Someone recently saw a photo of me breastfeeding my 2-year-old and commented, “Whoa, that kid is too old to still be breastfeeding.”
She’d be shocked if she knew I also breastfeed my 5-year-old.
We (sometimes) see moms nursing their babies, but we don’t see them nursing their toddlers. The CDC Breastfeeding Report Card for 2014 says that 26.7 percent of U.S. moms are breastfeeding at 12 months postpartum. Moms breastfeeding beyond infancy are out there. So where are they?
Hiding, probably. Women are hiding in bathrooms, at home and in cars. We don’t see women breastfeeding their toddlers because they are afraid of being harassed. Many women find breastfeeding to be a powerful parenting tool, but they do not feel comfortable doing it in public out of fear. They stop breastfeeding before they want to because they feel the pressure. The older the child gets, the more taboo it becomes.
I found myself still wanting to have a breastfeeding relationship with my child when he turned 1. But I could also feel that I was confronting a cultural taboo. As my sons got older and I made my journey more public, I heard everything. “Those kids are too old.” “Get those kids off the tit!” “You’re going to screw those kids up!” “Breast milk has no nutritional value at that age.” “Have some respect and cover yourself.” “That’s child abuse.” “My breasts are for my husband.”
Continuing to breastfeed beyond infancy can be useful for mothers and children in so many ways. Nursing benefits children’s intellectual development, nutritional needs, social development and long-term mental health. Extended breastfeeding also benefits the mother. It can delay the return of fertility, protect against osteoporosis and reduce the risk of rheumatoid arthritis and cardiovascular disease. It can reduce the risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, uterine cancer and endometrial cancer.
Breastfeeding is one of the most useful tools I have as a parent. When my children fall down, I have a quick fix for relief. When they are feeling overwhelmed, they can come to me, latch on and get back to it when they feel ready, skipping the meltdown. I always have a liquid for them, even if I forgot the water bottle. I can get them to sleep quickly no matter where we are. I don’t have to fight for bonding time with them; it’s built right in. Sometimes I just need everyone to quiet the hell down so that I can make a phone call or just think. Breastfeeding brings an instant quiet to the room.
Breast milk is a great cure for pink eye; helps scrapes when you are away from soap and water; stops the itch of chickenpox or bug bites; and treats blocked tear ducts, baby acne and diaper rash. It’s full of antibodies that help lessen the severity and duration of the cold or flu. Why would I want to end this prematurely?
Sure, nursing an older child isn’t for everyone — but it works for me. So why all the fuss?
I live in the city of Chicago and I see some things that I don’t agree with or enjoy on a daily basis. How about that hot summer day when I had to board the crowded bus squished up against the shirtless sweaty man? Or the music that my upstairs neighbor blares out of his windows? How about the simple fact that I think feet are gross and I have to look at them all summer?
I have no right to tell a man to put his shirt back on. I would never tell someone to cover their feet for my personal comfort. I would never tell my neighbor that his taste in music is horrid. My decision to continue to breastfeed my children to 2 and 5 years old (and beyond) is something that affects no one else. It’s not anyone’s place to tell me how it makes them feel, to tell me to stop or make me feel afraid.