Extended breastfeeding – why we need to get over it

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By Jacinta Tynan

Posted on August 7, 2012

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Jacinta & Jasper

Both my babies called time on their breastfeeding. The first at ten months, the second at around eleven-and-a-half months (the half counts, in the scheme of things).

With a decisive and unmistakable jerk of the head they made it pretty clear that their days at the nipple were done. That apple puree and the top-up formula they’d been guzzling to sustain the insatiable appetites of two bonnie boys were far more gratifying than anything I could offer. Gutted as I was, taking their rejection personally, wondering why my milk – and myself, weren’t enough, they were better men than me. As much as I missed our little catchups and tried in vain to convince them to stay, it was best they got in first and saved me the pain of extraction.

I wouldn’t have had the mettle to do it. To wrench myself away from the glorious bubble of connection that is breastfeeding would have been far too harrowing. If it had been left to me I might never have done it and then where would we be? Copping looks of derision and disapproval, having to explain my ‘choice’, becoming a poster girl for late-term breastfeeding and defending my decision on behalf of all the wayward mothers who have gone on ‘forever’.

Because that is what happens to women who suckle their babies past a certain age. Just ask them.

When our babies are born we are encouraged to breastfeed, and most of us (90% in the first three months, according to the Australian Breastfeeding Association) manage to do so. We are frowned upon if we abscond or give up too soon. Which most of us do. The World Health Organisation recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months, but only 15% of Australian mothers are still at it by then. This is the point where it gets confusing: don’t breastfeed and you’re selling your baby short; feed for too long and it’s certain damnation.

“Are you still breastfeeding?” A  mother asked me when evidently I was, offering up my nipple, discreetly, mind you – for my then ten month old’s afternoon feed. The ‘still’ inferred that there was something radically amiss with my lagging, some psychological deficiency that prevented me from seeing the bizarreness of my ways by continuing to feed my baby – my non-talking, non-walking, very much dependent, onesie wearing baby – the way nature intended. She thought ten months was bad. Try ten years! That one really freaks us out.

Extended breastfeeding has the potential to unnerve a nation like no other aspect of mothering. Smacking children and leaving babies to cry is considered no one’s business but their parents’. But when a walking, talking child with teeth suckles from its own mother’s breast it bothers us no end and we feel we have a right to weigh in. We justify our disdain as sticking up for the poor hapless child, an unwitting victim to its deluded and selfish mother’s inability to cut the apron strings. By voicing our derision we think we’re doing our bit for the defenseless. Only, no one is suffering here.

All of the evidence , scientific and anecdotal, suggests breast milk is nothing but beneficial for the recipient, nutritionally and emotionally. Even if they have teeth. Yet it pushes our buttons. Big time.

Why does it bother us if mothers we don’t even know choose to lactate longer? Like the hot mumma on the cover of Time in May breastfeeding her three year old, he on tiptoes. Sure, with its headline, Are you Mom Enough? it was edging for a public stoush. And Time knew it would get one. Nothing gets the collective fired up more than children breastfeeding when they should be old enough to know better. “If they can ask for it they shouldn’t be having it” is the common lament.

Why not? If it’s concern for the mother we feel, that she is being hijacked by her life sucking dependent, well it is not our life. We are not the ones unable to leave the house or stuck in lactation bras and tops with hidey flaps.

Sure it might be hard on the menfolk. As writer James Braly laments, “There are some things in life most men cannot share with first-graders, and two of them used to be called breasts.” But they are not our husbands.

I wonder if deep down we’re jealous. I know am. I envy children who have fed till they’re done. What a blissful place to be enveloped by your mother, your life source, with no pressure to move on until you are good and ready. Unambiguous nurturing. A drawn out injection of unconditional love that would surely set you up for life. And I envy those mummas too who get to draw their babies close – at least for a few minutes after dinner – for a lot longer than most of us do.

As any mother who has ever breastfed a child knows you can’t force them to do it. God knows in the thick of many a weary dawn I have tried. It is up to the rest of us to get over it. Just as we managed to when pregnant women started baring their bellies. And hasn’t that become quite the look.

Image above: Georgia & 8 month old Theo

Main image: Brittany with 16 month old Joel

via Gregarious Peach

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Jacinta Tynan.

As well as being an anchor with Sky News Australia, Jacinta is regarded as a commentator for her generation writing regularly for Sunday Life Magazine and dailylife.com.au and appearing on Seven’s Sunrise and Weekend Sunrise. But she regards her greatest achievement – and highest joy – as being mum to two little boys, Jasper and Otis, 19 months apart.

Website: http://www.jacintatynan.com/

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  • http://www.newageretromum.com Helena

    Great article Jacinta – it’s great so see more people speaking up for full-term breastfeeding.
    I’m still breastfeeding my 4 year old son – mostly in the morning before we get out of bed & at night to send him off to sleep. It’s just been a normal progression for us as he’s gotten older. The common belief that once a child has teeth and can ask for breastmilk they should be weaned couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s truly incredible to have him ask for milk when he wants it, to be able to tell me my milk is either thin like water or creamy, that it warms his tummy and that I make great milk. And conversely, when he doesn’t want it, I certainly can’t force him to have it (which debunks the belief that the mother is doing it for her own benefit).
    When a mother forces weaning, she’s missing out on an incredible experience, it’s certainly one I will remember forever.

    More women need to speak out and share that they are doing this, so that it can be normalised and so it can encourage other mums to not force weaning before their baby is ready.

  • http://www.buttercupink.com Vari

    Great article!

    I fed my first son until he was 14 months and even then, it was he who was read to stop – not me! We travelled back to the UK when Gabriel was 6 months and I was really surprise at the reaction to me feeding at that age. It didn’t bother me at all but it just seemed that people didn’t know what to think of it.

    Now my 2nd is 8 months and still feeding. I love it! It’s our quiet time together. We’re back in the UK for 2 weddings in October. What will be the reaction to a bridesmaid breastfeeding a 10 month old? I’ll keep you posted!

    Vari x

    • http://www.copingwithjane.com Jane

      I am currently breastfeeding too. Many people when they hear this are ‘surprised’ to see that I’m STILL breastfeeding a one year old. I find this reaction ridiculous. I mean firstly who cares, and secondly it is totally normal. What isn’t normal is viewing breasts as exclusively sexual (thanks to advertising) instead of the functional things they are. Increasing visiblity around breastfeeding in general will go along way to normalise something that is natural and normal. Vari, I hope you don’t feel at all embarrassed at the wedding, you shouldn’t have to!

  • Louise browne

    Thats a beautiful well written article. And I too am extremely envious of women who are still breast feeding. That bubble of bliss finished when both my babies were three through their own choice ( although my boy does say wouldn’t it be good if you had another baby and if I was thirty in the middle of the night I could just have a boobie ) I don’t judge people on breast feeding but I think they should give it a good shot and I’m quite happy to let them know why I fed for that length of time and the enormous amount of nurturing bonding quiet time and little love bubbles that comes from it.

  • Man

    I’m not saying breast feeding for a longer time is bad, but something I’ve noticed in all the comments so far is a strong use of the word ‘I’.

    “When a mother forces weaning, SHE’s missing out…” Helena
    “I love it! It’s our quiet time together.” Vari
    “I am envious…” Louise

    This is definitely about the mother, not just the child.

    It would also be interesting to read any scientific literature with real research on the topic, not just hearsay like “A friend of mine breastfed till her son was 4 and now he’s a mumma’s-boy” cause that sort of thing is just silly and in no way productive.

    • http://www.copingwithjane.com Jane Copeland

      You are right scientific literature with real research on the topic does need to be considered. Tara Moss wrote a post on this site last week which addresses this -her post references numerous scientific stuides with evidence on the incredible health benefits of breastmilk. You can view it in topics/self and body or by followingn this link http://www.copingwithjane.com/breastfeeding-why-you-should-be-celebrating/

  • Allira

    ‘man’ the world health organisation recommends feeding for a minimum of two years. There are scientific studies available on the WHO website. In addition, just TRY feeding an older baby something they don’t want to be fed – let alone a breast.

  • Claire

    I look forward to the day when women can write breastfeeding anecdotes without feeling the need to add that they were feeding “discreetly”. There’s no need to justify your conduct when you are feeding a baby.

    • http://www.copingwithjane.com Jane Copeland

      Exactly Claire! It’s difficult enough to try to “cover up” when you’ve got a squirmy baby at the breast. If people have a problem (which god knows why anyone would) then maybe they are the one’s who should be disreet and look away.

  • http://www.livehealthysimply.com Jessica Nazarali – Health Coach

    Great post! My Mum stopped breastfeeding me right before my 3 birthday, I don’t know why people have such a issue with it. They should be more concern with the parents who give their children soft drinks and junk food!

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