I Openly Declare to Breastfeed my 4-year-old and Your Discomfort Does not Belong to Me.

I Openly Declare to Breastfeed my 4-year-old and Your Discomfort Does not Belong to Me.

 

The support of many people towards breastfeeding is affected by numerous “BUTS”.

“I am in favour of breastfeeding, but … gosh, we are in a renowned restaurant, could you not cover yourself?”

“I am in favour of breastfeeding, but … it should be done discreetly, without ostentation!”

“I’m in favour of breastfeeding, but … didn’t you just breastfeed? You should respect timetables!”

The list of “buts” that undermines, in more or less subtle ways, the simple gesture of nurturing and feeding a child is infinite;

however, there is an objection that usually surpasses them all:

“I support breastfeeding, BUT…

NOT later than 6 months / a year,

NOT after the first permanent tooth appears,

NOT when they are able to prepare breakfast by themselves.”

(Everyone here, can replace the words with his own personal prejudice).

I openly declare to breastfeed my now 4-year-old girl, admitting that if it happens in public, it almost seems like I’m committing a crime, when I’m just offering comfort and nourishment to my little girl, my daughter. The same little person that was once in my womb.

If I feel uncomfortable, I try to transfer the unpleasant feeling to those people or things that make me feel this way…

 

Whenever I POST about this, often sharing a picture just like the one here, I often receive immense support and messages on social media, but also a lot of criticisms and even hateful emails and comments, including one in which I was once told I shouldn’t be a mother, and should give my kids a sandwich instead. Completed with the question if I shouldn’t be, perhaps, in “jail”.

Such malice and ugliness are certainly extreme, but nevertheless existing and they reflect the popular view that there should be an upper age limit for breastfeeding.

When there really shouldn’t be. Breastfeeding doesn’t have an expiry date, caring never does.

When a mother publicly admits to breastfeed, no longer a baby but an older child, there is always controversy in the media.

I am one of these mothers.

My first, my son, was breastfed until the age of 3 and half when he weaned by himself. Which means we carried on breastfeeding until we felt ready to stop, or, to be more precise:

when he decided that mama’s boobies were now for his little sister, only a new-born at the time.

My second child, my girl, still nurses, she is 4.

Neither of us is in rush to interrupt what for her is a clear source of love and well-being. ( And I was tempted to add “still” here, but I’ll skip that.)

During the day she may ask for milk a couple of times, if she needs comfort or if she simply wants to feel close or… NOT at ALL.

I give her the breast in the evening when it’s time to go to sleep. Not always, but it is still her favourite way of drifting off to dreamland.

At night, breastfeeding reassures her and comforts her. When she is overtired and often wakes up, or if she happens to have a bad dream.

After 8 years of consecutive breastfeeding, I am ready to give up the nights feeds, I’d rather skip this last part, but it’s part of the package, that’s the way I chose to be a mother. It doesn’t weigh on me much, also because I know that it is only a phase and when it is passed maybe I will miss it.

And yes, I nurse in public.  I feel this is “a good” way to support other breastfeeding moms.

I believe breastfeeding a baby or a child of any age breaks down barriers and makes it easier for other women to do the same. If I feel uncomfortable, I try to transfer the unpleasant feeling to those people or things that make me feel this way.

The discomfort does not belong to me.

I am aware that raising this topic and sharing my personal experience will expose me to criticism.

In a world that is often uncomfortable with breastfeeding newborns in public, when it comes to breastfeeding older children, at least some sort of disarray is to be expected.

This happens because in our society the breast is mostly associated with sex and we can’t get over it.

What is really sad is that an older child could certainly grasp this aspect and ask himself why…

No one ever wonders if a child is too big to drink cow’s milk, but instead it is impossible to answer the question of what the maximum age is to be breastfed because we cannot overcome our cultural obsession with breasts as a sexual object. If milk, specific species and tailor-made to respond to the immune needs of our offspring, was produced by a woman’s fingers let’s say, university students would jump home and drink a glass when they bring dirty clothes to wash, and nobody would blink an eye.

Since the breast is sexualized with so much force, and since it is from a boob that milk is produced, there is even the fear that breastfeeding an older child may cause damage. It is an idea that, once again, comes from our Western culture, in the world the average weaning age is around 4 years.

From a biological, evolutionary and trans-cultural point of view, it is clear that the very idea of psychological harm due to breastfeeding can only be typical of a Western society.

No study has ever shown that there are risks or behavioural disadvantages for mother and baby related to prolonged breastfeeding. Any damage is more likely to derive from the ATTITUDE of others.

In our culture there are such negative opinions about breastfeeding older children that the resulting blame could cause psychological harm to the MUM and child. Not surprisingly many breastfeeding women do it privately so they don’t have to deal with the judgement of others.

This is a reality. I refuse it to be my reality.

What is really sad is that an older child could certainly grasp this aspect and ask himself why a source of contentment and sustenance should be hidden. In other words, it is the negative attitude that must be changed, certainly not the behaviour of mothers and children.

Why can’t we allow ourselves to simply reach the conclusion that ALL mothers do their best, to make the choices they feel right for themselves and their family members?

Why can’t we then simply tell them: “I support you! Even if you choose a different way from mine?”

Can we agree on the fact that it is necessary to stop a moment before judging another mother and instead choose to reflect and perhaps challenge, the prejudices that come from our cultural and social history?

And, even if we can’t bring ourselves to do anything else, could we at least make a collective effort and stop saying: “I am in favour of breastfeeding … BUT”?

Because the simple truth is:

Either you are, entirely.

Or you are not.

S.G.

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