When Emma O’Donnell posted a Tiktok video of her two-year-old attempting to lift her top to breastfeed, she didn’t imagine that many would take issue with it.
After all it was a jokey post. The caption was fun: “First rule of wean club: NEVER sit down!” It was about the trials and tribulations of weaning babies and toddlers off breast milk, which many mums are familiar with.
But such is the world we live in, where – as a mum and a woman – you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. The comments soon came flooding in from people who took extreme offence that a two-year-old child was still breastfeeding.
“He’s already got a job... he can buy his own drinks,” said one Tiktok user, boldly hiding behind a string of numbers as a username and no profile picture. “When does he leave for college?” asked another.
And then came the suggestions that this was anything but natural. “Oh my god... Sick,” said one user. “Don’t want to see this,” said another.
It was eye-opening for O’Donnell, who is based in Glasgow and goes by the name of A Mother’s Tale on Tiktok and Instagram. “I was shocked when I woke up this morning. My jaw was literally on the floor,” she said in a video responding to the backlash. “I cannot believe the hate I have woken up to.”
The parenting influencer pointed out that her son is just two years old and the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidance suggests babies should continue breastfeeding for up to two years – and beyond. “In fact,” she added, “in some cultures, they’ll feed until they’re seven.”
The mum added she’d been called “disgusting”, as well as being told she’s wrong and that she has “serious issues”.
“I actually had somebody messaging me telling me I should be locked up,” she said.
Mums face a lot of judgment, especially in the breastfeeding sphere. If you give up breastfeeding too early, you’re a terrible person. If you don’t give up ‘in time’, that’s even worse.
But why is there so much vitriol around the topic of extended breastfeeding?
It’s no secret some women choose to wean earlier than they want because of negative comments from friends and family members. In fact, a study on this found many women chose to begin hiding the practice of breastfeeding when their child turned one-and-a-half.
Mums have been accused of being selfish for continuing with breastfeeding “to lose weight, keep their bodies slim, keep their breasts big or even feel pleasure”, the study found.
And it’s not just randoms on the internet who are passing these kinds of judgements. Sometimes other mums can be just as bad.
One of the mums interviewed for the study expressed ‘furiousness’ when she talked about others who practised long-term breastfeeding. She mentioned a friend of hers was breastfeeding a four-year-old and said it was “disgusting”, “perverted”, and “downright incestuous”.
For lots of mums who do breastfeed past the age of one, it’s nice to simply have the choice to do so.
Many would disagree they’re doing it for selfish reasons. For some it’s often a case that they expect their child to simply want to stop – and when they don’t, they just carry on. For others, they might’ve spent months struggling to breastfeed in the beginning and are not quite ready for that to end yet. For others, they want their child to reap the health benefits of breastfeeding for longer.
And there are benefits. Breastfeeding past one not only provides them with valuable nutrients (in addition to the nutrients they’ll be getting from food at mealtimes) and antibodies, but according to WebMD, breastfeeding past a year has multiple benefits for the mother, too. From lowering breast and ovarian cancer risk to reducing the likelihood of high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes.
As for O’Donnell, she’s clapped back to those who think there’s anything remotely wrong with extended breastfeeding. She concluded: “I’m sorry, but if you have issues with that video and you are sexualising the relationship between a mother and a two-year-old child... I’m not the one with the issues, love.”