When my son was four months old, people started asking when he’d be on solids. At one year old, they saw me breastfeed and asked: “I suppose he’s nearly done with that then?” and my reply would be, “He’ll stop when he’s ready”. Now that he’s three, people seem to have accepted that Redford is in control of that decision, and that I’m along for the ride. Does that mean he’s grabbing on my tits in public? Not really. Does it mean he doesn’t eat real food? Nah. He just has access to his mother’s milk, should he want some, at bedtime, if he slams his finger in the door, or if he is scared and a hug just won’t cut it.
And no, I’m not scared that he will be 14 when he wants to stop, and you want to know why? Nobody breastfeeds forever. At about age seven you literally forget how. Did you know we are the only mammal to prematurely wean our young? This isn’t Game of Thrones, and contrary to popular belief, a breastfed child isn’t any more dependant or clingy on their mothers, in fact the close relationship in early years builds a foundation of trust which makes them feel safe to explore, giving them more independence. Redford even has a great sense of personal boundaries, and when I’m not in the mood to breastfeed (yes I have a choice), he points to himself and says “this is my body, and that is your body”.
So why is extended breastfeeding past one year such a taboo in Western culture? Looking through comments about Tamara Ecclestone breastfeeding her four-year-old daughter, you see phrases like “it’s not normal” and “doesn’t seem right”. But there are women all over the planet breastfeeding their children until their natural weaning age of four to six, and nobody bats an eyelid. That’s because it is quite literally the most normal thing in the world. For three million years we’ve been walking on two legs, and we’ve been breastfeeding for even longer. And it has always lived up to the job; providing food, hydration, and comfort, as well as a huge list of other benefits which cavemen didn’t even know about. It’s always available, always nutritious, always warm. Truly, breastfeeding is for the lazy.
So what can be done to change attitudes? We have to normalise breastfeeding, and while we’re at it, let’s normalise extended breastfeeding. People are scared of things they don’t understand, but just because you “don’t get it” doesn’t mean its threatening or wrong. Children who breastfeed don’t grow up with weird attitudes towards sex or breasts. In fact I hate to be too outrageous, but perhaps being deprived of seeing breasts in an everyday setting, which was totally normal before the Victorians came along, is more likely to have that effect.
It may feel unsettling in a time when breasts are over-sexualised, and there will be those who will feel downright uncomfortable seeing a titty with a child attached. But it isn’t too late for the next generation, who need to see it happening to see that it’s normal. Because what is normal? There is no such thing as normal, only what we are used to seeing. So, we need to make it clear to children that it’s normal to drink milk from your mummy, as all animals do, and they will grow up to do the same. I don’t take credit for what I know and feel to be the right path for me, because my dear mum did all the hard work, breastfeeding me despite all the opposition she got for it back in the 90’s. She did the hard work, and now it comes naturally to me, and hopefully that attitude will continue with my children.
We need to trust women, trust our bodies, and trust our children. We should be supporting mothers in feeding their toddlers (for free). This is the most normal thing in the world, along with sleeping or eating, and hopefully we can work towards treating it as such.