Can anyone but a mother and child really determine the right amount of time a child should nurse? While the World Health Organization recommends nursing until at least age 2, and longer if the child and mother benefit, I have the sense that my daughter is not the only one who is quick to judge.
Yet, we don’t see many women breastfeeding in general (less than 14 percent of women in the U.S. exclusively breastfed through just 6 months of age in 2006), so when we see anyone nursing, it surprises us. And the older the child gets, the more unusual it is, and the more weird.
In my experience nursing, however, the longer a woman nurses, the more natural it seems to simply lift a shirt and feed a youngster when they need milk or comfort. Yet while many mothers become increasingly accustomed to this behavior, it seems as though society becomes less comfortable.
Extended nursing has been a natural part of child-raising in the past, and is even common in certain other parts of the world. Mothering Magazine published a fascinating article written by a Canadian mother living with her toddler in Mongolia (breastfeeding rate of nearly 60 percent at 6-9 months). She described how she initially differed from her Mongolian peers during playgroups. When an argument broke out and her son was upset, she would try to distract him or talk out the problem. She reported that this approach succeeded in calming him only half the time.