Mothers who breastfeed their children into the toddler years and beyond are no strangers to a bit of controversy. The debate was kick started again recently when TIME magazine ran a deliberately controversial photo on their cover of a woman breastfeeding her almost-four-year-old-son (you can see the cover shot that sparked discussions all over the world here.)
We hear a lot from the mums who talk about the benefits of breastfeeding older children and who don’t see a reason to stop. And we’ve also heard the views from the other camp – the mums who find the idea extremely unusual and flinch at the idea of breastfeeding a child as opposed to a baby. (Personally our view is mothers should do whatever works best for their family …)
But the voices we haven’t heard much from so much? The dads.
This report came out of the UK press earlier in the week:
When James Vincent’s wife Vicky decided to breast-feed their third child, he was nothing but supportive. Their elder children had the benefit of their mother’s milk and he wanted the same for their youngest.
But when Vicky was still feeding Beanie nearly three years later, James, 34, admits it had become a problem. ‘I found it difficult,’ he says. ‘It can inhibit your closeness to your wife.
‘I was fully supportive of Vicky’s decision, but it was hard not to feel left out. As a father you don’t have that closeness with your children for the first few years because the breast-feeding bond is so strong and exclusive…’
Like many fathers, he felt edged out by the extended period of feeding — known as ‘extreme nursing’ — that’s become fashionable among middle-class mothers.
‘I had to make a decision not to let it get to me,’ says James…
‘Vicky is uninhibited, but a lot of people still react with disgust at the sight of a woman breast-feeding an older child…’
It was very much mine and Beanie’s decision to carry on breast-feeding,’ [Vicky] says.
‘Some women tell me their husbands hate it,’ she says. ‘I think men view their wives’ breasts as somehow theirs and say extended breastfeeding can get in the way of physical intimacy.’
Later this month a new reality television show will air on Australian television called “Extreme Parenting”. The show – brought to us by the makers of “Bridezillas” – will chronicle the lives of mothers who choose to breastfeed their children for longer than the norm.
So what’s the big deal? Why do television producers think that we want an insight into these families’ lives? Perhaps it’s because in certain western nations it’s unusual for a mother to breastfeed an older child in public, so many of us assume that breastfeeding older children is more rare than it actually is. Or perhaps we’re genuinely interested in why mums make such varied choices about when and how long to breastfeed. Or maybe we’re just pervy.
So whose decision should it be, when to stop breastfeeding? Is it the mother’s alone? The mother and the child? Or is it something that parents should decide together?