Sunday, March 27, 2011

Really, My Breastmilk is Turning to Water!?

I recently asked a question on an online forum for natural parenting about whether the exercise program I was planning to use would effect my supply.  It was reposted by the moderator and I got really positive answers and support - that told me to monitor myself and if I saw changes modify my routine.  Awesome I thought - now I'm going to jump right in there.  A friend of mine check my original post and asked if I had seen the lone reply?  So I checked and it was not something I was expecting from a forum full of extended nursers and natural parents.

I don't know if you are aware of this but after 12 months of nursing your breast milk has no nutritional value at all, it is really like having water, so maybe this would be a good time to think about [weaning] the baby?
So I needed to do my due diligence and research this because in my heart of hearts I know that is not the case but I want to have expert testimonials before I fly off at the handle and climb on my soapbox.  I googled it and found this article on Your Family Doctor[1], that states that breast milk is higher in fat content and calories in women who continue nursing past a year.  I also found this article[2] in Science Daily stating the benefits for mothers who nurse past a year - it reduces their risk of getting rheumatoid arthritis.
Kellymom has an entire fact sheet devoted to Breastfeeding Past Infancy which states both nutritional, immunity, intellectual and social development benefits of continued nursing.  I also particularly enjoy the section on breastfeeding past infancy being NORMAL.
From the WHO website a Q&A - Up to what age can a baby stay well nourished by just being breastfed?  The answer contains a beautiful chart that explains the nutritional breakdown of infants and young children that includes breastfeeding as part of their diet.  The website talks about the transition from breastmilk to solid food:
The transition from exclusive breastfeeding to full use of family foods is a very vulnerable period. It is the time when many infants become malnourished, contributing significantly to the high prevalence of malnutrition in children under five years of age worldwide. It is essential therefore that infants receive appropriate, adequate and safe complementary foods to ensure the right transition from the breastfeeding period to the full use of family foods.[3]
There is a whole section on iVillage dedicated to Breastfeeding, Toddlers and Preschoolers.  The article that lead me to this community was an 'Ask the Expert' question about extended nursing from Debbie Donovan a board certified lactation consultant.  She also talks about how toddler's increased socialization does add merit to the need for extending the nursing relationship because of its immune boosting properties.  She quoted the following text from another study.
The health benefits of breastfeeding do extend throughout the entire time you nurse. A longer duration of breastfeeding has been found to be directly associated with not only fewer infant illnesses, but subsequently, fewer toddler illnesses. (Gulick EE, 1986. The effects of breast-feeding on toddler health. Pediatr Nurs 12(1):51-54)

 I contacted the user, Dawn who replied to my post and she gave me permission to use her statement.  She also replied with this when I explained what I was doing.
Sure, that is no problem. I personally know many women who have breastfed past a year, but I was told long ago that after a year there is no more nutritional value to the breast milk. As a mother of two (both breastfed) I can totally understand the bond it creates between a mother and a child, but I also understand that sometimes it is the mother who is more reluctant to break that routine.[4] The fact is that just like a mother is advised to take a baby off of the bottle at a year, that is the same for a breastfeeding mom. It is simply a good time for a baby to transition to a sippy cup, especially for their teeth. Now it is possible that there have been new studies that I am unaware of, and it wasn't until last night that I ever visited the natural parents page. I was surprised to see how many women were mentioning nursing past a year, so I felt [inclined] to comment. I will, however, do some homework now and research the subject some more, to see if the advise of pediatricians have changed.
I let her know also about the differences between a natural nipple and an artificial nipple's effects on teeth as well.  Natural nipples conform to a child's mouth and proper nursing positioning requires the nipple be further back in the mouth resulting in even pressure on the jaw from the breast positioning unlike the hard inflexible nipples of bottles.  Little Man does not use bottles any longer to drink the milk I continue to express for him while we are apart either.  He also has eleven teeth already and they are coming in just fine.

I am impressed with Dawn's openness to new research and I feel for mothers of the older generations who were mistakenly told to wean their children before they necessarily had to.  I have encouraged her to continue sharing her experiences as well as to learn more about the experiences of others on both the forum we are members of as well as my own blog.  I am thankful that research continues to be carried out on the benefits of nursing past a year even though as moms we already know this is true.  It is nice though to be able to quote research to back up our convictions - even though we shouldn't even have to disclose our reasons if we don't want to.  Our renewed practice of extended nursing continues to make headway in our culture so we and future generations can provide more for our children.

[1] Unfortunately I was unable to find the original research from this 2005 study.  However - Dr. Dror Mendal is on the staff of The Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center in Tel Aviv and is a research partner of Tel Aviv University.  Kellymom also referenced this information on her fact sheet.
[2] BMJ-British Medical Journal (2008, May 13). Women Who Breastfeed For More Than A Year Halve Their Risk Of Rheumatoid Arthritis.
[3] World Health Organization - 2011
[4] This broke my heart because I wanted to reply that of course mom's want to continue the nursing relationship past a year because our instincts are telling us it is the right thing to do.


  1. What a thoughtful, educated response - thank you!!

  2. As breastfeeding mama to a recently turned one year old, I really appreciate this post, and the delicate, respectful way you handled the misconception that sparked it. Thanks, Shannon!

  3. Good for you for backing up what you believe in with research and taking the time to share with someone who was not aware!

  4. Fantastic post! I love the research you did to back up your instincts. Thank you for sharing and affirming.

  5. My baby is 11m old and I keep being told to wean her at 12m. I've also been told that there is no nutritional value in my milk after 6months by a doctor! Thank you for this great post! I will be sharing!

  6. Thank you for your supportive comments. It really is important to me that we keep educating ourselves and staying informed about our choices as parents.

    @MummyinProvence please share some of the research here with your doctor. It is unfortunate how little coursework they are required to complete in breastfeeding and its benefits. My LC shared with me that it is only one course for even pediatricians.

  7. Well done post! *standing O*

    I also was told the same by an ObGyn and a podiatrist (don't ask, I certainly didn't.) I have had a couple of other md's ask me about it after finding out I'm bfing an almost 5yo, almost 3yo, & 9mo. Fortunately, they've all been pretty open to hearing about it.

    Someone needs to get into those medical textbooks & correct this misinformation before it gets out and does damage.

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