Natural Term Breastfeeding
As part of National Breastfeeding Month, we want to discuss something that’s rarely spoken about, even by breastfeeding mums. Natural term breastfeeding is the norm in many countries but is seen as “odd” in much of the western world. So, let’s throw off the covers and explore what it really involves and whether it’s an option for you.
What Is Natural Term Breastfeeding?
Natural term breastfeeding, or full-term breastfeeding, is essentially the practice of breastfeeding a child until they choose to stop. In the UK, the percentage of mothers breastfeeding at 6 months is 34% - and only 1% are exclusively breastfeeding. Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation recommends that mothers should ideally exclusively breastfeed for the first 6 months, and continue breastfeeding to two years or beyond.
It’s this "beyond" that really comes into play with natural term breastfeeding, as the concept is that it’s in the child’s best interest to continue breastfeeding as long as they choose to. It’s certainly not a new concept, in fact, in many countries which follow traditional child-rearing practices, children continue to reap the health benefits of breastmilk until they can no longer latch, generally, around the time they lose their “milk teeth”.
Although you might not see natural term breastfeeding around you when you’re out in the world, that isn’t to say it isn’t happening. As children get older and begin relying on food for their nutritional needs, many will only breastfeed a few times a day, often at home before a nap or bedtime. You may just be surprised at how many people you know who were still breastfeeding at home long after they stopped in public!
How Long Will My Child Breastfeed?
Choosing to breastfeed to full-term doesn’t necessarily mean that mothers will nurse their children to 6 or 7, by any means, although many do. It simply means that the mother chooses to continue breastfeeding until the child no longer shows interest. It’s well known by now that breastfeeding provides health benefits far beyond the first few months, and it also has positive psychological impacts too.
Just think, how many 2, 3, 4 or 5-year-olds learn to find comfort in a dummy, blankie, soft toy or their thumb? Full-term breastfeeding is simply meeting this need in the most natural way.
A Note On Nursing Strike
A child who is ready to stop breastfeeding will almost always do so gradually, over a period of weeks or months. If a child suddenly stops breastfeeding, it’s often what is called a “nursing strike”. Nursing strikes can happen for a wide variety of reasons, but can be overcome with support.
If your baby has suddenly stopped feeding, there is some great advice on the La Leche League website.
Who Decides When To Stop Breastfeeding?
Natural term breastfeeding may be based around nursing your child until they decide to wean, but that isn’t to say you have no say in the matter. As always, it’s your body and your choice. Some mothers will continue to breastfeed until their child no longer shows interest, others may find that a second pregnancy puts an end to their breastfeeding journey (although many successfully continue throughout).
As with so many things in motherhood, it’s an individual journey that will take unexpected twists and turns.
Is It Right For You?Deciding to try natural term breastfeeding doesn’t need to be a concrete commitment. You will never be asked to sign on a dotted line. And ultimately, you simply won’t know whether it’s right for you in advance, you can only take it a day at a time.
In fact, taking it a day at a time is a great outlook to have for your breastfeeding journey. Instead of putting an end-date on breastfeeding, or setting goals that put you under pressure, just see what happens and where the experience takes you. After all, parenting is about the journey, not the destination.
Originally from New Zealand, Sarah is a mother to two boys and has lived in the UK for the past 10 years. She is a home-educator, freelance writer, Netflix-binger and has a penchant for strong black coffee.