Breastfeeding a toddler isn’t very socially acceptable, but why not? Should we take the example of other mammals and breastfeed longer?
This week is a busy week for me. Not only has my son begun his first week of classes, but we are in the middle of construction at our house. People are constantly running around the house, and it’s hard to be able to get much done. Of course this comes at a time that I am wanting to make new changes to the blog, and when I’m trying to plan out the “perfect” 3rd birthday party for my little boy. I have tons of ideas for posts lately, but don’t have any time to get them written out.
So, after seeing a friend of mine rant on Facebook about how she was “politely” told not to breastfeed at the lunch room where she helps out at her daughters’ school, but to, instead, move to a more private place like the library or coaches’ office despite the fact that she covered up, I decided that it was a good time to move an old post from my old blog over to the new one.
Even over a year later, the post is still relevant; it’s actually more relevant than ever.
Because as my son gets older, my breastfeeding him becomes “weirder” and more socially unacceptable.
I write this as I am hiding out in my own house and typing one handed while breastfeeding my toddler. I hide around corners lest any of the construction workers see me breastfeed my child.
Gasp! The thought!
I personally rarely breastfed in public (and never do now). When I did so it was because I didn’t have much of a choice; like when I was waiting to be called into his doctor’s appointments, or when I was someplace that didn’t have a good place for me to hide.
I used to cut little slits in tank tops that I wore underneath my other clothes and over my nursing bra. They gave “just enough” access for feeding without exposing too much. My son refused to be covered and would even try to rip open the slits of my tank top because he wanted better access.
I see some people arguing that one should pump and bring bottles when out in public, but I was never very successful pumping. I could only obtain milk from one breast at about 5AM, and regularly woke up for about an hour to obtain some precious milk for emergency situations.
I did bring a bottle of my milk with me once when we were going out to dinner; I got a comment from a well intentioned family member that I should be breastfeeding my child.
I guess one can never win!
Luckily, here in Spain, it isn’t as common to get the same judgmental looks and comments as one likely gets back home in the US when you breastfeed in public. Girls are free to go topless at the beach, so it isn’t as much of a shock to see a partially bared breast out in the open.
Anyway, you can imagine that I was happy to see one of my husband’s cousins openly breastfeeding her son at the table when we went out for ice cream the other day.
Did I mention that her son is six months older than mine!?!?
She made no attempt to cover it up.
Despite the fact that I wouldn’t ever do the same, I never judged. All I could think was “You go, girl!”
Nobody seemed taken aback. I didn’t notice pointing or stares or snickering. Nothing.
As long as they are still going strong, I guess what I do is OK. Right?
(No need to answer that!)
It’s dumb that one should be bullied into thinking like that. One should never feel like they have to hide the fact that they still breastfeed their child, as if they were some sort of closet drug user. Sadly, a closet drug user probably gets more sympathetic comments than the average mom who chooses to breastfeed her toddler.
With that introduction, I’ll leave you with last year’s post:
…Breastfeeding is a subject that I’ve been tempted to write about many times, but have finally been annoyed to the point of not being able to help myself anymore. It is a subject that unnecessarily stirs up a lot of controversy, and is something that I never had really even given any thought until having my son, of course.
I mean, really, if I saw somebody breastfeeding, I thought “OK, whatever.”
It turns out, though, that not everybody is like me. (Too bad!!) For some, seeing somebody breastfeed or even a picture of somebody breastfeeding, is enough to offend them, anger them or make them aggressive enough to bully others on online forums and, likely, even in person.
I have a hard time understanding these people. I guess part of the not-just-politically-libertarian me likes to let everybody live as they will as long as they don’t interfere with how I live. That said, I can’t say that I’m not at least slightly judgmental myself towards those who didn’t even attempt to breastfeed. (That judgement is reserved for mothers in this day and age now that the benefits to both mother and baby have been well established.) I might be slightly internally judging such a person, but I wouldn’t try to make her feel bad about her decision.
Lately, however, it seems like breastfeeding mothers are those who are being targeted for their “bad decisions”. Whether it be because they are breastfeeding in a public place (heaven forbid!!), or because they are breastfeeding a toddler (way too old!!!), or because they have displayed a modest picture of themselves breastfeeding (That is something that is meant to be private, Angelina Jolie!!); it seems that breastfeeding mothers are always offending and upsetting others.
Then, I was made aware of a recent controversial cover of Time magazine in which a mother was breastfeeding her toddler. Since I am still breastfeeding a boy who is approaching the two year point, and who shows no interest in stopping any time soon, I was dumb curious enough to check it out, and read the comments section of various places that it was posted online.
I couldn’t believe how rude people were. OK, I must admit that I’m not a fan of the cover because I think it is unnatural and meant to be provocative, but most of the negative comments were not aimed at the cover nor Time Magazine, but rather were aimed at anybody breastfeeding toddlers. In some cases they were directed towards anybody breastfeeding past 6 months as some people didn’t think that babies that could eat other foods should be breastfed anymore.
So, I kept reading the numerous comments, like that once a baby could ask for it, that it meant that he was too old to be breastfeeding anymore. My son demands “tee tee” at times, and has for quite some time now, so I guess I should have stopped long ago.
Then there were others that were worried that a toddler might be old enough to be able to remember breastfeeding, and that that memory would most likely cause him (especially for boys) unnecessary trauma, ruining his sexual future. (I’m sorry, but I don’t understand why people feel the need to automatically relate breastfeeding to sex?!?!)
I then finally found a comment that disagreed with the rest, that physicians now recommend that breastfeeding should continue for as long as both mother and baby are comfortable with it. (True, and the WHO states that “Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended up to 6 months of age, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond.”)
That, of course, was sadly followed by one of my favorite the most annoyingly ignorant comments I’ve ever read:
“That is just wrong. Sorry but you breast feed BABIES not toddlers and certainly not 6 or 7 year olds…”
(Um, the boy on the cover was 4.)
“…Take a look at dogs, cats, cows and other mammals, when their babies are old enough to eat food, they no longer nurse them! DUHHH!!!!!”
I just wanted to reach through my computer screen and shake some sense into the (me being nice here) idiot that responded that. (You have to wonder about somebody whose main argument includes the word “Duhhh!!!!!”)
Giving her the benefit of the doubt, though, let’s give her comment a chance and look at some other mammals.
Do Mammals really stop breastfeeding when their babies start eating other foods?
I prefer to look at wild mammals that are more similar to us, though, as opposed to a litter of puppies that have been unnaturally pulled from their mothers to be given away as soon as can be considered humanely possible.
So, how about primates?
Most primates wean their young when they start to get their first permanent molars, which is also around the time that their immune system fully matures.
So, I remember from dental school that for humans we called the first permanent molars the “6 year molars” because they come in around that time. By that logic, humans would be breastfeeding until around 6 years of age.
Maybe that’s why “baby” teeth are referred to as “dientes de leche” or “milk teeth” here in Spain.
Larger primates like gorillas and chimpanzees, though, do tend to get their first permanent molars when they reach a third of their adult size and six times their gestational size. So, if we want to shorten the natural breastfeeding time, we could look to when a baby is about one third their adult size, which for humans is calculated to be around 2.8-3.7 years old. (That’s still definitely a toddler and not a “baby”!!)
By birth weight?
Supposedly a lot of animals wean their young when they reach around a third of their adult weight. In this case, boys would be breastfed a bit longer than girls, and the length of time could range anywhere between 4 and 7 years.
It doesn’t really matter what they use to determine the “natural weaning age” by looking at other animals. At the very earliest, when we compare, it’s past two and a half years! (Did you read that right, Ginger??!?!)
I’m frustrated that everybody thinks it is wrong or unnatural for one to be breastfeeding a toddler.
I often get asked “Are you still breastfeeding?” or, worse yet, “You’re still breastfeeding?!?!?!” and it is getting increasingly more tempting to just lie about it when I can’t avoid the question.
As you may recall, I was especially annoyed when I went to the ER for back pain, and the doctor asked me why I was still breastfeeding my then 14 month old. I shouldn’t have to lie or feel like I have to hide something that should just be considered natural; a doctor of all people should be promoting that rather than questioning it!
What is wrong with society?
That leaves me constantly thinking forward to the future trying to decide when I will wean my happy little breastfed boy.
Even my husband teases me “Do you plan on breastfeeding him at his first communion?” (That’s typically around 6-8 years old here.)
I really don’t want to be “that mother” that is breastfeeding a six year old; I don’t!!!
(As I type that I’m envisioning the scene from Scrubs when the mother is breastfeeding a teenager in the doctor’s imagination, and how I at one time thought that was funnier than I do now.)
On the other hand, I don’t want to quit before my son is emotionally ready, and really see no other reason to rush weaning other than what other people might think.
Most of the time, supposedly, a young child will eventually wean himself when he is ready. What if my little boy, though, is the exception?
Should I be setting myself a goal weaning date as a point in which it is just “too old” to breastfeed anymore? (No need to answer that in my comments section if you are one of the usual, judgmental haters.)
I don’t have an answer to that question; I just don’t see it happening with my son any time soon.
One of the last common comments that really annoys me is that anybody that breastfeeds a toddler is doing it for herself, and not for the benefit of her child.
I have to look to myself for why that comment bothers me so much…
In my case, I will admit that breastfeeding can be pleasant. It’s nice to have a quiet time in which my normally non-stop, crazy boy actually wants to sit still in my arms for at least a few seconds. It’s also nice to wake up and have him want to cuddle next to me and breastfeed for a little while first thing in the morning. I can’t deny that I will miss those times when (and if) we ever quit. hahaha
On the other hand, a breastfeeding toddler can also be very demanding. It’s not always convenient to have a little boy screaming and pulling down your shirt in public (or in private for that matter).
Breastfeeding a toddler isn’t always easy, and it has other inconveniences that one wouldn’t always think of.
First, I’m having a very difficult time trying to lose weight.
About 5 weeks into eating clean and exercising almost daily, I have only lost around 5 lbs. I actually lost those 5 pounds about 3 weeks ago, and have been fluctuating up and down 2-3 pounds ever since. Before my pregnancy, though, I could lose weight fairly quickly whenever I wanted.
Most people think that breastfeeding is going to help them lose weight, and it does usually help you lose the first pounds after giving birth. Even I lost a ton of weight almost instantly, and felt like my tummy was much flatter than I expected when I left the hospital.
What most people don’t realize, though, is that many mothers have a hard time losing the last pounds while breastfeeding, and comment that it finally melts off as soon as they stop. It seems that the body has a defense mechanism that stores that extra fat so that one can produce milk for her baby- or maybe it’s just a hormonal thing. Whatever the reason, I’m not the first woman to experience this. In the past, after a month of doing what I have been doing, I would have most likely easily lost the first 8-10 pounds (especially since the first week tends to take off around 5-6 pounds of water weight almost instantly).
Maybe that’s why the segment on Desperate Housewives (season 2) about the woman in Lynettes’s office breastfeeding her 5 year old just so that she could eat donuts and maintain her perfect figure, makes me so mad. There are likely women like that, but I doubt that it’s the norm. (Even if it were, it unfairly portrays mothers who breastfeed toddlers as selfish and emotionally unstable.)
A part of me would love to stop breastfeeding now, and see if I could finally take off my extra “baby weight.” In this case, though, I feel like quitting would be much more selfish than continuing. It isn’t worth it to me to jeopardize weaning my son before he is emotionally ready for it.
As for other incentives to stop, I have also been wanting to go in and get laser hair removal. I know that sounds petty and dumb, but I had it done it in the past after having problems with ingrown hairs and I loved it. There is a place nearby that now does it relatively inexpensively, but they recommended I wait until I stop breastfeeding as it can supposedly change the taste of the milk, and could have some other unknown (albeit unlikely) side effects. I really would love to just go in tomorrow and start. I will, however, hold off for now- for my boy!!
So, as you can see, I do have reasons for wanting to quit.
It would be nice to feel like I have my body back to myself. It’s my son that motivates me to keep with it, though, and not my psychological need to breastfeed. I really just want to be a good parent to my little boy.
There are other misconceptions that bother me, like the one that breastfed babies and toddlers tend to have a hard time becoming independent.
Lately, though, studies have supposedly shown (I say that because I haven’t personally read them) that actually quite the opposite is true. Breastfed babies, and those that have been given some sort of “attachment parenting,” actually tend to be more self confident and have an easier time of becoming more independent more quickly.
Add to that the studies that show that breastfeeding may increase IQ, that it tends to help defend babies from the possible side effects of vaccines and other more natural attacks on the immune system, that it is analgesic (so perfect for comforting and nourishing a teething or sick toddler), and the fact that prolonged breastfeeding lowers the mother’s risk of getting breast cancer,…
…well, prolonged breastfeeding actually makes a lot of sense.
That is, of course, if you can get over the weird looks and judgements from other people, or are actually discreet enough to be able to hide it.
I understand, to a point, that some people find it weird.
Many of the women who admit to breastfeeding their toddler also admit to being “weirded out” by women breastfeeding their toddlers before they had their own. Once you are in the situation yourself, though, you realize how natural it is.
You have a breastfeeding 18 month boy, and 2 years doesn’t sound strange anymore.
Then you are breastfeeding until age 2, and 2 and a half doesn’t seem that far away…
What it comes down to is that when a friend of mine tells me that they had been breastfed until age 4 (and you know who you are), I don’t really find it that weird. Instead of thinking that that mother is strange and has some pathological need to hang onto her child’s babyhood or something, I actually secretly admire her for having the guts to keep it up for as long as she did.
If you had asked me how long I thought I would be breastfeeding before I got pregnant, I would have likely thought only until the recommended 2 years of age, and then I would initiate weaning. The thought of breastfeeding a 3 year old probably would have seemed dumb to me, but that is really only because I hadn’t even considered it because I hadn’t been in the situation myself.
As I write this, I have found another woman who thinks like I do. Here’s the 5 toddler breastfeeding myths that driver her insane. I guess we think a lot alike.
I also have since found another great post about extended breastfeeding from a fellow blogger that I have had the pleasure of “meeting” online, Vanessa from They Call Me Oystergirl: A Critique of a Critique of Extended Breastfeeding
So, for how long will I be breastfeeding my son?
As you can probably guess, I haven’t a clue, but I’m not in any hurry to stop. I see no real logical reason to do it.
Only time will tell.