Why? Because “extended” nursing implies only breastfeeding longer than the norm, and the norm, as many of you know is sadly not long at all.
Also, I venture to guess that using the term “full term” breastfeeding suggests that the user of the term understands that society’s idea of a “normal” length of time to nurse isn’t acceptable for benefitting a child’s optimal health.
“Full term” breastfeeding also is considered a less arbitrary term than “extended” breastfeeding because by the definition of “full term”, if the child is self-weaned or gently weaned past a year, as is the historical and biological norm, then he or she has nursed for the entire duration of one’s natural development.
Except this is where I get stuck because each child’s natural development is different. Let me explain by posing a question.
What if one mother’s child weans himself at 15 months and another mom’s child weans himself at 40 months? Have both of them breastfed full term? Or only the mother of the 40 month old?
What if a baby “self-weans” at 10 months and the mother really wanted to nurse for at least two years but just couldn’t get back on track after a severe, disheartening nursing strike? Has that baby breastfed full term? If not, can the mother say she practiced extended nursing? Is that acceptable here?
I worry that if “full-term breastfeeding gives one the notion that it has reached its complete maturation, its ultimate fulfillment, goal or purpose,” then how is this going to make the moms of babes who wean early feel? And by early, I mean past infancy but earlier than they wanted or expected to.
If a child weans before age two he misses out on a number of benefits: ongoing nutrition, fewer allergies, less illness, and increased good social adjustment. Have the moms of children who have weaned before age two (and thus not taken advantage of these benefits) then not breastfed full term?
My concern about the term “full term” breastfeeding is that it comes across as a bit elitist. If you say you practice “extended” nursing it is a bit more arbitrary, which works in one’s favour because you don’t have to meet the seemingly stricter definition of “full term” breastfeeding. This way no one ends up feeling like they have failed by breastfeeding for a less desirable amount of time.
I believe it’s important to support moms for any length of breastfeeding they have done. Even if it isn’t what is best for a child’s health, or it isn’t what we would do, or it’s for a reason we don’t understand, the fact that a baby receives any amount of breast milk is better than having not received any breast milk at all.
When I first heard about “full term” breastfeeding as opposed to “extended” breastfeeding I was all for it. And I do think it is a better term to use if you have breastfed past two years. However, the more time I spend thinking about it, the more I worry that it is creating more walls between breastfeeding moms – flimsy, unneeded walls between those moms who breastfeed for a respectable length of time and those who breastfeed even longer.
And we certainly don’t need anymore walls.
What do you think?
(For more links to posts and articles about full term breastfeeding, check out Hobo Mama’s post here).