ControverSunday: Extended Breastfeeding

by Ginger on March 21, 2010

in Mom Thoughts

This week’s ControverSunday is all about “extended breastfeeding.” And I’ll be honest, I’ve rewritten this post about 3 times, because I’ve struggled with what I really think about the idea. My brain seems to hop all over on this one, so let’s just meander through my thought process, shall we?

Before I had Jackson, I was pretty judgmental about those who did what I considered at the time to be extreme extended breastfeeding–past 18 months-2 years old. I thought it was strange, something that only super crunchy moms might do, or moms who just couldn’t bear the idea of their child growing up and not needing them anymore. I fell in the camp who thought that if a child could walk up and articulate “I’m hungry, Mom, time for the boob!” that it was long past time to wean them. I also thought that it ran the risk of creating overly attached kids, was a way to keep a woman as just mom (removing the woman, wife, sexual being part of the equation, and usually done by mom’s choice, not someone else), and probably did more harm than good to the “breastfeeding movement.”

Of course, that was before I became pregnant and had a baby. And was exposed to the overwhelming amount of information that we as moms are thrown about what will and won’t harm/help/improve our child’s lives. Before I understood the bonuses of breastfeeding that went beyond nutrition. Before I saw how two-faced our society is about breastfeeding: it’s the best thing for the baby, but dear God woman cover those things up. How can you not breastfeed your child, you’re doing them irreparable harm–but no one wants to SEE it. It’s the best thing on earth, and also the most shameful.

So we’re told to breastfeed, but discretely. We’re told to do what’s best for our child, but not at the discomfort of others. And the older that child gets, the worse it gets. I have a wiggly 20 pound behemoth child that I have to wrangle every time I nurse. There is no covering him up. His favorite thing to do when nursing is to play with my shirt or bra. He’s young (and cute) enough, and I live in an area that is very welcoming to breastfeeding, that I can “get away with it” without too many looks. But when he’s older? And more wriggly? What then? And then how do you reconcile the idea that “breast is best” with the idea that it’s wrong to continue to nurse past a magical (and possibly arbitrary) age?

I also know how much our views in the US on sexuality are tied up into things, and I wonder how much of my opinion is due to that long-term conditioning. WHY is it wrong for a 3 year old to breastfeed? They haven’t yet been conditioned on the sexual nature of breasts–they’re just doing what they’ve always done. So why is it now wrong? And when is that magical moment when your kid moves from baby/child to a place where the “sexual” part makes it wrong?

Now that I’ve had a baby, I still tend to find nursing past about 2 years odd. It’s strange to see a toddler old nurse, because it isn’t our cultural norm. Not bad, just a little odd. But now, that doesn’t mean I don’t support a mom’s right to do so if she so desires. This is one where I try pretty hard to not be a complete judgy mc-judgerson, and let it fall in the world of “to each his own.” I’m not your child’s parent, so who am I to determine what works for you here.

I do still wonder about the role that extended breastfeeding plays for the mom vs. woman identity, and how it influences our culture’s already double-sided view of breastfeeding at large. And I wonder at times whether the reason that a mom continues breastfeeding past the “accepted” age can be problematic–for example, if mom wants to stop but doesn’t have the “ability” to say no to the child, or if it’s because of a need to try and keep the child a baby and dependent on mom for as long as possible. Note I’m not saying these are the reasons all, or even most, moms go for extended breastfeeding, but there are some, and these in my mind speak to a larger parenting issue.

But where I used to judge and find it “ooky”, now I find my opinion tamed to a more reasonable “it’s not for me.” I don’t want you to judge me when I stop breastfeeding, and I won’t judge you when you continue. K?

Check out more of the participants of ControverSunday here–they’re all smarter than me, and their posts prove it!

Our Lady of Perpetual Breadcrumbs

amoment2think

Mommy-in-Chief

Fearless Formula Feeder

Excellent Walker

Accidents Will Happen

Two Makes Four

Partial Disclosures

badges

Brooke March 21, 2010 at 3:47 pm

I’m curious what you think the benefits are for breastfeeding past 2 years (if you have some). I hope that doesn’t come across as judgmental because it’s not.

I take showers with my son, and I don’t plan on stopping at 2 or 3, so I definitely don’t think it’s about sexuality. I do think that it crosses a line in public at a certain age because it’s no longer about nutrition (in my very strong opinion).

Ginger March 21, 2010 at 6:12 pm

Brooke,
I’m not sure if I think there are specific benefits to breastfeeding beyond 2 that aren’t the same as breastfeeding in general: cost, ease (in the lazy “I don’t have to bother with making a bottle” kind of way), and, for me personally, bonding. Nutrition doesn’t really play into it for me.
Part of my thoughts on bonding have to do with the fact that, as a working mom whose husband is the stay at home parent, I’m not the primary caregiver. I get precious little time with my kid, but those moments of breastfeeding are one of the ONLY things that is purely for the two of us, and that only I can give him. I can see the appeal of extending that.

Brooke March 21, 2010 at 6:18 pm

Since breastfeeding was never a pleasurable experience for me, I can’t understand that bonding in the way that you describe, but I believe that it is important for you and many others, which is all that is important.

However, I know that us formula feeders bond with our kids as well, but it just isn’t over feeding. It’s books, music, or just lying around tickling. So I guess I just wonder what it is about breastfeeding specifically that furthers the bonding, especially once a child is over 2.

Ginger March 21, 2010 at 7:13 pm

Brooke,
I hope I haven’t given the impression that I think there aren’t other ways to bond with your kids, or that breastfeeding is the “best” or only way for a mother to bond–it’s not that at all! I see lots of ways to bond with a child, from a reading ritual to bathtime or a zillion things in-between. If I hadn’t been able to breastfeed, I wouldn’t have had a single issue with bonding while I fed him a bottle. And when I eventually give up breastfeeding, I won’t question that Jackson and I will have a million different ways to bond. (wow, the word bond is starting to look really silly).

But for ME, personally, I feel a lot of angst and sadness over the fact that I’m not the one who can claim to know my son best–that distinction falls to his daddy since he has Jackson the majority of the waking hours. So having something that literally no-one else can claim has become a really nice salve for my mommy heart. I like having that one slice of parenthood where I can say “no, THIS is what he wants/likes the best.” I don’t get to say that a lot. It’s not even so much about the breastfeeding, as it is the selfish “only I can do it”-ness of it.

I speak entirely for myself, and not for any greater parenting community on that one–I know lots of women who didn’t enjoy breastfeeding at all, and would never think of it as a bonding moment. I know lots of women who bond more over reading to their kids, or with singing, or wearing the baby, or taking walks together, than over breastfeeding. I think whatever way anyone has that is their “favorite” way of bonding is wonderful–for me right now, it just happens to be breastfeeding.

Brooke March 21, 2010 at 7:16 pm

Thanks for the response. I knew that you didn’t mean there weren’t other ways to bond, but I hear that a lot, so I wonder what exactly bonding means to that person and how they see bonding after that part of their relationship is over.

FWIW, I think it’s awesome that you are able to have that special relationship with your son.

Perpetua March 22, 2010 at 4:33 am

You make so many good points here, especially about the split-personality our culture has when it comes to breastfeeding: oh, you better do it, because it’s almost monstrous not to, but good luck getting support from your community. And cover those things up. 🙂

The one place that continues to impress me is Babies R Us, actually, because they have a really great set-up for nursing moms. And they should, I guess, because they make their money off of the baby industry…but I still appreciate their “mother rooms,” especially when we’re out and have to do a diaper change.

Nilsa @ SoMi Speaks March 22, 2010 at 7:42 am

I’m not a mom who for now falls into your pre-pregnancy mindset of no breast feeding past a year. Though, that’s a soft number.

For me, I think the question has less to do with social norms and more to do with what exactly are the benefits of breastfeeding? It’s clear, when a baby is young, there are health benefits to breast feeding. It is also clear that after a certain, undefined age, it becomes socially embarrassing for a child to have to leave their circle of friends in order to get a glass of milk … from mom’s boob (clearly, an exaggerated situation to state my point that there is a range of gray, where one eventually stops breastfeeding, but when is up in the air). I guess my question is why would I want to extend breastfeeding past that point of it being healthy for the child?

As a non-mother, I have the privilege of not having the need to research it more. But, if/when the time comes, I will certainly look into it more before coming to my final decision.

Megan March 22, 2010 at 10:52 am

I am going to be the very last one to write my post this week, and now that I’ve read yours, I feel I don’t need to! You sum it all up so well.

I agree with Perpetua that you are right on the money with the double standards our society places on breastfeeding. Brilliant observation!

I won’t say much else, because I need to go write my damn post (finally), but I just wanted to let you know I enjoyed this.

Fearless Formula Feeder March 22, 2010 at 1:18 pm

This was so well expressed, Ginger. I was trying to make similar points in my piece this week, but I don’t think I even came close to articulating it all as well as you have.

You’re awesome. That’s all. 🙂

Ginger March 22, 2010 at 1:28 pm

Perpetua,
One of the things I like about Babies R Us is that the rooms they have aren’t reserved solely for breastfeeding, or solely for changing. They’re perfect for both–or feeding a bottle, or just taking a moment away from the rest of the craziness.
Of course, as you said, that’s their business–they should be doing it right!

Ginger March 22, 2010 at 9:04 pm

Nilsa,
One of the things I love about you is that while you admit you have one point of view, you’re willing to research and look into things before coming to a final conclusion. Honestly, that’s more than I’ve done–I haven’t really researched extended breastfeeding, much more than a quick Google search to find out what “extended” really means. I’m just kinda going by my gut over here.

Ginger March 22, 2010 at 9:05 pm

Thanks Megan. I feel like I meandered all over the place, so it’s nice to know that my points came across to other folks!

Ginger March 22, 2010 at 9:06 pm

Aw, FFF, thanks, I’m blushing!

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