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.