Monday, August 24, 2009

extended breastfeeding

I am still fully breastfeeding my son at 1-year and am becoming increasingly aware that this is not the norm. I have secretly and obsessively observed each of the mothers in my mother’s group tuck their breasts into their bras and call it quits, while I have been left with no one to talk to but my wonderfully supportive husband, who let’s face it will never understand how annoying leaking nipples can be. Some breastfeeding days are filled with love, mutual desire and satisfaction, while others, I fantasize about jumping ship for the day and leaving him with a loving bottle bearer*. However, above and beyond my day to day feelings is an overall sense of knowing that I am making the healthiest and most holistic decision (and sacrifice) I can for my child (click here to see a list of the benefits of extended breastfeeding).
The only thing I seem to be lacking is a real support network of women who have also breastfed past the first year, and who can share their stories and experiences. If we expect the men in our homes, our workplaces and our communities to support breastfeeding and to let go of the many social stigmas associated with the act, we must insist that mothers, above all people, are non-judgmental and open minded.
My mother’s group has always been highly supportive of breastfeeding, many of them breastfed their babies until they were 10 or 11 months old. However, one lingering comment made in passing during one of our first “latte moments” as a group, has forever been engrained in my mind: “...don’t get me wrong, I am pro-breastfeeding, but if they can ask for it, it’s time to give it up”. The “hear, hear” sentiment could be felt reverberating throughout the room. And although my mother’s group seems to be silently supportive of my continuation of breastfeeding, that statement seems to be the general consensus amongst many women nowadays. “Breast is best” followed by “but...”. I can give you a whole list of “buts” I have received. They include, “but not when they have teeth”, “but not when they can drink from a cup”, “but not when they are able to drink cow’s milk”, “but not when they can walk”, “but not when they’re 2!!!”.
The only one who seems to be actively encouraging the decision to breastfeed past the first year is the baby himself. And why shouldn’t he? When have his instincts ever been wrong? I have spent hours studying the internet sites that list the unarguable benefits of extended breastfeeding, creating a sense of security and normalcy for myself. I have called the ever perky and kind women on the australian breastfeeding association hotline with vague questions, just to hear from a real human that ‘extended’ breastfeeding is a valuable and valid choice.

Just as the hot topics amongst mothers used to be whether their children were eating solids, sitting up, crawling, or walking, the hot topic when your baby turns one seems to be weaning. Who decided weaning was a 1-year milestone? Why is it that as my son’s birthday passes, I will go from being a dedicated, self-sacrificial mother to a freak who is getting some kind of sick selfish pleasure out of his dependency on me?
Everyone’s witnessed, or perhaps been, the mother who stops breastfeeding in the early months, who blushes as she reaches for the bottle in her nappy-bag and bashfully says, “I stopped breastfeeding- we gave it everything we had but it just wasn’t working. He’s much happier now.” Of course she tried her best, every mother makes decisions based on their child’s total and utter happiness and well being. We all do what we can do, no more and no less.** But now I am on the opposite end of that spectrum. As I pull my breast out of my shirt at the local park and my son toddles over for a drink, I hear myself sheepishly saying, “Ideally, I don’t want to wean him until he’s two. Pediatricians tell you they should be on formula or breastmilk until then.” And then just to really stir things up a little more, I add, “He’s also vegetarian.”

*In order to be certain he would continue breastfeeding for a prolonged period of time, I didn’t embrace the bottle because babies often reject the breast for bottle, being the efficient energy savers they are

**I also want to make it quite clear that I do not judge or frown upon any mother who has decided to bottlefeed whether from birth or at some point through their child’s first year. Breastfeeding and bottlefeeding are very personal choices and there are limitless reasons why one method suits one mother and child and another doesn’t. I am only expressing my desire that all decisions be equally respected and supported regardless of the age of the child.


Kelly said...

Good on you for sticking to BFing your wee man. My son is 27months now, and we are still BFing too. He loves his 'milkies', and I can't imagine taking them away from him :)

Kelly said...

Good on you for sticking to BFing your wee man. My son is 27months now, and we are still BFing too. He loves his 'milkies', and I can't imagine taking them away from him :)

LJ said...

I breastfed both my girls until 14 months each. The only reason I stopped was because I became pregnant and had hypermesis - and the feeding made me far sicker. I was very upset to have to stop feeding. I am lucky to have a group of friends who share the same philosophy on breastfeeding and some of my friends are still feeding their 2+ year old children. I am a loud and proud breastfeeder.

Nicole said...

Just found your blog. I have no friends whatsoever who breast feed. (I live in Italy) it's quite sad. But I don't care about what people say or think or any of that. I know that this is the best thing I've ever done in my life. Thanks for a wonderful blog. At least if I can't have friends who live my kind of life, I can read about it......:)

Saminda said...

My first two children breastfed until they were two years old. I LOVED breastfeeding them. I was devastated when my youngest son decided to suddenly wean at 9 months. It was awful. After a week or so of not feeding I offered a bottle. He fully embraced the bottle and took organic formula until about 18 months, then organic cow's milk from then on. Sometimes it happens, for some unknown reason.

But extended breastfeeding is wonderful, albeit rare. xx

Lindsay @ Delighted Momma said...

Good for you Momma! I am sure he is probably the healthiest kid out of all your friends.

Renee in NC, USA said...

Thank you for your comments and encouragement. I am still nursing my little one at 17 months. She definitely needs the added security, but can drink out of a little glass cup as well. She is fully capable of doing all those other things that people use as excuses. I am watching and waiting until the time is right with her. She is down to 2 feeds a day, and I don't want weaning to be stressful for her or I. I am so thankful that my husband is understanding and patient!

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