Tag Archives: extendedbreastfeeding

Speaking Up for Public Breastfeeding

Around a year and a half ago, a man on Australian television discussed a woman who had been asked to leave her local pool for breastfeeding her daughter. This man felt that breastfeeding should be done with discretion– covered, perhaps, or in a private area. The woman in question, Bribie Island Mum Liana Webster, quite rightly, did not.

This other woman also heard his words. She was coming out on the other side of her own struggles with breastfeeding and after the worry and stress over low supply, dodgy latch, mastitis and general new-baby related exhaustion- she also took offence. She had been struggling from the start to get it right- now someone wanted to shame her for breastfeeding in public- because she didn’t have enough to worry about?! She was supposed to struggle with blankets or covers or sit next to nappy bins in parents rooms and hide away? She was outraged at the idea. She wasn’t the only one. She banded together with another nursing Mama, Ash Zuko, who also took exception to the words of this man and they staged a nurse-in that made headlines all around the country and was even reported internationally.

There were a few reasons I found Koch’s words offensive. The obvious reason was that women have the legal right to breastfeed anywhere and any time they need to. This right has been protected by Australian law for 30 years. 

The other thing that bothered me was that David Koch felt entitled to tell women what they should and should not do with their bodies. He put his discomfort/inhibitions (or the discomfort/inhibitions of others) above the right of mothers to breastfeed and children to be fed. By doing so on national television, he sent out the wrong message entirely.

Our breastfeeding rates here in Australia are not crash hot. By the time they reach 12 months, less than a third of Australian babies are still being breastfed- which is far below the “up to 2 years and beyond” recommended by the World Health Organisation. There are many factors that contribute to these rates- but it can’t be ignored that the way we view breastfeeding is one of them. Having a well known person publicly state that women should be “discreet” implies that those who don’t cover when feeding are somehow indiscreet– therefore shaming them (well, us, I should say!).

It’s just so backwards! The way I see it is that women who breastfeed publicly are doing the public a favour by showing breastfeeding as a normal way to feed a child. It is healthy, it is safe,it is free and it’s good for the environment. The more people see it, the more ordinary and commonplace it becomes in people’s minds. Young women who see mothers breastfeed grow up seeing this as the normal way to feed a child and they don’t begin their own breastfeeding journeys like I did- clueless! In times gone by and still in other cultures, women would and do grow up seeing female relatives and other women breastfeed- it’s how they begin to learn what to do- we are lacking that. So many women are like me- they have a baby and breastfeeding is something completely unfamiliar on so many levels. So those that breastfeed in public are, often unconsciously, doing their communities a service and should not be shamed for it.

This is where my blog began (see my first ever post which explains the origins of “handbagmafia”!)- the experience helped me to find my voice here (even if, at times, it’s a voice only heard by me!). I was lucky enough to meet some inspirational people through all this, both online and in person, who have inspired me to learn more about breastfeeding… and to keep on boobin’!

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In the spirit of this post, today’s giveaway is a fabulous Boobie Bikkies prize pack from baby and breastfeeding guru Pinky McKay!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Don’t forget to link your Breastfeeding story here.

Linking with Essentially Jess for #IBOT

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I must confess…

I used to think breastfeeding beyond 12 months was kinda weird. I thought it was something only hippy, crunchy mums did. I didn’t have any clue why you’d do that. I mean, why breastfeed a kid that can ask for it? 

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Now that I think back, I never stopped feeding any of our other kids because they asked for food. So what’s the difference? 

My youngest daughter is almost 2. I don’t feel any need to wean her. The fact that she asks for milk doesn’t seem like a reason to stop giving it to her anymore. I don’t even know why it ever did. 

So i guess my confession is…I’m one of those mums!

We use cloth nappies- it’s cheaper and greener and…well…cuter! My daughter often co-sleeps. She is frequently carried in a sling. She’s never been left to cry.

I’ve done my research. I know now that breastfeeding through toddlerhood is very normal in many cultures. I know it is healthy for both of us. So I’ll keep at it.

We all parent in the way that works for us. I will say, my parenting style has evolved- my eldest child was formula fed when breastfeeding didn’t work out, she slept in her own bed and I did try controlled crying (for, like, 15 minutes total) but even my parenting style with her has changed over the years. I don’t think I was ever an awful parent- but I was a young one who had to muddle through it, often without support. To quote an extremely wise lady:

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So far, our World Breastfeeding Week blog carnival is doing great! Link your story here and enter to win a Calin Bleu wrap!

Read about the Lighter Side of Breastfeeding here and enter to win a Breastfeeding Photoshoot!

Read about Alex’s journey here and enter to win a Spectra Breastpump!

Read about breastfeeding and IVF here and enter to win an upcycled Rethread the Earth Nappy bag!

Read about Marissa’s experience using her village for support here

Linked with Button Brain for I must confess…

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I read the comments…

I did it again. I read the comments. Dear God, why did I read the comments? Nothing good can come from reading the comments, am I right?

It all started with this image:

Then 600 odd comments (at the time of writing this) ensued.

Apparently, according to the posters on the BellyBelly facebook page, breastfeeding beyond 12 months is:

Disgusting, gross, wrong, dangerous (teeth, ya know), weird, and sexually abusive.

Feeding beyond 12 months will:

Stop your child from being independent, leave them without coping skills, make them backward, make them socially inept, hold them back, and not allow them to grow up.

The decision to breastfeed beyond infancy is:

Selfish and only benefits the mother, pointless, devoid of nutritional value and something you need psychological help for doing.

While I really wanted to engage in a caps-lock punctuated rant about the terrible ignorance and offensive sentiments I saw expressed- I didn’t. I tried very hard to be polite. I posted links, information, excerpts from studies. I explained. I gave examples. I talked about how breastfeeding past infancy is normal and healthy and beneficial and safe. Because for all I know, the women talking in this thread have never researched breastfeeding. Many of them did not know of the World Health Organisation recommendation to breastfeed for two years and beyond. Many were unable to see that breasts are not a primary sexual organ. 

In this conversation, women who breastfeed longer than a year were ridiculed, judged, criticised and abused. At one point it even became racially motivated. I’m not even joking. And this is one discussion among many.

I’ve banged on a million times about the right to breastfeed and the benefits of breastfeeding. I’m not wanting to do that again (just now- I’m not ruling it out for future posts!). What got to me was the willingness of women to tear down other women over something that has no impact on anyone else’s choices or life. The bloody, freaking Mummy Wars. If it’s not working vs stay at home it’s breast vs bottle or routine vs on demand or slings vs prams.

Why do we do this to each other? Why do we feel that we constantly have the right to voice an opinion despite the lack of relevance to our own lives? If a parenting practice is not harmful, not illegal and not impacting anyone else why do we continue to lambaste each other for our choices? No one in this thread demanded that all women breastfeed their children to the age of 5. That is a very personal choice. Yet so many felt the need to voice their disgust and horror at the thought of doing so. So many felt the need to mock, shame and ridicule those that have or are feeding past infancy. Which brings me to my next point: why does bodily autonomy fly out the window in these discussions? You have the right to make your choices based on your opinions, beliefs, research- whatever floats your boat. What you do not have the right to do is to tell another person how they should or should not use their body. We should not be shaming each other over how we feed our babies and children- breast or bottle. I’ll be the first to tell anyone that how you feed a baby is an important decision and that it’s important to learn as much as you can about your options in this regard. However, feeding is just one small factor of parenting. It is a much wider landscape than these ridiculous Mummy Wars paint for us. We would do so much better if we could support each other, accept our differences and share our knowledge without judgement and without ridiculing those who make a choice we would not when it comes to things that don’t affect us. Women face enough challenges in our society without attacking each other; a little understanding would go a long way.

I’m linking up with Musings of the Misguided

for The Lounge

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Breastfeeding- the exact age to stop…

…Doesn’t exist!

In Australian society, most mums have stopped breastfeeding within the first months of their baby’s lives. There are many factors that lead to early weaning including lack of education, lack of support, early return to work, difficulty pumping and much more.

However, many cite around 4 years as an average weaning age, though there isn’t a huge amount of data to back that up and it is probably more accurate to say that the natural duration of breastfeeding is between 2.5 and 7 years. At around 7 years, humans lose the ability to nurse anyway.

But for those living in a western society who choose to continue to breastfeed beyond infancy and well into toddler-hood, perhaps even into childhood, the lack of understanding and tolerance is frankly disturbing.

Last night, this article, by Kidspot, appeared in my timeline, and I made the very real mistake of reading the comments. The article is about an English mama who is still breastfeeding her 5 year old daughter. From what she says, her daughter feeds for comfort and she will be letting her self-wean.

I don’t know if I will be breastfeeding for 5 years. I have no plans to actively wean, though I have recently night-weaned (and even that is subject to flexibility!) so I guess I will leave it up to my little girl to make that decision for herself. Approaching age 5, if she is still breastfed, I may want my body to myself again and actively wean. Maybe I won’t. I don’t know. What I will NOT do, though, now or in the future, is to suffer abuse and intolerance based on how I choose to feed my child. Standing up for breastfeeding rights is not something I’m a stranger to, but it is getting tiring, so I’ve compiled a list of the most common themes I have seen against breastfeeding past infancy, many of which have reared their ugly heads in the aforementioned Kidspot thread.

1- There’s no nutritional benefit beyond the age of (insert arbitrary number here)- it’s unnecessary.

As Sharon Spinks points out, no food loses it’s nutritional value because you reach a certain age. The idea is a bit ludicrous, really. There is even evidence to suggest mature breast milk contains higher levels of fats and energy which may have a significant contribution to the diet of a growing child. So while it is obviously not necessary, in the strictest sense of the word, it’s not without benefit. I once saw a couple pouring Mountain Dew energy drink into the sippy cup of a child who could barely sit up in the high chair they had her in at my local KFC. Now THAT is what I consider truly unnecessary and void of nutritional value.

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2- If a child can ask for it or has teeth- they are too old to be breastfed

By this logic, next time my 11 year old asks for something to eat, I should say no. I actually remember feeling this way about breastfeeding several years ago- but after doing SO MUCH reading on the subject, I can now chuckle over the lack of reasoning behind that argument. Since when do we stop someone eating or drinking based on their ability to ask for it or their dental status? The funny thing is, both my daughters have asked to be fed since birth. The newborn rooting for the breast is asking for milk just as much as the little voice that now asks me for “Mook, mummy, want some of dis!” while little hands pat my chest or the bigger voice begging me to make lasagne and offering to help.

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3- She should just express if she wants her child to have the milk.

Why? What difference does that make? Breast milk is breast milk, whether it is in a bottle, a cup of straight from the breast. This one ties in closely with the next point.

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4- It’s sexual/child abuse/paedophilia/incest/wrong/dirty/disgusting etc

No. It isn’t. the primary function of breasts is to make breast milk to feed our children. It’s really quite simple. The idea that breasts are only sexual is a man made construct that we are bombarded with constantly and the sad thing is that another consequence of this is that some mothers and their children are paying the price for that by early weaning or not breastfeeding at all. One lady commented on the Kidspot thread that her 17 month old would attempt to breastfeed in public and she would become so embarrassed that she would literally shake her off her and refuse to hold her until she weaned. Her comment just about broke my heart- she rejected her child’s attempt to be close to her, to seek comfort and food from her mother, due to what appears to be societal pressures. I find that so sad. She then added some rubbish about it being a “fact” that breastfeeding could trigger a “pelvic muscle” to cause a “small orgiasum”[sic]. Most women that I know who breastfeed don’t have a sexual attachment to it at all. It’s not sexual. It doesn’t feel orgasmic. It’s not that kind of pleasure. The pleasure that I associate with breastfeeding is generally in the closeness, the bond, with my child. I don’t know where people get some of these ideas, truly. Why is the idea that a body part can serve more than one role so hard to grasp? Take for example- the humble backside. Many people list a nice bum as a desirable feature, there are songs devoted to it, pants available to enhance it- but what does it do? The muscle itself helps us to walk, stand, sit- and also protects the opening through which we pass waste. And wind. Hot, right? So we are ok with a sexy bum that has all those other purposes- but sexy breasts that also nourish a child? Nope. Gross.

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5- The poor child might get bullied!

One way to prevent this is to raise your children not to bully others. Saying “Don’t feed your child that to avoid bullying” is akin to saying “Dye your child’s ginger hair or she might get teased for it”. I doubt many school aged kids are breastfed during school hours (ie- at school) and my guess is that it’s probably not really something they’d think to discuss. But if they did, I’d hope that any child of mine wouldn’t care in the slightest. My eldest, some time after the fact, learned that a couple of her kindy pals were still occasionally breastfed once starting school. She shrugged and went back to what she was doing before. Kids are only horrified by something if they are taught to be, so teach them that being breastfed is nothing to clutch their pearls over and this problem goes away.

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6- It will damage them psychologically, they might remember it!

Remembering being held, nurtured and nourished by your mother, how bloody terrible! The poor children! As for as psychological damage, nope, no evidence to suggest that. The research admittedly isn’t huge in this area- but what there is points to long-term breastfeeding being overall physiologically and psychologically beneficial for children.

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To summarise- breastfeeding beyond infancy is pretty normal in some parts of the world. Mothers in Western societies who do it are speaking out in what seems to me to be an effort to normalise it- not to gain attention I don’t think anyone would invite the criticism and vitriolic abuse and ignorance directed at Sharon Spinks that I have seen online. It may not be for you, that’s ok. Totally fine. But others wouldn’t have it any other way; they want to let their child decide when to wean, allowing them to make that first big decision for themselves. There is no proven harm to the practice and available evidence says there are health benefits both physically and psychologically.

If you’re uncomfortable with the idea of breastfeeding a toddler, here’s an idea- don’t breastfeed your toddler! Or perhaps examine your reasoning, do some reading on the subject and reassess. This is the same as the debate over public breastfeeding- if you have a problem with it, recognise that it is your problem, stop projecting it on to others and expecting them to adjust their lifestyle to accommodate your prejudices and hang-ups and move on with your life.

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