The experiences and challenges of normalising longer term breastfeeding

Dowling, S., & Brown, A. (2013). An exploration of the experiences of mothers who breastfeed long-term: What are the issues and why does it matter?. Breastfeeding Medicine, 8(1), 45-52.


13713335_10154248158790406_1354648689_nWhy do the research?

Breastfeeding is recommended for up to two years and beyond by the World Health Organisation, but only one in two hundred mothers breastfeeds past one year in the UK. One of the reasons that might contribute to this is women’s experiences of doing so: whether they think it is normal, have seen anyone else do it and the reaction they get. Unfortunately many mothers report being criticized for feeding older babies and children. This research aimed to explore those ideas and the ideas mothers had for improving the perception of extended breastfeeding


Who took part?

This study combined two smaller studies. In the first part mothers who had fed a baby for longer than six months took part. In the second, 1319 mothers with a baby aged 0 – 2 years.


What did they do?

In study one mothers discussed their experiences of longer term breastfeeding. In study two mothers discussed their attitudes towards longer term breastfeeding.
What did the results show?

Mothers who had experience of longer term breastfeeding described how they had received criticisms and negative attitudes from other people such as that extended breastfeeding was comical, bizarre or pointless.

Ideas for promoting perceptions of longer term breastfeeding included targeting health professionals and society instead of mothers themselves, improving general knowledge of extended breastfeeding and increasing its representation in the media and health promotion literature.


What does this mean?

Extended breastfeeding is biologically normal but until society changes its perceptions of it, it is likely to still attract criticism. More needs to be done to promote its normality and benefit for older babies, children and mothers themselves.

You can download a copy of the paper here: An exploration of the experiences of mothers who breastfeed long term