Other than vaccinations, I fail to think of a more hot-button parenting issue than how a mother chooses to nourish her child. Throughout my pregnancy and through labor and delivery and beyond, I heard that familiar mantra, “breast is best.”
But while it appears that there is plenty of encouragement (and, yes, pressure) to give your child breastmilk, there is little support for the actual act of nursing. Even as I write this, I know that it doesn’t make much sense. But ask the working mom who has had to pump in a bathroom for lack of any other private rooms, or the mother running errands wishing to feed her infant and feeling to embarrssed to do so in public, and they will tell you that the reality is breastfeeding may be praised in public campaigns, but it is often shamed in everyday life.
I was lucky enough to have a good experience from the moment of delivery. My son was born with minimal medical intervention at a hospital that was very supportive of breastfeeding. I was also fortunate that he and I were both in good health and could initiate a strong nursing bond during those crucial first moments of life.
My son’s rapid weight gain and “A” grade of approval from his pediatrician at his first appointment was the validation I needed to get me through those marathon nursing sessions.
As baby and I ventured out of my apartment, the inevitable public nursing doubts began to seep into my brain. Most of the time, I was able to overcome my nerves and nurse, but there were also times when I felt more comfortable using bottles of pumped milk instead.
As the months went by I came closer to the point when nursing becomes easier than not nursing. It’s different for everyone, but for me it was right around six months post partum. My son was eating solids well, could go longer between nursing sessions and when I did have to nurse in public, I had learned to get over any past embarrassment. Pumping became a pain as my supply started to dwindle, so I had to be much more selective about when to use bottles and formula wasn’t for me (though I respect those mothers who do use it).
After passing the six-month mark, my new nursing goal of one year, seemed very attainable, and sure enough, I am still nursing my 12-month-old. But with that sense of accomplishment comes the internal struggle over when to wean.
On the pro extended breastfeeding side there is the seal of approval from many respected health organizations, the supplemental nutrition my milk can provide my picky toddler and the comfort and security it brings to my baby. On the other side there is the societal pressure against nursing older babies and toddlers, the constant feeling of fatigue and wanting control of my body again.
For now, I think I will leave that decision for another day and know that he won’t be on (at least not my) boob forever.