What I Tell People Who Question Why I "Still" Breastfeed My Toddler
Since becoming a mother, I have noticed that people suddenly think it's imperative for you to hear their opinions, whether online or in real life. I find myself absolutely exhausted listening to unsolicited advice. Specifically, I have spent too much time feeling offended and disrespected as a result of rude comments on how I "still" breastfeed my 18-month-old daughter. Telling someone off doesn't come easily to me, so I laugh awkwardly and then passionately air my grievances to my husband later.
I've realized that this does a disservice to both me and the person making the comment. I end up feeling isolated and bitter, but, more than that, the other person walks away from our interaction no more informed than before, continuing to perpetrate their negative judgments on the world around them. So, I have decided to view these as opportunities to educate people about the benefits of "extended" breastfeeding.
We can all complain on the internet about savage behavior, but if we aren't trying to enact change in our daily lives and within those experiences, then are we really being heard?
1. When are you going to stop doing that, anyway?
I was recently asked, "When are you going to stop doing that, anyway?" Despite the kicks to the face and pinching (activities that seem to accompany toddler feeds), breastfeeding allows for quiet and bonding, bringing rare moments of relaxation into our day. It comforts my daughter, especially if she is having a tantrum or gets hurt. I have a natural, built-in system to be able to continue to comfort my child into these tumultuous toddler years. Why wouldn't I utilize that? The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding for at least two years. We will stop when she decides that she wants to stop, or when the relationship is no longer working for us.
2. Why don't you give her "regular" milk?
People have also asked, "Why don't you give her regular milk?" When people use the term "regular," they are generally referring to cow dairy. Cow's milk is not "regular milk"; breast milk is regular milk. We do give our daughter cow milk on occasion (like if I'm out and she's home with my husband), but it shocks me how many people think that children should be weaned early from their own human mother's nourishment to get nourishment from another mammal. Calves have entirely different nutritional needs than human babies. I mean, have you seen a cow? My milk is better suited to my toddler's needs than cow's milk will ever be.
3. You shouldn't feed her to sleep.
I also still feed my daughter to sleep, and some people think this is wrong and habit-forming, but research shows that breastfeeding before sleep produces the hormone cholecystokinin, which calms both mother and baby. Though a study came out recently saying it is OK to let babies cry it out, I personally don't really agree with the philosophy that babies need to be trained, and I truly don't have the heart to do it. I'm also not sure where all those babies are that will lie down "drowsy but awake," but my girl isn't one of them. Breastfeeding is a beautiful, gentle sleep aid. It is considerate of how my daughter is feeling in the moment and the least disruptive method for our lives. That's the environment I want to cultivate in my home.
Similarly, night feedings also help me and my husband get more sleep. We don't have the energy to get up and bounce her around for 30 minutes at 2 a.m. And teething. The teething is hell, and there is nothing more comforting to her than to feed when she wakes up screaming from vicious hunks of calcified tissue and enamel sawing through her gums.
4. Is it really a good idea to feed her when one of you is sick? Maybe you should check with your doctor.
I continue to feed my daughter when either of us is sick, and I've had people ask if that's really a good idea or suggest I check with my doctor to make sure it's OK. Did you know that a mother produces milk that has leukocytes, antibodies, and antiviral properties, suited perfectly to her child's needs as a result of the child's saliva entering the nipple through feeding? Breast milk is truly fascinating for many reasons, but this one especially. There is constant conversation between the bodies of the mother and child. This is a near-perfect immune defense as she gets older, goes to more public places like playgrounds and classes, and interacts more with other children.
It's easy to feel guilty or like you're doing something wrong when people make you feel ashamed, or when you hear that what's-her-name's baby lies down "drowsy but awake," sleeps 10 straight hours, or eats every food she's given. The most freeing moment I have experienced as a parent is the moment that I stop listened to everyone's "you should be" (even the pediatrician's) and started following the personality of my child. It's so important for me to be able to knowledgeably defend my actions as a parent, to further the conversation, to normalize them. We're all just trying to do what's best for ourselves and our families.