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I also wish I’d known that a breastfeeding relationship is one that can last for years. Not weeks or months. So with that perspective, early difficulties are to be overcome so that you can get to the "nice" (and dare I say "easy" bit - yes Jamie Oliver!) of past 6 months. 

Breastfeeding my son made the toddler years so much easier. It was something that calmed him down, helped him get to sleep, helped on holiday. It was magic!”

Feeding Beyond Babyhood is Normal


We humans have evolved to drink our mother’s milk until anywhere between the ages of around 2 and 7+ years old. Some babies stop earlier, some children carry on for longer. This is known as natural term breastfeeding, or natural term weaning. It’s thought that the eruption of the permanent set of teeth influences this timescale.


Many cultures around the world breastfeed until natural term, including many women in the Western world. This age range is only surprising in cultures that interrupt breastfeeding, often without realising it or knowing which norms are biological and which are cultural.

Breastfeeding beyond babyhood is normal. (Click to read our related blog)

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The concentration of fats and proteins increase as the baby grows into a toddler, along with increased levels of antibacterial and antiviral components such as lysozyme, which is an anti-inflammatory and destroys bacteria. Lysozyme increases in concentration from about 6 months old, and keeps increasing after the first year. 
The concentration of Lactoferrin also increases over time. Lactoferrin inhibits the growth of some cancerous cells. It also helps our babies to absorb their own iron stores, whilst binding to the iron in our baby’s body which prevents it from being available to harmful microorganisms that need iron to survive. Lactoferrin also kills the bacteria strep mutans, which causes tooth decay and cavities.
Our body’s immune system takes around 6 years to become fully mature, so the support of the protective factors in human milk could play a part in the timescale of natural term weaning.

It is also associated with reduced risks of disease for the mother, including breast cancer.


Further Reading

La Leche League

"Breastfeeding continues to offer benefits to mother and child, both to their health and mental and emotional well being, for as long as it continues.  It is sometimes thought that there is a point where breastmilk no long offers any benefits but this is not accurate. Breastmilk maintains nutritional value as well as emotional benefits and the World Health Organisation and the Department of Health recommend that breastfeeding continues, with the appropriate additional of complementary foods, for two years and beyond."

Ruth Kamnitzer

"In Mongolia, there's an oft-quoted saying that the best wrestlers are breastfed for at least six years - a serious endorsement in a country where wrestling is the national sport. I moved to Mongolia when my first child was four months old, and lived there until he was three.
Raising my son during those early years in a place where attitudes to breastfeeding are so dramatically different from prevailing norms in North America opened my eyes to an entirely different vision of how it all could be. Not only do Mongolians breast feed for a long time, they do so with more enthusiasm and less inhibition than nearly anyone else I've met."

Wold Health Organisation

"WHO and UNICEF recommend that children initiate breastfeeding within the first hour of birth and be exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months of life – meaning no other foods or liquids are provided, including water. 
Infants should be breastfed on demand – that is as often as the child wants, day and night. From the age of 6 months, children should begin eating safe and adequate complementary foods while continuing to breastfeed for up to 2 years and beyond.

Katherine Dettwyler PhD

"My research has looked at the various "life-history" variables (such as length of gestation, birth weight, growth rate, age at sexual maturity, age at eruption of teeth, life span, etc.) in non-human primates and then looked at how these variables correlate with age at weaning in these animals. These are our closest relatives in the animal kingdom, especially gorillas and chimpanzees, who share more than 98% of their genes with humans. I came up with a number of predictions for when humans would "naturally" wean their children if they didn't have a lot of cultural rules about it."

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