In a society where discussions on parenting choices often stir passionate debates, one topic that remains shrouded in secrecy is extended breastfeeding. While many mothers choose to breastfeed their infants for the recommended duration of six months to a year, some opt for an extended breastfeeding journey that can last for several years. This choice is not without its challenges, including societal stigma, questions of feminism, neurobiological factors, and the core principle of secure attachment theory. As a holistic psychologist, I believe it is crucial to explore these dimensions to foster understanding and empathy around this deeply personal choice.
I. The Foundation of Secure Attachment Theory
To comprehensively discuss extended breastfeeding, we must start with secure attachment theory. Developed by British psychologist John Bowlby, this theory emphasises the importance of a secure emotional bond between infants and their caregivers, primarily mothers. Breastfeeding, with its skin-to-skin contact and nourishment, plays a vital role in establishing and nurturing this bond.
Extended breastfeeding aligns with secure attachment theory, as it provides a continuous source of comfort and reassurance to the child. It fosters a strong emotional connection, which is believed to have long-term positive effects on a child's emotional and psychological development.
II. Addressing the Stigma
One of the primary reasons we shy away from discussing extended breastfeeding is the stigma surrounding it. Society often perceives breastfeeding beyond infancy as unconventional or inappropriate. This stigma arises from misconceptions, discomfort, and a lack of awareness about the many benefits it offers.
To address this stigma, we must educate ourselves and others about the benefits of extended breastfeeding, including enhanced immunity, emotional bonding, attachment psychology and the child's self-regulation skills. Encouraging open dialogue can help dispel myths and create a more inclusive and accepting society for breastfeeding mothers.
III. Feminism and Choice
The feminist perspective adds another layer to the discussion of extended breastfeeding. Feminism is about choice, and this principle extends to the choices women make in parenting. Empowering women to make informed decisions about their bodies and their children's well-being is a cornerstone of feminist values.
Extended breastfeeding, as a personal choice, must be respected as part of a woman's autonomy. Supporting mothers in making the best choices for themselves and their children, whether it's breastfeeding for an extended period or not, aligns with the principles of feminism.
IV. Neurobiology and Extended Breastfeeding
From a neurobiological standpoint, extended breastfeeding has unique implications. Breast milk continues to adapt to a child's changing needs as they grow. It provides essential nutrients, immune support, and even emotional nourishment.
Moreover, breastfeeding stimulates the release of oxytocin and promotes emotional bonding between mother and child. These biological factors play a significant role in the decision to extend breastfeeding.
V. The Power of Choice
In the end, the discussion about extended breastfeeding boils down to choice. It is a deeply personal decision that should be respected, regardless of societal norms or expectations. Mothers who choose to embark on this journey are making choices rooted in love and concern for their child's well-being.
Extended breastfeeding is a topic that deserves an open, respectful, and informed conversation. It is a choice made by mothers who prioritise their child's emotional and physical health, in alignment with secure attachment theory, and often guided by the principles of feminism. To de-stigmatise extended breastfeeding, we must educate ourselves, challenge societal norms, and above all, respect every mother's right to make the best choices for her child and herself. In doing so, we move towards a more inclusive and empathetic society where parenting choices are celebrated rather than scrutinised.
About the author:
Charlotte Lewis (BSc & MSc Psychology) is a Holistic Psychology expert, founder of @MyPsychologyCoach, writer and media contributor and in-house TV wellbeing specialist.
She is a multifaceted healer, dedicated to promoting mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. With an academic background in psychology, she blends traditional therapeutic techniques with holistic approaches - like meditation and reiki - to provide a comprehensive healing experience. With a mission to empower individuals to thrive, Charlotte shares wisdom, guidance and insights through her articles and teachings. Guiding individuals on a journey of self-discovery and inner peace. Follow Charlotte on Instagram @MyPsychologyCoach for regular inspiration and guidance on your journey toward holistic wellbeing.