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My son is 11 months old and breastfeeds happily day and night. I’m enjoying this time together and happy with how things are going. He’s reaching all his developmental milestones, is eating well and is healthy. My only difficulty is my mom and sister saying, “Why are you still doing that?!” They keep telling me he doesn’t need my milk any more and that he should move on to “proper” cows’ milk by the time he’s one.
How have other moms dealt with close family being critical of breastfeeding beyond 12 months and do I really need to give my son a pint of cows’ milk daily after his first birthday?
I sympathize. I can still feel the hurt and shock I felt when my cousin told me that if I continued breastfeeding my daughter beyond a year she couldn’t be in the same room with me because it was “gross” and “really disgusting.” My aunt has expressed similar sentiments. I suppose I should have expected this as no one in my family breastfed beyond four months (that was my mum) and in my husband’s family the record is eight months. Most of our relatives did not breastfeed at all, so getting our continued nursing accepted has been hard work.
I’ve tried a few things that might help you too. I took my mother-in-law to a La Leche League meeting. After seeing mothers feeding toddlers and talking to older children and mothers she came away converted, which was such a relief to me.
With those who just don’t understand, I mention the World Health Organization and UNICEF recommendations* and get on with nursing without trying to hide it. I also have LLL information sheets in case they are interested. I do try to be sensitive to those who genuinely find toddler nursing distressing and when we are together I say something like, “We need to nurse now, so I’ll just go upstairs and sit with her for a bit,” or “We need to feed now so is it OK if I sit in the spare room?” So far it’s been OK (my daughter is now 15 months). I do make it very clear it’s not up for discussion in front of my daughter as I don’t want her to hear negative views.
For me, the most important thing has been to appear (even if I don’t feel it) very calm and confident, and clear about my views without attacking the other person. Having LLL friends who have been there and lots of information has helped with that.
Things do seem to calm down the further over a year you go. I think people either assume you’ve stopped, or resign themselves to the fact you’re not going to. I’ve found breastfeeding has become more enjoyable and an increasingly valuable mothering tool with each month that goes by. I cannot imagine how I would cope without it. I have the ultimate comforter, expression of love, snack, drink, painkiller, sleep inducer and way of sitting and making a phone call or reading for ten minutes! Also I can see how much it means to my girl. If she takes a tumble she asks to nurse, if she is teething or overly tired and can’t switch off she asks and you can see how much it means to her.
To any mother coming up to the end of her child’s first year, I would say don’t stop nursing if you don’t want to, you’ve put all the effort in for 12 months and now is the payback. It’s a joy every day and it would be so sad to miss those wonderful moments as your child becomes more and more able to express his delight at breastfeeding.
Rachel Hemmingway, Oxford, UK
* The World Health Organization’s infant-feeding recommendation published in the Global Strategy on Infant and Young Child Feeding states: As a global public health recommendation, infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life to achieve optimal growth, development and health. Thereafter to meet their evolving nutritional requirements, infants should receive nutritionally adequate and safe complementary foods while breastfeeding continues for up to two years of age or beyond.
Congratulations on a year of breastfeeding! What a wonderful gift you’ve given to your son and yourself. It’s great that the two of you continue to enjoy breastfeeding, which is the normal way of feeding infants and young children. It is tough when your own family is criticizing the way you choose to mother your child.
How you respond will probably depend on your relationship with your mom and sister. Are they a regular part of your son’s life, or family you only see periodically? If you spend a lot of time together, you will want to put more effort into helping them understand your choices. However, remember that you are your son’s mother and you are making the best choice for you and him, no matter what they believe!
Are they asking out of a sincere desire to understand? If your mom or sister didn’t breastfeed, or only breastfed for a short time, they might have never been exposed to breastfeeding beyond a few weeks or months. You might remind them that we don’t think any other food somehow loses its value after a certain time! You may turn the question back to them, and ask something like, “Why do you think cows’ milk is better for him than human milk?”
Some moms find it works best to choose a short answer and stick to it. “My pediatrician recommends that we continue breastfeeding for at least two years.” Many health care organizations worldwide and several well-known pediatricians (the Dr. Sears family and Dr. Jack Newman) advocate breastfeeding beyond infancy. Your family doesn’t need to know that your personal pediatrician isn’t making the recommendation! Other moms might say, “This works well for us,” and leave it at that. You might have to be a broken record, “Thanks for your thoughts, but this is what we do,” without getting upset about it. Or if they truly think you’re doing something wrong, “I respect your opinion and I know you’re coming from a place of love for me and my son, but we will have to agree to disagree about this.” Then change the subject, as often as necessary.
Your son doesn’t need to be drinking a pint of cows’ milk by age one. As long as you continue to breastfeed frequently, your milk continues to provide excellent nutrition for him. Some families do incorporate cows’ milk or other dairy products into their breastfeeding toddler’s diet. Whatever works for your family is fine!
Do you have a local La Leche League group? Being around other mothers who value breastfeeding as much as you and your son do can help so much when you are being challenged. Other mothers will likely have experienced similar situations, and have more ideas for you.
Cheri Kannarr, Davis, California, USA
How frustrating to hear critical comments about breastfeeding when clearly you and your son are enjoying nursing! My sister was critical of night nursing because she said it would prevent me from ever “having a life” again, which was really hard to hear. Nursing my very active one-year-old at night allows us to have a calm cuddle that I really look forward to and cherish. And since he spends all day touching everything from the park swings to the toilet seat, I feel reassured that he is receiving made-for-him nutrition with antibodies that no cow could ever replicate. I plan to nurse him as long as he has the need.
Rory Noguchi, San Francisco, CA, USA
Rest assured nursing your child longer than a year is the best thing you can do! My family also had reservations about this. I explained that neither one of us was ready to wean. If others are uncomfortable, you can consider moving into another room or using a blankie if you are OK with that. I tried to not be obvious but otherwise just went blithely on. We didn’t talk about sleeping arrangements or how often we were nursing and that helped too. There is nothing magical about birthdays and their effect on nutrition! Cows’ milk is fine for many babies over a year old but it certainly isn’t nutritionally better for human babies than mothers’ milk. Press on!
Sonia Gasho, Pearce, AZ, USA
Some cultures fear that continuing to breastfeed until a child weans on his own will make him more dependent on his mother. Instead of viewing sustained nursing as something to question, perhaps the real query should be, “What is there to be gained by putting an end to the breastfeeding relationship?” It’s interesting that some people think that a child won’t grow out of breastfeeding unless he is forced. In reality, it’s a natural process for children to outgrow breastfeeding on their own. Independence, not dependence, is one outstanding trait that breastfed children who self-wean have in common. Natural weaning allows for differences in children by letting them grow at their own pace. Independence can’t be forced upon a child before he is ready to assume it. A child who weans gradually is able to maintain his emotional attachment to his mother, rather than being forced to switch to an inanimate object such as a cuddly toy or blanket for comfort. I hope you feel able to continue breastfeeding for as long as you and your son want to.
Barbara, Wharfedale, Yorkshire, UK
It is difficult when the people we expect the most support from are critical of our choices. Unfortunately, breastfeeding for any extended period (for some people this can mean anything after a few months) is not the norm in our society. I am still feeding my 16-month-old and think it does get easier with time as people give up saying these things after a while! It helps to arm yourself with the facts.
It also helps to have a good support network of breastfeeding mums. My local La Leche League Group always helps to reaffirm my reasons when I’m having a bad day!
With regards to cows’ milk, my little one doesn’t drink any! There are other sources of calcium (dairy and non-dairy) if this is the issue. My child loves cheese and yoghurt. There is a lot more nutritional value in my milk so I know which I would rather my son was filling up on!
It is difficult but if you are firm in your reasons for continuing to breastfeed and you and your child are happy with the situation it really isn’t anyone else’s business how you decide to raise your child. You’re doing a great job; don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Nicki Nairn, Isle Of Man, UK
Mother’s New Situation
I am expecting a baby and worrying about how my three-year-old will cope with making the transition from being the center of our world to becoming a big brother, and I wonder how I will cope, too. He still nurses a little and I’m happy for that to continue. What have other mothers done before the birth to prepare a sibling for the baby’s arrival? What can I do after the birth to help my toddler still feel loved and needed?
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