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COMMENTARY
breastfeed
(Angela Arcos)
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I’m a mom. My little bear is 26 months old. He is a Taurus. He’s spirited. He likes choo-choo trains, clocks, baby bell cheese and “nums nums.”

Yes, I still breastfeed my 2-year-old. It’s fine.

From his very first moments, he was a breast man. He was born knowing exactly how to nurse, and I was fortunate not to experience any difficulty

Before Bear, I had very little exposure to babies, toddlers or breastfeeding mothers and, if asked, I would have sworn that if I were ever to have a child, let alone feed it from my body, I would stop at the one-year mark because even more day would be…weird.

Why? Perhaps my own mother’s opinions on breastfeeding and the appropriate cutoff date formed my opinion. I am adopted and, therefore, was not breastfed. Perhaps it was that cover of Time in 2012 depicting a mother nursing her 3-year-old while he stands on a chair. The confident mother and her son, looking so much more like a boy than a baby, stirred feelings of judgment and discomfort within me. Embarrassingly, rather than read the article or even become a little introspective about where those feelings came from, I just said out loud, “That will never be me!”

I was living in South America when I became pregnant with my little angel in 2013, and I am thankful to the culture for demonstrating how natural it is to nurse. In an Andean town, to see a woman feeding her child from her breast is ordinary and not a topic of discussion. No woman is ever asked to leave or cover herself or explain her choices. It’s just gorgeous. So by time I returned to the states to have Bear in a real hospital (with an epidural, thank you very much), there was no question in my mind that I would attempt to nurse mi bebé.

But I still believed that somewhere around his first birthday he would sweetly look up at me and say, “No more num nums, mama.”

Instead, he didn’t. His first birthday came and went, and Bear showed no signs of being interested in giving up the breast. He still shows no signs, and he is now 2. And I never thought I’d be here.

Where is ‘here?’

What “here” looks like is a slightly surprised-at-herself mother who, without reading a book beforehand or deciding on a philosophy, is an almost model for attachment parenting and (for the moment) is committed to “baby-led weaning.” I guess at this point it’s “toddler-led weaning.” That may change. And that’s OK, too.

“Here” is listening to what my mom guts tell me is right and best for my particular spawn and, also, myself. I have become the mother on the cover of Time. And I now know why she seemed so striking, so intimidating: Because she had to be.

Because now I have to be, too. Because of all the comments. Because of all the people who think it is acceptable to tell a woman what she can do with her body and where. Because of ALL the choices you have to make as a mother, as a parent. You must, you are forced, to learn to inhabit your body and state fiercely, with your eyes, your posture, your three-days unwashed ponytail, “This is my choice.”

Many reasons based in science

The health benefits are abundant and, at this point, a given. There are studies that show essential vitamins and fats in breast milk increase after the second year. Nutrition, that’s good. It’s also common knowledge that breast milk creates the antibodies needed for disease prevention in babies and children. Bear has only been truly ill twice in two years. I like that. Last, the longer a mother nurses, the more benefits begin to add up for her as well, such as decreased risks for breast, ovarian and uterine cancers. These are all great things. Nobody wants cancer.

My favorite reason is the one that, as it turned out, I just felt in my heart. It seemed to be true, for Bear and me, without having subscribed to it beforehand. Elizabeth Baldwin, author of Extended Breastfeeding and the Law, puts it perfectly:

Breastfeeding is a warm and loving way to meet the needs of toddlers and young children. It not only perks them up and energizes them; it also soothes the frustrations, bumps and bruises, and daily stresses of early childhood. In addition, nursing past infancy helps little ones make a gradual transition to childhood. Meeting a child’s dependency needs is the key to helping that child achieve independence. And children outgrow these needs according to their own unique timetable.

In 2008, the American Academy of Family Physicians advocated:

As recommended by the WHO, breastfeeding should ideally continue beyond infancy, but this is not the cultural norm in the United States and requires ongoing support and encouragement. It has been estimated that a natural weaning age for humans is between two and seven years.

And then the American Academy of Pediatrics backed it up in 2012, stating, “There is no upper limit to the duration of breastfeeding and no evidence of psychological or developmental harm from breastfeeding into the third year of life or longer.”

OK! We can go ahead and use our breasts for their intended purpose and do what comes naturally to us as mothers. Great. Thanks!

Of barbarians and hysterics

Whether it’s the AAFP, the AAP or the WHO, it’s unanimously cool, helpful and healthy to breastfeed as long as you and your babe need, but in the U.S. it’s not the “cultural norm.” Cue the chorus line of high kicks telling you when and where it’s acceptable to nurse your child. They must be no more than 6 months old, locked up tight in your own home and under a blanket.

Right? Somehow, not following these criteria makes you gross and disrespectful to others.

And that’s the real problem, isn’t it? We don’t get to SEE this enough. Seeing something frequently and being exposed to a thing over and over takes away its mystique.

But we might SEE something with breastfeeding, you protest. I hear this from women who are worried about a man “Seeing something and … you know!” No, I do not know. If a man is going to be tempted in some sexual way, which is what I can only suppose this claim refers to, then he needs to get it together. Be better. Look away. Do what you gotta do to refrain from barbarism. Are men so weak? Let’s give them some credit. And yes, women might see something, too. You’ll be fine. You need to be fine. We need to be a society where the handsome sight of a woman feeding her baby fails to send anyone into hysteria.

If some men still walk on all fours and can’t be sensitive and accommodating to another human doing what that human is meant to do, then we need to raise better men. Ladies, I’m looking at you, too. Because my only haters, so far, have been women. As much as I want to throw up my hands and give my gals of the world a big “REALLY?” — I can’t. I was also there once: uninformed and super judgmental.

‘Let’s change normal’

How do we raise better children who are tolerant and chill and can just let a beautiful boob do what it’s meant to? We nurse our babies. On a train, in a plane, when they’re new or when they’re 2.

“Normal” is an evolving thing. What is normal today was not so yesterday or 50 years ago. Let’s change “normal.” A mother deciding what is best for her children without a bunch of blame and finger pointing seems like it should be normal.

Raising children is hard enough.

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