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Toddler Breastfeeding Stigma

Recently, Durham University released the results of research that suggests that the longer a mother breastfeeds, the larger her baby’s brain will grow.  And to be frank, I could not be more pleased to read this wonderful news! You see, my 18-month-old son is one of a very small group of toddlers in the United States who still takes advantage of breastfeeding—a mutually beneficial relationship for both of us, which whether or not such an article had come about, I would have wanted to continue for as long as possible anyway.  

But, as many breastfeeding mothers know, it’s not easy to nurse for many reasons.  It is especially hard when you live in a society where baby formula is big business, women’s breasts have become overly sexualized to the point of no longer being seen as the vessel of delivering human offspring important nutrition, and in where the site of a mother breastfeeding her toddler is often caricatured to be that of a mother nursing her pre-teen as an indicator of the psychological issues harbored by both the mother and the child. (Remember that scene in Grown Ups, or the one in Desperate Housewives?)

Still, despite all the metaphorical public flogging I receive on a daily basis whenever my son tries to get into my shirt to nurse, I choose to breastfeed.  You see, even before reading the Durham University article, I intuitively knew continuing to nurse my son to at least 24 months is the right decision for us.  He still gets breastfed about four times per day. At times, two or three of those feedings may coincide with an outing, at which point my hungry son will crawl into my arms, and proceed to try to take a breast and nurse. I have gotten used to this behavior, and often give in since he refuses to drink anything else—not even CHOCOLATE MILK *gasp* from any other vessel. However, the disgusted looks and stares I receive from others who get a glimpse of me nursing my toddler often make me feel ashamed of both myself and my son, and disgusted at allowing what appears to be deviant behavior to continue.  Why must I be forced to feel this way?

Report after report published by various reputable sources tout the benefits of breastfeeding for both the mother and the child, but society still chooses to embrace breastfeeding only up to six months.  Most people are often tolerant of breastfeeding up to 12 months, and mothers and toddlers who continue to reap the benefits of breastfeeding past the age of one are subjected to disgusted looks and stares.  We are told to hide ourselves from the world as though we are partaking in an embarrassingly deviant behavior.  In fact, on several occasions when nothing but nursing my son would calm him down, I have been told to go to the nearest public restroom to “do that”—as though breastfeeding is the equivalent of a bowel movement. 

It is time for us to change our collective mentality towards breastfeeding, and particularly prolonged breastfeeding.  Mothers like me who choose to sacrifice quite a bit in order to breastfeed should—if not be praised—at least not be subjected to ridicule and stigmatized.  The same feminism that has liberated us to work side-by-side with our male counterparts, choose to work or stay at home, and choose whether to formula feed or breastfeed our children should allow us to freely choose how long we breastfeed our children.


[author] [author_info]About the Author

Guest writer Shirin Bahrami (M.S. HD) is the part-time stay-at-home mother of one,  and part-time Program Coordinator at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. Read the Durham University report referenced in this post. [/author_info]

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Image: David Castillo Dominici

This post was written by a guest writer for Prime Parents Club. We are not currently taking new guest writers.

3 Comments

  1. Shirin

    October 12, 2011 at 10:10 am

    Thank you, ladies, for the words of encouragement :)

    @Jackie – My sentiments EXACTLY!

    @Anja – You go, girl!

  2. Anja

    October 11, 2011 at 10:21 am

    Thank you for this great article! I believe, my child knows best, when she is done nursing. The thought of taking something so important away from her just because of what other people might think, breaks my heart.

    Keep on nursing and do, what feels right to you and your little one!

    Still going strong at 41 month – yes, that’s about 3 1/2 years ;-)

  3. Jackie (WritRams)

    October 11, 2011 at 9:56 am

    I REALLY loved this article. Thank you for taking a stand and being brave enough to write about this. I think EVERY MOTHER has a different situation and should make decisions based on what is best for her and her child. Who are we to judge that?