If there is one struggle all mothers have faced at some point in their mothering career, it is mom-shaming.
If you are letting them cry-it-out, then you are neglectful. If you aren’t, you are spoiling your child.
If you are breastfeeding, then you should do it in private or use a cover—no one wants to see your lady parts.
If you are not nursing, you are selfish and clearly not interested in what is best for your child.
If you choose to (or have to) work, then you aren’t committed to being a mother.
If you are staying at home, you need to put down the remote control, change out of those yoga pants, and get a real job.
You should never co-sleep—are you trying to kill your baby?
You have crib bumpers?! Gasp!
Your baby still isn’t walking? Mine walked at 9-months. Maybe you should take them out of that sling.
And PLEASE, God, tell me you only feed organic.
I have experienced a number of these and plenty more. For the most part, I have been able to take it in stride. I have learned to deal with people’s opinions on how I have chosen to parent, and I feel confident in my decisions. The one thing that still manages to shame me is the fact that I am still breastfeeding my almost 21 month old son.
On the one hand, I DO feel absolutely certain that this is the right move for us. It may not be the right choice for everyone, but it is for my family. On the other hand, I can’t help but feel ashamed when I hear people speak against it or watch their surprised reactions when they learn that my son is still nursing. I have heard my own father (whom I have chosen not to inform of my decision) express disgust at the idea of it. The nurses at my pediatrician’s office seemed baffled by the fact that we were still at it. There are articles bashing extended nursing, and don’t get me started on the comments sections. This one, written by a doctor, calls it ” self-indulgent and possibly narcissistic.”
I was recently on a mom’s group on Facebook, and a member shared a photo of a mom nursing her four-year-old and asked for the group’s thoughts. For the most part, the mothers were extremely supportive. Some said they wouldn’t do it, but that it wasn’t their business how others chose to feed their babies. But the few remarks made against nursing were so negative that I couldn’t shake the impression they left on me for days. One mom actually said, “It’s immoral, disgusting, and sexual abuse at that age.” Sexual abuse? Really?! I would never sexually abuse my son! Another mom commented that “this is gross and unnecessary.” The last one I will mention said, “There is no nutritional value at this point, that kid needs to be eating table food not being breastfed.” It was after reading this comment that I finally realized just how much negative opinions of extended and full-term breastfeeding stem from a lack of information. For that reason, I am choosing to put my shame aside and shout from the proverbial rooftop why I am choosing to nurse my son for as long as he wants.
It Wont Last Forever
He isn’t going to nurse until college, despite what all the haters say. Most kids wean by at least their junior year of high school. And this time is precious to me. He is growing so quickly. This period will breeze by just like all the rest of them, and I am choosing to savor the moment. If that is self-indulgent or narcissistic, fine. I can deal with that.
It’s Good for Him
Yes, Facebook Mom Group commenter, breast-milk has nutritional value at every age. In fact, experts believe that the make-up of breast-milk adapts to the changing nutritional needs of toddlers. It contains antibodies and supports their immune systems, helping them to ward off illness and infection. It contains brain-boosting omega-3 fatty acids and significant amounts of many of the vitamins, fat, and protein necessary in a child’s diet.
It’s Good for Me
Nursing my son provides me with extra protection against breast cancer as well as ovarian, uterine, and endometrial cancer. It helps ward off heart disease, osteoporosis, arthritis, and diabetes, and I will drink to all of that. It supposedly helps me lose weight, though I am undecided on that one. The World Health Organization states that “to meet their evolving nutritional requirements, infants should receive nutritionally adequate and safe complementary foods while breastfeeding continues for up to two years of age or beyond.”
I am in no way saying that mothers who don’t breastfeed past 12 months or mothers that formula feed do not bond with their children. That would be silly. Of course they do. But this is a special way that I, personally, bond with my little guy. We take a few moments to gaze into each others eyes. I stroke his head and he touches different parts of my face and waits for me to identify them for him. Sometimes he dozes off, sometimes he flips all over me in a “gymnurstics” session. Always, we snuggle for just a few minutes, and I wouldn’t put an end to this ritual for all the world.
Sometimes, he just needs “ba-ba.” He bumped his head on the table, fell down outside and scraped his knee, had to endure the cold stethoscope or a shot at the doctor, or he is sleepy and cranky. In these moments, nothing else will do. A quick nurse, and he is back on his feet or fast asleep—I will take either. Recently, he had Hand Foot Mouth Disease followed by a double ear-infection. His fever killed his appetite, and any food he mustered up the will to eat burned his blistered throat and sent him into a wailing fit. For several days, the only source of nutrition he accepted was breast-milk. I have never been more happy to still be nursing.
I am learning to accept the criticism and move on with grace. I encourage you to do the same. It comes with the mothering territory. Whether you breastfeed your four-year-old or never breastfeed a day, you are doing what you know is right for your family, and that’s a beautiful thing. I know it’s been said before, but it can’t be overstated: being a mom is full of tough choices, and we need to build each other up. If you are worrying about whether or not you are making the right decisions, THAT makes you a great mom. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.