Recently I was told that if a child can ask for breast milk, then it was time for that child to be weaned. It wasn’t actually that blunt. It was more like “Don’t they say if they can ask for it, it’s time to stop?” (I want to know who ‘they’ are?).
Another friend recently recounted a story of a work colleague who was ‘stuck’ breastfeeding her infant daughter even though the ‘poor’ colleague had to return to work.
On having to delay a dinner catch-up with a friend until M2 drops her night feed, the reply came that ‘hopefully she will stop before she starts high school’.
I suppose she will be done by then. Nevertheless, the reality is I still breastfeed a seventeen month old child twice a day. As you might expect at this stage of her development, she is learning to speak, so when it is time for a feed she asks for ‘boot’. For the record, I am back at work too (and I don’t feel ‘stuck’).
So if it’s wrong to be breastfeeding an infant or toddler, why does it feel right to me?
The World Health Organisation (sic) and UNICEF recommend breastfeeding, complementary to other feeding for up to two years of age or more. The Australian Breastfeeding Association features an article on its website which highlights the benefits of long term breastfeeding¹.
Some of these benefits in infant-hood include nutrition, comfort, protection against illness and lower medical bills. In the future, the child is less likely to need orthodontics or speech therapy. In later life they are at lower risk of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, asthma and diabetes². For the mother, well she has a lower risk for developing breast, uterine or ovarian cancer.
Pretty good outcomes one might think.
This is not a slight upon those women who couldn’t or didn’t breastfeed or decided or needed to wean. I’ve been there with an eight month old (M1) who was no longer satisfied with my milk supply – couldn’t sit still long enough anyhow – and who decided it was time to chow down on chops.
It’s more a plea for those out there who think that is okay to judge on long-term breastfeeding. Of course you can! You are more than welcome to do so. Just do so silently or behind my back. I don’t want to hear that you’re not comfortable with me breastfeeding my infant in my house, even with the subtle terms you may use. It is your problem. This is not a case where a problem shared is a problem halved!
Would you comment if I was a woman struggling in East Africa? Would anything be said if I was living in a refugee camp on the Pakistan border? How about if I was living in a remote tribe in the Amazon? I expect it would be seen as positive, or dare I say even normal, in those situations. And it certainly is. It is for me too, regardless of the western comforts (and attitudes) that surround me.
Most immediately crucial for me, and I suspect for M2, is that we both enjoy our breastfeeding sessions. It will be a rare time in my (and her) life that we will have this closeness ever again. The forty minutes of the day we spend cuddling, looking into one another’s eyes, reading a book and just being together probably won’t happen again, so why should there be a rush to give it up?