Selfish Breastfeeding

There is one line that I see pop up from time to time, usually in the comments sections of breastfeeding articles that have made their way over to my second home at The Huffington Post...where the naysayers aren't exactly...shall we say, open minded...

You've probably seen the line..."She's breastfeeding for herself, not for the child!"

Yes, that one.

The Realities Of Co-Sleeping



We've all seen the viral co-sleeping posts, right?

The bedding is top-quality Egyptian cotton…and totally bleach-clean white.

There are often fairy lights hanging delicately from the wall.

There is usually some sort of Ikea hack involved…to allow amazing functionality and plenty of space.

There is occasionally a bespoke storage system in place…perhaps with a hand-made headboard, on which the family’s initials have been lovingly carved into the wood by delicate forest fairies...

These co-sleeping arrangements are all so very…perfect.

Let me just be very real for a moment.

I woke last night – somewhere between 3am and 4am I would assume – to a bloodied lip and a small foot triumphantly placed across my face.

Little Foot One, Mama’s Face Nil.

The Sleep Regression Nobody’s Talking About



It happened one December.  My sweet toddler went to sleep one night (woke up several hundred times as usual) and woke up the next morning (hideously early as usual) with a brand new MO.

Toddler Mission: 18 Month Sleep Regression.

(Let’s just say I wasn’t prepared.)

It’s Time To STFU About Sleeping Through The Night


By the time my baby was 48 hours old, I was being told to “keep her awake” during the day, so that she would be tired enough to Sleep Through The Night.

By the time my daughter was 3 weeks old, I was being told to reduce the number of times I breastfed her and instead, to “top her up” with formula, so that she was more likely to Sleep Through The Night.

By the time my daughter was 4 months old, I was being told to “give her a bottle of baby cereal” to fill up her tiny tummy…you know, so that she might Sleep Through The Night.

By the time my daughter was 9 months old, I was being told to “let her cry it out” – you guessed it, so that she might just Sleep Through The Night.

At this point, I withdrew from the game.  I figured people could Shut The Fuck Up about Sleeping Through The Night.

I didn’t actually follow any of this dangerous advice, so you’d think that it had no effect on me, right?  Yet as I type these words, I can feel a hot wave of anger pulsing through me.

How is it possible - in 2016 - that such damaging and incorrect ‘advice’ is being reeled off to vulnerable new mothers without even a second thought?

I wish I could say that I felt empowered enough in those early days to have openly laughed in the face of such nonsense.  I wish I could say that my innate mommy confidence stopped such conversations in their tracks.

But I can’t.

Because I was anything but empowered.  I was scared – absolutely terrified – that I was somehow fucking up this mothering gig.  I listened to these snippets of never-ending ‘advice’ and as I disregarded each one, I felt more and more alone…was I really the only mother in the world who wasn’t following this particular book?  Was I actually the only mom whose child didn’t Sleep Through The Night and was it somehow my fault for not following these unnatural, albeit widespread, ‘rules’?

What Moms Really Want for Mother's Day

For many countries, Mother's Day is fast approaching.  It's a day to celebrate motherhood; to feel pampered and appreciated.

Yet for many of us who are making our way through the early years of this great adventure, the concepts of pampering and appreciation sound like lost promises from ancient times.

Because it's hard to feel pampered when your hair is matted with baby sick.

And it's difficult to feel appreciated when your three year old has screamed "NO!" in your face for the eleven thousandth time this hour.

Really, what do we want for Mother's Day?  What do we hope for?  A little less spit up?  A little less threenager attitude?  A bath?  A surprise mail order gift basket from our BFF...full of ingredients for that elusive breakfast in bed?


Photo credit: GourmetGiftBaskets.com

All of the above would be more than welcome by many moms (*waves*) but there is also something slightly less tangible on the mighty Wish List.

Last week, for instance, I asked my friend what she was hoping her first Mother's Day would have in store for her.  Her answer?

"I want a village."

And Just Like That, She Was (Not) Done

And just like that, she was done.

This is the line I have read so many times.  Over and over.

Just like that.

Done.

I imagined that my own breastfeeding journey would follow this regular and straightforward pathway.  That one day, I would look at the calendar and realize I could no longer remember the last time I nursed my daughter.

Let's just say that my imaginings were wrong.

I nursed her three weeks ago and I can confirm that I have now been breastfeeding for four years, nine months and seventeen days exactly.

There have been days - when it's been a couple of weeks since her last feed - that I've started to think that she actually might almost be done.  Days when I start to consider that this chapter has naturally reached its end point...just like that...and then all of a sudden, she's right back to nursing once every other day again.

In fact, this particular journey's end is proving to be just as bumpy - albeit in a different way - as its beginning.

Yet this steady and natural decline is calm.  It doesn't have the shock factor of those early days...there is no fear or utter disbelief at the magnitude of the changes taking place in my world.  And my daughter is sailing through, as ever - happy, vibrant, thriving.  Yet there are days when I have struggled to keep up with my body's ever-changing hormones.

I feel like an addict, although my crack is oxytocin.

Some will argue that after four years, the levels of hormones shifting their little chemical booties around inside my body is pretty much negligible.  Of course, they are far less pronounced than if I had weaned my daughter when she was still a baby and nursing every hour...but let me assure you - they are very real.

Some would assume that any kind of weaning-induced low must be all in a mom's head.  That the feelings must stem from a sense of grief at a changing relationship, a sense of wanting for this particular bond to continue, a sense of fear about never being needed in quite this way ever again...but let me assure you, while this thinking might be a reality for many moms, this is not my truth.

Sure, amid the cracks and mastitis and self-doubt, there have been many magical times - hundreds and hundreds of them - much of our breastfeeding relationship really has been unicorns, rainbows and ocean views...


You see, often, when the house is quiet and the stars are out, there is a stillness to my daughter's nursing sessions.  The simple way she has looked into my eyes as she feeds has not changed, from her first days all the way up until three weeks ago.  The same look has remained, steadfast and steady, while her limbs have grown.

And yet I am not grieving this diminishing relationship...because while breastfeeding is packing up her suitcase, my girl remains in my arms.  And although she no longer roots for milk, she still smiles through her eyes in between giggles.

We live in a society where nursing is a taboo.  Where breasts are sexual entities and
nothing more.  Where children's needs take second place to parental wants.

So of course, information about the natural decline of breastfeeding is extremely hard to come by.  There has been barely any research into natural term breastfeeding.  There is barely a word written about the process of natural weaning from the breast, so I feel as if I've been trudging through these unforeseen and unexplained waters almost entirely alone.

Because in our culture, this kind of information has almost been lost.  Lost to generations of formula and premature weaning.  Lost to societal taboos and hushed tones.  Lost to egos and judgment and the over-sexualisation of milk glands.

This is where we need a village.  This is where we turn to social media, to messages and groups and pages of other moms.  Other moms like us.  Riding this same wave, walking this same path.

I'm here to tell you, fellow breastfeeders, that weaning is a bitch.

It can throw you, literally, to your knees.  Your face will break out, your mind will cave in and once or twice, your heart might just hit the ground.

We Need To Talk About Sippy Cups


So I published a post a few days ago - you may have seen it - about the time I nursed my 4 year old on a flight.

Needless to say, it brought out the haters.

Even though my site is literally peppered with references to international health guidelines about breastfeeding, which all state very clearly that breastfeeding up to - and beyond - two years of age is the ideal...it seems that rather a sizeable chunk of people really are still very confused.

Bless.

You might think, well sure - these people aren't exactly well versed in healthcare protocol or WHO directives!  Of course they don't know the recommendations!  Yet it's easy to assume, at the very least, that they have the brain cells to separate breastfeeding from drinking/eating in general, no?

For instance, when we see a child having a drink of water, we don't automatically assume that the child receives no other food or drink throughout the day, right?

And if we see a child enjoying a sandwich, we don't jump to the conclusion that the poor little thing isn't offered any other form of nutrition at all, do we?

So why - why - do people assume that babies, toddlers and children who are breastfed receive no other food or drink?  Nil.  Zip.  Diddly squat.  On what planet does that make even an ounce of sense?

I have literally lost count of the number of times that I have read the following comment under one of my pro-breastfeeding articles, either here or on HuffPost:

"Too old!  Time for a sippy cup, please!!  My child was eating solids and drinking cow's milk well before 4 years old! "

Dude - my kid is well over sippy cups, you know...being 4 and all.

Do these people really think that a breastfed 4 year old has lived on breast milk alone for 4 whole years?  Breast milk is utterly amazing, but magical pixie juice it is not.

It is so easy to get lost in the comments of these pieces that seem to touch upon the last nerve of every Trump supporter in America.  But really, there are so many people who understand.  Who smile and nod.  Who look at their own breastfed child of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and think - yes...me too!

Because - sorry haters - we are many.


Earlier today, I was chatting with my friend about the onslaught of negativity towards my post.  This friend also happens to breastfeed her 4 year old (you see, we really are everywhere.)  Anyway, my friend and I were chatting about why people take the idea of breastfeeding a 4-year-old and come up with a grand cry of "use a sippy cup!"  My wise friend hit the nail on the head:

"The haters have only seen newborns breastfeeding, so they assume that's how it works all the time."

Man, she's right.

Breastfeeding has literally become a lost art.  A hushed taboo reserved for the newest of souls and superseded by shiny packaged cow's milk in barely any time at all.  Since when is human milk for human children seen as anything other than totally normal?

According to the World Health Organization, 36% of infants aged 0 to 6 months are exclusively breastfed.  This means that a whopping 64% are not.  The majority of children are not "optimally breastfed".  It is barely any wonder that so many people have no idea at all as to what a normal and healthy nursing relationship looks like.  Add to that, the fact that 71% of moms surveyed by Lansinoh felt a 2 year old would be "too old to breastfeed", it is really no surprise that people can't disassociate the mighty sippy cup from the lowly breast.

Yet nursing past infancy is not only biologically normal, it's also a medical recommendation that is supported worldwide.  The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), for example, state the following:

“As recommended by the World Health Organization, breastfeeding ideally should continue beyond infancy, but this is not the cultural norm in the United States and requires ongoing support and encouragement. It has been estimated that a natural weaning age for humans is between two and seven years.  Family physicians should be knowledgeable regarding the ongoing benefits to the child of extended breastfeeding, including continued immune protection, better social adjustment, and availability of a sustainable food source in times of emergency…There is no evidence that extended breastfeeding is harmful to mother or child…If the child is younger than two years, the child is at increased risk of illness if weaned.”

Which is why I'm writing this right now.  And it's why my Facebook page exists, full of thriving breastfed children and proud, strong mothers.  It's through sharing our stories and prioritising facts above misguided opinions that we encourage and empower other moms to nurse their babies, according to international health guidelines and human biological needs.

Nurse on, mamas, nurse on.

#NoShame #IfTrumpSupportersKnewBreastfeeding #FactsAboveOpinions


Thank you to mama Sam for allowing me to feature her picture in this piece.   For more photos in celebration of breastfeeding and motherhoodjoin the Mama Bean village on Facebook!

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