Saturday, November 08, 2008

On extended breastfeeding and nursing in public

As I wrote yesterday about being self-conscious nursing in front of someone, I wondered when that happened. At first I was a little nervous about nursing in public, but the fact that the baby needed to be fed overwhelmed my nervousness every time, and pretty soon nursing in public didn't bother me at all. And nursing in front of someone else when they were in my own house? When Adriana was a week old and friends started calling to see if they could come over for a visit, I would eagerly invite them over and then warn them, "but you might see my boobs, because we're not very discreet at nursing yet." I don't think it really occurred to me that I could go upstairs to feed the baby when people were over. I liked nursing in the armchair in the living room and if that's where everyone else was, then they were just going to have to tolerate it. I have heard that some people find their friends or relatives very uncomfortable around nursing moms, but everyone was totally accepting: after all, babies need to eat.

I think the self-consciousness came when people would see me nursing and ask how long I intended to nurse--which I think began around the time Adriana was 16 months old or so. The questions were never offensive, but the questioners were just surprised and curious. I had heard that people asked such questions and were critical about extended breastfeeding, but with my friends and family that certainly has not seemed true. And because of their curiosity and lack of criticism, I didn't feel compelled to use any stock answers, such as "Oh, just another few minutes," or make too many smart comments about waiting until she was ready to go to college. I would answer them honestly that I figured I'd probably nurse until Adriana was two, and then see how interested she was then and how I felt about continuing.

I do think it's kind of funny that "extended breastfeeding" seems to mean any breastfeeding beyond one year. Before I had Adriana, I assumed for some reason that most children nursed until they were two. In reading about breastfeeding before Adriana was born, I learned that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends nursing for at least the first year, the World Health Organization recommends doing so for two years, and La Leche League encourages nursing until the child has outgrown the need. It seems to me that a lot of the women I know wean around 13 or 14 months. Many say that their children self wean then, and I can see how a busy toddler that age would stop asking to nurse. And some say that that is when they felt the need to wean, which I also understand: I went through a bit of a struggle with it at that time, where it seemed as if Adriana always wanted to nurse and was never going to quit, and it was sometimes physically uncomfortable for some reason. But I could tell that she wasn't ready to wean and began to realize that part of what was going on for me was that I was overwhelmed by toddlerhood and it somehow seemed that if I could wean Adriana everything would be better. But as I read Mothering Your Nursing Toddler I began to understand that if Adriana were totally weaned, I wouldn't have my "magical" way of soothing her or our times of quiet connection. I stopped worrying about how I was going to manage nursing a toddler and began wondering how mothers who don't nurse their toddlers manage.

Regardless, these days I am more conscious of when and where I nurse. If Adriana asks to nurse while we're playing at the park, I often offer her a snack of "real food" first, or just try to distract her. There are times, though, when I know she needs to nurse when we are out in public--she has hurt herself and needs the comfort, or is just overstimulated and needs to focus on nursing to get back to being herself--and then I put my self-consciousness aside. And I am always pleased when I see another mother nursing her toddler on a bench at the park.


Kristi said...

Hi - I found you through the NaBloPoMo randomizer and I love this post. My kiddos are now 6 and 4 and I let them both decide when to quit nursing. They were both right around 2. This post took me right back to so many thoughts and feelings of those times. Enjoy it while you can, because it doesn't last forever (even though sometimes it sure feels like it). And like you said, nursing's magic should never be underestimated! I could never figure out how non-nursing moms got their babies to sleep or soothed owies any better.

Good luck this month with the postings.
Take care ~

clara said...

I've been nursing for a long time without breaks, and I still find it really awkward to nurse a toddler in public. The two times that are the most uncomfortable for me are: nursing a newborn ad nursing a toddler (over 2 especially!) Newborns are all over the place and have no clue how to stay on, plus mine always spit milk all over the place. Big toddlers are just so out of place nursing in public that its hard not to feel like people are just staring. I will nurse anyway if nothing else will work, but its not my favorite! This is not very LLL of me, but I do wish my kids would wean at 2 on the dot, but they tend to prefer 2 & 1/2 to 3.