A sociologist friend of mine recently returned from a round-the-world trip studying parenting in urban areas. I asked him what he found out, and he replied with “if I started talking now, you might as well have enrolled in one of my classes.” I laughed it off, and asked a more direct question: what were some strange things he saw. He took a moment to think before shrugging and answering: “I saw a seven year-old who is still breast-fed.”
While he explained to me that such scenarios aren’t necessarily a tradition or trend in the places where they have been observed to occur, they do happen; not because the parents intend to raise their children that way, but because the children are unable to deal with separation anxiety.
Most mothers do breastfeed their newborn babies. To many, this is an important time during which the baby is allowed to form a bond with his/her biological mother. Psychologist Sigmund Freud theorizes that this “oral” stage is the primary source of pleasure and comfort for a baby. Many parents will go to great lengths to observe that this stage goes well, monitoring the mother’s diet so she avoids caffeine, seafood, nuts, and other foods that could affect the quality of breast milk.
While observing that this stage goes right is all good however, it is a bad idea to let it go on for too long. If the baby is stuck breastfeeding, there is a risk of hindering the child’s psychological growth, preventing him/her from becoming comfortable or confident anywhere the parent is not.
Apparently, the same can be true for the parent as well. If breastfeeding goes on for too long, the parent may experience difficulty in allowing their children to grow up and move on; a natural part of parenting that is hard enough on its own. This then leads to even more difficulty in stopping breastfeeding habits. Despite this however, some parents will defend their actions in public, stating there is nothing wrong with it. Technically, they’re right of course, though psychological arguments still stand.
Many of my friends are mothers, and they usually stop breastfeeding their babies around the time their kids hit the age of two. It takes time of course, to stop milk production, and to just suddenly stop breastfeeding causes your chest to feel heavy, hard, and painful. Some ways of lowering breast milk production to a stop involve expressing just enough milk to lower pressure (comically, just like a steam valve), and using a cold compress to reduce blood flow to the breast area. Heat can stimulate production of milk because heat increases blood flow, and blood delivers the necessary hormones for body processes.
There isn’t anything implicitly wrong with breastfeeding; if there was, people wouldn’t be able to do it in the first place. Of course, my friend may have been joking when he mentioned his stories, but it doesn’t make the facts any less real. For all the good it can do for parents and children, too much of a good thing really can do some harm.