There’s nothing taboo about a growing child suckling at a mother’s breast.
Implying that mothers are sick or “selfish” for wanting to continue nourishing and nurturing their babies past a certain age is not only misinformed, but is demeaning to women, mothers, and children.
Almost every time I read an article about extended breastfeeding — or even breastfeeding past six months — someone comments that at a certain point, breastfeeding is “just for the mother.”
We need to talk about this. Quite frankly, I’m getting tired of it.
Implicit in all these comments about extended nursing being “just for the mother” is the idea that there’s something taboo about a growing child suckling at a mother’s breast, and that a mother who chooses to do this is abnormal or possibly deranged.
It’s not just Internet trolls, either. Mothers are told by their paediatricians that their milk has no nutritional value past 12 months. They are told by their grandmothers that they are smothering their babies by continuing to nurse. They are told by their husbands that their breasts are meant for the bedroom and not for their babies.
I come from a very breastfeeding-friendly family—but when my first child was a baby, I was told I should cut out night-time nursing before I felt ready to. I was told that I was restricting my own personal freedom by being tied down to my nursing toddler. No one seemed to understand that I wanted to continue breastfeeding. I felt silenced by the criticism, and ashamed that my own desire to breastfeed ran so deep.
There are enough roadblocks to mothers continuing to breastfeeding as long as they wish—limited, often unpaid maternity leaves, and general lack of financial and emotional support for mothers are just some of these. Women should be able to choose how long they wish to breastfeed—whether it’s three weeks, or three years. Some women choose not to breastfeed at all, or are unable to for various reasons—these women deserve respect and acceptance as well.
But we take away a woman’s ability to make a free choice about how long she wishes to breastfeed when we add shame to the mix. Implying that mothers are sick or “selfish” for wanting to continue nourishing and nurturing their babies past a certain age is not only misinformed, but is demeaning to women, mothers, and children.
Most everyone agrees that breastmilk has benefits for babies; with a little data, most will concede that breastmilk has benefits for toddlers as well. But breastfeeding is for mothers too. It’s not just something they give themselves over to for their babies. It benefits them physically and emotionally, however long or short they choose to do it.