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One of my son’s favourite new phrases is ‘I need milk’. After a particularly hard day I want to reply with ‘I need sleep’! But I don’t. Instead I give him his milk, from my breast, as many times as he requests. And I’ve been doing this for two years (and counting). It’s been moving, magical, agony, annoying, exhausting, enlightening, painful, peaceful, boring, enjoyable and so many things beside.
I know women, friends, who have been made to feel bad for not breastfeeding and I think that’s insane. Breastfeeding, or not, is such a personal choice it’s not for others to tell women what to do with their breasts. But while I disagree with this kind of shaming, that’s not what I want to talk about here as it’s not my personal experience.
My experience has been a lack of support for what I’ve recently learned is called ‘extended breastfeeding’ (feeding past 12 months). I’ve faced questions, and criticisms, for breastfeeding for “sooo long”. It feels like everyone wants to police our breasts, women just can’t seem to get it right: if we don’t breastfeed we are vilified, but equally if we do it for ‘too long’ we’re shamed and criticised. Why do people have so many opinions on something so personal? I often find myself avoiding mentioning that I breastfeed when I meet new people. I just can’t be bothered with the raised eyebrows and comments. This doesn’t mean I don’t feed my son in public, but I do feel wary of the looks and reactions that I get.
I’ve been asked if I’m sure I’m not (still) ONLY doing it for myself. I find this the oddest of questions. Especially as I’ve heard it from women who’ve breastfed. First off, why would it matter if I did enjoy it – breastfeeding isn’t supposed to be a sacrifice surely, or we would never have made it past the first generation of (wo)man. Given the widespread awareness of the benefits of breastfeeding even if I was only motivated by personal benefit (even writing this sounds ridiculous) it is undisputedly good for my son, so that’s surely pretty cool, right? And whilst breastfeeding shouldn’t be a sacrifice I think it’s fair to say it’s bloody hard work (unless I’ve been doing it wrong all this time), so why do people think I’m doing it for myself? Yes, there are times when I enjoy the moment, when I look down at my peaceful son and wonder in his beauty. By and large though it’s a non-event, just something we do, regularly. But on the bad days, it’s more than hard. When I’ve been feeding him on and off for two hours and there’s no one to pass him over to, no one to tell I’ve had enough, then I want to scream, ‘I want my body back’. In those moments it’s pretty grating to think some people out there think I’m only doing it for myself.
I’ve faced comments from others suggesting I’m just doing it for my little ones comfort – and that’s a bad thing? All babies/ toddlers (hell, all people) need comforting, so if my son gets it from breastfeeding whilst also getting lots of fab nutrients then that’s great, isn’t it? Or am I missing something? My son gets comfort in many ways. From me, and from others. If I’m around then yes, he sometimes gets comfort from breastfeeding, but it’s not the only way and that’s not all he gets from it.
It seems that in this country people feel uncomfortable with breastfeeding past a year. But why? It’s not like that everywhere. Why can’t we just let women choose what to do with their bodies and how to feed their off spring without having to wade in with negative vibes? It’s certainly not an unnatural thing, and it clearly has many benefits for toddler and mother, so why do people feel this way?
As a single mum I have very little support with breastfeeding, either practical (like passing me a glass of water), or emotional (telling me I’m doing a worthwhile job). So it hurts extra hard when I hear these questions and criticisms and makes me feel even more alone in my quest to do my best for my son.
I wish instead of all the negativity people would ask me what really matters. Like, do I want to breastfeed? Am I struggling to breastfeed? I’m very open to advice and reassurance. But please don’t criticise me. Like every mother I’m just trying to do my best and follow what works for me and my son. Parenting is hard, as is supporting friends who are parents. But let’s just remember that all the questions and pointed comments about feeding choices are as absurd as each other.
As a single mum I’m nervous of stopping breastfeeding. My son quite clearly wants to continue and some days I’m happy to do so. Other days it becomes too much, but the mere thought of gathering the strength to stop breastfeeding a toddler that doesn’t want to give it up, especially when you’re on your own, is exhausting. I’m sure it’s hard for everyone, but I haven’t got someone reassuring me it’s OK, or agreeing to do bedtime for a week so my son can get out of the habit. And perhaps the crux of it is, I feel guilty. I feel guilty day in, day out that my son is missing out on having a dad, so the thought of taking away something that he is so clearly attached to is upsetting. So no, I’m not doing it for me, and I’m not doing it ‘just’ to comfort him. I’m doing it because he wants it and I believe that it’s good for him emotionally and physically. And I’m doing it because, although it’s bloody hard work, it would be even harder not to.
If you are breastfeeding and want support there are lots groups and websites out there. http://www.laleche.org.uk and www.breastfeedingnetwork.org.uk are a good start and there are often local breastfeeding groups where you can meet other mums.