Am I a breastfeeding activist?

I’m not sure exactly what’s going on here, but every time I breastfeed my 16 month old in public I feel like some kind of breastfeeding activist. I think it’s because I so rarely (almost never) see other moms out doing the same thing. I almost always get someone’s attention when I plop down on a park bench or on a chair in a local store and nurse.

Just the other day I was shopping with my daughter when she asked for “milk please.” I didn’t hesitate to find the nearest chair and claim is as ours for the moment. The other people in the store seemed uncomfortable and avoided us, but that was fine with me. I don’t need privacy to nurse, but I also don’t mind it.

Although the benefits of breast milk are well documented and more and more moms are attempting to breastfeed, it’s not always as easy as we might think it should be and there’s still all kinds of pressure to wean at a young age. “If they can ask for it, they’re too old for it,” is still the prevailing wisdom.

But from the research I’ve done, it looks like nursing for two or even three years is not only acceptable, but is preferable to weaning in the first year. Now I know I might upset some people by declaring my position on breastfeeding, but so be it. I am definitely nursing for a full two years and planning a gentle (hopefully child led) weaning experience for us. Does that make me some kind of breastfeeding activist?

I sure hope not! I hope that more and more moms are choosing to nurse for at least two years; I just haven’t seen them out and about lately. Now I do realize and want to acknowledge that there are some legitimate medical reasons why some moms can’t breastfeed. And sometimes the milk just never comes in. But I also had my fair share of challenges with nursing and never once considered calling it quits. And thank goodness! My nursing relationship with my daughter is better now than it’s ever been before!

I love it when she asks for milk and how sometimes if I don’t respond quickly enough she’ll begin to chant, “Milk, milk, milky, milk,” until I’m ready. When we began our nursing relationship it was difficult. I didn’t get my milk in until day 9, so we had to supplement with donated breast milk for about two weeks. That little tube and syringe were a huge pain. I also had excruciating pain, and used a nipple shield, which we later had to wean from.

Can you picture me with a newborn, a nipple shield, and a syringe full of someone else’s milk trying with all my might to snake that little tube into my daughter’s mouth? I needed about eight arms! And even after months of breastfeeding I was still in pain until I wrote a blog about it and realized that I was having vasospasms in my nipples. OUCH!

But after I realized what was wrong (after NINE months of unexplained nursing pain) I began to treat myself by eating red pepper and cinnamon and taking some herbs prescribed by my acupuncturist. And by staying extra warm during nursing. It worked! Now I can breastfeed pain free!

I guess the reason I’m sharing all of this is because I think my determination to continue to breastfeed has made a HUGE difference in my life. Sure, I had more pain than I would have liked, but I also got to create a bond with my daughter that is absolutely priceless. And now I know that when I’m determined to do something important for my daughter, I can overcome some pretty big challenges to get there.

What are your thoughts or feelings about extended breastfeeding? Would you think I was an activist if you saw me on a park bench nursing my two year old?

13 comments
annatierno
annatierno

Personally I think your kid is too old.  Maybe there are health benefits to weaning later, but the psychological ramifications of doing it in a society that values independence so much outweigh the benefits.  Stop being selfish, accept that she's not a baby anymore, and let your kid grow up.

 

And "you don't care" that you're making other people uncomfortable?  They went to the store to go shopping, not to see your breasts on display.  You may think the world revolves around you and your kid, but it doesn't.  You need to be considerate of other people too.  Especially considering that your daughter is old enough to calmly ask for it - she's not a screaming infant.

AwakeShelly
AwakeShelly moderator

Update: I guess I really AM a breastfeeding activist. I participated in the Target Nurse-In today and it was great fun! Let's normalize public breastfeeding!

julievalie
julievalie

I agree with Debbie about the Puritan values and the bottle-feeding advice from the fifties, it takes so long to change cultural habits (when you think of it from toys to baby shower cards and decorations, there's always milk bottle and not breast !, that's the Puritant values) but on the other side, the women breast are everywhere, to sell parfum, cars, or shoes, but as a sex symbol not for its purpose.

I have a 3,5 yo and a 17 months , both breasfeeding. Under 2yo, i never feel like an activist or bother by the look of other people. In fact, i never feel like an activist, but breasfeeding 2 or breasfeeding my older one, i never did in public, because THAT I think is too much for most people to see, and too much for me also. So, it's kind of sad, if more women would breasfeed older child or tandem nurse, I would be confortable, but someone needs to start.

DebbieRP
DebbieRP

ps: Amazing what you went through to breastfeed your child! What persistence--I'm impressed.
(and spelling correction from my post: "beneficial") ;)

DebbieRP
DebbieRP

My daughter is almost 2.5 and I am still nursing her in public. Feel like an activist? You bet! My attitude is that our western culture is still weening itself from some awfully misguided Puritan values and tragic bottle-feeding advice from the fifties and truly NEEDS to see moms like us simply to normalize what is a natural and benificial thing to do for our children.

Christee
Christee

I think the reason many moms don't nurse for this long is because it's difficult to do if you've gone back to full-time outside-the-home work. It also means dad, or another care-giver, doesn't get to feed the baby and give mom a break. Those reasons aside, it's probably just that many in our culture haven't caught on to the "nursing longer" and nursing in public without "hiding it" that happens now days. When you consider that only a generation ago women did NOT EVER "expose" their pregnant bellies, it may not take you by surprise. I don't think it's that people think women shouldn't breast feed their children, or that they shouldn't do it as long as they feel is necessary, but that some of them are just uncomfortable stumbling upon an exposed breast in public. Some are still trying to get used to those exposed (or prominently displayed) pregnant bellies.

vanessasclayadventures
vanessasclayadventures

I am breastfeeding my almost 19 month old and if he asks to nurse when out I we do. I agree I rarely see anyone nursing a toddler in public so it is an odd feeling for sure. My son isn't showing any signs of wanting to wean and I'm just going to follow his lead. I guess in a way I feel like an activist as well.

AwakeShelly
AwakeShelly moderator

@annatierno I respectfully disagree and don't much like the tone of your comment. I have a legal right to nurse my child in public and when I do so I'm not putting my "breasts on display," I'm feeding my child. I don't really care whether YOU think my daughter is too old. Breastfeeding is a PERSONAL relationship between mother and child and it's our decision how long to continue.

AwakeShelly
AwakeShelly moderator

@julievalie Thanks for your comment. I've enjoyed seeing the women posting here and feel even more brave to nurse in public as a result. And I KNOW that La Leche League meetings are a place where we can breastfeed publicly with other moms. Right now I can't even imagine tandem nursing. But it sounds like it works well for you. What do you love most about it? Any other moms out there who have tandem nursing experience?

AwakeShelly
AwakeShelly moderator

@DebbieRP Hey Debbie, I like this perspective. Thanks for helping me to reframe it in a way that helps me feel good about this kind of activism! Hugs!

AwakeShelly
AwakeShelly moderator

@Christee Thanks for offering this perspective! I like the idea that people are more surprised by seeing an exposed breast than anything else. That helps me to have more compassion and understanding of their experience. And I agree with Debbie above that we're still battling our Puritan roots. Oh to be in Europe where nudity is no big deal. Sending you love and hugs Mom!

vanessasclayadventures
vanessasclayadventures

@AwakeShelly

Thanks for the sweet hugs sending some hugs back to you and your little. Tonight at the last minute hubby and I decided to go out for dinner and then get our grocery shopping done, While waiting for dinner my son quietly coloured and then asked for "bup" aka milk. He happily nursed for a few minutes in a noisey restutrant. What a great way to pass some time.