An Open Letter to Those Who Ask me Why I’m Still Breastfeeding
“Dear person who ‘asked’ me about breastfeeding,
I’m disappointed with myself, again. Again, the subject came up- breastfeeding. You might be a mum, or you might not, but 99% of the time, you’re a woman.
I don’t know how the subject comes up. It might be talking about my kids’ sleep routines, (which are none of your business), or about how my kids were birthed, (which is none of your business), or it might be that my two (nearly three) year old has asked for milk in front of you.
And it comes. Sometimes there’s a pause, a micro speck of self-reflection, as you weakly wrestle for a second with yourself as to whether it’s ok to ask the question that is on the tip of your tongue (it’s not, by the way).
And self-control loses to curiosity and your own opinions, and it comes out in one of a few ways.
“So… how long will you feed her for?”
“Wow, still feeding? Will you really keep going for as long as she wants?”
“Isn’t it time to stop feeding her?”
There it is. And now I have to choose, again, between protecting your bubble of ignorance or standing up for my child’s wellbeing and women everywhere who have to go through this shit while caring for their children.
Yesterday I chose wrong.
“Oh, well it’s just at bedtime usually (it’s not). And we find it useful on travel days, you know, for her ears on aeroplanes and stuff…”
There’s usually some ‘shocking’ anecdote about someone you saw whose child is four or five and “still feeding”, and how that is just too long. And yesterday again I betrayed the truth and sat there, saying nothing other than half-assed attempts to protect what you think of me.
“Ah, well, I find that because she’s older I can reason with her more, you know, so if she asks for it somewhere I’m not comfortable I can just say ‘later’ and wait until bedtime”.
This is bullshit. I feed my two year old wherever I want, whenever I want- no, whenever she wants. On planes, and buses, and trains, and in restaurants, and apartments, and hotels, and beaches and in rice fields and taxis and other people’s homes and church and anywhere else she is hungry, thirsty or needs comfort. I take some measures to ensure that people don’t see my whole boob but after three kids I have better things to do than kill myself stressing that strangers won’t see a square inch of flesh doing what it is designed to do.
There’s irony, so much irony in the implication that my kid should stop breastfeeding from the person who produces the food that was designed specifically for them, and instead move them onto breastfeeding from a cow. Whether kids are fed with bottles or breasts or both is the concern for the individual parent, but when it comes to being questioned over my choice to breastfeed my kid don’t think that there aren’t points to press that won’t quickly bring the farcical nature of your implication into the light.
‘Four or five’ is not too old to be breastfeeding, despite the unwarranted weight you give your opinion. Breastmilk is an exceptionally good food for children. The comfort is exceptionally good for children. The way it helps attachment is exceptionally good for children. What is not good for children is having a parent worry when they feed them that someone is going to make a snarky comment or verbally abuse them.
You know what’s easier than trying to cover up every single bit of your skin when you have a baby or a toddler and a muslin and a bra and a top or two, and possibly other children to manoeuvre?
Looking away. Or go somewhere else if the sight of a child drinking makes you uncomfortable or, even better, not make a thing of it and do some inner work as to why this completely natural, healthy thing bothers you- you have a problem, not us.
“It’s for the mother”, some will say, “not the child.”
I was talking about this with a breastfeeding friend the other day and when this came up, we looked at each other almost speechless before bursting into ironic laughter.
Yes, yes it is. My favourite thing, apart from mango juice and watching Orange is the New Black, is having my breasts twisted and chewed on by a toddler, or having mastitis, or having my nipples sliced half off while breastfeeding my newborn (true story). With each pregnancy I have gone giddy with glee at the thought of soaked breast pads, and soaked sheets, and having to cut up sanitary towels or nappies to stuff in my bra when my milk supply ramps up enough to supply Tesco. It’s every girl’s dream, after the Disney prince and dream wedding, having to clear a blocked milk duct that is so painful it makes you retch, by kneading it with your knuckles. Life. Goals.
The fact is that breastfeeding until a child chooses not to, is awesome for the child. In cultures where we haven’t ruined our own perspectives of nature, children self-wean at around five years old.
Yesterday was the last time I will be biting my tongue and answering from a defensive position. These kinds of comments would never stop me feeding my kid, but there are many, far too many women whose confidence is shaken by careless and ignorant words, and so for them my answers now will be strong and clear.
No, I’m not going to stop her. Yes, I will continue for as long as she wants. Yes, it is absolutely awesome for both her physical and mental health. Your perspective is wrong. And actually, those comments aren’t welcome, to me or other women.
From, a breastfeeding Mum. ”