Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Extended Breastfeeding or Full-term Breastfeeding?

Amidst all the blogs and information about breastfeeding, you'll read many many terms describing breastfeeding and its duration. A fellow lactivist mentioned the term "Full-term breastfeeding". This is when a child self-weans because of outgrowing the need. I think this term is more appropriate than "Extended breastfeeding"

Extend \Ex*tend"\ ([e^]ks*t[e^]nd"), verb (used with an object) [imp. & p. p. {Extended}; p. pr. & vb. n. {Extending}.] [L. extendere, extentum, extensum; ex out + tendere to stretch. See {Trend}.]

1. To stretch out; to prolong in space; to carry forward or continue in length; as, to extend a line in surveying; to extend a cord across the street.

Few extend their thoughts toward universal knowledge. --Locke.

2. To enlarge, as a surface or volume; to expand; to spread; to amplify; as, to extend metal plates by hammering or rolling them.

3. To enlarge; to widen; to carry out further; as, to extend the capacities, the sphere of usefulness, or commerce; to extend power or influence; to continue, as time; to lengthen; to prolong; as, to extend the time of payment or a season of trial.

4. To hold out or reach forth, as the arm or hand.

His helpless hand extend. --Dryden.

5. To bestow; to offer; to impart; to apply; as, to extend sympathy to the suffering.

6. To increase in quantity by weakening or adulterating additions; as, to extend liquors. --G. P. Burnham.

7. (Eng. Law) To value, as lands taken by a writ of extent in satisfaction of a debt; to assign by writ of extent.

Contrary to popular belief, breastfeeding is not meant to end at 6 months, nor at 1 or 2 years. It is supposed to end when the child outgrows the need to suckle from its mother's breasts. Breastfeeding is also not meant to end by means of the mother (mother-led-weaning). Whenever possible, a baby/child must be permitted to decide when the time has reached to close the chapter on breastfeeding in a natural way, which is typically between 4-7 years.  Although breastfeeding beyond one or two years is seen as extended in comparison to mothers weaning their babies at 3-6-9 months, the word extended itself  gives me the impression that it's not supposed to be done that way, but that it's being drawn out, unnecessarily. 

Full-term breastfeeding, on the other hand gives one the notion that it has reached its complete maturation, its ultimate fulfillment, goal or purpose.

full-term - gestated for the entire duration of normal pregnancy; "a healthy full-term baby"
mature - having reached full natural growth or development; "a mature cell"
premature - born after a gestation period of less than the normal time; "a premature infant

Strictly speaking from a "Terms" point of view, we can compare it to a pregnancy and a gestating baby. Would you consider a 32 week old fetus full term? If a baby was born at 32 weeks gestation, it has a good chance for survival, but it would have been optimal for the baby to reach full term and initiate labor on its own. A woman who is 41 weeks pregnant is never referred to as an extended pregnancy. No woman stays pregnant forever.

Just like fetuses, no child (the exception is not the norm, of course) will breastfeed forever. They stop. If you allow them the time and freedom, they will reach that milestone and go on to other things.

Unfortunately, just like some women deliberately choose to cut-short their pregnancies without valid medical reasons by means of elective inductions or elective c/sections, some women deliberately choose to bring a thriving and satisfying nursing relationship to a sudden screeching halt "just because".


  1. I like full term, I really hate to say that I am "still" nursing my 29 month old daughter. The word still is like it is a chore and sounds so negative. I think next time some asks - I will say yes, we are practicing full term breastfeeding.

  2. Full-term ... love it! My son was full-term at 3.5 years and now twins breastfeeding at 2.5 yr.