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The Breastfeeding Mom's Bill of Rights

The right to choose how long you breastfeed

You have a right to breastfeed your child for as long as you see fit.

Beth Reiter went back to work full-time at a Cincinnati philanthropic foundation when her daughter, Elsa, was 6 weeks old. She expressed breast milk during the workday, but even after Elsa lost interest in bottles, the little girl still wanted to breastfeed on nights and weekends. Elsa is now 2 1/2, and she continues to enjoy nursing. It's one of the first things mother and daughter do together when Reiter steps through the door. "Because I work full-time, this is when we reconnect," Reiter says. The two usually nurse snuggled on the couch in front of the TV set, and then Elsa nurses again at bedtime for comfort. On weekends, they breastfeed as often as Elsa wishes, although, like most toddlers, she now drinks cow's milk and eats table food.

Reiter no longer nurses Elsa in public, but when people find out that she is still breastfeeding, some are, in Reiter's words, "incredulous." "Most can't believe I'm still doing it. I respond that it's something that's very important to us and that she'll let me know when she's ready [to wean]."

Extended breastfeeding, or "natural weaning," in which a woman breastfeeds her child into toddlerhood and beyond, often allowing the child to decide when to stop, is common in other parts of the world. But Americans tend to view it as odd at best, perverse at worst. They may be surprised to find out that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends breastfeeding not only for a full 12 months but "for as long as mutually desired."

That can often mean up to age 3 or 4, says Lawrence Gartner, M.D., chair of the Executive Committee of the AAP's Provisional Section on Breastfeeding. Extended breastfeeding offers psychological and physical benefits, Dr. Garner says. "There's a bond between the mother and child, a psychological reassurance. There are also physical benefits: antibodies against infection and stimulation of the immune system."

If those facts (and "How I raise my child is none of your business") don't silence the critics, one mom suggests having a retort ready. When inquiring minds ask about when she plans to stop nursing her preschooler, she says, "College. I'm convinced she can't take the boob to the dorm room."

In the end, none of the fuss matters to your child, as exemplified by Beth Reiter's daughter. When her mother asks her why she continues to nurse, all Elsa says is: "Tastes good."