4 myths about extended breastfeeding


November 29, 2016

Nursing rates plummet as babies grow. But as some moms follow recommendations for extended breastfeeding, here are answers to questions they might get.


Most women have heard that “breast is best,” but there’s less guidance about how long to breastfeed and even less information about the benefits of extended breastfeeding. You may remember the cover of Time that featured a breastfeeding kindergartner. The image set off a hailstorm of commentary, both complimentary and critical.

Unfortunately, despite the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendation to nurse for the first year and then “as long as mutually desired by mother and infant,” nursing rates plummet as babies grow. In Tennessee, only 14.8 percent of babies are breastfed at 1 year of age. And as any parent knows, strangers often like to dole out unsolicited parenting advice. So what does a nursing mom say when faced with commentary about her feeding choices?

Myth 1: “Babies don’t need to nurse once they have teeth.”

The development of teeth is not an indicator of the stomach’s ability to digest and absorb solid food. After all, some babies have teeth at 3 or 4 months. Teaching a baby good nursing manners can stop biting in its tracks and is an early lesson in how to socialize with others.

Myth 2: “If a baby can ask to nurse, she is too old for it!”

Babies nurse for a variety of reasons, thirst and hunger being just two. A toddler may ask to nurse if she is sleepy, not feeling well, or just wanting some extra cuddles. As baby starts exploring the world more, it’s nice for them to be able to have a safe place in mama’s arms.

Myth 3: “If you give her a bottle, she will sleep through the night!”

Studies have shown that babies fed solids and formula do not, in fact, sleep better than breastfed babies. Sorry to disappoint. Babies sleep through the night when they are developmentally ready, which can be months after the parents are ready, but the frequent waking is a short stage in their lives and this too shall pass.

Myth 4: “You can start baby on milk at a year old. There’s no need to nurse!”

Nutritional benefits don’t magically stop as baby celebrates that first birthday. Toddlers are notoriously picky eaters, so nursing is a great way to fill in the gaps on the days when they subsist solely on bananas and crackers.

For a variety or reasons, not every mother will choose to breastfeed past the first year. Just as we support their choice to wean, we should also support those mothers that continue to nurse. After all, worldwide the average age of weaning is 4.2 years and the World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding for the first two years of life. Happy nursing!


This post was written by Bethany Sanders, a certified nurse midwife and cares for women at the West End Women’s Health Center and Vanderbilt Primary Care Mt. Juliet. While originally from the Midwest, she is thrilled to have called the South home since graduating Vanderbilt in 2006. When not attending births or measuring pregnant bellies she can be found at the local park chasing around her two young children and discussing babywearing, cloth diapers and breastfeeding.

Bethany Sanders, who holds her Master of Science in Nursing degree, is a certified nurse midwife for Vanderbilt Women’s Health. She is a native of Michigan, but has called the South home for the last 15 years. After receiving her bachelor’s degree in French, she moved to Nashville and attended Vanderbilt University School of Nursing, where she studied midwifery. Bethany spent her first five years as a midwife in rural northeast Georgia before returning to Vanderbilt Health. As faculty of the midwifery practice, she sees patients for clinic appointments and deliveries at hospital. Bethany is currently working on her PhD with an interest in health disparities. She enjoys spending time with her husband, two kids, multiple cats, and chickens.