Last week was World Breastfeeding Week and so I saw a lot of articles about breastfeeding, mostly very positive. But I was also sad to see a lot of negative comments and judgement about extended breastfeeding (which is not extended at all, of course, but is natural). Vegans don’t always breastfeed but I thought this was especially interesting and strange from a vegan point of view.
From vegan parents I’ve met, it seems quite common for vegans to breastfeed for a longer time or until natural weaning age. I think this is great for vegan kids (or any kids) because, even though kids can get all their nutrients from solid food by about 12 months, we are mammals and naturally would drink breast milk for years, and it has many benefits. I would have thought since some people (wrongly) think that vegan diets are so lacking in nutrients, that they’d be happy for vegan kids to get breast milk for as long as possible.
But a lot of people have the opinion that a parent breastfeeding past 12 months (or even younger) is selfish, pointless or harmful in some way. These are probably the same people who say a child needs cows’ milk to be healthy. Sure, cows’ milk provides nutrients, but human milk is more naturally suited for a human child’s needs. It provides calcium, iron, protein, healthy fats, vitamin B12, (all things people worry about vegans getting enough of) and much more. As well as having many benefits that cows’ milk doesn’t have, such as supporting the immune system. Breast milk continues to have benefits for as long as the child is breastfed. The goodness doesn’t just disappear when the child reaches 12 months. It doesn’t make any sense that cows’ milk would be necessary but that human milk would have no benefits, as some people think.
The natural age of weaning for humans is thought to be somewhere between 2.5 and 7 years. The World Health Organisation recommends breastfeeding for at least 2 years or longer, wherever you live in the world. Yet I’ve seen people saying breastfeeding is weird “once the baby gets teeth”, “when they can walk” and “when they can ask for it” (which was 4 months, 9 months and 11 months for my second baby). Strange that they think it’s weird to breastfeed an infant who can walk, say “boob” or has teeth, but that it’s completely normal for adults to drink the milk of another species. I saw an article recently by a nutritionist saying that children should have cows’ milk until at least age 10, but why would they need milk after the natural age of weaning? Even if a child is younger than the natural age of weaning, they can get their nutrients from other food as well.
There are also many toddlers who drink toddler formula, which most people would have no problem with. If people see it as normal for an older child to drink a breast milk substitute then they should surely see breastfeeding an older child as normal too. I saw an article today saying that toddler formula is unnecessary and parents could simply use regular cows’ milk. But it failed to mention that parents who breastfeed could continue throughout toddlerhood and beyond, if they wanted, as that is completely normal. They could have helped to normalise extended breastfeeding, instead of making cows’ milk sound like the only option.
I think if people saw a cow, dog, or other animal feeding their young, they would think it was cute, even if the “baby” was quite big. So why is it weird if I feed my 15 month old? I’m tired of other people thinking their opinion on how I raise my kids or what I do with my body actually matters. I don’t judge those who choose that it’s best for them to not breastfeed or to stop at a certain age. We are doing what we choose and what is best for our families and shouldn’t be judged for that.