A common criticism of anyone who is breastfeeding beyond a certain point is, “Ugh - she’s only doing it for herself!” People say this with disdain as if a) breastfeeding doesn’t continue to nourish babies once they hit the ripe old age of 6 months old or beyond and b) there is something wrong with you if you want to continue nursing your little one and you aren’t in a rush to wean.
Before I had my rainbow baby boy, I too thought that breastfeeding beyond infancy was weird. I thought this because I had never seen it and I grew up in a culture where natural parenting practices are shamed and bastardized. Not only is there nothing wrong with nursing beyond infancy - as long as it is what you and your child want to do - but it has a myriad of health benefits for you both. Why on earth isn’t that supported? I think the answer lies somewhere in the prevalence of capitalism, the dominance of patriarchy and our disassociation with nature…but that is a whole other post.
It is undeniable that the hyper-sexualization of our bodies plays a significant role in why many people are uncomfortable with nursing at all – let alone nursing beyond infancy. Ignorant and misinformed catchphrases like, “Boobs are for the bedroom,” and , “If he’s old enough to ask, it’s time to stop,” pathologize a practice which is as old as humanity. Moreover, if we dare to zoom out of the small proportion of the world that we inhabit, we will see that nursing toddlers and older children remains a common practice around the world. To insinuate that breastfeeding a toddler or child is sexual says much more about the society that we live in, than it does about mothers and their nurslings.
If you are a non-nursing parent trying to understand this, imagine this scenario: it’s 4:00am in the morning and your eight week old has been screaming for the past few hours. She is cluster feeding because she is going through a growth spurt. You know that it is normal behaviour, but you are utterly exhausted nonetheless. She keeps going on and off the boob, switching sides and screaming as she does. Eventually, she settles and falls asleep in your arms. You climb into bed, hoping for a few hours of sleep before you repeat the whole process again. Does that sound sexy to you?
Now imagine that your teething two year old has had a hard morning at his new nursery. You pick him up and can see the tear stains on his cheeks. The lady who brings him to the door tells you that he has had a, “Tricky time adjusting,” as she hands him over to you. Heart pounding, and head riddled with guilt, you bundle him into the car. However, rather than forcing his fraught body into his car seat, you pause together. You lift up your sweatshirt and nurse him on the back seat. His tears dry, his body softens and the spark returns to his eyes. If either of these scenarios sound sexy to you, it is my professional recommendation that you seek professional advice from a qualified therapist.
If you are a breastfeeding parent, I want to ask a favour of you. Please talk about breastfeeding with your friends and family. If you feel confident enough, please breastfeed wherever you want and need to and be open to the questions (and criticism) that may come. Please help to normalise this practice for our children and their children too. Because if we don’t, nothing will change. If breast truly is best for mothers, babies and their families, then let’s support them to do it for as long as they so choose. Let’s normalise the struggles that it brings and let’s normalise wanting to continue to do it anyway. Breastfeeding has been so much harder than I ever anticipated, but it has also been so much more wonderful too. I love breastfeeding and I am not afraid to say it.