Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Am I weird yet, Dr Christian?

Well, well, my social media has been busy today. There has been a lot of talk about comments made by Dr Christian Jessen as part of an article in 'Closer' Magazine about a woman who breastfeeds her 4-year old. According to him, breastfeeding after 6 months, "has no effect," and breastfeeding an older child, "could result in behavioural problems."

He later attempted a climb down claiming he was misquoted and was referring to the situation in the article. He sent a tweet saying, "of course breastfeeding beyond 6 months is fine. The story was about breastfeeding a six year old boy." Actually, Dr Christian, it was about breastfeeding a four year old boy, but seeing as you claim breastfeeding beyond 6 months has no benefits I'm guessing you're not very good at paying attention to things, for instance the considerable body of evidence suggesting that breastmilk has benefits way beyond infancy.

In a further climb down, he has released a statement on Closer's website saying that there is, "no harm," in breastfeeding a 4-year old but, if breastfed until the age of eight they may become, "overly dependent on their mother." (The age of eight is mentioned as the mother in the original article expresses some hope that her child will continue feeding to that age.) He cites no research to back up his claims about over-dependence and behavioural problems, but he did very helpfully retweet some bloke on twitter saying that, "Breastfeeding a 6 year old is just weird," and used this as back-up for his opinion. Well, if some random guy on twitter says it ...

So I'm rather confused, Dr Christian. At what point does breastfeeding become, "just weird"?

My daughter turned two last month. We're still breastfeeding. I remember when she was few months old someone made a comment about continuing to feed her until she was two and I gave the woman a funny look. Two? Yeah, right, pull the other one. And yet here we are. I can't really imagine feeding her at the age of four, or six, or eight, but then two years ago I couldn't imagine her feeding for this long. (Actually, exactly two years ago, it was looking unlikely that we'd last two months, let alone two years, but that's another story!) Every time a milestone came along in her life - 6 months, 1 year, 2 years - I just couldn't see any real reason to stop. Maybe in two years time I'll find myself still feeding her, still not really seeing a reason to stop.

But here is a doctor saying at some point this would get weird. So what's the line? Up to 4 years is fine? Or up to and including? Is it on the 5th birthday that weirdness will descend and my confident, sociable daughter will suddenly cling limpet-like to me and refuse contact with all other human beings? Or the 6th birthday? Or when a stranger on Twitter tells me so?

The thing is, very few women set out to breastfeed an older child. Lots, however, set out to breastfeed a newborn. Then as the days go by that newborn becomes a regular baby, then a toddler, then a pre-schooler and beyond. And some women (a small proportion in our country but a much bigger proportion in other cultures) will find themselves still breastfeeding. How is that weird? That child will only be a day older than they were yesterday when they still wanted breastmilk, what changed overnight?

Or maybe, just maybe, being given the opportunity to make her own choice about when to give up this very important part of her life will show my daughter that I trust her to make big decisions in her own time, and will make her a more secure, confident person.

I could be wrong. But at least there's evidence to back up my point of view beyond a single tweet saying it's weird.


  1. Love this article :-) I was angry when I read his comments. As a doctor he should be more informed, and it's worrying as so many women rely on speaking to a doctor regarding breastfeeding. No woman should feel like breastfeeding their baby/toddler/child is weird. I breastfeed my 28-month-old son and I will continue as long as he wants it. Great viewpoint! x

    1. Thanks for your comment. I agree, there will be women who see his comments and think, "oh well he's a doctor, he must know his stuff about this." Sadly it seems there is still a lot of ignorance about breastfeeding even in the medical profession. It's up to every mother to decide what's right for their child, but we really don't need doctors, or the media for that matter, weighing in with misinformation! Congratulations on still feeding at 28 months! x