I’m a professional dancer, I sometimes perform in very little clothing, I blog about my life, I make films. But there’s something else that gets me far more attention, although I wish it didn’t…
I breastfeed my two babies, I “tandem feed” my four-year-old and my one-year-old.
And it shouldn’t embarrass me, but it does.
It makes me feel really uncomfortable when my eldest pulls at my top wanting to feed in public.
It’s not her that makes me feel uneasy, after all, a lot of kids her age still have pacifiers (dummies, blankets, sucking their thumb).
But I can’t bare all the stares, I’ve not got the confidence to not feel bothered about other peoples horrified looks or tuts at me.
And yet, my happy, lively and go-getting four-year-old would prefer “mama milk” to sweets, she even sometimes wants my milk instead of a McFlurry ice-cream!
It is accepted that kids eat fast-food “Happy Meals” made up of fries, deep fried nuggets, a sweet drink and cheap toy.
But when an older infant wants breast milk, this is deemed wrong.
And yet, breast milk continues to nourish a baby/child even after they turn one. Breast milk does not discriminate when a child turns a certain age.
The age a child weans (stops feeding) varies across the world due to cultural and societal norms that we create in different cultures. So what is “extreme” breastfeeding, as the ‘optimal’ age of stopping/weaning is relative to society’s beliefs on breast feeding, which is mostly not based on evidence.
Anthropologist Katherine Dettwyler, PhD, wrote in A Natural Age of Weaning: “One often hears that the worldwide average age of weaning is 4.2 years, but this figure is neither accurate nor meaningful. A survey of 64 “traditional” studies done prior to the 1940s showed a median duration of breastfeeding of about 2.8 years, but with some societies breastfeeding for much shorter, and some for much longer. It is meaningless, statistically, to speak of an average age of weaning worldwide, as so many children never nurse at all, or their mothers give up in the first few days, or at six weeks when they go back to work. It is true that there are still many societies in the world where children are routinely breastfed until the age of four or five years or older, and even in the United States, some children are nursed for this long and longer.
We readily drink other mammals’ breast-milk (cows/goats milk) but people struggle when they see us human mammals drink our own mum’s milk?!
I don’t feed my children to make a point, but I’m always justifying why I feed them as I have stumbled across so much criticism.
So I have decided to use this National Breastfeeding Week to Blog about the fact that I still breast feed my kids.
Not because I’m any better or in any way special. But I’m just doing my best at this parenting thing.
And I find that breastfeeding soothes and nourishes my kids. To me, breast milk is the most magical thing I’ve ever created.
Don’t get me wrong it’s not always been easy due to the stigma around breastfeeding older babies from people I know, including, health professionals.
I’ve been told I’m selfish.
I’ve been been told I’m a bad mum.
“It’s got to stop.”
But believe you me breastfeeding isn’t like what you see on the posters where a little baby is just being cradled by its mother and is gently suckling.
It’s like an Olympic sport trying to get a one-year-old to feed sat down when all she wants to do is jump on you whilst feeding or bite you because she finds your squeals funny.
That’s not to mention the added difficulty of a needy four-year-old who just wants to gulp down as much mama milk as possible.
Oh and then there’s the sibling rivalry, all whilst they’re attached to your breasts. They kick each other, my 1 yo pulls my 4 yo’s hair. They fight, they cry but they still love Mama milk.
I never planned to breast feed this long
When I had my first child I was fairly young and naive, I didn’t want to feed in public and I struggled with the concept of breast feeding as I had only ever seen one mother do it.
And then when she came, I got great support from local breastfeeding councilors and groups (all reliant on volunteers.) And day-by-day I continued to breast feed. It is/was great for my own health and for my two children today. Although as with a lot of parenting decisions there’sw no black and white, it’s a weighing up of the pros and cons.
I’ve tried to wean my kids off “mama milk” a bit, to give me a break, but I find it really hard as it is such a great soother and pacifier. They kick up a storm if they can’t feed. So I ask myself why am I trying to stop them? Because as much as I sometimes feel an aversion towards breastfeeding them, they are still my babies and I value this special bonding time with them.
It is society that is shouting at me that I must stop feeding full stop.
So much so I sometimes I try to hide the fact that I still feed them both.
It is not wrong, and it shouldn’t be a secret.
Parents need support to make the decisions that are best for them and their family.
I don’t have a lot of confidence in my role as a mum but this is one thing I feel I’ve mastered and can give to them.
It’s hard work as my husband can’t really put them to bed or when they wake it is normally for Mama Milk.
The problem though with all the stigma around breastfeeding, and people casting their aspersions on me, is it doesn’t allow me to vent how I feel. Because sometimes I really don’t want to feed. I want to be able to sleep, I want my body to rest.
Nobody told me about breast feeding aversion
But when health professionals just say “when you stopping?,” “They don’t need it.” etc. etc.
It just silences me. And I become further embarrassed.
Whereas when a woman who leads a group I go to, chats to me about it, and listens to how I feel, without judgement, it makes life a lot less stressful because I do want to wean them off milk slightly just for my own sanity.
I’m glad it continues to soothe and nourish them, and I will wait until they self-wean but there are times I need a bit of quiet time.
And for now we still have a breastfeeding relationship and yes I look forward to the day where I get to relax in front of the TV some nights instead of doing the bedtime routine.
But for now I’m just doing my best.
Because that’s all we as parents/carers can do.
So as this week marks National Breastfeeding Week. Let’s loose the stigma, value breast milk and what it can do.
But it is not a competition. It is the choice of the mother and child. That’s what’s natural, not what you think parents should or shouldn’t do.