When it comes to breastfeeding versus formula feeding, it seems we’re damned if we do, damned if we don’t. I’ve seen that the most criticism for extended breastfeeding comes from people who are extremely misinformed and misguided by a prudish culture.
Just about everyone I know showered me with praise for breastfeeding my newborn. But those same people who were such serious nursing advocates turned into fire-breathing dragons of judgment when they learned that I’m still nursing my nearly 2-year-old daughter. Whether you’re child-free, a parent, a grandparent, an extended breastfeeder or a formula-feeder, here are eight things you should avoid saying to people like me.
1. “You’re still nursing?”
This one’s usually hurled with the same tone you’d say, “you still have that cold sore/foot growth/second head growing out of your elbow?” The answer is yes, I’m still providing my daughter with brain-building, immune and nervous system-boosting, dental-health guarding breastmilk. I’m still doing this natural thing that helps guard against uterine and breast cancer. I’m still utilizing this helpful calming tool for when she gets hurt or scared or upset. So…yeah. I’m still nursing. Now go away and watch soap operas or “The Bachelor” or whatever you do all day.
2. “But she has teeth!”
Here’s where I see an opportunity to educate. If my toddler bites my nipple, she breaks the milkflow. It’s impossible to suckle and bite at the same time. Yes, she’s gone through a couple of phases where she’ll bite me briefly — either to signify that she’s done or maybe that her teeth are hurting her. Yes, it frakking hurts. But she doesn’t just sit there and mutilate my nipples, so her teeth generally have no impact on my comfort during nursing.
3. “Is she eating solid food yet?”
No, my nearly 2-year-old child ONLY drinks milk all day, every day. We use food for fingerpainting and deep scalp conditioning, and when we sit down to dinner for a half hour we just stare at each other and play “Who Can Fit The Most Beans In Their Nose?” No, jesus, my daughter has been feeding herself since she was six months old. Some may call it liquid gold, but I have no delusions–my breastmilk is now a supplement, not a main food source. Only nursing her would be like expecting my kid to live on vitamins. However, to be fair, sometimes this comment comes from a non-parent, or a new parent who isn’t sure how the timeline works for feeding. In this case I don’t fault you at all, and please return to your television programming and I won’t judge you this time.
4. “When are you going to wean?”
When we’re both good and ready. In the right company I’ll say, “hmm, I think she’ll probably wean before she goes to college.” Honestly, when breastfeeding becomes too frustrating or inconvenient for either party, that’s when we’ll wean. But frankly, it’s none of your business. Tip for extended breastfeeding moms: tell your critics “my pediatrician recommends I continue breastfeeding for now.” People are much quicker to trust the advice of a doctor than your personal opinion or the advice of your La Leche League buddies.
5. “She doesn’t need that anymore.”
Sure. She also doesn’t need hugs, toys, books, a relationship with her extended family, weekend trips to the zoo or Nature Center or library. But these things, like breastfeeding, enrich her body and mind. Why would I deny her something that strengthens her?
6. “That’s gross.”
7. “Is she going to remember it? Won’t that mess her up?”
This one breaks my heart on a variety of levels. Though this hasn’t been said to me, I know of people who honestly believe extended-breastfed children are going to have some kind of an Oedipus complex because of nursing. I blame a culture that sees breasts foremost as sexual playthings rather than feeding tools for babies. I think breasts are beautiful, and can play a fun role in sex just like bellies or necks or hips or feet.
But culturally isolating breasts as purely sexual is what causes Oedipal confusion, not the breasts themselves. So what if my daughter remembers it? If anything, I think that will help her understand the inherent strength and purpose of the female body, which will shift her focus away from thinking of her body as merely a toy for a man’s use. You may wonder if it’s different for a toddler boy, and although I don’t have a son, my point remains. If your son remembers his nursing experience, and his first introduction to breasts involves nurturing and feeding rather than perceiving them as sexual, I think he’ll also grow up with a greater respect for women.
8. “If she can ask for it, she’s too old.”
That’s funny, because she’s been “asking” for it since she was a newborn. At first it was her cry, and as she got older she learned sign language for “milk,” which is exactly how she still asks for it. She does her “milk” sign as we walk out of daycare, and I’m to the point now where I don’t even try to hide what I’m doing when I nurse her in the car. So far, I’ve been fortunate — some people glance away to give me privacy, while one older woman actually saw, realized what she was looking at, and smiled warmly while touching her heart. Truth is, my daughter is going to be in kindergarten in a few short years. I am in no rush to push her away or miss out on the kind of cuddles and closeness that comes with extended breastfeeding. As long as I’m still comfortable, and she still asks for it, she is not too old for nursing.