STILL Breastfeeding

I had this dream the other night, I woke up in a cold sweat when it was over. I guess that makes it a nightmare, really.

I had been selected to go on a mission to space (something I never would have applied for, by the way) and it was a really huge honor. I was going to be away for 6 days. Everyone was really excited, but as I was suiting up in my astronaut gear an hour before the launch I realized that being away from my baby that long meant I would be finished breastfeeding because in this dream the assumption was that during this time my supply would dry up. I started panicking, I hadn’t prepared, hadn’t pumped bottles for her while I was away, hadn’t packed a pump for the space mission to maintain my milk supply. I was about to blast off to space and I was freaking out because I had to stop breastfeeding. I told the launch team I needed to see a doctor, because I thought maybe they could give me some kind of medicine to maintain my supply while I was orbiting the Earth. They brought in Dr. Oz, naturally, and he said ‘I guess what I don’t get is, why do you need to keep breastfeeding? She is almost a year old anyway.’ I was flustered and not able to tell him to just f&^k off and mind his own business, so instead I just started crying and saying ‘I didn’t know the last time I fed her would be the last time, I didn’t stroke her hair or kiss her cheek or look at her smiling up at me.’ And he just shrugged. And I cried harder. A$$hole.

I woke up really upset, and a little confused. What did this dream mean? Obviously any mother who has an enjoyable breastfeeding experience will feel some sadness when it ends, and I suspect that mothers who have an unenjoyable breastfeeding experience have similar feelings. But my experience is ongoing, my baby is still breastfed, we are both still enjoying the arrangement. Why this anxiety provoking nightmare?

At some point, in our society, the one-year-mark became some kind of informal end-point for breastfeeding. As we get closer to that point, I’ve found more and more people ask me when I plan to stop (no such plan exists) or are simply surprised when they realize we haven’t stopped already.

People say ‘But she has teeth!’ or ‘Soon she’ll be talking!’ or ‘You must be getting tired of it!’ or ‘But once she’s walking you’ll stop right?’

My replies: So what?; I hope so!; I’m not; I don’t see how the two are related?

My feelings about breastfeeding in general are pretty mild. I think it’s wonderful, natural, healthy, intimate and should be supported by our society MUCH more than it is currently. That being said, I know that despite heroic, incredible amounts of effort, it doesn’t work for some people. Furthermore, I know some women would rather not even try breastfeeding as a means of feeding their infant, and that’s not an issue for me. How wonderful that we can live in a time/place where women who want to breastfeed can seek (and hopefully find) support and women who don’t want to have a nutritional, accessible alternative to breast milk.

My feelings about my own breastfeeding experience are much more emotional. I have always enjoyed it as a way of bonding with my daughter. I love knowing that I control what goes into my body and therefore control what enters her body through my milk. I love the convenience of always having milk on hand if she needs it. I love the comfort we both get from the experience. I love the way she looks at me when she nurses, how we are connected in a way that no one else can be, the commitment I’ve made to her by choosing this path. To me, nothing is more normal or natural for us.

But if I’m honest, as much as I’d love to say ‘Puritanical values be damned!’ and nurse openly in mixed company, talk about my love breastfeeding in front of anyone, and feel totally confident about our current path towards ‘extended breastfeeding’, I just can’t shake some of my own insecurity.

Sometimes, when questioned about our intentions to continue breastfeeding, I’m tempted to cite recommendations from the World Health Organization or use some of UNICEF’s information on the average age of weaning in other countries to justify my choice scientifically and culturally. And while that information is important and useful, it really isn’t relevant here. Why do I have to explain myself?

I have chosen to breastfeed, enjoy breastfeeding and will continue to breastfeed until it becomes undesirable for either myself or my baby. If we are both happy, it’s working. If one of us isn’t, it isn’t. Why does it have to be more complicated than that?

Unfortunately, the answer to that question is because our society makes it more complicated. Breastfeeding (probably because it’s an issue involving primarily women and the patriarchy rules us still) is a damned if you do, damned if you don’t kind of issue.

If you don’t, you’re some kind of terrible, selfish, baby-torturer who dares to feed their offspring modified cow’s milk (or, the horrors! possibly a soy based product!) from a rubber nipple. If you do, good for you BUT you best not DARE breastfeed in front of the eyes of someone easily offended by a breast functioning as it is meant to and don’t even CONSIDER doing it past the day marked on the calendar that people decided will make them uncomfortable, you perv!

So either you’re a child abuser right away because you formula fed, or you are a child abuser later if you breastfeed longer than ‘normal.’ Lucky are the few who find themselves in that perfect middle ground of doing the right thing for the right number of months.

I remember reading a few years ago about Salma Hayek being quoted (and then the quote being picked up by every gossip blog and news source you can imagine) as saying she was ‘addicted’ to breastfeeding because she was enjoying it so much and her daughter was so healthy. Her crime? The aforementioned daughter was 13 months old. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! Say it ain’t so!

At the time I knew painfully little about what a 13 month old needs or even looks like compared to a 3 month old and I knew NOTHING about breastfeeding beyond what I’d read on a poster on the wall of my doctor’s office, but I still found the reaction to this revelation by Salma revolting in every way. Blogger Lauredhel compiled much of the negative reaction here and the general consensus that a) Salma is a sick pervert and b) her boobs are sex objects meant for the public to enjoy is really shocking (honestly, take 2 minutes and read this).

While there are some supportive comments, much of focuses on how Salma’s actions are ‘child sex abuse’ or at least ‘obscene’, leading me to believe those commenters have no idea of what abuse actually is and have never looked at their own body nude under full light. Similarly disappointing are the commentors like this gem from HuffPo who said ‘Man, what can I say? Can I have a snack?’ or ‘Honestly…What kid could give those up?’…men are so hilarious with their naive delusions that women’s bodies and breasts in particular are somehow all about them.

Three years later I can totally relate to Salma’s feelings about breastfeeding and feel even more offended by so much of the public reaction, probably because I have an 11 month old who I still breastfeed and don’t feel I should have to explain it to anyone. Or hide it from anyone. Or be sorry for enjoying it so much.

Mothers are constantly making choices, never sure what’s right, seemingly always feeling guilty about something, battling our own insecurities and wondering what is in the best interest of the child. So when I’ve made a choice that I feel totally confident in, that I truly believe is the right thing for us, that is still working so well, why should I feel anything but totally victorious? Why should anyone feel anything but happy for me, or at least totally and completely ambivalent?

32 thoughts on “STILL Breastfeeding

  1. Stop explaining yourself. Just stop. You don’t have to, and no one should expect you to. What I find annoying is that you clearly state that you are still breastfeeding and someone has the audacity to even question your choice. WTF?

  2. Yes why is it everyone is shocked when you still breastfeed at this age? Genna is 15 months tomorrow and I still feed her before bed. I don’t know when we’ll stop – she finds comfort in it, and so do I, and really – until she’s ready to stop I think we’ll just continue. I do find there’s a lot of pressure to stop though, even though we only do it at home, most of my friends stopped months ago. But you know what? I don’t want to – and neither does she. I don’t know if we’ll do it for another year – but maybe we will? I say go for it – do what’s right for you and your baby and forget everyone else!!! Great post 🙂

    1. I feel exactly this way Monique, maybe we’ll be breastfeeding in a year from now, maybe we won’t be in 4 months from now. I don’t know, but I’m not going to let random expectations of perfect strangers (or at least concerned friends who dont’ need to worry about what my breasts are doing) dictate that for me!

  3. I love this post. Good for you standing up for yourself. I was always in a similar position with Bruce of having to say “Well, it’s still working for us and we’re both happy. I guess we’ll stop when it isn’t working anymore,” and just smiling and walking away if anyone tried to push me on it beyond that. It can definitely be frustrating. I looked at it as hopefully an opportunity to educate some people, if I had to I was fond of pulling out the fact that the WHO recommends breastfeeding until the age of 2.

    1. It is stunning, isn’t it? The stigma of how you feed, how long, in what manner etc is not only totally contradictory but also completely baseless and annoying.

  4. Great post Lane. I so agree with everything you wrote. I too felt so confused when at the start there was so much pressure TO BREASTFEED and then suddenly around 9 or 10 months people started pressuring me about when I was going to stop. WTF? I’m 100% glad that I breastfed Lila for 15 months. It was such a wonderful bonding experience for the both of us and I like to think it’s part of the reason she’s so healthy and smart now. When Lila started day care at 14 months she used to always want to nurse at the end of the day when we got home. It was like her way of re-connecting with her mom and winding herself down after all the action at daycare. She’d stare up at me with those big round eyes and stroke my chest with her little hands and I could feel the love and the bond between us. It really helped with the transition and when SHE WAS READY (her mom really wasn’t yet…sniff, sniff) to quit, weaning was no big deal. I’m proud of you Lane for sticking to your guns and what feels right for you and Vesper. You are a great Mom!

    1. Thanks Les! I totally relate to what you said at the end there, I bet the hardest part about weaning will be realizing that V will probably be ready to finish with breastfeeding before I am! xo

  5. Here! Here! (Spelling?)
    Life can be rough and traumatic enough, why go through more drama of weaning our babies at a set date and time -who especially enjoy nursing to sleep. (Gasp!) Get over it Baby Whisperer. Again, taking the route that causes the least amount of stress, despite what society, books on babies, or websites say.

    1. I have ended several rants about the stress/pressure on parenting with ‘get over it Baby Whisperer.’ I TOTALLY AGREE Jess, and you know it. Life is hard, make it easier by doing what works for you and not worrying so much abuot the rest of the noise!

  6. Sing it SISTA!

    I still nurse my 17 month old BOY and I’m pretty sure it isn’t sexual, and super good for him. Lots of people wrinkle their noses, but I’ll listen to all the books and docs that recommend until 2 (and my own family doctor looks at me like a freak). I love nursing, although, yes, at times I get teeth.

    1. Ahhh those little love bites! As soon as I feel some teeth and say ‘NO, thank you’ baby looks up at me with a sassy smile. Luckily it hasn’t gotten much worse than that! And I’m sorry your own family doctor isn’t more professional or informed, sounds like she/he needs more diversity in their clientele!

  7. I think it’s a personal decision, a family decision. Other than explaining your plan with the doctor, who will or will not recommend vitamin supplements, and answering the immediate family who asks…it’s really no one else’s business. I’ve never posted. I have no idea if it will post.

    1. Totally a personal decision. Alarming how as soon as you are even pregnant, people seem to think they have the ok to give you instructions on your body and your child’s life!

  8. Right on, Lane! I still nurse T on demand and we’re approaching two years in December. (Little Miss T is addicted to it!) I can’t even begin to tell you the number of questions or remarks or side eyes I get almost daily. It’s really quite sad and annoying that some people feel the need to be so disapproving about what I’m doing in the best interest of my own child. It’s not their business!

    In the crapshoot that motherhood can be sometimes, I have never doubted that breastfeeding or extended breastfeeding is the most natural and best thing I am doing for T. I missed out on those early bonding moments and days with T because of our situation. Through breastfeeding, I was able to get to the point where I felt like her mother and connected and bonded. If I hadn’t breastfed, I don’t know if I would have ever gotten over those lost feelings and attachment. T and I are so close and she (and I) take so much comfort in nursing. I’m also convinced it’s because of the extended nursing that we’ve been so fortunate to avoid major illness and hospitalization that many preemies face. I plan to continue onward past two years, all things willing. When the day comes for the nursing to stop, I think we’ll both be sad. That’s just my two cents!

    1. I’m so glad breastfeeding worked out for you and T, Holly, especially after such a tumultuous start you two had together! 🙂 I agree, it really is no one’s business, but I feel like I need to be less timid about the confidence I really do have in this choice!

  9. This post makes me sad 😦 I would have loved to keep on nursing, but Lucy (8 months) has made it pretty clear she has other things to do and won’t sit still for too long to feed. Thankfully she does enjoy cuddling in our bed in the early morning hours, which is a welcome substitute AND something the whole family can enjoy. I highly recommend this as an alternative 😉

    Keep on doing it until it doesn’t feel like the same experience..trust me, she will let you know when that time comes!

  10. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t – you are spot on, and, at least in my experience, unfortunately this applies to more parenting (motherhood?) issues. I am sure I don’t need to list them here.
    What took me by surprise after having my first is that the comments and judgment actually bothered me, while I always thought of myself as a reasonably confident person. My emotional reactions surprised DH and we talked a lot about it. The best I could come up with is that before getting married/having children my decisions only affected me. Once I had family my choices affected them too and the judgment did not bother me because I cared about what XYZ thought about it but that the comments will affect how Mark, Una or Nestor think about it. I am not sure if that makes sense but this is how I feel.
    On the plus side, it got a lot easier with #2. I still do all I did with #1 but can laugh at most of the ignorant and rude comments. Heck even my ILs were freaked out by the fact that I breastfed Una until she was 16 months old (gasp!) but I guess they’ve given up on me as they don’t even ask how Nestor is fed :).
    Enjoy your special moments with V!
    BTW – I love your writing, you should definitely write a book!

    1. Thanks Jelena! I think you really hit on what bothers me most: not that people are judging (I suppose I’ve come to expect that and it only has intensified now that I have a baby) but just that I actually care sometimes! I cant’ help but remember a time when I wouldn’t have, and feel disappointed that I do. You are right though, so much more seems to be at stake now when I make decisions for all of us, not just myself!

      1. Jelena, I know what you mean about being surprised how much it bothers you. I think it’s that there are so many unknowns when it comes to parenting and we’re all just trying to do our very best as mothers and most of the time we’re not sure if our decisions are always the right ones and being second guessed can really erode your confidence.

  11. I love this post, I fed Otto until 15 months and the time to give up was perfect for us both, it happened slowly over a few months starting when he was 12months old, after that last breastfeed he hasn’t ever looked to feed from them again, the touching on the other hand is still present.

    Each mother has to make her own decision and the fact that anyone weighs in on this is ridiculous, my own mother just assumed I would stop at 10 months like she did, it really rocked the boat that I continued as long as I did, for her it lead to sexual issues because he was a boy, if Otto was a girl it would have been ok?!?!

    I was surprised that I cared too, I always thought that I would be able to throw a witty comment their way and walk away head held high, but mostly I just stood there stammering in disbelief while they walked away. Maybe next time I will be able to have a good come back ready!

  12. It completely baffles me that anyone outside of your closest family unit care about these things and dares to make it their business. It’s a very personal, even intimate, family decision and should be respected as such, whatever it is.

  13. Lane, honey…I love reading your blog. You are such a wonderful mother – your connection is so tight, and you are listening to your gut. What more could you ask for? I think being open (as you are) and throwing out any preconceived notions (even your own, LOL) and just going with your gut is the key to being a happy and successful mom.

    And FYI – before R was born, my cousin shared that she had breastfed her kiddos until they were 2. My initial (hidden) reaction? GROSS. Isn’t that horrible?? But karma, baby, karma: I breastfed R until he was 27 months old. And you know what? Not gross at all.

    Sometimes it’s fun realizing that you were one big, opinionated idiot. Growth. It’s good, right?

  14. I have an acquaintance with a devoted Mom of 9 children.. She was still breastfeeding the ‘baby’ when he was four… at least on special occasions– eg when he didn’t feel well/needed special soothing due to emotional upset. At that point I’m not aware how much actual milk was involved BUT she made no apologies about providing the comfort and closeness.

  15. If you feel that continuing breastfeeding is the right decision for you and baby then it IS the right decision. I can only go from my own personal experience which is nursing my firstborn until he was 7 months and stopping then because I felt that was ‘the right thing to do’ and nursing my secondborn until 15 months because it felt right for us. My kids are now 5 and 7 and I feel so proud that I nursed my daughter for so long and still I feel disappointed that I stopped nursing my son at 7 months. It is a great start to life and a natural thing to do so it is ridiculous that we are made to feel like “sick pervs” for using our breasts for the purpose in which they were designed for!

    1. Thanks for the comment Melinda! Hard to believe I felt like the only person who feels this way about breastfeeding when one little post brings out so much support! I guess I just need to be more vocal about my choice and how I feelt about it!

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