In China, nursing a toddler is socially acceptable. It is even perceived as desirable
for a woman to nurse her baby for a long time. A study published in the Journal of Epidemiology on lactating Chinese women shows a significant 50% reduction in risk of developing breast cancer when a woman nurses for two years or more
On our recent trip to Slovenia while I was nursing
my two year old girl, my friend Irena told me with smiling eyes and a hushed voice that she was still nursing her toddler too. And it was as if the music stopped at our welcome party and the women around the table, both family and friends, stared at her wide eyed with jaws agape a full two seconds before the unison "a res a kaj? (in Slovenian "what, really?"). Then came the usual, "you will spoil her", "she's too big", and "your milk isn't good anymore- there's no reason to", and "it's really too much"...
In America, I have yet to hear these comments, although extended nursing is not exactly the norm. In Slovenia, a woman usually returns to work after one year of paid maternity leave whereupon her child is raised and "socialized" in a state daycare. For the first year the woman is encouraged to nurse her baby, but after that first year, breastfeeding is socially discouraged.
What is interesting is that the 50% reduction in breast cancer applies to the women who breastfed their babies more than two years as compared to women who only breastfed their children for less than one year. The study is not comparing women who breastfeed and women who do not, but women who breastfeed less than 12 months versus women who breastfeed more than 24.
Studies in America have not produced these results because not many woman in Western nations end up breastfeeding for more than a year. In fact, the average American woman supplements by the time her baby is only fourteen weeks old.
There are so many health benefits to breastfeeding that health care providers and society in general should actively be doing all that they can to promote it. These benefits increase with duration. I know that there are benefits of nursing
the older baby. Irena knows too. I wish I had this Yale Study
laying around to show these woman sitting at the table in Slovenia that the longer you breastfeed, the more you are protected against breast cancer.
This is not an isolated study. A collaborative reanalysis of data from 47 epidemiological studies
in 30 countries, including 50,302 women with invasive breast cancer and 96,973 without cancer, has reaffirmed the protective effects of breastfeeding against breast cancer.
There has been an impressive campaign to fight breast cancer as the pink ribbon is probably recognized as much as the Nike swoosh. The study was done back in 2002. Ten years later there is not much talk about breast cancer prevention. Let's talk about it!
Nothing done with love is done in vain. Science is again reaffirming what mothers know in their hearts.
Hats off to you Irena. Every single time at the breast is wonderful. You're giving yourself and your little girl a beautiful gift.