Why is the Medical Profession So Uneducated About the Benefits of Extended Breastfeeding?


Extended Breastfeeding


Research shows extended breastfeeding has overwhelming benefits to mother and child.



As an advocate of extended breastfeeding for the benefit of mothers and children, I was pretty miffed to read this article today  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2146870/Breastfeed-year-old-Thats-just-selfish-wrong.html.  Dr Cannon’s views, of course, are nothing new but it got me thinking about how scary it is that our medical profession are so ill-informed and, therefore dangerous, when it comes to providing advice regarding extended breastfeeding.


Everyone is entitled to their opinion, of course, but this article is just frittered with falsehoods that I will address one by one.  In this article, Dr Ellie Cannon says:


1.  ”There is little evidence of any health benefits beyond the age of one. Breastfeeding babies is natural and normal – but in my opinion, breastfeeding your child up until three or even later is unnecessary.”  Wrong, wrong, wrong.  Attachment Parenting Guru, Dr Sears, states that The World Health Organization (WHO) officially recommend mothers breastfeed until three years of age. (Yes, you did read that right!) Even the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends mothers should breastfeed “at least until one year of age and then as long as baby and mother mutually want to.”  They make these recommendations because of the wealth of evidence of health benefits for extended breastfeeding for mother and child.  For mum it reduces the risk of uterine, ovarian, and breast cancers and they have a lower incidence of osteoporosis later in life.  For children,it reduces the chances of gastrointestinal illness, upper respiratory illness, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, heart disease, and on and on and on. Likewise, the babies nursed the longest scored the highest on the IQ tests.


2.”The attachment parenting crowd argue this is the way parents have been doing things for thousands of years. I’m not an anthropologist, but I do know that we’re living in an era when these things are not the norm.”  Well, that is the point isn’t it, that what is the ‘norm’ isn’t actually biologically normal.  And no you are not an anthropologist, but Katherine Dettwyler is.  A world renowned one at that, and she argues that, “In terms of the benefits of extended breastfeeding, there have been a number of studies comparing breastfed and bottlefed babies in terms of the frequency of various diseases, and also IQ achievement. In every case, the breastfed babies had lower risk of disease and higher IQs than the bottle-fed babies. In those studies that divided breastfed babies into categories based on length of breastfeeding, the babies breastfed the longest did better in terms of both lower disease and higher IQ. In other words, if the categories were 0-6 months of breastfeeding, 6-12 months, 12-18 months and 18-24+ months, then the 18-24+ month babies did the best, and the 12-18 month babies did the next best, and the 6-12 months babies did the next best, and the 0-6 months babies did the worst of the breastfed groups, but still much better than the bottle-feeding group. This has been shown for gastrointestinal illness, upper respiratory illness, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, heart disease, and on and on and on. Likewise, the babies nursed the longest scored the highest on the IQ tests”.


3.”no health professional would officially recommend co-sleeping, as there are concerns the baby is at increased risk from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome“. Um, yes they would and they do – in abundance.  A 1997 Pediatrics article outlined a study that observed night-time breastfeeding behavior in mother-infant pairs. The study found that co-sleeping led to increased breastfeeding. Because breastfeeding has been shown to have a protective effect against SIDS, then co-sleeping, which facilitates breastfeeding, might be protective against SIDS.

Another article published in Pediatrics suggests that co-sleeping has protective effects against SIDS because of an increase in the infant’s arousal’s and the mother’s responsiveness when the pair is co-sleeping.  Just this week, an announcement was made to the press that SIDS was reduced by breastfeeding – Queensland-based author of the SIDS review and safe sleeping expert, Adjunct Professor Jeanine Young, said consistent findings of studies over the past 15 years showed that along with maternal and infant health benefits, breastfeeding helped reduce the risk of SIDS.


4.”The worry of many developmental psychologists is that extreme breastfeeding dampens this natural stage of a child’s development and serves only to indulge the mother: it gives her attention and a purpose“.   This is just utter hogwash.  Most developmental psychologists view attachment as incredibly important for optimum emotional health.  Dr Penelope Leach (Your Baby Your Child, 1995), conducted an anonymous survey of 150 infant health professionals and infant mental health professionals from 56 countries who were members of the World Association for Infant Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines. When asked what level of attachment they considered  to be the best from birth to 36 months, the majority said that from the infant’s point of view it was ‘very important’ for babies to have their mothers available to them ‘through most of each 24 hours’ for more than a year and ‘ideal’ for infants to be cared for ‘principally’ by their mothers for durations averaging 27 months’.


5. “Children are sexually aware from a young age. They become interested in body parts and what they do. Breastfeeding a child old enough to walk over to his mother and open her shirt creates a confusing message about personal boundaries and our bodies.”  Honestly, I don’t even know where to start with this one.  Are there really still intelligent people in the civilised world who would believe this?  Maybe so, but I like to think that most parents know that affection, love, closeness, and attachment doesn’t ‘confuse’ a child, and there are no sexual overtones at all.  All they feel is love and connection with their parents.  Why would adults, particularly a medical professional, try to turn something so beautiful into something ugly.  As Dettwyler says, “Extended breastfeeding is NORMAL for our species.  Another important consideration for the older child is that they are able to maintain their emotional attachment to a person, rather than being forced to switch to an inanimate object such as a teddy bear or blanket. I think this sets the stage for a life of people-orientation, rather than materialism, and I think that is a good thing. I also can’t imagine living through the toddler years without that close loving connection to a child going through enormous changes, some of which are very frustrating to the child”


In conclusion, the evidence shows clearly that there are overwhelming benefits to both mother and child to practice extended breastfeeding.  What would be nice is for the medical profession to become better informed about this, especially when they are writing about it in the popular press and have great influence on new mothers.   My arguments on this subject are developed much more eloquently and in much greater detail in the Chapter – The Socialisation of Mothers in my book, The Shepherdess. www.asktheshepherdess.com.








Penelope Leach (Your Baby Your Child, 1995)


Katherine Dettwyler, The Natural Age to Wean, http://www.kathydettwyler.org/detwean.html






About Chaley-Ann Scott

Chaley-Ann Scott is a parenting author, sociologist, counsellor, and mother-of-four. She writes widely on parenting and education for various publications, and is the author of The Shepherdess; A Guide to Mothering without Control.


8 thoughts on “Why is the Medical Profession So Uneducated About the Benefits of Extended Breastfeeding?”

  1. Ugh that article just makes my stomach turn. I am glad you addressed this…..

    i just do not get why people insist on calling BF a toddler ‘extreme’, this makes me feel awful. My daughter is 15 mos and theres nothing extreme about breastfeeding her at all!!

  2. The World Health Organization says, “As a global public health recommendation, infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life to achieve optimal growth, development and health. Thereafter, to meet their evolving nutritional requirements, infants should receive nutritionally adequate and safe complementary foods while breastfeeding continues for up to two years of age or beyond.” (http://www.who.int/nutrition/publications/infantfeeding/9241562218/en/index.html)

    Additional references on breastfeeding past infancy can be found here: http://kellymom.com/ages/older-infant/ebf-benefits/%5Bimg%5Dhttp://mediacdn.disqus.com/uploads/users/1353/4916/avatar32.jpg?1337091017%5B/img%5D

  3. I was saying “yes!” throughout this piece. My son is 3-1/2, and I’ve stopped talking to anyone about the fact that I still nurse (only at night), because people — especially female doctors — make me feel like I’m some kind of idiot and that this choice shows that I’m unprofessional, unthinking, and inappropriately overemotional. Apparently, it’s more normal, thoughtful, and parental to deny a child a food source that is completely healthy and that he actually wants.

    I believe that here in the medical organizations been got at by the formula companies. Hospitals are stocked with the stuff! Nurses push it on mothers at the first sign of breastfeeding problems. But formula is full of GMOs and other non-healthy stuff. This is the same profession that regularly poo-poos herbal remedies. If there were big money to be made on breastfeeding or herbs, no doubt the studies demonstrating their uses would be well funded and publicized.

  4. What do you expect from doctors who have basically no education in nutrition as a whole? Not to mention physicians like Dr Cannon are simply dangerous or at least uneducated and to be honest not someone I would even want as my childs doctor.

  5. I agree. My own breastfeeding experience was pretty dire with my first two. I was told by numerous midwives and doctors at the time that my bleeding and black and blue nipples were because I couldn’t breastfeed because – wait for it – I had red hair and pale skin (yes I am a dyed blonde!!) Stupidly I believed them and my breastfeeding journey was sadly cut short with my first two children. By the time I had my third child I was far more educated and refused to listen to anything my doctors/midwives had to say against me breastfeeding as they were still spouting this kind of rubbish 7 years later. Fast forward and I am now happily tandem feeding a 4 and a 2 year old. Not bad for a woman whose body apparently wasn’t able to breastfeed!

  6. We live in backwards land. Everything the media pushes has everything to do with money and nothing to do with common sense. Don’t ever expect to find any real and true information originating from the mainstream media. All they are about is money.

  7. It’s ridiculous. A lot of medical experts over the years have not given good advice regarding breastfeeding, and they even tell moms to quit.

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