When Self Weaning Becomes Self-righteous

Peanut tandem nursing her pocket monsters.

The other night when I was lying with the girls in bed as they fell asleep, I decided to check Facebook on my phone. This is pretty normal for me. Another common activity is answering questions on Facebook. Other bloggers often re-post questions they’ve been asked on their wall. It’s like an online La Leche League meeting and it’s lovely.

So this is what I did that night. A breastfeeding blogger who I used to love reading, but has since quit blogging (and I was very sad to see her go!), still keeps her Facebook page active. She frequently re-posts questions and this night, had re-posted this:

From the wall: Best way to wean a 1-year old.. Please help?

I clicked on it thinking I might find some answers that I can apply to our weaning situation. Sadly, some of the responses were pretty judgmental and not helpful at all. Multiple mamas responded something along the lines to “I don’t know because I do child-led weaning.”  No advice, links, references, or anything else that could help her. Just a holier-than-thou attitude.

They don’t know this mother’s situation. Maybe she is agonizing over weaning. Maybe she’s about to start chemo or has another medical reason. Maybe she’s pregnant and can’t stand it anymore. Maybe she just doesn’t want to nurse anymore. That’s okay. Both sides need to be happy in the relationship. Why does this have to become another dividing issue? Why is a mother not good enough for nudging weaning along? Why must mothering be all about self-sacrifice and never taking your own feelings into consideration?

If that mother doesn’t want to wean, but feels pressure from her family and friends, address that. If she thinks she has to wean because of a medicine she needs when there’s a breastfeeding-friendly alternative, inform her. If she’s weaning because of the problems she’s having with nursing, help her. But don’t give her more guilt to deal with. Don’t force your opinions on her. Don’t try to show her how much of a better mother you are than her because you’ll nurse until the end of eternity.

All mothers should know that it’s an option to let their child wean on their own. It’s a wonderful option at that. In our society, where so many lies about breastfeeding are circulating around posing as truths, mothers may not know. It’s okay to inform her. If she decides not to though, respect her choice. Don’t guilt her into breastfeeding longer. Don’t try to show that you’re a better mom than her. Just let her make the decision that is the best for her family.

Leave the self-righteous attitude at the door and learn to help your fellow mom.

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Friday Fill-ins

FFI

And…here we go!

1. Why does it have to snow today? It’s supposed to be spring!

2. Two year old Peanut is equal whiny Peanut, if this last week is any indication.

3. My favorite breakfast includes an omelet made by my husband.

4. Shopaholic Takes Manhattan was the last book I read and I’m loving this series.

5. I am SO glad that the science teaching club I’m starting at my university is actually happening.

6. Cuddling with Peanut and watching Beauty and the Beast would make me feel better right now.

7. And as for the weekend, tonight I’m looking forward to sitting around reading the next Shopaholic book, tomorrow my plans include Curie’s playgroup (yes, a playgroup for dogs) and a friend’s birthday party and Sunday, I want to sit around and do nothing, but I have to go to a study group for my botany test Monday!

I also want to share this link to Kelly Rutherford’s (Gossip Girl’s Lily, my goodness I love that show) interview with Best for Babes. It’s a couple of years old, but it’s a great interview. I love stars that not only promote full-term breastfeeding, but also tandem nursing! Here you go!

An Open Letter to Pediatricians

So a child walks into your office. Hopefully, in this circumstance, the child is old enough to walk. I’ve heard stories from mothers that their pediatrician told them to stop breastfeeding their infant, but that’s another topic for another time (Come on! It is so highly unlikely that an infant is allergic to breastmilk and if the infant truly is, it’s also most likely allergic to formula also. Sheesh!)

So this child walks in and you’re having your regular check up. Maybe the child asks to nurse. Maybe you directly ask the mother if she’s still nursing. Either way, you find out that their relationship continues on beyond the recommended minimum according to the AAP. So you’ve decided to tell the mother it’s time to quit. There’s obviously something wrong with breastfeeding beyond one year, right? Wrong!!!

One may think that, as a medical professional, you would have some facts about the health benefits of breastfeeding at any age. Yeah, one would think. The problem is that most pediatricians are grossly misinformed about the benefits of breastfeeding. Either they don’t want to upset a mom who chooses not to breastfeed or possibly they just don’t have enough information, but either way it’s a big problem. Many moms go to their pediatricians for breastfeeding advice because it makes sense that their baby’s doctor would have a little knowledge about how to feed said baby. Yeah, that would make sense, wouldn’t it?

The problem is that pediatricians aren’t lactation consultants. (Actually, you can go ahead and add all the nurses on the postpartum floor in most hospitals to that list too, but don’t tell them that because they certainly think they are experts.) Many new moms don’t realize this. Many new (and not-so-new) moms see their pediatricians as an authority figure, which comes along with not questioning them and thinking they have all the answers.

The problem is that they don’t know all the answers. Hopefully, in the case of full term breastfeeding, that is what this post is attempting to remedy. So here we go

Dr. says: Breast milk doesn’t have any nutritional value beyond X months.

Facts: Breast milk changes as a child grows. Breast milk changes day by day depending on what the child needs. That’s the beauty of a supply and demand relationship. During the connection of nursing, that baby’s saliva actually communicates with the mom’s milk production. The simple act of actually nursing more often increases the mother’s supply within 24-48 hours.

In the case of nursing a toddler, the fat content actually increases as the child grows. You know how it’s recommended that children drink whole milk because they need that fat to grow? Guess what? Breast milk is whole human milk.

And what about the picky eaters? Virtually every toddler goes through at least one stage of not wanting to eat much or only wanting to eat certain things. Peanut, for example, will only eat noodles if whatever you put in front of her has noodles in it. I have to actually tell her “Take one bite of that (pointing to the food she’s shoved off in the corner to get to more noodles) and I’ll give you more noodles.” If she weren’t nursing, I’d be a lot more concerned about her getting all the nutrients she needs. As of now, she doesn’t take any sort of vitamin and is growing like a champ.

Dr. says: There are no immunological benefits of breastfeeding beyond X months.

Facts: Antibodies are in milk always. Every. Single. Time. You nurse, your kiddo gets the antibodies your body is producing. So when I’m at school and I catch a cold bug from another student, before I even get sick my body is starting to fight it. Probably pretty much simultaneous to me passing it to Peanut, I’m giving her the antibodies to fight it. Before even an adult system, let alone a immature system of a toddler, would produce antibodies, she already has them coursing through her system.

Toddlers get sick a lot, but in general, breastfeeding toddlers get sick less often. When they do get sick, it’s generally not as severe or as long. In industrialized nations like ours, this may be taken for granted, but in countries that still don’t have regular access to medicine, it can be life-saving.

Dr. says: Breastfeeding beyond X months harms a child emotionally.

Facts: Breastfeeding will never harm my child. I really, really hope no doctors ever say this. I feel it still needs to be discussed though because so many people who are against full-term breastfeeding bring this up as an argument.

You are putting sexual connotations onto our breastfeeding relationship that imply that it could harm my child. That is your association that you are imposing onto our relationship. It is simply not a fact. When my child falls down and is crying her eyes out and nothing can calm her, I offer her my breast. She is soothed. She immediately stops crying. Most of the time, she absolutely forgets about her scraped knee. How can something that makes her so incredibly happy damage her emotionally? How can that even make sense?

Even if it doesn’t benefit her emotionally (though studies have shown that it does), it certainly doesn’t harm her. So why tell a mother to stop? If you’re telling a mother that her breastfeeding is damaging her child, I think you need to go talk to someone professional, because there’s obviously something wrong up there.

So, I hope that helps set some of the facts straight. I hope that none of you are ever confronted by a medical professional about breastfeeding. I hope that doctors and nurses learn the facts and who to refer mothers to when they have questions. I hope that there will be a day where breastfeeding is such a norm where the doctors that tell a mom to quit is chastised for the fools they are.

I’d like to mention that not all pediatricians have this problem. Not all pediatricians are grossly misinformed about breastfeeding. There are many that are incredibly supportive of breastfeeding and beyond that, many that just don’t care enough to try to interfere with a breastfeeding relationship. The problem is that there are any pediatricians (or nurses in pediatrician’s offices for that matter) that spread such awful lies about breastfeeding and actually attempt to make a mother quit breastfeeding. For more information and links to the studies mentioned in this post, visit kellymom.com or llli.org.

Full-term Breastfeeding is Beautiful

A friend of mine posted this YouTube video on Facebook. It’s kind of old (posted before Peanut was born, actually), but the point is still relevant. Some of those comments people made on her past video made me want to cry.

Breastfeeding is a beautiful, wonderful, life-saving thing. While I understand that it doesn’t always work out, it’s a one time opportunity to give your child the absolute best start in life—just remember that that start doesn’t mean the first 3 or 6 or 12 or 24 months. Nursing full-term—2, 3, 4, 5+ years—is still giving them the best start. Yes, a five year old is still starting out their life. Five years is what, maybe 1/14 of your life conservatively? It is the beginning.

There is no magic time where breastfeeding is no longer nutritionally beneficial, becomes sexual, harms the child psychologically, etc. Breastfeeding 6 days is better than none, 6 weeks is better than 6 days, 6 months is better than 6 weeks, and 6 years is better than 6 months. Of course many children wean before that, but the longer the better. Why not provide the most nutritionally sound food for your child as long as possible? Especially when that food has anti-bodies, helps bonding, and so many other wonderful benefits.

P.S. Happy {barely still} IBCLC day!

How Long Is Too Long?

I’ll be the first to admit that I used to think extended breastfeeding (which I prefer to call full-term breastfeeding instead because of the negative connotations of the word “extended”) was weird. I specifically remember saying when I was pregnant that if they can ask for it, they’re too old.

Guess what? They start asking for it from day one. They ask for it by crying at first, then maybe pointing, then maybe signing, then maybe actually calling it something. We choose to call it milk. I’m sure that one day Peanut will come up to me and say “I want milk!” and I will give it to her. Why should I stop giving her something she loves (and something that benefits her immensely) just because she can form the words to ask for it?

Valerie posted a question on Facebook as her status:

1.5 years old and still bf’ing. Should I be concerned? How long should I let my son bf? #breastfeeding

After all of the responses (many positive about her breastfeeding and many not) I decided to pose my own question.

Breastfeeding becomes inappropriate/gross/sexual/etc. beyond age {fill in the blank}. No repercussions, just give me your honest answers. Treat it as a poll.

I was amazed at some of the ages/markers that people came up with on both mine and Valerie’s posts.

Of course, people said that the don’t need it anymore when they’re a toddler. While it is not technically necessary when they are older (yes, I consider breastfeeding necessary when they are infants), toddlers still enjoy many benefits of breastfeeding. The first six months are more important than the second six months which are more important than the third and so on, but a child still continues to benefit from breastfeeding as they get older. Actually, there are studies that show that the longer you’re breastfed, the more you benefit from some of the benefits like less illness and higher IQ (mentioned in this article).

Another common marker for stopping breastfeeding that I hear is “when they get teeth.” I tend to think that people who come up with this one don’t have children. Maybe if you don’t have children you don’t realize how young they are when they get teeth? That’s the only logic I can follow with this one. The majority of kids get their first teeth at six months, but some get them as early as two weeks! So if you stop when they get teeth, they don’t even get to the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendation! The same goes for “when they can walk” because the majority of kids start walking at one year and that doesn’t make it to the World Health Organization recommendation.

There were a lot of different qualifications. Some people throw out random ages without any explanation (because nursing at 2.99 years is different than nursing at 3 years?). Some people say a binky or thumb is better than breastfeeding beyond a certain age (which is actually bad for mouth formation and speech). Really, there are as many qualifying milestones or ages as there are people.

So what’s my end point? I know I always say that I’ll nurse Peanut as long as she wants, but at the same time I can’t see myself breastfeeding a seven year old. Though if you talked to me a year ago, I probably couldn’t see myself nursing Peanut now. I believe that breastfeeding is inherently non-sexual (unless you’re an adult with a fetish I suppose) so I don’t believe that it can ever be perverted (as some people mentioned on the threads). The bottom line is that there is no end point. No one can decide this end point for you and you can’t even decide your end point. To quote Justice Stewart (without the intention imply breastfeeding is obscene, because it’s not) “I know it when I see it.” You’ll know you’re end point when you’re there—and it’s different for every breastfeeding relationship.

The Joys of Breastfeeding a Toddler

Welcome to the Carnival of Breastfeeding! This month is about the joys of breastfeeding. Please read the other blogs in the carnival (listed at the bottom of this post).

Peanut,

You turned one on March 20, 2010. My original goal was to breastfeed you until you turned one and now that we’re here, I have no plans on stopping. There were so many joyous things about breastfeeding you and now there are more new joyous things about breastfeeding you as a toddler. Some of these things make life easier and some of them just make life that much happier. I truly do not know what I would do without breastfeeding.

Emotionally. I breastfeed you to get you to sit calmly when all you want to do is chase the dog. I breastfeed you to make you stop crying when you fall down the stairs. I breastfeed you when I want to relax on the couch for five minutes because I’ve been chasing you all day. I breastfeed you when you’re teething and whiny and I want to pull my hair out.

Physically. I breastfeed you so I can put your hair in pigtails without you trying to run away. I breastfeed you when you’re hungry and I forgot to bring snacks (as if you can ever forget to bring snacks when breastfeeding!). I breastfeed you when you wake up in the middle of the night. I breastfeed you so I can do homework or write my blog (like right now).

Bonding. I breastfeed you to make you laugh because tickling, funny faces, and especially chomping on your arm are that much funnier with a boob in your mouth. I breastfeed you when you want some mommy time. I breastfeed you so you’ll play with (and sometimes hit) my face, chest, and hair. I breastfeed you so you’ll stick your hand down my shirt because we both think it’s hilarious. I breastfeed you so I can see your face light up when I ask and sign “milk?”.

I’m so thankful that we’ve gotten through our rough spots and have the ability to continue this wonderful relationship. I mean, who would want this?

Here are more post by Carnival of Breastfeeding participants! More will be added throughout the day.

Year One

In just over a week, Peanut will be one year old. Wow… that’s crazy.

Of course, being a type A personality—as you all know I am—I love to plan everything and am very goal-oriented. When I was pregnant, I made a goal to breastfeed for one year. I figured I would breastfeed for one year, “have my body back” for at least one year, then give it away to another fetus in my belly, then breastfeed some more. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends at least one year (though the World Health Organization recommends at least two). It seemed very logical to me and I figured that once she was able to drink cows milk that there was no reason to do it anyway.

Boy, was I wrong.

Approaching her first birthday, I very quickly decided that I was no where near ready to stop. I’m very happy to have met another goal, but that doesn’t mean it ends here. I know many IRL friends and family read my blog and I’m sure all of you are starting to think I’m crazy (ha! Like you didn’t already?). When I was pregnant I remember specifically saying “Once they can ask for it, it’s time to stop.” So I know exactly what you’re thinking.

Why would you want to breastfeed a toddler? Let me break it down for you.

1. I have worked my ass off for this. Pardon the language, but there’s really no polite way to say that and still keep the meaning it needs. Breastfeeding in the beginning sucks. I know that everyone wants to pretend that it’s all butterflies and bubbles and it’s so natural of course they’ll just pop out and latch on, but really it’s hard work. I had cracked nipples, we battled thrush for over the first month of her life, and she had reflux so bad (nothing to do with the breastfeeding, just a reflux-y baby) that she ate at least every hour for the first six months. If we’ve worked so hard to get where we are, why would we suddenly stop just because we’ve hit the age limit?

2. I don’t know what I’d do without it. I know, I know, one day I’m going to have to learn how to parent sans boob. Does it have to be right now? No. When I did Peanut’s hair today, I fed her so she’d stay still. When she was really grouchy yesterday, I fed her on the couch for a full half hour (which we haven’t done in some time). Every night when she goes to bed I feed her to sleep. I don’t know how to parent without breastfeeding and I don’t feel the need to learn just yet.

3. I don’t care about your comfort. This post is so delicate and polite, don’t you think? I realize that breastfeeding a toddler gives some people the hee-bee-gee-bees, but I don’t care. I feel that every time that I nurse Peanut in public, I’m giving some more people the experience of seeing breastfeeding in a positive light. Look over there at that mommy and her beautiful little girl. They’re so happy. I want to be a happy mommy with a happy little girl when I’m older. I can affect other little girls in a way they won’t even remember when they become mothers, but showing them breastfeeding positively will help them get that never-ending determination to breastfeed that I had.

4. Oh, the benefits. It is the most well-rounded nutrition that she will ever experience. It continues to give her antibodies that protect her against illness and when she does get sick, it will be for less time and less severe. Breastfeeding longer helps prevent allergies and asthma (something I am personally plagued with). The longer I breastfeed, the higher her IQ is likely to be. I am meeting her emotional needs which  helps her to be well adjusted. Giving her emotional security fosters independence because she feels safe to be independent. Breastfeeding longer will give me a decreased risk of reproductive cancers, osteoporosis, and rheumatoid arthritis.

There are many reasons I will continue breastfeeding Peanut, but the most important one is I love her and it’s what works for us.

andrew koenig