Two weeks ago I posted a blog about breastfeeding. I thought I had said it all.
The first one I chose sent my eyebrows up into the top of my forehead. I can’t make this stuff up.
That blog was about mothers committed to breast-feeding their offspring until they go off to college, or high school, or some place.
I know. I may be exaggerating.
Now, when I first came across this story I gasped. I may even have let out an under-my-breath “OMG!”
But did I put any of that in the blog post? No. Too focused on maintaining my reputation as the open-minded, culturally relative explorer of all things different and new, I diligently soft-pedaled my reaction. I try to be open-minded.
For all I knew, I had some of these super-human milk machines reading my post. I didn’t want to offend.
I still don’t.
But, there’s a social movement out there advocating breastfeeding until the child lets go. Some say until the child’s permanent teeth come in (yes; that would certainly clinch it for me, though in my experience, whether it’s baby teeth or dentures, a bite is a bite).
Obviously, this touched a nerve in me.
At the same time, aren’t these just the kinds of differences I have set my antennae to find?
So, back I went to the very links I had posted to learn more.
University of Delaware anthropologist Katherine Dettwyler, whose very impressive resume is here, weighed in on the NPR article by saying,
nursing large-bodied mammalian offspring for many years, until their first permanent teeth erupt (5.5-6.0 years in humans), is “natural” for humans in the sense of being what the underlying evolutionary, biological/physiological norm is for us as a species.
My first “large-bodied mammalian offspring” gave up the breast at six-months, weary of having to work so hard when nourishment could be had more easily from a plastic tit.
My second-born “large-bodied mammalian offspring” (Don’t you just love the way academics talk?) was nearly two when he gave it up.
Finally! On his own. I had been complaining to my neighbors that I was afraid I’d be giving him a final slurp as he ran off to catch his school bus to kindergarten. Little did I realize then that this might not have been so far fetched.
But let’s go back to Dr. Dettwyler. She also had this to say in the NPR article.
Long-term breast-feeding allows for normal development of the child’s brain, facial structure, immune system, and emotional resilience to life’s slings and arrows.
Theoretically, I find this lovely. What mother doesn’t want “normal development of her child’s brain, facial structure, and immune system?” To what lengths didn’t we all go to assure the “emotional resilience to life’s slings and arrows?” I mean, really. We want the best for our children.
Of course we do. More from Dr. Dettwyler:
As far as I know, there are no ‘costs’ to the child. If the mother doesn’t want to continue breast-feeding, then of course, she shouldn’t feel obliged to — regardless of the age of the child. But people should be informed that nursing a 6-7+year-old is a perfectly normal and natural and healthy thing to be doing for the child, and that their fears of emotional harm are baseless.
(The section in bold face shows my emphasis.)
OK. Maybe fears of emotional harm are baseless. Maybe there are no “costs” to the child. But nursing a six-year old is NOT a “perfectly normal … thing to be doing for the child.” Maybe it’s natural (though that’s a stretch) and maybe it’s healthy. But it is not “normal,” simply because breastfeeding one’s six year old is not (yet) standard practice. Maybe it should be. I really don’t know.
I turned to a website called The Leaky Boob, to see what else I could learn. Honest. That’s the name of it. The Leaky Boob. It offers support of all kinds for breastfeeding mothers. But I found this blog post from last December entitled, “How to Wean Your Teenager.” I’m sincerely hoping this was in jest.
I checked out The American Academy of Pediatrics. They recommend “exclusive breast-feeding for about 6 months, with continuation of breast-feeding for 1 year or longer as mutually desired by mother and infant.”
That “… or longer as mutually desired …” part was kind of vague.
I’m actually not advocating anything here. Though I’m not going to encourage any new mother to hang in there for the next seven years, I don’t feel the need to put a stop to this practice, either. Who am I to set the standard?
All I’m trying to do is
get comfortable with accept appreciate understand the notion that there are mothers out there who don’t mind whipping out a bare breast at the whim of their six (or seven) year old. I’m trying to stay curious to this behavior that has clearly got my eyes rolling and my eyebrows stuck in a permanent arc. This is not always easy.
So, I’ve done what I can. As lactation specialist Kathleen Kendall-Tackett said in her editorial from the journal Clinical Lactation, “extended breast-feeding is officially out of the closet.”
I’m happy to have helped.
Now I’m going to go have a cup of tea and be very grateful that my mothering days are over.
How about you? Will you weigh in?