My son is 19 months old, and still relies heavily on breastfeeding. It has become clear to me that this is more of a comfort thing for him rather than just nourishment when he is hungry. From my point of view, it remains the easy way out when he is crying or when I need to get him to sleep.
I worry that it will become harder for me to wean him off the longer this goes on. It is not an issue I would ever have thought about so much when back in my hometown in the Philippines. It is normal there to feed for the first two years. I know some people who have gone well beyond this and people don’t take much notice.
For a culture that is typically very judgmental extended breastfeeding is one lifestyle choice that escapes the radar. In Australia, my new home, not so much.
The stigma attached to long term feeding
While no one has directly voiced their disapproval that I am still breastfeeding, it is clear just from the look on their faces what they are thinking. It is an ongoing battle for all mothers to deal with the judgment of others and the unsolicited advice that constantly comes your way. It is frustrating that people do not respect your choices and accept that their way is not necessarily the right way for everyone else.
Often more frustrating to deal with are the indirect questions of disapproval:
- Don’t you think you are spoiling your baby?
- Do you think your baby is overly dependent on you?
- What if your baby’s teeth grow crooked?
- Aren’t you worried your breasts will become saggy and will not recover?
While I am sure there is not a lot of malice behind these questions, they are insensitive and misinformed.
Dealing with the judgment of others
After growing tired of these kind of discussions I have found it easier to just avoid the topic altogether. I steer clear of the conversation when the issue is raised, and I avoid feeding in public when with a mothers group or play group.
If someone asks me about it directly I am honest, but the conversation is very shallow. Mostly yes/no answers. It is not something I actively hide, I just don’t draw attention to it anymore as it is not worth the energy.
This is probably not the best way to deal with it. But I am comfortable with my choices.
Dealing with family and friends is far more difficult. I care more about what they have to say, and even a harmless joke can get my brain working overtime second guessing myself. A friend recently joked with me that my son might feed until he starts school. It has been stuck in my head. What if he doesn’t want to stop?
No matter how much research you do on a topic can never be sure if you are doing the right thing for your baby. I have found comfort in breastfeeding groups on Facebook. Everyone there is like minded and facing similar challenges. While it is somewhat impersonal, sometimes that is just what I need.
My choice to continue feeding
When I really think about this, my most honest answer about why I have continued to breastfeed my son is that it is convenient. A crying baby is frustrating and exhausting. This comfort makes my son happy and calm. How can I deprive of something that makes him feel safe and happy?
Societies norms may not be on my side. Some think that I am harming my son by doing this. Fortunately medical research is on my side.The nutritional benefit to my baby does not decline as he gets older, and the boost to his immunity also remains beneficial indefinitely.
The strong bond that we have developed gives him confidence and security to explore and try new things. He has proven many times that he has an adventurous spirit and adapts to new surroundings quickly. He has also been a very healthy child and rarely gets sick.
I also have to remind myself that he will not be a baby forever. One day he will not need me at all, and any breastfeeding issues will become insignificant in the grand scheme of things. The process of separation will be so gradual that it passes many by without them noticing. So I am grateful to have the opportunity to bond with my baby, and enjoy the remaining moments where he needs me 24/7 (even if it drives me crazy some of the time!!!).
When viewed in this context the criticisms of others become insignificant. Yes there are some selfish reasons that have led me to breastfeed long term, but at the end of the day I just want my son to have the best start in life possible.
The task of weaning him off will have to wait for another day when we both feel ready. Perhaps he will just grow out of it and will no longer want to feed. Babies sometimes just opt out themselves. I would be so relieved if this happened, but will miss it also. Having said that, I don’t see this happening any time soon.
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