I breastfeed my almost-5-year-old and 2-year-old. And I have heard pretty much every type of criticism you can imagine. Everything from common misconceptions to stuff clearly being made up on the spot.
“There is no benefit after the first year.” — From those with no basic understanding of breastmilk.
“That’s child abuse.” — From those with no basic understanding of abuse.
“You are only doing it for yourself.” — From those who have clearly never breastfed.
“You are causing harm to your fetus when you breastfeed while pregnant.” — From those who reject information from every lactation professional on earth.
“They need to learn to be independent.” — From those who misunderstand the concept of independence.
Then there is the one comment that really gets the Social Worker in me riled up:
“That’s going to cause long-term psychological harm.” — From those not qualified to diagnose psychological disorders.
There are a whole host of things linked to psychological harm. Verbal abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, drug abuse, pharmaceuticals, sugar, war, terrorism, natural disasters, accidents, stress, community violence... the list goes on and on. Some of these have large amounts of scientific backing and some are theoretical, but one thing is for sure: Breastfeeding beyond infancy is not on the list. And it never will be.
Breastfeeding, whether you like it or not, is the antithesis of all things that negatively affect our psychological well-being. It provides the child with the most nutrient-dense substance on the planet. It fosters attachment and security. It helps children maintain a sense of safety and trust in the world. It provides stability and predictability, which children crave. It is closeness to a responsive primary caregiver, the most basic of human needs. All of these things set a tiny human up for a healthy life.
Breastfeeding beyond infancy is a protective factor against long-term psychological harm. It is not the only way to provide protection in early life, but it is a very effective tool. The problem is that we don’t see it much in the western world. It is biologically normal for all mammals to breastfeed past the infancy stage, but a whole host of factors including capitalism and misogyny have stepped in to nearly wipe it out. Throughout history and in many other countries, it is still normal for a child to breastfeed until they stop on their own.
We reject things we do not understand. We feel disgust and offense at things we don’t often see. Many people refuse to open their minds to new information (new to them, not new to humanity). We often state our opinions as if they are fact. In the age of the internet and contagious keyboard courage we have an epidemic of misinformation at our hands.
And it’s hurting women all the time.
It’s one thing to tell people they will get pneumonia if they go outside with wet hair or get arthritis from cracking their knuckles; it’s an entirely different thing to belittle, demean and destroy a woman in her breastfeeding relationship based on false information.
Please stop spreading the terrible information.
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