To the Mum Who Didn’t Breastfeed.

To the Mum Who Didn’t Breastfeed.

I BREASTFED both my children for a long time, on request and exclusively.
And I am still nursing my 4-year-old girl.

It has been, a very intense experience for me so far, one of the most significant  of my life.

Where I live, breastfeeding past infancy is decidedly a very unusual choice for many.

I have also been asked if it still felt right to nurse in public, given my child’s age.

Over the years I have had to get used to a very wide range of reactions, ranging from curiosity to compassion, from sarcasm to explicit blame. Without forgetting, it must be said, the few but positive reactions, of some mothers met on the way, or of people sufficiently old to remember the years when prolonged breastfeeding was not a freak choice.

I heard that I was spoiling my children. That I made them dependent on me, that they would always be “clinging on me”.

That they probably did not eat enough as I filled their stomach with milk that was no longer needed, that they did not sleep well because they looked for the breasts at night.

That they would become shy because they were too ATTACHED to ME, that I was ruining their teeth, that my milk was bad now.

That I did it only for myself, to feel still needed, to silence my children’s tears or to have an easier life when I had to asleep.

That I did not have enough pulse or willpower.

I have also been asked if it still felt right to nurse in public, given my child’s age.

These comments came mostly from a network of superficial friendships and casual encounters, but also from family.
It was, usually, veiled or sarcastic criticism. Jokes thrown there by chance, with that kind of irony that badly hides the truth of what one really thinks.
Sometimes, the unsolicited opinion was addressed directly to my children:

“Come on, you are big now, what do you still have to do with this boob?” Or

“You mama’s milk is no longer good enough!”

For years, I felt immersed in a climate that perhaps was not openly hostile to my choice, but that certainly was critical of it, or at least sceptical. I lived for years knowing that most of the people I knew did not approve of it and considered it in one way or another negative – if not really harmful – for my children, for me, for my marriage or for my job.

It was not easy, not even for a day.

For sometime I felt different and lonely, strange, misunderstood. I felt, occasionally, wrong.
I lacked the certainty that people could accept my choice in terms of breastfeeding, or even approve it, even if I they did not share the same view, or despite them having undertaken a different path.

And this is precisely why my voice and my heart, stands today with those who do not breastfeed.

Because I know well the feeling of not being understood, of being judged.

Because I know the effort not to reply to the acid comment, to the unfortunate joke, to the raised eyebrows.

Because I know the annoyance of interference, the insecurity that comes from the judgement of those who do not even know you, the mortification of confrontation and of intrusion into the most intimate and private sphere of your life.

Whether not to breastfeed is a choice.

Whether it is a necessity dictated by health problems or conditions.

Whether it is linked to work or family needs.

Whether it is the result of superficial information, wrong advice or discouraging interference, that comes after prolonged and difficult attempts, or after a simple and downhill start.

Whether it is motivated by physical, psychological reasons, by the hope of sleeping more or by the fear of ruining your breasts.

The truth is no one should EVER judge a woman for this.

It is a duty of all to convey correct information about breastfeeding – I also try, in my small – and support mothers who want to breastfeed (for a month or for three years, the choice is solely theirs).

It is a duty to understand why certain breastfeeding journeys fail, to try to prevent further suffering.

But blame, pity and comparisons only serve to increase pain and erect walls. One on each side.

No one should dare criticise a mother who nurses for a long time.

No one should dare criticise a mother who does not breastfeed at all.


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