What My Son’s First Birthday Means for Me and Breastfeeding
A few days ago in a meeting at my office, I was introduced to a woman about my age. She wore a stiff, black suit and no makeup, and her hair was pulled back in a bun. Although her demeanor was friendly and polite, she seemed much more serious than most people who come through our office. As the meeting came to a close, when a coworker suggested some local coffee shops, she said she hadn’t returned to coffee because she was still breastfeeding her daughter who had just turned one. As I secretly had been scrutinizing her, my immediate and unfiltered response was a proclamation that I, too, had a baby that age and was still breastfeeding. With my words, she leaned toward me and whispered, “Have you started thinking about weaning? That’s all I can think about lately.”
Seriously? She had to ask that? I had tried to avoid thinking about that one when I was at work. I had heard it so often lately in one form or another. I had discussed it on multiple occasions with moms of babies the same age. I had put off thinking about it until just recently. And, yes, of course, I had thought about it. That’s the question I had asked myself a hundred times… but that I still wasn’t sure I was ready to answer.
Seeking an Answer
Earlier this month, in looking for weaning advice, I ran into a call for blogging mothers to share their experiences on “extended breastfeeding” through Motherwear’s Carnival of Breastfeeding. Although the instructions did not define the terms “extended breastfeeding,” I assumed without thinking much that they were asking about women who breastfeed longer than the typical mom. Knowing so many moms that never even attempted to breastfeed and others who only lasted a week or two, I felt qualified to participate and entered my breastfeeding story.
When I was invited into the Carnival, I was sent the links to the stories of the other mothers who wrote on the same topic, and I made it my mission to find time to read through each post. New to the blogging scene, I was curious to check out the writing styles and content these women shared, and I was interested in hearing about their journeys through motherhood. Plus, as the expiration of my goal to breastfeed for one year was approaching, I had been seriously contemplating the weaning process lately and looked forward to hearing the insight and experiences of others who nursed for longer.
Little did I know, their stories would significantly alter my thinking.
Not the Answer I Was Expecting
Article after article told about nursing well beyond eleven months. These women were nursing toddlers, not babies—children three, four, even five years of age, and up to three children at once! As I read on, I suddenly felt a bit silly for entering a post about nursing my then eleven month old to a Carnival on extended breastfeeding. In their stories, these mothers told about their children asking for mama’s milk, telling her what it tasted like, and thanking her for sharing. These moms discussed the challenges of breastfeeding into toddlerhood, with many of them mentioning the difficulty of continuing to nurse beyond what is socially acceptable in our culture.
Just in time for my one-year deadline, they redefined for me what breastfeeding can look like well after the first year and made me question why many of us who have breastfed the first 365 days of baby’s life suddenly feel compelled to consider weaning as soon as that first birthday approaches. In a recent post, I discussed the limitations of conventional thinking and suggested that talking to other moms can expand one’s perspectives. Well, with no intention of following my own advice so soon, here I am turning over my own new leaf as a consequence of pure serendipity.
No Need to Ask
So, how has my perspective changed? Well, pre-Carnival, I knew lots of moms who breastfed and then stopped shortly thereafter. I had seen the CDC statistics that less than half of women in the US were still breastfeeding at 6 months and less than a quarter at 12 months. In that sense, I knew that I was in the minority of the mothering world. But, what I didn’t know was that there were many women out there who continued months and even years after me!
My parents, coworkers, and friends are surprised that I am still breastfeeding and hold the expectation that I will stopping suddenly when Jacob turns one. Honestly, before his one-year mark was approaching, I sort of thought the same thing. After all, my doctor, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and all the people around me said breastfeeding should last 12 months. Society says so. Think about it. While it is not uncommon to run into a mother nursing an infant in public, we rarely, if ever, see a mom nursing a toddler. Yet, the 12-month mark is actually quite arbitrary. And, I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I never had thought about it that way.
Jacob turns one next week. And, it makes me sad that soon my baby isn’t going to be a baby anymore. But the good news is his turning from baby to toddler doesn’t mean I have to suddenly cut off his milk supply. Sure, I’m looking forward to the days when I can drink more coffee and wine and stop wearing bras that remind me of the ones I used to see hanging on Grandma’s nightstand. And, honestly, I don’t know how I would feel about my son nursing after he can speak sentences. But, at least I don’t feel pressure to change something right away just so I can have an answer to a question that didn’t need to be asked in the first place. Besides, I have enough to worry about with his birthday party around the corner—mommy can only handle so much!