The Boldness Of Long-Term Breastfeeders Benefits Us All
I never realized until I became a mom that one of the single most unifying opinions among women is unequivocal disdain for the long-term breastfeeder. As soon as my son was born ten months ago, every lady I know was asking me how long I planned to breastfeed. When I said I hoped to go at it for a year, almost everybody, except the long-term breastfeeders I know, said something like, “Good, because you don’t want to be one of those women who keeps going after the kid can TALK!”
But I worried, sleep-deprived and shell-shocked by baby love and sore nipples, what if it turns out that I do want to be one of those women? Or, what if I accidentally become this woman? Before I had a baby, I’d never fantasized about being a mom. As a kid, when my sister and I played with Barbies in the basement, our dolls mainly went to work and got haircuts. I didn’t think I wanted kids until, anxious about making ends meet as an actor, I started babysitting for a little one-year-old dude in my neighborhood and found myself having way more fun than I expected. But even then, my vision for my own maternal future was myopic, filled with vague images of me plopping my cooing babe down on some park grass and peacefully staring up at the sky together.
I started out wanting to breastfeed because my birth class teacher told us how beneficial it was and because I read about it in Ina May Gaskin‘s books and because, if I’m being totally honest, I’d heard it was an easy way to “get your body back” after pregnancy. I kept on breastfeeding through all the early ickiness – plugged ducts aplenty – because I felt an immense amount of internal (and internet-induced) pressure to prove to myself that I could do it. Nobody told me I had to. But I’d spent many a 3 AM feeding reading on my phone about the (possibly overstated) benefits. And, for better or worse, my acting work (or lack thereof) put pretty much no obstacles in my way. I’m breastfeeding now because, finally, it’s easy and sweet and I don’t have to think hard about it.
For the last ten months, though, I’ve felt pretty shy talking about what will happen after the infamous year mark, when, according to many women I know, I should start buying gallon jugs of whole milk and put my own jugs to rest. I might do exactly that, but I don’t know for sure. It’s not that I feel like breastfeeding is making my son any better than any other baby, it’s just worked out this way and I like it.
But making choices as a mother is so quickly polarizing: formula gets unfairly demonized and the long-term breastfeeding relationship gets over-sexualized. We struggle to celebrate a female body that isn’t always devoting itself to providing pleasure to some male viewer. Instagram and Facebook are laughably hypocritical, censoring breastfeeding and birth pics, but taking no issue with the scores of overtly sexual Photoshopped and often cartoonishly unnatural asses and breasts posing specifically for a male audience.