When it comes to breastfeeding, especially in public, it is almost impossible to balance a child’s wellbeing with the American public’s woefully narrow acceptance of what’s natural and healthy. I know this firsthand because I breastfed my middle child until he was nearly three years old.
To wean my son, I had to cut him off cold turkey. I’d tried so many approaches, including begging, pleading, and even bribing, but nothing worked. He cried and called me a bad mum. While his reaction hurt my heart, I understood his pain. We’d forged a profound emotional bond through nursing. It was the constant criticisms by friends, family, and even strangers that defied explanation. I began to realise that almost no one in my life understood or respected my decision to nurse my son for so long.
“Aren’t you worried that he’s going to be sexually confused when he grows up?” Family and total strangers repeated ad nauseam.
“When a child can start asking for the breast then it’s time to stop giving the breast,” my own husband mentioned several times.
“Why are you doing this, Sarah? What are you trying to prove?” A mum friend demanded to know. She went on to point out a ridiculous Time Magazine cover that showed a mum breastfeeding a child who looked like he was a first-grader. The tagline read, “Are you mum enough?” It made me ill that others thought I was breastfeeding my child out of some secret desire to “out-mom” other mothers.
I heard over and over again that babies need to quit the breast before one.
According to the World Health Organisation, babies should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life. After that, they should be breastfed while learning to eat solid foods up to the age of two or beyond. In many parts of the world the “or beyond” translates to between the ages of three and four.
Our culture has perverted what ought to be a beautiful, natural and traditional act between mother and child. While a baby doesn’t need to be fed exclusively by breast after six months of age, there are numerous benefits that made me feel like I was doing the best possible thing for my child by breastfeeding him into his toddler years.
My husband was relieved when I finally put the breast away for good. His disapproval of my choice to wait to wean until two years of age bothered me because it was the first time that we weren’t on the same side of a parenting issue. Up until then, we’d held the same core beliefs about how to parent babies and toddlers. I was dumbfounded by his stance, but I refused to give in, and I implored him to consider some facts about breastfeeding.
Like, did you know that breastfeeding can save you around $1,000 a year by not having to purchase formula? Or that breastfeeding can protect mums from cervical and ovarian cancer? I had gestational diabetes, and my endocrinologist stressed over and over that breastfeeding could help me prevent type II diabetes. Nursing also helps mothers and babies bond, and those bonds can help a baby develop a healthy immune system, smarter brains, and may even prevent future illnesses. Eventually, my husband started to see the wisdom in my choice, and for that, I am grateful.
I can’t do anything about how others will judge or perceive the choices that I make for my children. But I can do everything in my power to make sure that those choices are guided by what I believe is best for my child’s physical, mental, and emotional health and wellbeing. Even when people say nasty things to me.