My daughter is 22 months old and she breastfeeds.
Lots of people phrase it as, “She’s still breastfeeding?” But I don’t understand the word “still.” She breastfeeds. No “still” about it. We will continue to have our breastfeeding relationship until we’re both ready to stop.
Around the world today and throughout human history, many women breastfeed or breastfed their children for two, three, five, or even more years. Breastfeeding is something that can stop gradually and naturally when the time is right; there is no reason for people to think it has to end at four months, or six months, or with the introduction of solids, or when the child talks, or at any other particular time. That’s why I don’t like the judgement-laden tone that comes with “still.”
There are many reasons why we breastfeed.
Sometimes, of course, she’s hungry or thirsty, and breastmilk provides just the drink or snack she needs. It’s well known that there are many nutritional and medical benefits to milk, and I appreciate that she’s getting calories, vitamins, minerals, protein, amino acids, anti-bacterial agents, and more through my milk. My daughter is healthy and growing well, and some of that is definitely due to her avid breastfeeding. I believe I’m doing something important so she can have a healthy future. (And a side benefit to the ready milk supply is that if she gets a cold or an eye infection, we can squeeze a little milk in, which can be better than giving her medicine; she usually recovers quickly. She also finds the process of getting milk into her eye or nose funny.)
She’s also exposed to different tastes through the milk depending on what I eat, and I think this has already had an impact. She loves to eat all sorts of things you wouldn’t necessarily expect from such a young child, such as olives, kale, quinoa, and legumes, and these are all foods I eat regularly and that she first tasted through my milk.
I work full-time, and it’s the most wonderful feeling to see my daughter again at the end of the day. She comes running to me, shouting, “Mama!” and we have a hug and a cuddle. Then she smiles and says, “Boobie! Milk!” We sit down and reconnect while feeding. I tell her how happy I am to be with her again and I ask her about her day. She talks to me in between drinks of milk and we are peaceful together. Nothing else matters but being there at that moment. Of course we could hug and talk without the milk, but I think breastfeeding helps her to recognise that I’m present and focused on her. It’s something intimate that we alone share (although sometimes she offers my breast to one of her toys).
I have no idea how often she breastfeeds, which surprises friends who give their children formula milk to a very specific schedule. My daughter breastfeeds to sleep, and she breastfeeds during the night, and she breastfeeds upon waking. It’s comforting for us both and it helps her relax due to the oxytocin and other hormones (and, frankly, it helps me fall asleep too at times). She breastfeeds while we read a story, or in the bath, or at the grocery store, or even while swimming. Anytime, anywhere.
She breastfeeds when she’s stubbed her toe or hit her arm or when she’s frustrated by not being quite able to get her shoes off or solve a puzzle or when she has been frightened by something; milk and a cuddle make everything OK again, and feeding calms her down.
As my daughter’s language skills develop further, we’ll probably use words along with snuggles more than milk as a solution to problems. But right now, we have a combination of conversation, cuddles, and breastfeeding, and this works for us as a family.
There are benefits to me as a breastfeeding mother, too. I love the feminist implications of breastfeeding. My body, and my breasts especially, are not just sexual. By breastfeeding my daughter publicly and for as long as we choose, I can challenge society’s current prevalent view that breasts are for men’s pleasure and are good for selling products; many people seem to believe that if you do breastfeed, it should only be for a few months, and then you should make your body purely for your lover again. I hope to remind other women that we’re more than objects, even though obviously there are times when we like to be objectified, too.
Breastfeeding also helps me remember that life isn’t just about me. Before I had my daughter, I was very focused on my career and myself. For some people, that works well and is satisfying, but I am so grateful to my daughter and to my wife, because they have helped me learn that I can look beyond myself. I believe parenting in generally, and breastfeeding in particular, has taught me so much: I’ve become more patient, more caring, more aware of the bigger picture, more giving, more humble. I can focus on someone else’s needs before my own. And while I don’t subsume myself to my child, there are times when she simply comes first. And that’s been an important lesson for me. I’ve slowed down and learned to look around me more.
Having a child has been the best experience of my life, and breastfeeding my daughter has been an important part of that. We’ll continue as long as we want to. No “still” about it—just breastfeeding.