Feeding seems to be a topic which many people have conflicting opinions on. If you speak or write pro-breast feeding, you are “shaming” those who bottle feed, and vice versa, if you don’t breast feed, you’re made to feel like you have committed some atrocity. How you choose to feed your baby is your own choice and anyone who judges that has absolutely no right to.
You can see where I’m going here, so I’ll try not to rant…
Our boy is 15 (and a half) months old now and he still feeds in the morning and at night before bed. It’s still part of his daily routine as chosen by him. We are very much of the mind that he’ll stop feeding when he’s not interested any more. In a way, it kind of summarises our approach to parenting I suppose, so for people to criticise or pass comment on it, makes us feel like they are passing comment on our parenting.
A question my wife has been asked for ages now is, “When are you going to stop breastfeeding?” She’s been made to feel on a number of occasions that it’s strange for the baby to be breastfeeding still. This makes me sad for a number of reasons. Firstly, it was so frigging tough to get feeding right to start with. If you had a list of complications that you can have when you start feeding, my wife encountered them all. As most women find, feeding is serious business and it’s not all rainbows and butterflies like they tell you it’s going to be. Secondly, people just aren’t educated enough to realise that “extended” feeding isn’t a term which is in any way representative of how long you “should” breastfeed your child for, in fact by calling it “extended” feeding you’re fuelling the stigma (hence the intentionally ironic title). Finally, it makes me sad because it’s none of anyone else’s business and the stigma surrounding breastfeeding past the initial new-born stage is, or at least feels, so negative.
I could (but won’t) reel off a well constructed argument about the benefits of breastfeeding a child through infancy (there are tonnes). I’m not writing this to in anyway influence individual choices, it’s more to get people thinking about the judgements they make on other parents. So many times, I’ve read pieces that rave about the antibodies and developmental benefits of breastfeeding as well as the bond that created between mother and baby vs how well researched formula milk is and I don’t want to in any way create that us and them divide between the different feeding choices parents make.
Statistically speaking, (not getting on my soapbox here, and I don’t need any of that emotive Channel 4 documentary music) but only 1% of mothers in the UK exclusively breastfeed their child after 6 months. Lifestyle choices, work, myths and your baby are all factors contributing to this statistic, but really, I’d say the largest influence on mothers stopping breast feeding is social stigma. Breastfeeding rates in comparable European countries, with similar population sizes and demographics, show that it is possible to increase rates with a supportive breastfeeding culture and that is something that, I personally, think we lack in this country. Support.
It shouldn’t be strange, or different or frowned upon, or weird if a mother decides to breastfeed their child for any length of time. Like I say, I’m not here to shame or cause any explosive milk based conflict (sorry Mumsnet crew) I just want people to be more accepting of others’ parental choices and to respect that different people have different approaches.