Something struck me today. I am an extended breastfeeder. While this might not come as a massive surprise to some, it did to me. Primarily because my daughter is not yet 20 months old, and I always assumed I would breastfeed for the WHO recommended 2 years â€“ that’s 24 months.
In my mind, there’s nothing â€˜extended’ about breastfeeding Ameli. She’s still a baby. She doesn’t pay for a seat on the train, she doesn’t pay entry to amusement parks, and she breastfeeds. Like babies do.Â Except in the eyes of other people, my leggy little girl, born at 52cm tall, and walking since she was 8 months old, looks like a proper toddler.Â So when people hear that I’m still breastfeeding her, they are surprised, and either raise their eyebrows in a â€œwhatâ€ kind of way, or make some or other comment about how brave I am or how good that is. Which, of course, it is.
But the things is, I can’t imagine not still nursing my baby. When she wakes in the middle of the night and without even opening her eyes says â€œDhoodhooâ€ (her word for milk, I have no idea why), and if I don’t respond soon enough, adds a whimpered â€œMummy, dhoodhooâ€ for effect,Â when she falls and hurts herself and all she wants is a little dhoodhoo, or if she’s feeling unwell, or when she’s just feeling unsettled, or whatever it is she needs. The thought of not being able to nurse is worse than what someone I’ll never see again, sitting opposite me on a train, might think.
Like pretty much everyone else, when I hear the term â€˜extended breastfeeder’ my mind goes to those people who still breastfeed their 8 year olds.Â But it turns out that to other people, nursing a 20-month old makes me one of those people.Â Which of course I have no real problem with â€“ my baby, my body, my choice, and all that.
But it does challenge me on my own perceptions. They say that if left to self-wean, children will normally do so between 4 and 5 years of age. Will I be breastfeeding that long? I have no idea. Sitting here right now, I can’t imagine I would. But then, some people say you should stop breastfeeding when your child can ask for it. Ameli did baby-signing, so for us that would have been around 5 months.Â So that’s no good as a measure, is it?
While I am a believer in â€˜to each their own’ â€“ to some extent, anyway â€“ I find it interesting how our perceptions about the perceptions of others, and our interpretation of cultural norms affects our decisions.Â The other day, for example, Ameli and I were on the train during rush hour. It was quite a long journey and she was ready for a nap, so she turned to me and said â€œDhoodhooâ€. Being surrounded by businessmen in suits, I must admit I felt a little self-conscious, the way I never did when she was a baby, and I said no, and that she could have some a little later. This made no sense to her 19-month old brain. I mean, we’re sitting down, there’s nothing else happening, they’re right there: what’s the problem?
This made no sense to her 19-month old brain. I mean, we’re sitting down, there’s nothing else happening, they’re right there: what’s the problem?
She looked at me again and said, â€œMummy, dhoodhoo.â€ And I again whispered to her, no, later. To which she, loudly and without shame said, â€œMummy. Boob.â€ Well, the man opposite me burst out in uncontained laughter and left the train at the next stop, still chuckling, and it was all I could do to stop Ameli from climbing in under my shirt. I was blushing fiercely, and angry at myself for feeling reserved. My daughter didn’t get it, and the man opposite me couldn’t stop laughing.Â He’d probably not even have noticed if I had just nursed her.
I’m curios though, since â€˜when should I stop breastfeeding’ is a comment that comes up in parenting forums often: what do you consider â€˜extended’ breastfeeding? One year? Two years? Five?
While I can’t get on board with the â€˜mothers who breastfeed toddlers are doing it for themselves’ mentality, I’m curious to know what you think?