Well, to start, what defines "extended?" For some people it's going beyond 6 months, for some a year, and for others they don't feel it's extended until they surpass the WHO's recommendation for nursing until at least 2 years old.
It seems like there's been a lot of talk about extended breastfeeding these days, from the well-educated and articulate Mayim Bialik (aka the former Blossom), to the, well, lesser so naysayers (I feel so bad for the mom in that article, I hope she had some warning about what a negative light she'd be cast in).
What do the opponents say? I've heard that it's gross and wrong. That the mother must forcing the child to continue. It's for the mother's pleasure, not the child's benefit. If they're old enough to ask for it they're too old. If they're old enough to ask for a glass of milk, they should have that instead. It's creating a child that's too dependent and can't self-soothe. There's no nutritional need after a year--it turns to water, doesn't it?
Pardon me while I bang my head on the wall for a moment.
For starters, I'd like to see any baby or child that can be FORCED to breastfeed. I'm sorry naysayers, but that's impossible. For babies less than a year that go on a nursing strike for whatever reason, the mother should absolutely make all efforts to remedy it. These mothers know just how hard it is to coerce a baby to nurse. Now add into that the stubborn will of a toddler and you know what I'm saying here. If my daughter didn't want to nurse, she wouldn't.
And to follow up, I don't like being made out to be a pervert. That's the thing that gets me the most. Because breasts can be enjoyed sexually, the general public jumps off the deep end and dares to think I'm somehow getting off on breastfeeding? Shame on THEM for thinking those thoughts, and *gag*. Seriously. I'm not getting off on it. If your toddler grabs your butt is it the same as when your partner does? When you kiss your child is it the same kiss you give your partner? No? Really? So lay off on the perverted argument. It is not valid.
Oh, and babies are BORN asking to breastfeed. They naturally root and display all sorts of hunger signs. This is their age-appropriate way to ask. As these babies grow in ability, finding their hands and their voices, they learn to sign (if their parents teach them) and eventually speak. Should the 9 month old that learns to sign "milk" promptly be weaned for being clever enough to ask for what he wants? What about the articulate 18 month old that can say and/or sign "more milk please?" Biologically, communicative ability has no relation to the necessity of breast milk. So stop arguing that it somehow does, please.
A common point proponents make is that it's common practice to feed our children the breast milk of another species (that'd be cow milk), and yet human milk is shunned despite its purpose being obviously for the nutritional benefit of humans. Ironic much?
Dr. Jack Newman (and many others) back me up in saying that extended breastfeeding does not create an over-dependence. A child that is secure in knowing his mother is there for him will grow up confident and assured of her love and support. And what mom doesn't want that?
And for the opponents that argue "well just pump it into a cup and feed them that way!" Um, no thanks. To start, a cup of milk doesn't offer the same closeness and emotional comfort that nursing does. Also, not all moms respond to breast pumps as they do their own child, especially later in the breastfeeding relationship when an oversupply is much less common. And lastly, YOU come over here and clean the pump and glasses if it's so important I use them.
I'm not saying everyone should breastfeed; I'm not laying on a guilt trip for those that didn't try, those that tried and were unsuccessful, or those that chose not to go the extended route.
What I am saying is to lay off on the judgment of those mothers and children that choose to continue their nursing relationship beyond whatever arbitrary age you've applied as being acceptable. I can pretty much guarantee the mother is not forcing the child. She is not getting any pleasure other than knowing she is providing nutrition, immunities, and comfort to her child. She is doing what is right for her and her child and that's it. You are not a part of that relationship.
And for those that like this sort of thing, science backs me up here (thanks for all the well-organized quotes, KellyMom):
-The American Academy of Family Physicians notes that children weaned before two years of age are at increased risk of illness (AAFP 2001).
-Nursing toddlers between the ages of 16 and 30 months have been found to have fewer illnesses and illnesses of shorter duration than their non-nursing peers (Gulick 1986).
-In the second year (12-23 months), 448 mL of breast milk provides: 29% of energy requirements, 43% of protein requirements, 36% of calcium requirements, 75% of vitamin A requirements, 76% of folate requirements, 94% of vitamin B12 requirements, 60% of vitamin C requirements (Dewey 2001).
-The AAP even states: "As recommended by the WHO, breastfeeding should ideally continue beyond infancy, but this is not the cultural norm in the United States and requires ongoing support and encouragement. It has been estimated that a natural weaning age for humans is between two and seven years. Family physicians should be knowledgeable regarding the ongoing benefits to the child of extended breastfeeding, including continued immune protection, better social adjustment, and having a sustainable food source in times of emergency. The longer women breastfeed, the greater the decrease in their risk of breast cancer." (AAFP 2008)
And a thanks to the medical professionals who are a voice of reason and encouragement. Dr. Jack Newman has a nice little .PDF about extended breastfeeding. Even Dr. William Sears has written on how to handle the criticism.
So, nurse on, mommas, if you so choose! I hope some day our society will not only grow tolerant but encouraging of such a special gift we can give our kids.