It’s no secret that new parents face a truly ridiculous amount of judgement from nearly every possible angle. Almost everything a new mom or dad does is scrutinized by experts, friends and family members, and it’s easy to feel like there’s an army of people surrounding you telling you what’s best for your baby. That’s certainly true for infant feeding!
I chose to breastfeed, and I’m glad that I did. I’m even more glad that it was always my choice, and never something that I felt pressured or guilted into. So I was surprised, to say the least, when I realized that everyone and their brother seems to have an opinion about how long I should breastfeed.
Despite whether or not to nurse being a personal decision, it seems like once you opt in, breastfeeding is once again a matter that is up for public debate. Some judgments take the form of unwelcome assumptions, the “obviously you’re going to do exactly what I did” people. Or they can come from well-meaning medical professionals acting like they’re allowed to instruct you like a track coach on how to feed (and wean) your kid.
Opinions also vary widely: everything from, “well, I wouldn’t nurse a baby who had teeth and I don’t see why you should either,” to “weaning a baby before he decides to wean himself is cruel and will destroy his trust in the world.” The one thing all of these people (and their opinions) seem to have in common is the unwavering belief that they know the one right way. That in itself seems a little odd to me, since we’re talking about, you know, something I’m doing with my own boobs.
I mean, who should get a say, anyways?
The American Academy of Pediatricians recommends breastfeeding for one year, and as long after as “mutually desired.” The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding for up to 2 years of age, or even beyond.
But many people, especially from older generations, may expect moms to stop breastfeeding much sooner than that.
My kid is coming up on a year old, and so suddenly I’m hearing about this now, whereas I really wasn’t before. It isn’t that everyone has been a judgmental jerk, but enough people have been to concern me. Comments like, “you’re almost done breastfeeding, right?” sting a little, as do the dirty looks that I now get in public for nursing my large 10-month-old. I try to tactfully explain where we are in our nursing relationship, but it can be trying, and honestly, I shouldn’t have to.
And it isn’t just about me, either. I hear from other moms who have faced enormous pressure to either stop nursing before they were ready, or continue long after they wanted to stop. When people find out what my personal stance is on breastfeeding, if they agree with me they often see it as an invitation to pass judgement on others who do things differently.
“If she’s old enough to ask for it, she’s too old to breastfeed!”
“You’re still going strong, right?”
We have to stop this.
If breastfeeding in the first place is a personal decision, then it follows that weaning should be too. And just as there are many reasons that a new parent may choose to formula feed, there’s a wide range of reasons that they may want or need to end the breastfeeding relationship at any given point.
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In my own case, I originally planned to breastfeed for about a year and was nervous about whether or not I would last that long. I expected to be working at a local store part-time, and I imagined that the pumping would get to be a major pain, and that despite my best efforts I might eventually give up.
Now, though, my son will be a year old in two short months, and I don’t feel anywhere near to stopping. I’m working from home now, and breastfeeding feels like such an easy, natural and comfortable part of our lives together that I see no reason to stop before he’s ready. I’d happily breastfeed until he turned 3, if that’s what he wanted (though I’m sure it would scandalize much of my family).
Ultimately, though, it doesn’t matter much what someone’s reasons are for when they choose to wean. They do not have to justify that choice: not to me, not to anyone, because nursing parents deserve bodily autonomy just as much as anyone else. Bodily autonomy means that we get to consent to what we do with our own bodies, and we get to revoke that consent at any time, for any reason.
It’s none of my business, or yours, how long anyone else chooses to breastfeed. So let’s stop with the judgmental nonsense and just let everyone get on with feeding their kids.
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