Friday, July 31, 2009

On Extended Nursing, or, Ketchup AND Cookies

I never thought I’d be one of those moms – the baggy floral dress and Birkenstock wearing, makeup-less frumps who nurse their children well into their childhood, long passed the point when they are babies, one of those moms who attend La Leche League meetings and have conversations with children that cheerfully include the word “boobies.”

Those women don’t know how to let go, thought I.

They need to feel indispensable so they keep their children dependent on their milk. They smack of stay-at-home momism and church-going. It’s probably something they do so they don’t have to get real jobs. The sad part being they just don’t give a feather or a fig what kind of warpage they’re inflicting on innocents. You know, those moms. They likely wear owl glasses, which is wrong wrong wrong!

Like most childless schmumbs who, let’s face it, shouldn’t really have an opinion on breastfeeding, I did. And it was that nursing babies was natural but nursing toddlers or, heavens to Betsy, preschoolers(!) was just plain ick.

It wasn’t based on anything like information or WHO recommendations or facts. It was based on the experience that when I saw a kid disappear inside his or her mother’s floral dress I felt funny about it. Not funny haha. Funny ick.

Nursing children who can ask for breast milk in complete sentences, as in, “Mother, may I please nourish myself by supping upon thy bosoms?” is, declarethed I, just plain wrong. And unnatural.

Now I’ve never been a real fan of telling people, especially women people, what is wrong and unnatural. Those words reek of fundamentalism and judgement. But like most folks, I made a special exception for mothers.

Since becoming a mother my relationship with breastfeeding has changed. A lot. Somehow after months of plumping out a wailing infant into a contented sack of sweet chubby breastfed baby, nursing lost its ick factor. After years of nursing my first born through my second pregnancy and beyond my perspective has changed. A lot.

I was so timid starting out – breastfeeding was such a private, cloistered affair. Mostly because I was, honestly, quite worried that the world would now find out that I had ugly breasts and hate me for it. But after months and months of privacy and cloisteredness, I began to crave the outside world. And, in order to remain in it, I had to pop out a boob here and there. Much to my amazement, not much happens when you release the hounds. Restaurants or parties or shopping malls don’t vanish in a puff of shame-coloured smoke when a boob is exposed for a few seconds to latch an unhappy baby on to it. In fact, almost any place becomes remarkably more pleasant when a fussy baby is suddenly sated.

Now I’m just so confused by new parents who lament having to leave a party so they can go home and breastfeed. (Did you leave your boobs at home? I always bring them with...). Or by people who, gazing haplessly at you and your baby suddenly realize just what that infant is doing to that mommy, look completely stricken, like they might dive out the nearest two, three, or four-story window then run not walk to the nearest priest for confession.

I’m just so over the idea of my boobs and nipples being... um... what’s the word? Dirty? Shameful? Private? XXX? Disturbing? Icky? Uglier than the ones super-models and porn-stars have?


How nice of my breasts to fill up with an abundance of super-nourishing liquid that pudged out my newborn by a whole pound in her first week of life! How lovely of my breasts to swell with a sleepy, white concoction that always had the power to transform a terrified, shrieking infant into a drowsy bundle of contentment. How gracious of my breasts to nurture my girl until she was alert and strong enough to giggle, to sit up, to crawl. How swell of them boobs to reassure, and comfort and feed my girl again and again, in the very same way, sure and sweet and regular as the sunrise as she grew and grew and grew from a shrill baby to a shrill preschooler.

And when she began to be able to talk about it I found her remarks priceless, not horrifying. Breast milk is “delicious,” she once declared to me, “like ketchup AND cookies.”

But as my relationship with my own breasts and with breastfeeding evolved, and as my first born flourished into a one-year old, whatever encouragement I got from the culture around me to breastfeed disappeared. My girl was still into it – definitely, but we were pretty much on our own. What we were doing was, we couldn’t help but glean from outside reactions, icky and strange. So back we went into cloistered privacy. I didn’t want to sully our nursing relationship by inviting outsiders to treat us like perverts.

The culture assumptions we make to prohibit extended nursing are many. There’s the assumption that it’s something owl-glasses wearing moms do for themselves. This requires the logic that a mother’s milk has no value nutritionally or emotionally to a toddler or preschooler so the kid has to be tricked into thinking it does by a manipulative mommy. It depends upon the idea that a mother needs to coerce her child into seeing her as indispensible. And it also leans heavily on the notion that children need to be pushed into growing up – if they aren’t shoved out of the cozy nest early enough, they won’t learn how to fly. A responsive, nurturing, doting mother is someone who, by this logic, holds a child back when she should be helping her kid mature with a cold shoulder and a day job.


How have our cultural ideas about breastfeeding, breasts, and the value of mothering small children gone so terribly awry?

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  1. Oh, this was excellent! Thank you so much for saying it so hilariously and insightfully. I'm nursing a huuuuge 2-year-old, who has no fricking clue that anyone might think it weird that he likes nummies — he just does, because of course breastfeeding fulfills all sorts of needs for him, so it makes perfect sense to him. I'm trying to embrace his unsullied perspective and ignore the negative voices — even the ones in my own head.

    I'm glad to have found your blog. Thanks for commenting on mine!

  2. Thanks Hobo Mama! I've been enjoying your blog tons. It inspires me.

    Happy World Breastfeeding Week to you and yer nummies fan!

  3. Found your blog through Hobo Mama, but I LOVE this post! My little munchkin will be one (one!) in five days, and my original idea was to wean him at his birthday, but over the last few months, I've changed my tune. And he's so obviously not ready to be weaned it's not even funny. But I'm finding that I just don't talk about breastfeeding anymore to people, because the older he gets, the more assumptions will be made that he doesn't need to breastfeed. Anyway, I'm glad to know I'm not the only one that feels this way out there!

    ~Laura at

  4. 'supping upon thy bosoms'. *snort*. Hugely enjoyable.


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