Saturday, October 08, 2011

I breastfed three of my children until they were 4.5 and guess what, they're NORMAL!

If you haven't heard all the controversy about the airing of the first episode of 'The Slap', then I'm going to assume you just emerged from under a rock, or a coma, right?

This image is a screenshot from the iview footage
of the show - hence the crap quality.
Lots and lots of people have had a lot to say on this topic, and for the most part I've kept a very low profile, but now that I have a little time on my hands (yes, there are plenty of other things I could be doing, but this topic is starting to bore under my skin, so best to tweeze it out before it becomes infected) I thought I'd hammer out a blog post from my perspective as a mother who has breastfed a child the same age in not dissimilar circumstances...

I am by no measurement a laisse faire or permissive parent, despite breastfeeding my children beyond 12 months of age and cosleeping with three of them, at least, into their third year. In fact, I used to be an authoritarian parent. These days I hope I'm more authoritative than authoritarian. However, there have been occasions where one of my boys has been overought or 'losing the plot', and even lashing out at other children, and I have taken him onto my lap and breastfed him. This is not a reward for his unsocial behaviour, but rather a mechanism by which to calm him so he can focus when I explain to him why it is absolutely not okay to threaten or hurt another person.

Oddly enough, some of the reactions I read to the first screening of 'The Slap' included such sentiments as, 'That kid didn't need a slap, he needed a belting!' and 'I would have smacked him into next week!', and 'Slap him, slap him, slap him!'

Yes, the four year old was swinging a cricket bat at the other children because he was not happy that he'd just been bowled out. Yes, he'd wrecked a playstation control. Yes, he had uprooted the flower beds. Evidently - to me at least - there was something going on with this child, that his parents didn't seem aware of. So, the child's needs are not being met and he is acting out because he is four and has no other means of letting the world know he is suffering. So, obviously the solution is to make him suffer a great deal more. Yep, that'll fix him.

Some other sentiments regarding the breastfeeding of a child over 12 months of age were that it was 'sick'. If he could ask for it, he was too old. A two minute old infant knows how to 'ask for it'. I saw footage of a baby in the US a number of years ago who could speak sentences at six months - was she too old to be breastfed? What of children who cannot communicate their needs with language at the age of 12, and they not too old? Arbitrary cut-offs such as the acquisition of language make absolutely no sense.

What people are concerned about is that a child who can speak may be able to speak about what it is like to breastfed. A child who can describe breastfeeding (or anything really) in language, is somehow considered more sentient than a child who cannot. The more sentient the being, the smaller the need for comfort - right? Absolute TWADDLE!

My boys remember breastfeeding. They can talk about, if asked. No one ever asks them. They were not screwed up by it. You can't 'pick' that they were breastfed well into kindergarten age (only my third went to kindergarten, and yes, he was still breastfeeding when he started kinder - I never once breastfed him through the fence).

My boys are well adjusted. They don't grope women's breasts (mine or anyone else's). They don't ask for a breastfeed when they are upset. They don't have oral fixations of any kind. They aren't jealous of the Grumpy Old Man hugging or kissing me (that are, in fact, suitably giggly and grossed out like most children their age). They have friends at school. They are emotionally stable. My eldest does suffer with anxiety - as do I, and I was not breastfed. They aren't fixated on breasts in any way. Last time I counted they all still only had one head. They're normal 12, 10 and 6 year old boys - indistinguishable from their peers.

I didn't breastfeed them until they were 4.5 because I needed that relationship with them, or because I enjoy the sensation of breastfeeding - let it be known I actually had to distract myself from the sensation because it put my teeth on edge (imagining it still does). I breastfed that long because I knew it boosted their immune system and also met an emotional need in them at the same time. If anything, I feel I probably shortchanged Ari by not encouraging him to breastfeed longer, but if I'm honest, after virtually 12 continuous years of breastfeeding (excluding 4 months in 2001, when I was pregnant and Erik weaned temporarily) I was beginning to react negatively to requests for a feed and felt it was negatively impacting our emotional bond - which was not in his or my best interest.

So, there you have it, the perspective of a mother of who breastfed her children until well past the age they could ask for it, and describe it! The perspective of someone whose older breastfed children have not developed serious psychological conditions from having been breastfed to the age of four and a half. Whose older children are perfectly normal and well adjusted.


Jayne said...

This. And that's all I have to say-you've said it all perfectly.

Crash Test Mummy said...

It is nice to read a story borne of experience and not an emotional opinion borne of reaction to one's discomfort. Stereotypes are so damaging. I would have been happy to breastfeed past the 12 and 16 months mark with my two, but each of them self weaned. They were awesome eaters and never wanted a dummy or comforter of any kind. My breasts were really of no use to them anymore. They gave them back, unfortunately not in the same condition as when I loaned them out ;)

KPB said...

MAN you're SO WEIRD.


This is fascinating, in that it is a calm rational explanation from someone who did it, providing an insight for those scratching their heads at it or crying "WRONG!" or "WEIRD!"

Well done. And thanks.

Sif Dal said...

Thanks guys. I wasn't going to write anything - because I wonder if the people who need to understand that breastfeeding past 12 months doesn't cause psychology illness even read blog posts like this, but I couldn't leave it be...

One thing I want to clear up - just in case a woman comes along and reads this who hasn't had a baby yet and is trying to decide if she wants to breastfeed or not...

Breastfeeding doesn't cause your boobs to droop. The 'damage' is caused by pregnancy hormones (relaxin, I think) which prepare your body to expand around your growing baby by relaxing all the ligaments and muscles in your body - many bodies never quite go back to their firm pre-baby selves... Boobs droop - whether or not you breastfeed. If you don't want your boobs to droop, then don't get pregnant (pregnancy also causes your boobs to swell up - stretching the skin, even if you never use your breasts for feeding your baby)...

You know what... Since writing this, I've been thinking.. Crappy throw away comments like 'that's sick' or 'that's weird' are far more likely to negatively impact my children than breastfeeding them. So, if my children even ended up psychologically disturbed because they were breastfed past the age of 12 months, it would be thanks to the ignorance of other people, not breastfeeding.

Deborah said...

Thanks for writing this. I've been biting my tongue on this whole topic for the last few days, wanting to write about it too, but didn't know if I had the energy to explain what you just explained (and potentially get misunderstood for it too). Good on you. I'm still breastfeeding my 3 yo whilst also my 11 month old, and we're very attached in our parenting style, but that doesn't make us permissive parents. I know this series is fiction and the character is flawed, but it irks me nonetheless that people jump on this stereotype and jump on the anti-extended-breastfeeding wagon as a result. Again, thank you! - Deb (previous from Wild Hope - now Bright & Precious)

peta said...

A big thumbs-up to this post Sif!

Zoey Martin said...

Such a great post. And I when I saw all of the reactions to the breastfeeding scenes my reaction was of puzzlement. The amount of times that my three and a half year old has been in need of comfort and affection when she's been lashing out? All the time. Doesn't mean I don't talk to her about her behaviour, but she needs to calm down first.

And at three and a half I only just bottle weaned her so I totally get the emotional needs that full-term breastfeeding provides.

Sif Dal said...

Thanks guys :).

I was quite shocked at the reaction on the #theslap hashtag because I've lived in something of a bubble when it comes to breastfeeding attitudes. Most people I know, even if they haven't breastfed their own babies, are of the mindset that if you can and do, that's great, for however long it takes. Yes, people get squeamish around school age, but I've known children who were breastfed to age 6 or so and are still "normal" several years on.

Children need comfort. I'm absolutely a supporter of teaching children to communicate their feelings verbally, but considering so many adults find this difficult, I don't understand the expectation that a small child should have mastered this skill. In the meantime, breastfeeding or bottle feeding can be a great transitional tool to soothe a child while we speak with them about their feelings e.g.

"You're so upset, aren't you? Do you feel very sad? Maybe you also feel a bit angry, huh? It's very frustrating when you try and try and you can't make the bat hit the ball and then you're not allowed to play anymore. Rules can feel unfair, huh?"

Even through speaking to our child as we soothe them, we can teach them how to express their feelings. They need to be able to focus first, and to focus, they have to feel calm. Last time someone smacked me, I didn't feel very calm.

Glow said...

I think the breastfeeding and the fact that the parents were missing the cues of their child are two entirely different subjects but so many have said that they are one and the same.

Speaking rationally to a child who is losing the plot is impossible. Whatever strategies that work for a parents to calm them so that conversation take place are welcome. Breastfeeding, cuddles, a kiss to make it better. Whatever.

I'm pretty sure that full term breastfeeding isn't in my future, though by the standards of those around me who have already weaned their children I'm a freak by still breastfeeding at 16 months. And you bet I use it when he's mid tantrum to calm him if I can't distract him with something else.

Thanks for writing this, Sif. An informed perspective is brilliant to read.

Daisy, Roo and Two said...

I was breastfed until I was three and half. That's right. 3.5. I am not weird (I don't think...), I am not damaged. I was not sexually abused nor do I feel uncomfortable or strange about it.
I don't remember being breastfed, but I certainly remember calm quiet moments in my mother's lap, and I have no doubt that my mother would use breastfeeding as a way to calm me down enough if my behaviour got out of control.
I haven't breastfed past 13.5 months - and was admittedly upset I wasn't able to breastfeed any of my kids longer. But my children decided what was right for them, weaned themselves and you've got to be happy with that.
Good on you Sif - because that's all anyone should be saying.
Your kids, your way. My kids my way. Why can't people just let it be?

EssentiallyJess said...

Its not something I would do personally, but there is no judgement here for those who do.
Thankyou for telling your story. It is helpful for people like myself who have always been told that is wrong and disgusting. We need to hear this, and good on you for being open about it.

Sarah said...

This is a really interesting and emotive topic Sif.

I breastfed My son until he was 10 months at which point I was 6 month pregnant with his sister and my body made the decision to stop producing milk.

I fed my daughter until she was 6 months old and she naturally self weaned. But I would have carried on for longer had it been possible/needed.

The cut off point for me would always have been when they were ready and what was right for them rather than based on age or other peoples opinion.

tahlia @ the parenting files said...

good on you sif for putting it out there! Breastfeeding is such a personal choice and personal journey and every child and every relationship is unique. Each mother has to be guided by their own instincts of what is right for them and their baby.

With that being said, breastfeeding was something that just didn't work out for me and my daughter. I would have loved to do it longer.

Thanks for your honesty and putting it out there :) x

Jess said...

Great post!I think it's great when children self wean,at whatever age that might be.I also know lots of my friends would not find that acceptable.Each to their own I guess.

Kirsty @ Bowerbird Blue said...

I have one close to 3 who still likes to feed, and fed my other two until a similar age. Why people find it so offensive I have no idea. For some reason its ok to rear cows and squeeze out their milk and drink it right into adulthood. Great post : )

Good Job!