|Riley, 2 years old. I was pregnant with Amarys here.|
I'm a birth junkie. I love all things pregnancy, birth, and baby related. As a birth doula I've read and seen and experienced a lot of situations and people who believe deeply in the natural, biological, or indigenous way of life. As the child of a birth junkie mom, I grew up steeped in natural birth and natural eating and natural everything. My mom and my aunts all breastfed their children for several years, because it was 'natural.'
I'm also a breastfeeding counselor. I have taken an intensive course on lactation through Douglas College that involved over 35 hours of clinical work and 40 hours of class time. In my spare time I like to read World Health Organization publications on human lactation, visit the International Baby Food Action Network website, and email my photos to lactation activists =). One of my favourite groups is my La Leche League group, where in a city full of non crunchers, I have a pocket of 'my people' who crunch. We vary in our levels of crunchiness, but in general we breathe a sigh of relief in our meetings because we're with other women who 'get us.' Because we're kind of weird. And we know it.
I'm okay with being weird! It's always suited me to be on the fringe somewhere. Breastfeeding isn't for everybody, and breastfeeding long term certainly isn't. I've got no judgment for anyone's choices when it comes to breastfeeding because I believe that women are smart and I trust them to be capable of making awesome decisions that fit them the best. It sucks when women plan a certain feeding scenario or duration and it doesn't work out because of nature or lack of support (SUCKS), but when people are happy with their feeding outcomes? I say AWESOME PANTS. You rock. Two days? Two weeks? Fifty years? Rock on. If people are not happy with their feeding outcomes? You rock extra hard. Seriously. You did the best you could and that is enough.
I'm on the fringe when it comes to my passion about milk and I like it but more than that, I actually really, really believe in breastfeeding. I'm passionate about women's issues in general and am a pretty fierce feminist. I know a ton of information on breastfeeding, human lactation, the components of breastmilk, cultural attitudes and their effect on breastfeeding rates and subsequent maternal and infant health, and worldwide trends (for example, the worldwide average age of weaning is 4 years old. Yes, that is average, yes that is worldwide, yes, that means that many, many children older than age 4 are breastfeeding in cultures other than our own). If you compare duration of lactation in humans to other mammals, it is biologically normal for us to breastfeed our young for between 2.5 and 7 years.
An important component of the human immune system is a substance called secretory IgA or SIgA. This lines the gut and provides lifelong, frontline defense against disease and inflammation. Newborn humans create no SIgA until approximately 4 to 6 weeks of age. All of their SIgA comes from their mother's milk during this time period. SIgA is not replicable and is not present in infant formula. Children's bodies make only trace amounts at first, and gradually increase over time. Their bodies do not produce sufficient levels of SIgA until around 24 months of age. That is why Health Canada and the World Health Organization and lactation experts recommend breastfeeding for a minimum of two years. The WHO recommendation is worded as follows:
Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended up to 6 months of age, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond.
Why would I breastfeed my three year old? Because it is healthy and feels normal to me. It is my experience that once children near the two year mark, their development makes them resistant to change and particularly needy of reassurance and comfort. Sure, they are flailing around for inappropriate independence and drive us bonkers with cries of MINE! and NO! and MINE DO IT! but they need lots of hugs and kisses during that year, too. Lots of reassurance that life is okay, despite all the emotional turmoil. To stop breastfeeding at this point simply because I've reached an arbitrary age limit seems unnecessary. Like taking away a lovey right when they need one, you know? Most kids gradually replace breastfeeding with more emotionally mature methods of interacting and more and more food, and eventually you realize, hey! They've weaned. Some don't (see Riley's weaning story).
It worked for me. And probably will this time around, too, since Amarys is nearing two years old and showing no signs of weaning yet. Yes, I do it in public. I don't do it every two hours like with a newborn, so nursing her in public doesn't happen every day. But I think it is a good idea for people to see toddlers breastfeeding more often. Plus, it's just my body and my toddler so who cares what I do? Nope, I don't use a cover. I'm not an octopus and those things require constant fiddling. Plus I just don't think it's something that needs covering up. It's nutrition and comfort. Kind of like feeding my kid steamed carrots while she sits on my lap or something--it's not that big a deal, I don't cover her head when feeding her carrots... And hopefully the more women who breastfeed in public? The less of a big deal it will seem.
And to my future daughters in law? You're welcome. Your men will see breastfeeding as pretty cool.