Breastfeeding expert defends nursing two-year-olds
A Swedish mother faced being reported to social services for breastfeeding her two-year-old, but one expert says children should ideally be breastfed up to age five.
Earlier this year, the mother was told by a nurse at a child health care centre in Luleå, northern Sweden that her daughter was not growing fast enough and that unless the she stopped breastfeeding her, she would be reported to social services. The mother was told that breastfeeding her two-year-old was tantamount to child abuse and that it was hampering the child’s growth, local newspaper Norrländska Socialdemokraten reported earlier this month.
But other breastfeeding experts disagree. Speaking to Swedish Radio, Sofia Zwedberg, a midwife and breastfeeding researcher at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, said she would prefer to see more mothers breastfeeding their two-year-olds.
Zwedberg said breastmilk contains all nutrients that a child needs and that the global recommendation is for mothers to breastfeed exclusively for six months and thereafter to combine breastfeeding with other feeding for two years or more to ensure the child receives enough iron and vitamin C.
According to the mother in northern Sweden, at two months her child was small and below the growth chart that shows the standard ranges for height and weight. Her daughter had apparently been fully breastfeed for six months and after that partially breastfed, but was not eating enough food. However, the mother said that the girl showed no signs of malnourishment, nutrient shortage or iron deficiency.
Zwedberg, the breastfeeding expert, told Swedish Radio that the idea that it is terrible to breastfeed older children is a “social construct”.
Zwedberg said a mother can never force a child to breastfeed and so it is not a question of maltreatment.
Speaking to newspaper Dagens Nyheter, the mother said she was distressed after being told that she needed to stop breastfeeding completely or risk being reported to social services. She told the newspaper: “I had a breakdown. Would I, who had always done what I thought was best for my child, be reported for child abuse?”
Later, the mother reported the child health care centre to the Health and Social Care Inspectorate, stating that she had not received any other advice apart from the order to stop breastfeeding. She told Dagens Nyheter that for her and her child, breastfeeding “was about much more than just food”. It was a way for my daughter to fall asleep, to feel closeness or just to cuddle in the morning,” she said. “Breastfeeding was also a savior when she was ill and had a fever and neither ate nor drank”.
Zwedberg, at the Karolinska Institute, said women have different experiences breastfeeding and each case has to be treated individually. However, she said that “biologically speaking, we are meant to breastfeed up to age five but our lifestyles mean that women today choose to stop breastfeeding early.”
“If it were up to the children,” said Zwedberg, “we might see more older kids breastfeeding.”