It's unclear exactly why, but a woman's choice to breastfeed children older than 6 months to a year drives people crazy. There's something about the idea of a child being needy, a woman unable to live independently, or the kicker—a natural bond between mother and child that's been sexually charged by society's idea of what breasts are for. Pleasure.
The truth is that "late breastfeeding" or "extended breastfeeding," used to describe breastfeeding a child longer than a year, is more common and less stigmatized around the world. The World Health Organization recommends that mothers breastfeed their babies exclusively—no other food or drink—for at least six months for "optimal growth, development, and health" and maintains that breastfeeding is an important part of a nutritious diet for infants "up to the age of two years or beyond."
While new reports show that U.S. breastfeeding rates are finally significantly higher than they used to be, and mothers are breastfeeding longer on average, there is a gaping racial disparity between black and white mothers, which speaks to a need for more education and resources for new families. According to current global literature, the United Kingdom has the worst record for breastfeeding until at least age 1 at 0.5 percent. The U.S. clocks in at 27 percent, while Norway steps it up to 44 percent. Interestingly, mothers in developing countries Senegal, Gambia, and Malawi breastfeed their children until age 1 almost 100 percent of the time.
Aviva Romm, M.D., who is also a practicing midwife, agrees that extended breastfeeding is the global norm. "It's great for the mom and baby relationship," she said. "The best stuff—immunologically and neurologically—happens in the first year. After that it's all about the comfort."