I think by now we can all agree exclusive breastfeeding is the optimal method of infant feeding. Our society is slowly but surely becoming more accepting (even approving) of breastfeeding (the concept of it, if anything).
But, here’s the thing.
I notice many of us still seem a tad obsessed with HOW LONG a woman and child should breastfeed.
Okay, so you get it, you get it. Breastfeeding is healthy, it’s both normal and best, and breastfeeding in public is perfectly appropriate.
But do you pause when the breastfeeding involves a child older than you’d expect? Do you question whether it’s still good or still appropriate? Do you already firmly believe it’s not? Have you ever uttered the phrase “I support breastfeeding, but…” and concluded with an opinion about upper age limits?
(Incorrectly) assumed reasons why my 4-year-old nurses:
1). Because I find it erotic/Because my child is a pervert.
Let’s just get this one out of the way first: Nursing a child beyond infancy is not erotic. Nursing aversion, nipple pain, and exhaustion are not erotic.
I hope I don’t need to re-explain the actual function of breasts? They develop and work for very young humans.
Breastfeeding a preschooler or being breastfed as a preschooler aren’t motivating factors for future sexual deviance. Though I’ve read absurd comments that swear breastfed boys will “go around grabbing women’s breasts thinking it’s okay and then be labeled autistic or indigo” or that girls will be “confused about the female body when she grows up,” breastfeeding does not turn boys into perverts and it doesn’t turn girls into lesbians.
Usually these accusations are pretty vague. “She’s only nursing him to fulfill her own needs,” “It’s obviously for her own sick pleasure,” and other hints at sexual perversion without explicitly referring to it as such.
I suppose on some level they know breastfeeding is not wrong; if they truly believe the act is so corrupt, wouldn’t they have already stormed the town with pitchforks and called CPS to intervene?
Those who are actually paying attention know I’ve struggled through bouts of nursing aversion with my son MaiTai for at least the past two years, which many mothers with the same problem know is the opposite of physically enjoyable. So if anyone feels compelled to make an intervention call, at least try timing it to interrupt a particularly bad nursing session, will ya?
I like breastfeeding (in general) and I won’t apologize for enjoying it (again, in general — remember what I said about aversion, nipple pain, and exhaustion?). God forbid I like caring for and bonding with my child.
I understand abuse firsthand. We are not the ones confused here.
2). Because I have attachment issues.
Yes, I’m attached to my child and he’s attached to me. This was no accident.
When asked when I’m weaning, I always say “when he’s ready.” In reality it’ll be when we’re both ready, meaning there’s always a chance we’ll wean before he prefers. Breastfeeding is a relationship, one of symbiosis, and in this case it takes two to tango.
Sometimes, I look forward to nursing MaiTai because I know he’ll run off to do something on his own immediately afterward. Ah, freedom! This is how it’s meant to be: a moment of connection and reassurance with Mom (at this age and perhaps throughout life, our ‘home base’), then scamper off into the world (or nearest playroom) for independent pursuits.
So will I have to “follow him to college to nurse,” as the tiresome saying goes?
Children lose the physical ability to properly latch by the time they lose their milk teeth (baby teeth) around age 7 or 8, which is a few years beyond the average worldwide age of weaning and many years before college.
He already finds about a thousand things more interesting than breastfeeding, and I assume by college you can add a few thousand more.
So, in a word, no.
In a phrase: Find a new angle.
3). Because I want attention.
“Unfortunately for her, Father Time is relentless, undeterred, and undefeated. The day will come in the near future when beefing is no longer an option for her. When her kid(s) are grown. When her identity as a ‘young mother’ is fading away… and eventually gone.” – comment on one of my posts
A little harsh, maybe?
Breastfeeding will always be part of our lives. We won’t always nurse, but my friends’ future children will nurse. We’ll find ourselves in the company of strangers who nurse in public. There’s always a little human somewhere who wants to be fed by his mother.
Nursing in public is a rarity for MaiTai now, but I’ve shared many photos of myself and others nursing beyond infancy. Do I hope people see them?
Hold your pearls… the answer is… Yes!
I hope future mothers see them, because seeing breastfeeding pictures is how I learned to breastfeed without a real-life example.
Yes, I hope young boys and girls see them, because seeing breasts unapologetically used for nurturing children will set them up for positive associations with women’s bodies.
Yes, I hope ignorant people like the aforementioned commenter see them, because the more s/he does, the more the image of breastfeeding becomes normalized, accepted, increasingly benign, and understood as a point of pride.
No, I don’t want or deserve special attention. But the vital act of breastfeeding certainly does.
4). Because I’m an awful person.
“…how disrespectful can you get. […] how fucking full of yourself and feral […]” – comment on one of my posts
And so on… The following words and phrases were used multiple times: Milkin’ Moo. Unacceptable. Entitle-moo. Attention whoring. Psychotic. Barfworthy. Cunt.
Sadly, it’s comments like these that make women feel terrified to breastfeed — not just in public, but to breastfeed for long enough, or to try breastfeeding at all.
I suppose my awfulness as a person is a matter of opinion. However, if it’s true, natural-term breastfeeding wouldn’t be to blame, just as I couldn’t credit natural-term breastfeeding for making me a wonderful person, if that were the case.
5). Because he’s desperately thirsty and underfed/Because I neglect his health.
“If the child is old enough to ask for the boob, than it’s too old to breastfeed. Does this kid ever eat any actual food?”
“THe kid is old enough to chew steak. If it is old enough to ask for the tit, it is too old for it.” – comments on one of my posts
First, what’s with referring to children as “it”? Seriously, stop that.
Second, breast milk is an “actual food.” It’s a living liquid full of calories, vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, fats, proteins, all the standard building blocks of a food, plus medicinal properties like antimicrobials, antibacterials, and more. It’s well-supported in science that breast milk continues to provide health benefits throughout infancy and beyond, for as long as a child consumes it.
In fact, breastfeeding for the length of time recommended by WHO (at least two years and continued for as long as mutually desired) can decrease risk of or prevent childhood diseases, keep a child’s developing immune system strong, and offers greater protection against breast cancer, osteoporosis, and ovarian cancer for mothers.
Obviously MaiTai no longer needs breast milk to meet his calorie or nutrient needs and would do ‘fine’ without it as part of his diet. Four-year-old nurslings don’t swap sandwiches for breast milk. I don’t consider breast milk to be a rotating menu option for his dinner — now it serves more like a medicine/vitamin supplement to support overall health rather than fill his belly.
I’ve read comments that swear older children who breastfeed are positioned for a lifetime of obesity. This demonstrates a great lack of understanding about breastfeeding.
Usually a few years into breastfeeding or near weaning, milk production decreases and the child may continue to comfort nurse (which may or may not involve actually transferring milk) or to dry nurse, which can happen during a mother’s pregnancy before she makes colostrum.
In MaiTai’s case, he has a younger sibling whose nutritional foundation is breast milk so I still produce plenty of milk and MaiTai receives milk almost every time he nurses. Will this cause him to develop an destructive emotional connection to food? No, I believe it’ll cause him to develop a fond emotional connection to a human being.
If breast milk production had an expiration date, women would naturally stop producing it by their child’s (insert number)-st/nd/th birthday instead of when demand decreases.
Also, Public Service Announcement on teeth for those who swear continued nursing causes dental decay: no, it does not cause cavities or other oral health problems.
6). Because he’s developmentally stunted.
“What do you want to bet that he is behind on the growth chart and brain development because of moomy coddling him?” – comment on one of my posts
See what they did there? ‘Moomy,’ because I produce milk, like a cow. Also like a human. Almost clever.
Breastfeeding at age 4 is as developmentally normal for many children as breastfeeding at age 1, 2, and so on.
He’s not developmentally behind, but if he were failing to meet milestones it would actually be an even more compelling reason to continue reaping the brain-building benefits of breastfeeding.
7). Because he’s socially isolated.
It takes two to nurse. Nursing is itself a social activity.
8). Because I’m a pushover and he’s spoiled.
When I don’t want to nurse, I don’t. When I do, I agree to it either happily or with neutrality. As has always been the case, I own my body and my child owns his body. Providing something to my child that’s good for him isn’t ‘giving in,’ it’s just giving.
Natural-term breastfeeding isn’t an act of martyrdom. It’s also not biologically purposeless, it’s the standard — yes, even at age 4.
Natural-term breastfeeding is a healthy part of a conscious lifestyle, not an indulgent byproduct of a parent’s over-permissiveness.
9). To be different and alternative.
“What’s next, kids crapping in buckets in public because it’s ‘natural’ for people to crap in the woods?” – comment on one of my posts
The popular American infant feeding track involves breastfeeding for a few days, weeks, or months before switching to formula (in 2013, half of breastfeeding mothers were no longer nursing by 6 months and the majority stopped by 12 months).
Still, breastfeeding until age 3, 4, 5 and older is more common than you’d think. Even in mainstream parenting communities that don’t embrace natural approaches as readily, I’ve seen mothers choosing to go with the flow, follow their instincts, trust their children, and nurse their preschoolers or kindergartners — enough that we’re in good company.
And unless you happen to chat with them about breastfeeding in a parenting forum or invite yourself over during naptime, you probably wouldn’t have known they were ‘closet nursing.’
10). Because I’m an obsessed “Nursing Nazi.”
“I’m willing to bet that nobody had an issue with nursing, but rather nursing a kid that old.” – comment on one of my posts
I guess I am kind of obsessed with this awesome, continuous supply of life-giving homemade food, a limitless, perfect concoction that literally grew my children exclusively for many months.
I guess I do have somewhat of a preoccupation with this thing I have done every day for the past nearly 4-and-a-half years, this thing that has required a surprising amount of physical, mental, and emotional energy.
And I do openly advocate for breastfeeding more than most other average mamas like myself, both in our community and through writing.
So, ya got me there. Eye roll.
But my passion for this advocacy isn’t why he continues to nurse (remember, I no longer even offer to nurse due to aversion, a hormonal condition).
Definition of Nazi (noun):
- a member of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party.
- a person with extreme racist or authoritarian views.
- a person who seeks to impose their views on others in a very autocratic or inflexible way.
Definition of Advocate (noun):
- a person who publicly supports or recommends a particular cause or policy.
- a person who pleads on someone else’s behalf.
- a pleader in a court of law; a lawyer.
Could one argue that those who refer to natural-term nursing mothers as Nursing Nazis are seeking to impose their views upon others?
These are often the same people who frame motherhood as a competition and charge natural-term nursing mothers for trying to ‘outdo’ the rest. They maintain we do it for pats on the back, but they forget any praises are few and farther between their own insults.
If MaiTai was fully weaned right now, I’d still encourage mothers through their breastfeeding journeys. I’d still feel thankful I managed to provide this comfort for much longer than I planned or expected.
Thing is, I don’t pretend to support breastfeeding then whisper “but not after a child is that old” or “but only for as long as I breastfed.”
Next read: “Reasons Why My 4-Year-Old Nurses (His Words & Mine)“