I like to call breastfeeding past one year ‘sustained breastfeeding’, a term used by many in the breastfeeding community, including Anne Sinnott, which she discusses in her book ‘Breastfeeding Older Children’. Other terms, such as extended or long-term breastfeeding, carry the assumption that it isn’t ‘normal’ or ‘natural’ to breastfeed past one year. The term ‘full-term breastfeeding’ can also be used, meaning the child nurses until the point he/she naturally weans.
Whilst breastfeeding toddlers and pre-schoolers is a normal biological human behaviour, and common on a worldwide basis, it is a rare, often cloistered and misunderstood activity in much of the West, in particular the UK and the US. The reasons for this are complex and beyond the scope of this post, however, culture has a huge part to play in the rarity of this practice.
I have made breastfeeding ‘the entire focus of [my] life’
This is wholly untrue. Nursing is a significant and integral part of my life, because it is one of the main ways I mother my child. However, it is not the focus of my life. It is one part of the whole, a part which enriches our lives, makes life easier and happier for us both.
I clearly have no time to inspire him with my efforts ‘to passionately pursue interests that can open up’ his mind to‘his own life possibilities’
This is an outlandish preposition. I hardly know where to start to defend nursing mothers from this slanderous attack. How you can equate breastfeeding with narrowing the life possibilities of their children is beyond me, but somehow you have managed to. Many women who choose to practice sustained breastfeeding are brave, passionate, strong women, who make the decision to carry-on beyond the prescribed social norm because of their convictions and knowledge of the many benefits. This in itself is a fantastic role model to follow, which cannot be faulted.
I have to carry Ewan ‘every single minute of the day’, and I ‘need to sleep with’ him in my bed, ‘even at risk of suffocating or crushing’ him.
I do not have the time or space to explore the fascinating topics of baby-wearing and bed-sharing in this post. Both these accusations again display your ignorance of attachment parenting. You are extreme in your views because you know so little about these behaviours, which again have been practiced for millennia and are still common in much of the world. Both baby-wearing and bed-sharing are hugely misunderstood aspects of human behaviour; bed-sharing like sustained breastfeeding a cultural taboo in our society, baby-wearing often viewed as a ‘hippy’ activity which few ‘normal’ parents would choose to do with the option of a pushchair available. These are highly variable, complex activities which cannot easily be pigeon-holed or judged.
I am ‘slavishly devoting literally’ my ‘entire daily life’ to ‘nursing and nurturing’ my son. I have no life outside of this.
These are preposterous, misinformed views. You need to find out a little about nursing toddlers and pre-schoolers before making such statements. Then you would know that as children grow up they nurse less and less. This makes it entirely possible for nursing mothers to spend huge amounts of the day and/or night away from their children if this is what they desire. Even when we are with our nurslings, we spend a lot of time NOT nursing them, just as any non-nursing mother would.
Please, also dpend a little time with a nursing mother to see the amount of tasks she completes without her child. It is entirely possible to work full or part-time and practice sustained breastfeeding. How is it that I am such an active person leading a fulfilled life, if I am breastfeeding my son? My life is filled with writing part time, with yoga, running, cooking, cleaning, running a household and caring for my son and husband, going out with my friends and family, reading, going on the internet, speaking on the telephone, travelling in the UK and abroad. Breastfeeding is far from a slavish devotion in my life.
I chose to put my career on hold before my son was born; this decision had very little to do with nursing him, more to do with financial security without a second wage as well as the desire to be with my child as much as possible in the early years.
Please, spend a little time with my son to get a feel of how his days are. He does not choose to feed for very long or very frequently, he is busy discovering the world, exploring as all toddlers are, secure in the knowledge he can return to me for nourishment and nurturing when it fits into both of our routines.
I spend my days ‘just sit[ting] around on the couch or on the floor playing with’ my son. I have given up my ‘career to breastfeed and slavishly devote every minute of [my] day to physically touching’ him.
This could not be further from the truth. I am an active person who rarely sits down unless it is necessary. Nursing takes up such a small part of my day. Ewan and I do a lot of activities together, but the majority of these are simple tasks which I do everyday which Ewan follows, observes or imitates, such as gardening, cooking or hanging up the washing. We rarely find time to simply play on the floor together. To say that as an attachment parent I spend my entire days touching my son is absurd. This is a simplistic, offensive and stereotyped view which has no bearing in reality. Parents who practice attachment parenting are just parents; we are as varied as any other group of people.
Even when I am nursing we can still do other tasks. I can write, read, speak on the phone and use the internet, when feeding. I carry Ewan in a sling and do basic household tasks, or go for walks, whilst feeding him. I am not chained to the sofa at home, but am out and about, or I am at home getting on with life, whilst feeding him. Or I choose to actually have a sit down and take a well needed breather whilst he nurses. Or I sit in the sunshine and relax for a few minutes, something we all need to do from time to time.
Here I challenge a few of the myths you espoused in your post. My son is almost two years old. He is breastfed and will be until he naturally weans. You are therefore saying that;
I am no more than a ‘milk machine’ for my son.
This is ridiculous, insulting, demeaning and degrading to all nursing mothers, regardless of whether they are feeding a newborn baby or a seven year old child. Why do you equate nursing mothers with machines? A milk machine, if one actually existed, would produce nothing but one variety of milk, only at carefully controlled times. A machine is an inert, lifeless, artificial object created and controlled by man. As lactating female mammals, we produce human milk tailored specifically for our own children. This milk is given freely, on demand, out of love, at intervals which last anywhere between a minute and a few days (depending on the child’s age), in response to signs our children give us and the hormones we feel, which indicate our child needs/wants feeding.
The nursing dyad is a beautiful symbiosis, a natural flowering, a dance of two soles, a coming together and moving apart of a mother and her child.
I am surprised that you equate this natural act with something as artificial as a machine, especially as you so proudly state that you breastfed your own four children? Are Mums only milk machines if you breastfeed past age two? Please explain your logic.
I have ‘sacrifice[d] all other activities for years’ in order to breastfeed him
Sacrifice? What sacrifice? Feeding my child is no sacrifice, just as breathing or eating isn’t. It is simply part of everyday life. It is who I am. To sacrifice means to give up. I do not give anything up in feeding my child, quite the opposite. Instead I receive some of the most precious gifts any mother could ask for; knowledge my child is happy, secure, attached, healthy and thriving, in large part because of the milk I am giving him.
Have I given up all other activities in order to breastfeed? In short, not at all. I live a rich, fulfilled, happy and busy life, filled with many varied activities, some with my child, some without. Nursing fits perfectly into our lives, it provides a clear rhythm to our days. Our nursing moments are less and less now that Ewan is older. They are precious; calming moments we can relax and sit together in our busy lives, times to reconnect as the world races on around us. At those few times Ewan has been ill or upset, he nurses more, his body knowing nursing is his way through the illness or the hurt. Again, I give up nothing in offering him the breast in these times of crisis.
I am simply practising ‘another form of extremism’ in nursing him past a year.
This depends how you define extreme. Is it extreme to practice an activity which throughout the whole of human history, until approximately the beginning of the last century, was regarded as completely normal? Which is still practised in many parts of the world today, as a matter of course? Which is actually practiced in the Western world far more than most people imagine, just closeted, hidden away, denied and kept secret, because it is a cultural taboo. Your choice of the word extreme is from a very narrow and therefore judgemental standpoint, that of the modern Western world.
Check out this blog Thursday and Friday of this week for the rest of my response
Sustained breastfeeding, one of the tenets of attachment parenting, has been placed centre stage due to TIME magazine’s controversial cover photo of Jamie Lynne Grumet breastfeeding her almost four-year-old son. Thanks TIME for reigniting the debate around attachment parenting; this is a long overdue, necessary public debate and one to be celebrated, especially if it leads to a more balanced, understanding of sustained breastfeeding.
However, reading the backlash so far confirms my suspicions, and therefore saddens and frustrates me; most of us are ignorant and misinformed about sustained breastfeeding, so deeply culturally conditioned, that we accept and propound the many breastfeeding myths which have been floating around Western society for the past century or so, mostly without question and touted as facts. We have lost awareness of the facts because so few of us actually see breastfeeding practiced (or practice it ourselves), especially with older children. It has become a dying art, and with it we have suffered a huge collective loss of skills and knowledge.
Unsurprised by the defensive chafing of attachment parenting and a renewal of the ‘mommy wars’ between ‘so-called’ attachment and non-attachment parenters, I began formulating answers in response, trying unsuccessfully to answer the many attacks placed at mothers who nurse past one year. I soon realised even a thesis on this subject would only begin to unravel the cultural, political, social, sexual, economic and historical interplay of factors behind this phenomena. However, not all of the mainstream media portrayal of sustained breastfeeding has been negative; I have been pleasantly surprised by a number of responses, such as that by Channel 4 news, with guest speakers Denise Sumpter and Dr Charlotte Faircloth http://www.channel4.com/news/staying-abreast-of-the-debate.
Instead, I decided to write a personal response to Bonnie Fuller’s ‘Hollywood life’ blog post ‘Time’ Breastfeeding Mom Is Nuts Like Other Extreme ‘Attachment Parenters’!’ posted 11th May 2012, in the hope this will dispel a few of the many myths she and so many others, espouse. I only speak for myself, but know through extensive research on this topic, through attending La Leche League GB, spending the past two years with other mothers who breastfeed, as well as an upbringing where sustained breastfeeding has been practised as the norm, that I DO NOT speak alone.
Note on terms used; I choose to use the term sustained breastfeeding in reference to the activity of breastfeeding past a child’s first birthday up until the point he/she naturally weans, which usually falls between the ages of three and seven. The term ‘extended breastfeeding’ carries the assumption that this activity is extended beyond its ‘normal’ duration. However, the length of time a child breastfeeds for is in the West is very much culturally determined.
Response posted Wednesday, Thursday and Friday this week