Last evening I was cuddled up to my nursing baby girl in a rocking chair and had the sudden realization: This could be one of the last times I nurse her. I’m approaching her first birthday- the goal to which most mothers of newborns aspire. The CDC and AAP reccomend that breastfeeding “continue for at least 12 months, and thereafter for as long as mother and baby desire. The World Health Organization recommends continued breastfeeding up to 2 years of age or beyond.” (Which has always made me wonder- well WHO(pun intended) do I follow- the AAP or the WHO?) So I set out breastfeeding my youngest with the goal of a year. And here I am about to meet my goal.
But here’s the loaded question: Do I have to stop nursing my baby at 1?
I know that after one I will be considered an “extended breastfeeder,” whatever that means. And I think to most Americans that means extending the boundaries of acceptable mother-baby behavior. I see judgy comments all the time on breastfeeding articles with things said like, ” if they can ask for it, they are too old” or “if they have teeth you should stop” or my favorite, “breastfeeding past the age of one is for the mom more than the baby.” This last statement is usually said with the implication that the mom is enjoying breastfeeding and that is NOT OK. It should be a strictly unenjoyable (or better yet painful) experience where the mom is the martyr; painfully giving of her own body to her child through milk, pain, and tears- and I have days where I have cried. But why does this always have to be a parasitic relationship? While I will admit having multiple days where I wanted to quit nursing all together- maybe have a big nursing bra bonfire. (Light em up!!!) and my tooth laden baby sometimes gnaws on my nips like chew toys- I usually enjoy breastfeeding my baby!
When everyone is done crossing themselves and deleting me as their Facebook friend I’ll continue….done? Great.
With a baby like mine that has been on the go since she was born (even her delivery day we barely made it to the birth center) nursing is a quiet space for us in the midst of chaos. They are the only times of the day she calms down enough to be somewhat still. I cherish those moments. And when she grins up at me while nursing, there is just no way to explain that feeling. We are sharing an intimate, special moment between just the two of us. And I think it’s OK to enjoy that.
I’m pretty convinced that the only reason enjoying and continuing breastfeeding is unacceptable to many past the ripe old age of one is because the breast has been so so so sexualized in our culture. I mean one slip of a nip and the whole country and FCC flips the eff out. And while I’m not advocating for a nudist society, it’s a nipple, people- it will not melt your retinas. Spoiler alert: my nips don’t look all that different from my husband’s useless man nipples- which are dubbed perfectly fine for public display.
Don’t get me wrong-I’m a fan of sex and the fact that boobs are nice to look at. But I’m pretty sure that aesthetics are their secondary function. (What??? Boobs can be functional and beautiful????)Remember back in Elementary School when Ms So and So was teaching you about the differences between mammals, fish, reptiles, etc? What distinguishes mammals, class? Having hair and making milk! Last time I checked I’m a mammal with mammary glands designed to feed my baby. Yet people are often made queasy by me using my breasts for the very thing they are designed to do. Anyone who has nursed a baby can tell you it is the farthest thing in the world from sexual. Breastfeeding and sex aren’t even on the same planet in my brain. If you think of sex when you see a woman breastfeeding, you may need to re-frame that thinking. (Which is my nice way of saying- Stop being a perv.) Do you think this happens in the animal kingdom? Do the gorilla gossips get together and talk crap about the the gorilla mama that shows too much boobage or breastfeeds a few months longer than average? I’m going with no.
All this to say, I’m torn. Some days I cannot wait to stop nursing and have my body be completely mine again. Some days I want to nurse until she decides she’s ready to stop or it becomes too difficult. I do know that I don’t believe that on day 364 of my baby’s life my boobs are full of liquid gold, but on day 365-its just liquid. I’m no lactation consultant but this makes absolutely no sense to me. So I just sit with the indecision. I sense this is a “use it or lose it” type of situation so I continue to breastfeed until one of us is 100% ready to stop. I prepare myself for the negative comments I know I will get. I will focus on if breastfeeding is working well for me and my baby and not if it lines up with the opinions of strangers. Summing up: Everyone should just mind their own boobs. Mom on, y’all.