirely. In this post I’m most concerned with why the change to “2 and beyond.”
The WHO has a comprehensive promotional plan for their newer breast feeding recommendations. The reason for this is in developing countries (formerly known as 3rd world countries) 35% of children under the age of 5 continue to die today due to malnutrition. The malnutrition has to do with access to adequate food and supplies. This is a very serious socio-economic problem, not an attachment parenting style problem. The WHO’s recommendation is to protect the lives of children who could die if they didn’t receive nourishment from anadequate food source. Breast milk, while not adequate for babies over 6 months of age, could help. In North America, for families who don’t have a socio-economic problem, as long as the children aren’t refusing food and drink, there is no longer a nutritional reason to receive breast milk over 1 year.
The moral of the story is to remember that while sources like the WHO are invaluable, it’s also important to know and question the WHY.