A high percentage of Canadian mothers breastfeed their babies, according to Health Canada statistics, but at what point is it time to wean infants off the breast?
The department recently marked World Breastfeeding Week (the first week of October) with a poster that promotes breastfeeding for children older than two.
The poster shows a child who looks two to three years old clamped on to his mother, who smiles at the camera.
Interestingly, a B.C. mother complained last summer that she was temporarily blocked from Facebook after posting a shot of herself breastfeeding her daughter on a page dedicated to breastfeeding. Facebook's rules allow breastfeeding photos as long as the breast is not fully exposed and the child is feeding.
But Health Canada's poster is getting mainly good reviews.
"Thank you so much for this ad," Carrie Klassen posted in a comment. "It is showing up all over the international breastfeeding forums I read and is making me feel especially proud to be Canadian."
Commenter Natasha Davis wrote that she nursed her third child until she was 3 1/2 years old, even after going back to work.
"It seemed weird to some that I nursed this long but I am glad that I did," she wrote.
"I'm not a breast feeding activist, and I'm not against formulas either . . . it's just what worked for me and my babies. I think that there is something to say about an undeniable nurturing bond that one shares with their child while nursing them . . . a bond that has continued long after they were weaned off."
Robbin Abernathy said she nurses her nine-month-old and 2 1/2-year-old kids at the same time.
"There is nothing sweeter than nursing them while they hold hands. Breast feeding rocks!"
Breastfeeding older kids made a huge media splash last year with a Time magazine cover showing a sexy mum posing defiantly with her three-year-old son locked on to her breast.
The Ottawa Citizen noted critics slammed the cover for sexualizing breastfeeding. Reaction to the less provocative Health Canada poster has been largely positive, the paper said.
It should help normalize the breastfeeding of older children, Fiona Audy, chairwoman of the La Leche League of Canada, told the Citizen.
“I think Health Canada is working toward creating a climate in which breastfeeding is the norm and that images of breastfeeding beyond the newborn stage are something that people start to see and don’t look twice at,” she said.
The web site BreastFeeding Inc. says there are demonstrable benefits to breastfeeding children past the point when they would normally start eating solid food.
"Even after six months, (breastmilk) still contains protein, fat, and other nutritionally important and appropriate elements which babies and children need," says the article.
"Breastmilk still contains immunologic factors that help protect the child even if he is 2 or older. In fact, some immune factors in breastmilk that protect the baby against infection are present in greater amounts in the second year of life than in the first.
"This is, of course as it should be, since children older than a year are generally exposed to more infections than young babies. Breastmilk still contains special growth factors that help the immune system to mature, and which help the brain, gut, and other organs to develop and mature."
Health Minister Rona Ambrose highlighted the issue in her message for breastfeeding week.
"It is widely recognized that breastfeeding is important for the nutrition, growth, and development of infants and toddlers," she said. "While most babies in Canada are breastfed, statistics show a sharp decline in breastfeeding rates after the first few weeks or months post-birth."
The idea of breastfeeding kids who aren't babes in arms raises an interesting question of how the practice might be treated in public.
Despite years of consciousness-raising, there are still instances of mothers being confronted if they breastfeed in a store or other public place. CBC News reported last May a Fredericton mother was told not to breastfeed her 10-month-old daughter at a public pool.
How will people react when a mother sits a three-year-old on her knee to feed?