Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Breastfeeding in Mongolia

In honor of breastfeeding mommas the whole world over, we'd like to post this most excellent article, written by a mother raising her little one in Mongolia. It is encouraging, empowering, uplifting. Makes a breastfeeding mother in North America really start to wonder how life might be different if we, too, embraced all that human milk has to offer...


By Ruth Kamnitzer
posted with author's permission



In Mongolia, there's an oft-quoted saying that the best wrestlers are breastfed for at least six years - a serious endorsement in a country where wrestling is the national sport. I moved to Mongolia when my first child was four months old, and lived there until he was three.

Raising my son during those early years in a place where attitudes to breastfeeding are so dramatically different from prevailing norms in North America opened my eyes to an entirely different vision of how it all could be. Not only do Mongolians breast feed for a long time, they do so with more enthusiasm and less inhibition than nearly anyone else I've met. In Mongolia, breastmilk is not just for babies, it's not only about nutrition, and it's definitely not something you need to be discreet about. It's the stuff Genghis Khan was made of.

Like many first-time mums, I hadn't given much thought to breastfeeding before I had a child. But minutes after my son, Calum, popped out, he latched on, and for the next four years seemed pretty determined not to let go. I was lucky, for in many ways breastfeeding came easily - never a cracked nipple, rarely an engorged breast. Mentally, things were not quite as simple. As much as I loved my baby and cherished the bond that breastfeeding gave us, it was, at times, overwhelming. I was unprepared for the magnitude of my love for him, and for the intensity of his need for me and me only - for my milk. "Don't let him turn you into a human pacifier," a Canadian nurse had cautioned me just days after Calum's birth, as he sucked for hour after hour. But I would run through all the possible reasons for his crying - gas? wet? understimulation? overstimulation? - and mostly I'd just end up feeding him again. I wondered if I was doing the right thing.

Then I moved away from Canada, to Mongolia, where my husband was conducting a wildlife study. There, babies are kept constantly swaddled in layers of thick blankets, tied up with string like packages you don't want to come apart in the mail. When a package murmurs, a nipple is popped in its mouth. Babies aren't changed very often, and never burped. There aren't even hands available to thrust a rattle into. Definitely no tummy time. Babies stay wrapped up for at least three months, and every time they make a sound, they're breastfed.

This was interesting. At three months, Canadian babies are already having social engagements, even swimming. Some are learning to "self-soothe." I had assumed that there were many reasons a baby might cry, and that my job was to figure out what the reason was and provide the appropriate solution. But in Mongolia, though babies might cry for many reasons, there is only ever one solution: breastmilk. I settled down on my butt and followed suit.

In Canada, a certain amount of mystique still surrounds breastfeeding. But really, we're just not very used to it. Breastfeeding happens at home, in baby groups, occasionally in cafes - you seldom see it in public, and we certainly don't have conscious memories of having been breastfed ourselves. This private activity between mother and child is greeted with a hush and politely averted eyes, and regarded almost in the same way as public displays of intimacy between couples: not taboo, but slightly discomfiting and politely ignored. And when that quiet, angelic newborn grows into an active toddler intent on letting the world know exactly what he's doing, well, those eyes are averted a bit more quickly and intently, sometimes under frowning brows.

In Mongolia, instead of relegating me to a "Mothers Only" section, breastfeeding in public brought me firmly to center stage. Their universal practice of breast feeding anywhere, anytime, and the close quarters at which most Mongolians live, mean that everyone is pretty familiar with the sight of a working boob. They were happy to see I was doing things their way (which was, of course, the right way).

When I breastfed in the park, grandmothers would regale me with tales of the dozen children they had fed. When I breastfed in the back of taxis, drivers would give me the thumbs-up in the rearview mirror and assure me that Calum would grow up to be a great wrestler. When I walked through the market cradling my feeding son in my arms, vendors would make a space for me at their stalls and tell him to drink up. Instead of looking away, people would lean right in and kiss Calum on the cheek. If he popped off in response to the attention and left my streaming breast completely exposed, not a beat was missed. No one stared, no one looked away - they just laughed and wiped the milk off their noses.

From the time Calum was four months old until he was three years old, wherever I went, I heard the same thing over and over again: "Breastfeeding is the best thing for your baby, the best thing for you." The constant approval made me feel that I was doing something important that mattered to everyone - exactly the kind of public applause every new mother needs.

By Calum's second year, I had fully realized just how useful breastfeeding could be. Nothing gets a child to sleep as quickly, relieves the boredom of a long car journey as well, or calms a breaking storm as swiftly as a little warm milk from mummy. It's the lazy mother's most useful parenting aid, and by now I thought I was using it to its maximum effect. But the Mongolians took it one step further.

During the Mongolian winters, I spent many afternoons in my friend Tsetsgee's yurt, escaping the bitter cold outside. It was enlightening to compare our different parenting techniques. Whenever a tussle over toys broke out between our two-year-olds, my first reaction would be to try to restore peace by distracting Calum with another toy while explaining the principle of sharing. But this took a while, and had a success rate of only about 50 percent. The other times, when Calum was unwilling to back down and his frustration escalated to near boiling point, I would pick him up and cradle him in my arms for a feed.

Tsetsgee had a different approach. At the first murmur of discord, she would lift her shirt and start waving her boobs around enthusiastically, calling out, "Come here, baby, look what mama's got for you!" Her son would look up from the toys to the bull's-eyes of his mother's breasts and invariably toddle over.

Success rate? 100 percent.

Not to be outdone, I adopted the same strategy. There we were, two mothers flapping our breasts like competing strippers trying to entice a client. If the grandparents were around, they'd get in on the act. The poor kids wouldn't know where to look - the reassuring fullness of their own mothers' breasts, granny's withered pancake boasting its long experience, or the strange mound of flesh granddad was squeezing up in breast envy. Try as I might, I can't picture a similar scene at a La Leche League meeting.

In my prenatal class in small-town Canada, where Calum was born, breastfeeding had been introduced with a video showing a particularly sporty-looking Swedish mother breastfeeding her toddler while out skiing. A shudder ran through the group: "Sure, it's great for babies, but by the time they're walking and talking ... ?" That was pretty much the consensus. I kept my counsel.

It was my turn to be surprised when one of my new Mongolian friends told me she had breastfed until she was nine years old. I was so jaw-dropped flabbergasted that at first I dismissed it as a joke. Considering my son weaned just after turning four, I'm now a little embarrassed about my adamant disbelief. While nine years is pretty old to be breast feeding, even by Mongolian standards, it's not actually off the scale.


Though it wasn't always easy to fully discuss such concepts as self-weaning with Mongolians because of the language barrier, breastfeeding "to term" seemed to be the norm. I never met anyone who was tandem breastfeeding, which surprised me, but because the intervals between births are fairly long, most kids give up breastfeeding at between two and four years of age.

In 2005, according to UNICEF, 82 percent of children in Mongolia continued to breastfeed at 12 to 15 months, and 65 percent were still doing so at 20 to 23 months. A mother's last child seems to just keep going, hence the breastfeeding nine-year-old -- and, if the folk wisdom is right, Mongolia's renown for wrestling.

As three-year-old Calum was still feeding with the enthusiasm of a newborn and I wondered how weaning would eventually come about, I was curious about what prompted Mongolian children to self-wean. Some mothers said their child had simply lost interest. Others said peer pressure played a part. (I have heard Mongolian teenagers tease each other with "You want your mommy's breasts!" in the same way Canadian kids say "Crybaby!") More and more often, work commitments force weaning to happen earlier than would otherwise have occurred; children will often spend the summer in the countryside while a mother stays in the city to work, and during the extended separation her milk dries up. My friend Buana, now 20, explained her gold-medal breastfeeding career to me: "I grew up in a yurt way out in the countryside. My mom always told me to drink up, that it was good for me. I thought that's what every nine-year-old was doing. When I went to school, I stopped." She looked at me with a mischievous twinkle in her eye. "But I still like to drink it sometimes."

For me, weaning from the breast seemed a fairly defined event. I always expected that, at some point, feedings would decrease, and continue to taper off until they ceased altogether. My milk would dry up, and that would be that. Bar closed.

In Mongolia, that's not what happens. Discussing breastfeeding with my friend Naraa, I asked her when her daughter, who was then six, had weaned. "At four," she replied. "I was sad, but she didn't want to breastfeed anymore." Then Naraa told me that, just the week before, when her daughter had returned from an extended stay in the countryside with her grandparents and had wanted to breastfeed, Naraa obliged. "I guess she missed me too much," she said, "and it was nice. Of course, I didn't have any milk, but she didn't mind."

But if weaning means never drinking breastmilk again, then Mongolians are never truly weaned - and here's what surprised me most about breastfeeding in Mongolia. If a woman's breasts are engorged and her baby is not at hand, she will simply go around and ask a family member, of any age or sex, if they'd like a drink. Often a woman will express a bowlful for her husband as a treat, or leave some in the fridge for anyone to help themselves.

While we've all tasted our own breastmilk, given some to our partners to try, maybe used a bit in the coffee in an emergency - haven't we? - I don't think many of us have actually drunk it very often. But every Mongolian I ever asked told me that he or she liked breastmilk. The value of breastmilk is so celebrated, so firmly entrenched in their culture, that it's not considered something that's only for babies. Breastmilk is commonly used medicinally, given to the elderly as a cure-all, and used to treat eye infections, as well as to (reportedly) make the white of the eye whiter and deepen the brown of the iris.

But mostly, I think, Mongolians drink breastmilk because they like the taste. A western friend of mine who pumped breastmilk while at work and left the bottle in the company fridge one day found it half empty. She laughed. "Only in Mongolia would I suspect my colleagues of drinking my breastmilk!"

Living in another culture always forces you to reevaluate your own. I don't really know what it would have been like to breastfeed my son during his early years in Canada. The avalanche of positive feedback on breastfeeding I got in Mongolia, and Mongolians' wholehearted acceptance of public breastfeeding, simply amazed me, and gave me the freedom to raise my child in a way that felt natural. But in addition to all the small differences in our breastfeeding norms, the details of how long and how often, I ended up feeling that there was a bigger divide in our parenting styles.

In North America, we so value independence that it comes through in everything we do. All the talk is about what your baby's eating now, and how many breastfeedings he's down to. Even if you're not the one asking these questions, it's hard to escape their impact. And there are now so many things for sale that are designed to help your child amuse herself and need you less that the message is clear. But in Mongolia, breastfeeding isn't equated with dependence, and weaning isn't a finish line. They know their kids will grow up - in fact, the average Mongolian five-year-old is far more independent than her western counterpart, breastfed or not. There's no rush to wean.

Probably the most valuable thing about raising my son in Mongolia was that I realized that there are a million different ways to do things, and that I could choose any of them. Throughout my son's breastfeeding career, I struggled with different issues, and picked up and discarded many ideas and practices, in my search to forge my own style. I'm glad I breast fed Calum as much and as long as I did - it turned out to be four years. I think breastfeeding was the best thing for my son, and that it will have a lasting impact on his personality and on our relationship.

And when he wins that Olympic gold medal in wrestling, I'll expect him to thank me.


Note:
1. UNICEF Childinfo, "Monitoring the Situation of Children and Women: Infant and Young Child Feeding (2000-2007)" (January 2009): www.childinfo.orglbreastfeeding_countrydata.php


Ruth Kamnitzer lived in a traditional felt tent in the Mongolian countryside for three years while her husband, Steve, conducted a wildlife study on the Pallas cat of Central Asia. She has an MSC in Biodiversity Conservation and currently lives in Bristol, UK with Steve and Calum.


150 comments:

  1. What a great article! I will be so happy the day that Americans and western society take heed! Breast is what is best!

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  2. Thank you for this fantastic article! I love learning about different cultures and I wish in the U.S people took breastfeeding more seriously! I have nursed 4 babies each for 1 1/2 to almost 2 years. I would have nursed longer but when I get pregnant I wean.

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  3. How awesome! I wonder how much FUN it would be to nurse in a culture like that. I of course am stil nursing my 4 year old, and I do proudly tell people, but they go all embarrassed and start reassuring ME that they are sure she'll be okay LOL.

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  4. wonderful! My eldest was 5.5 years old when she weaned and my next was 4.5 years when he weaned, my almost 4 year old (next month ) is still breastfeeding along with her 5 month old sister.

    We co9uld learn a LOT from Mongolia!!

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    1. great! I really admire you.

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  5. Thank you! I loved this!!! Very interesting and educating.

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  6. Thank you! I loved this! Very interesting and educating.

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  7. Great article! This really needs to be in a more mainstream magazine as well as Mothering, cuz in Mothering, one is preaching to the choir! How about submitting it to something like Elle, or Cosmopolitan, or Ladies Home Journal? That's what I'm talking about! Keep up the good work! :)

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  8. I too have always said that BF is great for lazy moms. LLL should do an ad campaign for it.

    As I my 3 yo and I are just weaning now, your article is well timed for me to really appreciate what I shared with her for 3 years.

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  9. That is very inspiring! I love hearing how other cultures do things, especially raise their babies. It is reassuring to say the least, especially since I am currently nursing a two year old who looks like she's no where near wanting to wean. I related to so much of what was said - using it as a distraction or to put them to sleep quickly! I was laughing while I read it, very well written, thanks for sharing!

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  10. What a great glimpse into another culture!

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  11. Fantastic! LOVE LOVE LOVE this article! It isn't just about the milk, and I am so glad others are starting to GET IT! Breast isn't "best"...it should just be THE WAY!

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  12. Wonderful post! I am so glad that you shared it. Thank you!

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  13. Inspiring article! I will endeavour to chare this with my b'feeding friends.We in the west get so many things wrong!

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  14. How wonderful! As a nursing mother of a 9 mo old, this helps me have a healthier understanding of weaning- especially since i've already started getting questions from well meaning family.I really appreciate what i've learned here about Mongolian culture!

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  15. Awesome, inspiring post! I was especially intrigued with your sentence that says, "there are now so many things for sale that are designed to help your child amuse herself and need you less." All of the gadgets have saddened me for quite some time, now, and you do a good job of explaining why....
    Way to go, Mongolia!

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  16. Bravo! What a brilliant article!!

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  17. Thanks--this was great to read!! I got the looks and comments when I was still nursing my daughter after a year. We were ok with it, so we kept going. Now I'm nursing my son and he's nearing 19 months. I think I'll be sad when he weans. His sister self-weaned and he's in the process just slower. It's great to hear about others.

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  18. Greetings,

    I am the Publisher of Timeless Spirit Magazine and I would love to republish your article. Please contact me at:

    timelessspirit@shaw.ca

    in light,
    Aleesha Stephenson

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  19. OH this is sooo GOOD! Just sadly weaned my 3yod a couple of months ago. I am missing it and often wonder if it was the right time. (((((HUGS))))) sandi

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  20. This is so cool! My daughter is only 5 months, and I tell people I want to make it to at least a year. This helped empower me to go longer if I wish! What people want to think about how 'weird' it would be is their problem!!!

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  21. I loved the part about all adults liking the taste of breast milk! I love cow's milk which was intended for a baby calf, so why not?

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  22. Going to post it on my email lists.
    Great article. Gloria Lemay in Vancouver BC

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  23. I couldn't stop laughing, tears filling my eyes!! Brought back many fond, and funny memories of nursing my own 4 children. Thank you Ruth!

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  24. Really puts things in perspective! I hate when people look away or change seats when I whip a boob out. They think they're respecting my privacy, but I feel like a leper. I love that adults drink the milk too, hilarious.

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  25. Great article - What a great story! I can just imagine a room full of flapping boobs as a tool for distracting 2 year olds - hilarious! Too good - we should try it here!

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  26. Breastmilk is so healthy for babies and it only makes sense that it would be good for others. I guess I can see why some may as well pump it and let adults gain some health benefits as well. Why not? And I hated being treated like I was doing something wrong when I nursed my son. He was healthy! Btw he was a wrestler in school for years, and NOW hes in marine boot camp. So ooh rah!

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  27. So interesting! Fantastic! me ha encantado. Gracias

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  28. ¡¡pero qué bueno!! I would like to go to Mongolia!

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  29. What a beautiful story! I love it when people ask me if I am still feeding my boy, and I answer, 'which one?' to which I get various responses; mostly positive. The eldest is 2 1/2 and youngest is 8 months old, they love nothing more than sharing mummies milk!

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  30. I laughed out loud picturing two mama's waving their boobs around, then adding in grandparents and more. That was priceless!
    What a wonderful opportunity to experience a community where everyone embraced breastfeeding and thrived as a result. Thanks for sharing such a fabulous story.

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  31. Thank you so much for writing this. I weaned my daughter at age 2 1/2 and when I tell people, I still face looks and comments about how inappropriate it is to nurse for so long. Most people in the US, even in my relatively supportive community, seem to find it offensive when nursing goes on past six months.

    Thank you for writing this -- more American mothers need to hear it.

    - Amy in Michigan

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  32. What a nice article. This last LLL meeting I was at was very intense, as quite a few moms have been getting severe backlash for 'extended' nursing. I so wish the US could take a lesson, not only in breastfeeding benefits beyond 1, but in manners!

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  33. Oh, how refreshing to read about the Mongolian approach! How I would love it to be like this here in the U.S! I am still breastfeeding my almost 3-year-old and have become an avid breastfeeding advocate. We need more education and, frankly, marketing for breastfeeding. Breast is best, for child AND mother. I blog about that all the time.

    Best,
    Dagmar

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  34. Thank you, Ruth, from another Ruth who is a La Leche League Leader in Canada. I smiled through the whole article...and then forwarded it on to many friends as well as the LLL Leader in Mongolia!
    Hope you enjoy our Mother Baby and Breastfeeding artwork website!

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  35. Great story. I have a tall 2 year old and thought I'd be done by now but she's not tapering off, she's more obsessed! I don't mind as I work from home but don't like her grabbing at my shirt in company. Too much "backlash" where I am too, including disapproval from family and my pediatrician, who says after 18mos it's not good 'cus they need to grow up! Also, nurses at hospitals and for home visits discourage it. I think the formula industry is very wary about breastfeeding getting such a good rap, from newborn on up.

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  36. Hi there, sorry to comment when you dont know me, but wow! that was utterly fantastic! thankyou for sharing that amazing story it is truly inspiring. My youngest is only 7mths but we plan to keep feeding as long as possible. Its a shame society has these "norms" it imposes on people. A huge well dont to you to for feeding so long. I loved hearing about their culture, thankyou!

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  37. Great article! I breastfed my 2 daughters for 1 and half year each, and that is considered a very long time where I live in Iceland. Thank you!

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  38. Fantastic article. :) Australia needs a few lessons on breastfeeding from Mongolia, too!

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  39. what a great post, as a mom to a girl who is now 11 years old, and got cancer when she was 8 months and i had started to go down with her breasfeeding, but then she had too start kemotherapy, and all she would take was the breast, so we went on, but now thinking back, i relly had to struggle whith the hospital personal because the thougth she was getting too old for it, (she had kemo for 2 years) but we went on several years , and i remember that i almost hide it,only the closed family new, thats sad too think about, so this is very refreshing to read.
    a Icelandic mom, who lives in the Faroes

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  40. Wonderful article!! Having only breastfed to 2.5 yo with zero support I would love to have spent some time in Mongolia with my baby!

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  41. Thank you for posting this article - it was exactly what I needed to read today and even made me cry!

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  42. Thank you, what a lovely article. My 10 month old daughter has just self weaned unfortunately, but have breastfed both my daughters. I was 16 when i had my first so had plenty of stigma attached!! Breast milk is amazing, i was told to clean her eyes with it when she had conjunctivitus, and up her nose when she's had colds! it seems to be the ultimate cure all! Thank you for s lovely positive breastfeeding story

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  43. Thank you for the fantastic article! I am still breastfeeding my 22 month old and many people seem to think it is weird or there is something wrong with it. I would love to be able to breastfeed in such an accepting culture. It is too bad western society has such a hangup about breastfeeding in public & extended nursing.

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  44. I am currently tandem nursing my 2 year old with a 6 week old newborn. I nursed my oldest til two and let her "try" a couple times after her sister was born when she was 3 1/2. I love the idea that people were so encouraging to you rather than looking away. I mean, I live with the people looking away, or my family members asking me why I didn't wean the 2 year old before the baby was born.

    Also... I am ALL about the Lazy mothering. :) At night, I get more sleep because I nurse and co sleep, it's wonderful and soooo lazy. :) My 2 year old isn't having as many tantrums while brother is nursing because she can usually nurse too.

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  45. Excellent! Thanks for writing this informative article. I love when we can open our minds to how things are done in other cultures.

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  46. That was lovely! My 2 year old comes for some milk every time he realises it's his turn to back down in a dispute over toys...

    ... I'm glad he can't read yet though, or he'd be working out how to keep feeding until he's 9 too!

    I've not had any problems with health professionals as yet, here in the UK, and I'm glad to say my son's key person at nursery also breastfed for years, so understands where I'm coming from.

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  47. I really enjoyed your article. My children are now 31, 28 and 23 and I breastfed two of them for five years and the middle one for threeyears and 9mths. How I would have loved to read an article like this 30 years ago. It's still an inspiration. thankyou.

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  48. I laughed and cried reading your article. My daughter weaned at 2.5yrs after tandem feeding with her brother for a few months. It helped immensely with her adjustment to the introduction of a sibling in the family. He had reflux, as she had had, and needed to feed so often that it was physically difficult for me to keep up with both of them. When she sees her 4yr old friend still nursing she is sad about it, but has lost the suckling reflex, so I sometimes express a little for her. He is still enjoying my milk at nearly 2 and indicates that he will be for quite some time.

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  49. I laughed and cried reading your post. My daughter weaned at 2.5yrs after tandem feeding with her brother for a while. It helped immensely with her adjustment to the introduction of a sibling in the family. He had reflux, as she had had, and needed to feed so often that it was physically difficult for me to keep up with both of them. When she sees her 4yr old friend still nursing she is sad about it, but has lost the suckling reflex so I sometimes express a little for her. He is still enjoying my milk at nearly 2 and indicates that he will be for quite some time.

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  50. No wonder my son was a wrestling champion! He nursed until nearly 3 (my youngest weaned himself at 18 months as solid food was more interesting).
    I think the Mongolians are on to something. Cows milk is for cows; humans can't really digest it. Of *course* human milk would be the best for us to use instead of dairy!!!

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  51. What a fantastic story. Much to my surprise I am now nursing a 3 year old. I usually keep that information "under wraps" for fear of repulsed looks but my daughter and I still enjoy it and now with this article's help I can feel more confident as I continue into my own unknown territory of being a long-time nurser!
    Thank you so much.

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  52. I wish that my fellow Americans weren't so afraid of nipples. I am so sick of protecting everyone else by trying to hide and cover up while feeding my baby in public. What a blessing it must be for those Mongolian mommas to have so much support!

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  53. Wonderful! I nursed my son for two years and my daughter for almost four. We lived abroad when I was nursing her, in a culture that has even lower rates of breastfeeding than the US (forget extended BF!). I nursed her anyway in many public places -- I figured the locals would think I was a crazy tourist, and the tourists would think I was a crazy local!

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  54. Love, love, love this post! What an amazing experience you had, and how fortunate you were to live in a country of such acceptance. It's a tragedy that North America is so disapproving of breastfeeding. I'm proud to be a lactivist; it is my hope that when my son is an adult, bf'ing will be the new normal. Wouldn't it be nice to have people shocked if you *weren't* nursing your preschooler?!

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  55. This was a great article. Thank you for sharing.

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  56. This was a fantastic article. I am still BF'ing my 27 month old and we both love it. It is sad that so many people carry so many negative judgements about extended BF'ing. I don't hide the fact that I still breastfeed my son and I haven't appreciated the looks of horror I have gotten from some people. Hooray to Mongolia!

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  57. Thank you so much for posting this article. I hav been smiling since I read it. I am currently breastfeeding my 2.5 y/o and only get negative or neutral comments from the people around me.

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  58. What an amazing and empowering article.

    My own children are older now but I wish all the breastfeeding moms I see as a breastfeeding counselor would read this.

    *bookmarking this post now*

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  59. My gracious... this article made me happy just for the reading of it♥

    You know I asked one of mine what breastmilk tastes like (can't actually remember which child it was, but I do remember they were about 3yo) "Warm ice cream" was the response, and with a generous dribble of milk coming out of the corner of the mouth for good measure, I suppose. No wonder they don't want to wean:0

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  60. What a lovely, lovely article! The photo of you and your little guy nursing is SO CUTE -- I wish I had more photos of my nursing toddler.

    My daughter (who's now 7) nursed till she was ... 5, we think (or maybe only 4?), although by that time I'd mostly stopped telling people she was still "doing that" -- except for my sister, whose two biological children both nursed past their fourth birthdays :D One of the things I'm happiest about is that she nursed long enough to really remember the experience -- when she's old enough to nurse her own babies, I hope she'll still remember, and be encouraged to let them wean on their own terms.

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  61. That was awesome! My mom always told me that your children would grow up secure if you never pushed them away from you. I believe that and am more confident now after reading your article to let my second child breastfeed as long as she likes. Thank you.

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  62. Thank you for your beautiful article, really encouraging, my daughter is just over 3 and refusing to give up, feel better about that now.

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  63. Thanks to you both for writing and posting such a great article. I live in the western US, and was lucky to have friends who nursed to 3 and 4 years old. My daughter weaned almost two years ago when she was 6, but still sometimes likes to pretend to nurse for a few seconds. It is so nice to hear really positive nursing stories, especially about a whole culture!

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  64. I loved this article! Thank you very much.

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  65. My husband is Mongolian and I lived there for several years when my first babies were small; one was born there. We still go back at least once a year, sometimes more. And what this article says is so true. I express milk everytime I'm there for my mother-in-law who is a doctor. She drinks it because "it's good for my liver." I've nursed other babies because their moms didn't get back soon enough from her errands. I've squirted milk in people's eyes who have pink-eye. I've expressed milk for a young man in our church who had hepatitis. There's a lot this breastmilk is good for!

    Everything is so calm and supportive of breastfeeding there. It's a good place to raise babies.

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  66. Great article, and yes, *awesome* stories in the comments! I'm used to jaws dropping when I tell them I was breastfed until I was 2.5 - and I was NOT happy about being weaned... nor was my mother happy that she had weaned me. She nursed my baby brother until he was 3! I so wish I had been bolder about maintaining a breastfeeding relationship with my son past 1.5 years - he *might* have weaned himself by now as a 7 year old. So wish I'd had this article, to say nothing of this support, when mine were little!

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  67. What a wonderful post! It's absolutely fascinating to hear about breastfeeding in other cultures...and it is so refreshing to read about one that supports mothers and babies so much. Our American culture would do well to adopt some of those same perspectives.

    I have to admit, however, that I was a little taken aback by the fact that the new parents rarely change diapers. I'm curious how "potty training" is handled in the country...

    Ruth Kamnitzer should write a whole series on the parenting differences between the cultures, don't you think? :)

    stephanie@metropolitanmama.net

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  68. Thank you for writing such an inspiring article for women! I laughed but mostly cried as I read this, realizing that after nursing three kids for two years each I am done nursing babies. I will show this article to all the pregnant ladies I know.

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  69. Oh mine! Thanks so much for this text!

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  70. That is a wonderful article. What lucky babies. I so wish mothers in North America were this open with breatfeeding. The breast is always best!! The longer the better.

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  71. Breast feeding is the best source of nutrients that any child could ever receive! This was a very informative and interesting article!

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  72. A mom on the Facebook group, Hey Facebook, Breastfeeding is not obscene (official petition), just let us know that the link to this piece was banned by Facebook and the only reason they gave was that someone reported it as abusive. This is not only idiotic but sad and sick frankly. Here is the link to the discussion. Please let Facebook know what you think of this.

    http://www.facebook.com/topic.php?topic=15986&post=168585&uid=2517126532#/topic.php?topic=15986&post=168587&uid=2517126532#post168587

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  73. Breastfeeding in public without having to worry about causing offence. What a novel concept. Western society could learn a lot from the Mongolians. This was a great insight into a culture I knew nothing about. Thank you

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  74. This was marvelous! I breastfed three, each for 3 or 4 years. This was many years ago, now. I had a good support group at the time and a firm belief in what I was doing, but am still amazed at the large majority of our population that is breast-feeding-ignorant. So, I was delighted to read this tale. I had several hearty chuckles and concur that the article needs to go more main stream!

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  75. Ah, what a lovely, funny, interesting blog post. Thanks!

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  76. This article is amazing! You should write a book! :)

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  77. Thank you for an amazing article...I love reinforcing Breast is Best...my first daughter only BF till 2.5yrs..her choice not mine...and my new daughter I will let decide as well..she is only eight weeks. I can't wait for Western Society to realize that BF does not have to be covered up or done in private..Thank you again.

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  78. Thanks for a wonderful and empowering article! All my kids were BF for years, and boy was I sad when the last one lost interest. So nice to know there is a more supportive culture out there!

    Time to move to Mongolia!

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  79. I'm very impressed with this article! Thank you for sharing!

    Especially because I teach pregnant women about preparing for the postnatal period using herbs and Ayurvedic lifestyle practices (www.srilalita.com), I consider myself an advocate of traditional approaches to motherhood. Yet, I find I am still (constantly) rooting out ingrained patriarchal responses in my own mothering. Just today, my self-weaned 2.5 year old was trying to catch me to nurse as I was jumping out of my shower and I felt very caught up about how to respond! It was such an innocent and playful cuddle moment and therefore, I wanted to nurse him. Yet, I stopped short due to a faint sense of guilt/shame that can only be culturally imposed. It was clearly blocking my natural, maternal instinct!

    I really appreciated the story about the 6 year old returning to the breast having weaned two year earlier! Perfect timing!

    Sri Lalita

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  80. I am a first time mom. My son is 6months old. Wherever I look everyone around me is formula feeding. Its difficult for me, but I beleive that breast is best. Thank you for this article, it has reassured me even when there is no one close to me that isn't using formula, that I am not alone and others share my same thoughts. JTK

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  81. It was rather interesting for me to read this post. Thank author for it. I like such themes and everything that is connected to them. I would like to read a bit more soon.

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  82. I feel releived. I am a mother of a one year old child and is now living in the US. I have been feeling guilty not to stop breastfeeding according the doctors here. But now, i m encouraged and lifted to follow my cultural ways of breastfeeding as long as i can.

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  83. what a beautiful, inspiring article, thank you for sharing that with us. I myself was breastfed till I was 3, and I breast my daughter till she was 1 (I so regret not feeding her for longer) I have a university interview for midwifery next week, and if they ask me if I've read any recent articles, I'm going to tell them about this one :)

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  84. what a beautiful, inspiring article, thank you for sharing that with us. I myself was breastfed till I was 3, and I breast my daughter till she was 1 (I so regret not feeding her for longer) I have a university interview for midwifery next week, and if they ask me if I've read any recent articles, I'm going to tell them about this one :)

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  85. Wonderful! I feel entirely vindicated about the waving a tempting breast technique now! I think I must have some Mongolian ancestry!

    What a wonderful opportunity. I second all those who wish for such a supportive culture. I home educate and wish I lived in a culture where that was supported and normal too.

    Thanks for this lovely article.
    x

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  86. Absolutely beautiful! I only wish I had had such a beautiful experience. Sadly, my daughter decided she was done with the breast at a shocking eight months.

    This is the first time I've ever heard anyone else say anything about BF=Lazy mom joy besides myself. I just love it! :D

    I still have milk, 15 YEARS later, and I have no idea what to do with it! LOL

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  87. wonderful article. Question...when in Mongolia did you skip the traditional diaper and 'pee out' the baby or just use cloth?

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  88. My daughter weened herself at 3, and my mother and husband didn't cope very well. When a friend of mine, before me, had breastfed *Her* daughter at 3, my mother kept making comments about "I wonder if it's the mother's needs" ... it made me so mad. I call it a "cultural cringe" - people are so bad at coping with things that aren't common within their culture, even if there's absolutely NO reason to think it's a bad thing. YOu ask people about it, and they just shrug and say "it seems wrong". Aggghhh!

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  89. What a great article!! I only wish that this is how it was in the US.

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  90. Thank you. This article has caused me to re-evaluate weening my four-year-old. The images of the mongolians shall keep the bond strong between my son and me despite social pressures here in the States.

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  91. This is really incredible and inspiring.

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  92. I bow down before you. Awesome post. I fell almost guilty allowing my children to wean at 2 1/2 and 3. Note to self: must visit Mongolia so that I may be among the culture that thinks that breastfeeding is the most wonderful thing a mother can do for her child.

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  93. Hi I'm a mother of 4. they all weaned at 18 months one was 16 months. Or so I thought. it turns out it was a nursing strike. How do I encourage my 18month old to still nurse? She's always had a weak suck but enjoys the comfort and bonding (in a busy house) I can't find any advice or support! I'm afraid she'll get lazy as she once did and think a cup is way easier

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  94. did you take it down :(
    I wanted to refer a friend to it who was recently abused in public for feeding her 2 year old. She is really in need of some support and I raved about this article and now can't find it. Please post it back up, it such a wonderful, support prose.

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  95. Anon - due to copyright regulations, this article can no longer be posted in any online location.

    Write to us for more details: peacefulparents@gmail.com

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  96. It's very disappointing that this article is no longer available online, it was so great to refer people to. I loved coming to read it again and again. What a loss. :(

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  97. I AM MONGOLIAN AND I WAS SO INTERESTED IN THIS ARTICLE. YOU WERE IN THE BEST COUNTRY FOR BREASTFEEDING. No need to encourage Mongolians to breastfeed, we just do it. Many people dont even know what formula is. We dont breastfeed our babies just to make them good wrestlers, (what bout the girls? they dont become wrestlers) but make them healthy through their lives. BFing for at least 6 months will get their nutrition for their whole life. But more is always good. Mongols who live in the country side, they dont use diapers, no formula, even no rocking chair, no nusring room, no breast pump, just the baby and the whole lots of cottons and blankets and ropes. However, they manages to raise their babies and in most healthy ways. I was nursing my baby at Target when the store manager told me to leave because i was causing distractions. I was doing the most natural thing but i guess i was doing something bad. Something like this would never happen in Mongolia. We, women, were meant to breastfeed. Whenever and wherever. There is no rule that babies have to breastfeed until a certain age. Good luck for all the women all over the world!

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  98. I read this fabulous article with tears in my eyes. I'm tandembreastfeeding my two children (my son is 4 y.o. and my daughter is 16 months) and I sometimes have the feeling that my son will never end up with breastfeeding! And at the same time, I'm convinced that this is what is best for him. In such a country, I suppose that those paradoxal feelings don't exist. I envy them!
    Well done for this report! And Thanks !

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  99. This is an amazing article - thank you so much for sharing it!! I breastfed my son for nearly 4 years in western PA and I can tell you that I was anything but the norm. I wish we all could grow up in Mongolia!

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  100. This article was very interesting and I enjoyed it. I think breastfeeding acceptance also depends on what part of the US or Canada you live in.

    My military husband and I are stationed in Oregon, and breastfeeding is VERY accepted and expected here. I see women breastfeeding in public every day, and no one thinks anything of it. Very different from our previous station! It is wonderful to have so much support. Many of my friends here also breastfeed their toddlers. So I think the Mongolian level of acceptance isn't totally unreachable in some American places. :-)

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  101. Wow! What an amazing story.

    It's so frustrating to be a breastfeeding mom in the U.S., particularly if you work. People just don't get it here (unless they have kids). They get squeamish and weird about the whole thing.

    I wrote a series of stories about how hard it is for working women to continue breastfeeding that might interest you: http://bit.ly/hwQa4T

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  102. Lovelovelove this article! My "little" guy took his last drink on the night before his 6th birthday. I can tell you it was very unusual here in the deep south, even within my LLL group! It just seemed the natural thing to do. I think it happens more than people think even here in U.S. Just "in the closet"!

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  103. @the last Anon -
    I agree - I believe WAY more people than we first think do, nurse children for a normal duration of years, right into their 5th year of life, but just don't really tell other mothers about it. The research from Ann Sinnot backs this up. In her book, "Breastfeeding Older Children" she lays out years of research and interviews in which mothers say that they did nurse for many years - but often did so in private after a certain age.

    http://astore.amazon.com/peacefparent-20/detail/1853439398

    I wonder what would happen if we were all open about the normal feeding of our babies all of a sudden... How would our U.S. culture change? How much better would life be for mothers, and for their babies and children? How would it positively impact our health nationwide? It sure would be a much-needed change.

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  104. This is such a great article. My husband and I are trying for our first child. Planning ahead, I was already determined breastfeed for at least a year. This has opened my eyes to the possibility of going longer and letting our child choose when to stop. Very inspiring, thank you.

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  105. Great reading!
    If only extended breastfeeding was viewed no differently than the simple act of drinking a glass of water...
    If it is the author's intent to help normalize the act of breastfeeding, then I wonder how this comment impacts on readers:
    "There we were, two mothers flapping our breasts like competing strippers trying to entice a client. "?
    Tamara

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  106. brilliant! sitting here nursing my daughter in ireland wishing my partners job was transferred to mongolia!i laughed so much at swinging boobs to distract 2 yr olds (would love to see the reaction here)..beautiful, thanks for sharing and hope this reaches many,x

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  107. Thanks so much for this article, its absolutely brilliant! I laughed so much about the boob flapping, I'll have to try it one day.

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  108. I love reading how other culture's do things. It's just fascinating to me. Thanks for this article!!

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  109. Wonderful article. Thank you for sharing your experience in Mongolia. I wonder what the rate of cancer is there. I've heard breastmilk can have health benefits for adults. I can't say I've ever used it in my coffee though. Matter of fact I don't like the taste much. But my DH loves it. And so does DS. He's two months now and I love that I'm his source of nurishment and comfort.

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  110. Hi Ruth,

    Your article called my attention as my mother´s name is Ruth Kamnitzer as well.Nice article.

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  111. This is great! I read it with my sleeping 2 year old daughter at my breast :)

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  112. awesome article.love hearing how other cultures raise their kids. aahhh, we have so much to learn...very inspiring! thanks much!=)
    becky in AZ

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  113. BRILLIANT article. Thank you for helping to break a major western social taboo, by shining another culture's light on it!
    Zion
    http://mammasforvictory.blogspot.com

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  114. I can just see myself at a playgroup flapping my breasts!

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  115. I live in Bristol UK! Thank you Ruth for such a great piece of writing, and on such an important subject too.

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  116. I LOVE this article. Thank you thank you! The image of grandma flapping around her flattened, experienced breasts will stay with me for a while. Can you ever imagine seeing that in the United States? Someone would commit her.

    I almost feel like moving to Mongolia now.

    Breastfed: A breastfeeding blog for the modern mama.

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  117. I laughed until tears were rolling down my cheeks - thanks for the humor and insight into this wonderful culture! Sometimes my 11-mo old isn't interested when I try to breastfeed her so I wonder if she is self-weaning but your article made me realize that maybe she's just not hungry and I should try again later. Weaning is way overrated!

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  118. This article was just beautiful! It made me feel special as I am still nursing my 8 and 10 year old sons.

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  119. I love this article, my mom found it too a few weeks back. She's been a breastfeeding peer counselor for a few months now and found this article interesting.....

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  120. This couldn't have come to my attention at a better time. I'm feeding my 4 year old and have been feeling alone. Thank you. A lovely article.

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  121. I absolutely love your blog...I hope one day you will make a book to help all parents...Cheers!

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  122. Thank you for posting this. I am in a negotiation process with my four year old over weaning. It is hard for him as his 16 months old sister is still feeding around the clock. I guess there is a certain wisdom for not tandem nursing if you want your child to self wean. Thanks again

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  123. This article is so wonderful and I am happy that people are reading it.

    I am still breastfeeding my son and he just turned 20 years old.

    He is married but he and I still have a very close relationship. Kids will always be your kids and they can use the nourishment that breast milk provides. As long as I am able to continue to make my breasts produce milk, I will breastfeed him.

    It is such a loving and special time and makes me feel butterflies in my stomach each time.

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    Replies
    1. WOW, That just shifted my paradigm, 20 yrs old! Thanks for sharing that. I BF my daughter until she was 9, almost 10 and it was so natural. Even when she was 6, I loved traveling with the breast feeding shirts that covered her head, so I could still feed her to sleep on airplanes without having to deal with folks responses. We have a very close relationship now that she is 10 and we still cosleep. She is a very joyful, creative, intelligent, compassionate, healthy child. My approach to breastfeeding her was consistent with her birth: a homebirth, using the lotus birth philosophy, I let her decide when she was ready to release her umbilical cord and placenta: 6 1/2 days after birth while nursing her late one night it just popped off "sproing"! All of life comes with its own wisdom if we just don't interfere with it with our culturally imposed myths and fears... just listen to that inner voice! Bless you all on your journeys and thanks for this amazing article!

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  124. Thank you for a wonderful article! I wish I had had such a wonderful opportunity!

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  125. I'm laughing so hard I'm crying! Boob-flapping, HAHA!

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  126. Thank you for writing this. I am reading this as I nurse my 4 month old son and co sleeping. Even though attitudes are changing in Canada I still have people remind me that I should stop at around a year old..it's strange he's only a baby leave him alone :).

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  127. Thx for this! I am nursing an older child in the US & I won't put his age here on the internet because of how backwards this culture is! The only folks I know to nurse past two are not in my immediate social circle, but are far & wide on the internets. In my family we know Breastmilk is awesome just like Foreskins are fabulous. But even as a alternative mama, I have to hide in the shadows.

    In the US we give our elderly Formula! It is traditional to use Breastmilk as medicine but not when Ensure has some GMO Corn & Soy to peddle!

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  128. Love this article! I have shared a link back on my post - http://doublethink.us.com/paala/2013/02/17/sweet-links-breastfeeding-in-mongolia-the-value-of-breast-milk-what-parenting-really-looks-like-photo-contest-winner/

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  129. Enjoyed this article very much. I still breastfeed my 39 month old firstborn together with his 4 month old brother. Pretty much about 3 people outside my immedicate family (that is DH, me, DS1 and DS2) know of this arrangement. :)

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  130. ...so when does the next plane to Mongolia leave?

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  131. This was such a beautiful article! Thank you for sharing this. I am currently breastfeeding my 3.5-year old and 14-month old. I have been wondering if I should be thinking about weaning, but this article has validate my natural instincts to keep on going until they self wean. Thank you.

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  132. Amazing article, thank you very much. I, rather unexpectedly, has found myself in a camp of those who breastfeed past one year, despite many voices "what are you doing, are you crazy?". I just can't find any alternative that solves ANY baby problem that quickly and efficiently.

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  133. Brilliant article :) I have breastfed two sons past 5 years old so far, and am currently nursing my 4 yr old son. It's wonderful to see more support and openness towards breastfeeding toddlers/children.

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  134. I've been sharing this article for 3 years now, and hope it stays on this page FOREVER. I love the tone of the writing, the extended breastfeeding and the "but of course!" attitude the Mongolian people have about feeding your child anywhere, any time. ♥ ♥ ♥ !!!!!!

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  135. Loved this story! I nursed my four birth children for 2-3 years each, and also three of my adopted children, one for a year, another for two years and the third for nearly 3 years. She didn't come home til she was a year and a half old, so it was even more surprising that nursing went so well with her. It was a precious way to bond....

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  136. Not to mention that Mongolian kids are out of diapers around 1 year old. Some are even earlier. We have our own way of potty training.

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  137. Thoroughly enjoyed reading this article!!! Even laughed out loud while reading parts! Thank you so much for sharing your experiences with us! So refreshing :)

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  138. What a great story! I love new perspectives from other cultures! How great!

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  139. I love this! I'm still nursing my 4-year-old daughter. Our culture needs to embrace the fact that we're mammals.

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