Goshen News, Goshen, IN

March 10, 2013

WHOLE FAMILY: No shame in becoming one of those mothers


— My son is 24 months old. And yes, he’s still nursing.

I never thought I’d be one of those moms — super weird because they let their talking toddlers approach them, lift their shirts and suckle at their tired breasts. I probably even said — at some point in my life — “If they can ask for it, then they’re just too old to do it. Gross.”

Funny, there’s no science in that statement — just a cultural bias — but people believe it anyway. I’m not throwing stones. I just told you I once had that bias, too.

Alas, I have become one of those mothers. While my son won’t lift my shirt — I do have standards. He will approach me and, with the sweetest voice, ask, “Mommy’s milkies?” Most times I’m happy to oblige, though we’re at the point where we can reason about it: “In a minute Elijah, when I’m done folding clothes.”

Sometimes I forget I’m in a funky minority. I forget how strange all that must seem to people — that kind of conversation about breastfeeding with the breastfeeder himself. I forget, too, how weird it looks when a 28-pound 2-year-old does his acrobatic act at my bosom.

(Truly, I try to do most of my toddler nursing in private. There’s just no real way to nurse him modestly, and, despite what you might think, I take no pleasure in purposefully shocking people.)

Toddler nursing is only strange because we don’t see it often. Were we in another culture, perhaps another time, it wouldn’t be so. And one cannot properly write about this subject without noting the great disparity — Ahem, hypocrisy? — in U.S. pop culture: We love women’s breasts when they’re falling out of halter tops in restaurants, but when a little one uses those breasts for their intended purpose? We’re grossed out, “offended” even.

Rarely do I make decisions that affect the health and welfare of my family based on what pop culture thinks is kosher. So, while I don’t flaunt it, I’m now happy to be one of those moms a lot of people misunderstand.

Breast feeding is just as good for my 2-year-old as it was for my 2-month-old, though certainly the benefits are different.

First, we have this necessary bonding time. I’m a full-time student who also traipses off to births at all hours. I’m away a lot. It pains me much — perhaps my children, more — and so I relish those quiet moment when I simply must sit down with my baby and reconnect.

Secondly, my son continues to get nutritional and immunity value from my breast milk. He also gets so much caffeine from my coffee habit, I’m sure, that my milk is virtual cappuccino — but still. He’s healthier from having it, I’m positive. After I cold-turkey weaned my daughter, now 6, on her third birthday, she promptly got the worst cold she’s ever had to date. Not a coincidence.

Third, breastfeeding through toddlerhood is part of an overall parenting approach, something along the lines of “attachment parenting.” I’m aiming to communicate, “I love you. I’m here to meet your needs. You can depend on me.” Sometimes I’ve communicated other things — like “Don’t you dare bite me!” — but most times it’s the sweet stuff I’m saying by nursing my big boy.

And now, the myths.

“If you nurse past a year, you’ll never be able to wean!” Um, really? Except for those rare and bizarre urban-legend stories about 6-year-olds coming into the ER on their mothers’ breasts, we don’t hear about school-aged children nursing, do we?

I heard from a trustworthy lactation consultant that most children will self-wean between the ages of 2 years and 3 years. Makes sense. At some point — I’m rooting (so to speak) for this summer — my son will be ready to move on. And if he’s not? Well, I’ll nudge him the same I would with any other milestone.

“That’s gross! He’s going to have sexual problems!” Aye aye aye. Again, really?! From breastfeeding? Those pseudo-Freudian ideas are steeped in misunderstanding at best. My children, as far as I can tell, don’t even have a clue breasts have anything to do with sex. That’s the point: They’ve seen my breasts for their original purpose. I’m confident — perhaps with a little Freudian influence myself — that if we don’t treat breasts as sexual objects, my children won’t see them that way until it’s time, and then privately.

Now, there are some downsides to toddler nursing. For one, I’m just tired. I had a nice hiatus between children, but I’ve spent some SEVEN AND A HALF years of my adult life nursing. The famine in Egypt was shorter than that.

I’m relishing every minute with my baby, but don’t think I don’t fantasize about shopping for colorful, lacy bras without extra clips on the straps.

It also will be nice to not be blushing when my toddler says, in mixed company, “My name is Elijah, and I’m 2. Can I have Mommy’s milkies?”

Read here the World Health Organization’s position on breastfeeding, which advocates for exclusive breast milk through 6 months and for mothers to nurse up to age 2 years old and after as mutually desired by mother and baby: http://www.who.int/topics/breastfeeding/en/.

Goshen News columnist Stephanie Price is a wife, mother, teacher, childbirth educator, doula, midwife’s assistant and student nurse pursuing a minor in complementary health from Elkhart. Contact her at wholefamily@goshennews.com, 269-641-7249 or on Facebook at the page “Whole Family Column by Steph Price.”