Before I had a child, there were many things that I thought I would never do. Bribing my child with biscuits to get them to sit in a pushchair, for one (clearly any child of mine was going to come running from the swings and willingly climb into the pushchair with nothing more than a wave and a “Darling, we’re off now! Don’t forget to say goodbye to Tristram and Phoenicia as you exit the park!”). Many of these were of course based on ignorance of the reality of life with a toddler. How was I, a childfree woman about town, to know that two year olds rarely ate stuffed vine leaves willingly and at times wouldn’t even consider a baked bean? Apologies to anyone I may have judged for feeding their children chocolate cake and chips for lunch, for I was young(ish) and naive.
However, some of these Things I Would Never Do were borne not through ignorance of the reality of child-rearing, but out of cultural norms to which I gave far to much credence.
One of these was extended breastfeeding.
There is an early episode of Sex And the City called The Baby Shower, where the girls attend the baby shower of one of those supposed close friends who appears randomly out of nowhere, has their moment in the sun with an episode all about them, and then disappears into the ether, never to return, not even for any of their weddings (how rude). Predictably, the baby shower isn’t much fun for any of the girls, with the possible exception of Charlotte, and Carrie and Miranda escape outside to bemoan the general lack of fun, alcohol and feminist solidarity. At one point Miranda, ironically the one character who ends up breastfeeding in a future episode, remarks dryly, “There is a woman in there breastfeeding a child old enough to go to school. You know what I feel about that? If they are old enough to ask for it, they probably shouldn’t be having it.”
This episode taught me three things which I stored away for future reference in the area of my brain library marked “Life Lessons from Sex and the City.”
1.) Don’t try and down a bottle of vodka whilst pregnant. Give it up. The party’s over.
2.) If you are ever in a position to hold a baby shower, there will be no party games and absolutely no squealing. In fact, it won’t even be a baby shower, it will be an event called “let’s eat sandwiches and say goodbye to my social life forever. All invited!”
3.) Breastfeeding: if they are old enough to ask for it, they probably shouldn’t be having it.
Well, two out of three ain’t bad.
I am now that woman breastfeeding a child who is old enough to ask for it. And you know what, I don’t care what anyone thinks. Not even Miranda.
For me, the question isn’t why am I still breastfeeding, but why would I not be? My son is happy and well nourished, I can soothe him easily whenever the occasion demands it, it’s free and has health benefits for both of us. What’s not to love? That’s not to say that I think everyone should do as I do. It’s not my place to tell anyone else how to live their lives based on my own completely subjective and unique experience.
I am the first to admit that where breastfeeding is concerned, I have been lucky. We all know women whose relationship with breastfeeding is complicated, or non-existent. Mine has been a relatively easy ride. And you know what, I shouldn’t have to apologise for that, and neither should they. I couldn’t care less how anyone else chooses to feed their baby. Assuming it’s not with a lead bottle laced with arsenic, it’s no-one’s business but their own. Personally, I chose to breastfeed, which is all well and good when you are the one being showered with free vitamins and told how well you’re doing in the early months, but it’s remarkable how the tone changes once you get past a certain prescribed point that society deems “acceptable.” What that point is may vary slightly, but for me attitudes tended to roughly follow the timeline below.
Age 0-3 months
“You must breastfeed. It’s essential that your baby gets the colostrum, otherwise he may be doomed to a lifetime of repeated diarrhoea infections. It’s the best start in life, you know. No, there’s no formula in the hospital. We’re a baby friendly hospital. What, he’s been asleep for three hours and you haven’t woken him for a feed? I’m aghast. What sort of mother are you? Yes, it’s normal that he is feeding ever hour and a half for forty minutes each breast. Completely standard. Green poo? Oh that’s normal. No it isn’t. It means the baby’s got gas. No, it means their intestines haven’t formed properly yet. What do you mean you think he has a tongue tie? I can’t see one, but then it’s really impossible to tell without being seen by a specialist, and there’s only two in the entire country. He looks all right to me. No, hang on, he’s losing weight. Are you sure your milk is enough? Shall I pop out and get you some formula just in case? You can’t be too careful. The breastfeeding counsellor doesn’t have an appointment available for two weeks? You might have given up by then! Are you going to feed him in public? What if someone says something? You hear terrible stories in the media. Here, have a breastfeeding cape.”
“Are you still breastfeeding? Well done! It’s so lovely to see a mother using her breasts as nature intended. Such a fantastic bond. Have some vitamins, we save these for the breastfeeding mothers. Now, don’t forget no weaning until six months! Are you sure that baby isn’t hungry? You were weaned by his age. How old is he now? Four and a half months? Are you sure you don’t want to try some baby rice? Everyone else has started weaning their babies. In my day it was four months. They keep changing their minds. Babies need solid food. You need to give him a bottle or he’ll never take one.”
“Why isn’t he eating yet? Babies need solid food. Your milk doesn’t have enough vitamins. If only you had started weaning him earlier. In my day it was four months and most were off the bottle by three. What happens when you go back to work? He won’t drink from a cup! You need to get him weaned or how will he go all day when he’s hardly eating anything? You’re still breastfeeding? Well done! Fair play to you.”
“Well now he’s one, he can have proper milk. I didn’t mean that your milk isn’t proper milk, it’s just that, well, it’s not normal is it? Everyone else has given up. I know you said the World Health Organisation says you should breastfeed until two, but they’re talking about the developing world, aren’t they? There probably isn’t any food there so they basically have no choice. Don’t get me wrong, I said it was good to carry on until one but, well, now you’re just doing it for yourself really. I think you want to keep him a baby forever, completely dependent on you. You’re doing it because you feel guilty about working. It’s no wonder he can’t talk yet, what with you treating him like a baby. I thought you said it would just be at night time? It’s four ‘o clock in the afternoon! They call it weaning for a reason, as in WEANING, cutting down milk feeds and replacing with food. You’re supposed to be cutting down. No wonder he doesn’t eat proper food. He wouldn’t be so fussy if you weren’t feeding him all the time. He’ll still be doing it when he goes to secondary school. Have you seen that Little Britain sketch with the “bitty”? That’s you, that is. It’s not normal. No one else is doing it. No one I know anyway. YOU NEED TO STOP BREASTFEEDING, YOU WEIRD HIPPY!””
And from the age of two onwards….Well, I’ll just have to see. So far the calls to stop seem to be getting louder, which only strengthens my resolve to go on. I’m happy, my son is happy. Everyone else can keep their opinions to themselves. Sorry not sorry.