Tuesday, 8 May 2012

10 Reasons Why I Breastfeed My Toddler

Certainly, in the contemporary North American culture that I find myself living within, bringing up the topic of breastfeeding is as sensitive a topic as elections, sustainability, and the economy. Some may think that statement is absurd but try it. Try talking to as many people as you can about breastfeeding and watch as you get a plethora of responses. Many have no interest and feel it doesn’t relate to their lives. Others feel strongly that breastfeeding is a normal and healthy element of human life. And then there are others that view breastfeeding as a sexualized act meant for the privacy of your bedroom or oddly, the bathroom, as if anyone wants to eat in the bathroom anyways. Having been breastfeeding my daughter since birth and continuing to do it many, many times a day and night (yes, my 16 month old has yet to sleep through the night and I am OK with this) I have heard all sides of the breastfeeding debate. The fact that there even is a debate drives me mad. Anyways, here in Kelowna, I have been lucky to never have experienced someone asking me to cover up in public while nursing. However, I wouldn’t call Kelowna a breastfeeding friendly community. My reasoning? The extreme lack of women actually seen breastfeeding in Kelowna. A part of me wonders if it is because they hide in their homes, their cars, or sadly, the washrooms at our local coffee shops, restaurants and boutiques afraid to feed their baby in public because everywhere you turn is advertisement of babies being bottle-fed, sleeping through the night, and totally content in other’s arms, receiving man-made, pre-packaged formula created for millions of babies alike, as though our children are clones of one another. When did breastfeeding become such a strange, uncomfortable occurrence? 

In the early stages of nursing a baby. 
Too many times, I have been challenged on my choice to breastfeed my toddler. People have suggested things to me such as you’re child must need more sustenance than that, and shouldn’t she be sleeping through the night by now? As well as the intensely blaming statements of you are contributing to the clinginess of your toddler by continuing to breastfeed her. I have even been told I do not have the right to complain about the intensity of a breastfeeding relationship because I chose this path and therefore, must always embrace it whole heartedly. All of these comments have come from people who never breastfed their children as long as I have been breastfeeding my child. This does not make them worse people and their children are all wonderful. It doesn’t make me a saint either. What it does point to is the fact that our culture has embraced bottle/formula feeding as the norm and decided that breastfeeding is a radical choice made by the minority. The only reason I have been able to continue breastfeeding my daughter is through the support of people who like myself, believe that breastfeeding is the best nutritional choice for my child, as well as providing emotional bonding and a safe haven when the world is too much. The point of this rambling rant is to help those who have been told for years that breastfeeding really isn’t that much better for your child than bottle/formula feeding understand why a mama like me decided breastfeeding is crucial for my children’s development and why a mama like me and millions others need their support instead of their criticisms. So here we go...

Happily snuggling.

    1) I want to.

Too often people think that breastfeeding is a chore, something you are strapped to your child for eternity doing. And I would be lying if I said there aren’t moments that feel this way. But for the most part, once you get in your groove, breastfeeding is such a unique relationship that exists between two people. Sometimes more than two. But let’s keep this simple. The way your toddler is able to smile with a nipple half in their mouth; when they begin being able to ask to nurse using their words (and they ask constantly letting you know it is top priority to them); the soft caresses and foot kisses while you sit or lay down, relaxing and recharging your battery. I nurse Len on the go a lot too, but for the most part, it is a moment of calm where I watch my growing child and cuddle with her, amazed at how sweet she is as she sucks away at her ‘na-nas’.

       2) She wants to.

Breastfeeding is a reciprocal relationship. If you are able to continue nursing your child from babyhood to toddlerhood you will quickly realize that they want to nurse. A lot. And sometimes it feels like more than you are able to, or more than time will allow you to, but the truth is at 16 months, 22 months, 36 months, your toddler is really still a very young child who needs the safety, security, and nutritional benefits of spending time breastfeeding. They know this and therefore will continue to ask. Some babes would go as long as 5-6 years if our culture supported these norms. Unfortunately, even nursing a one year old is ‘long’ for a breastfeeding relationship today.

Breakfast of champions! Literally, Michael Jordan was breastfed until age 3!

         3) It is nutritionally the perfect food for her.

Breast milk has four times as many ingredients as formula and not one of these ingredients has a negative effect on the growing child. Even more amazing than the fact that breast milk is the true meaning of ‘super-food’, every single mother produces milk specifically designed for their baby. As La Leche League states, the woman’s body is capable of distinguishing an illness and producing the exact antibodies to combat that illness present in their babies body. You are simultaneously a restaurant, a pharmacist, and a psychologist. As a toddler, which typically means pickiness in the food department, I know she will take the breast when she is hungry and don’t have to worry if she is getting everything she needs to grow and be healthy.

       4) It is convenient.

I never worry about bottles. Or formula. Or needing to rush to the store because I have nothing to feed my baby. If I get stuck in traffic for 3 hours, my toddler doesn’t need to go hungry because I am always producing food fresh for her. 

       5) It is affordable.

While I tend to eat more food than an elephant, I have never needed to budget for the expense of formula, bottles, bottle sanitizers, or bags to carry the bottles with me. I don’t have to try different brand names to see which is her favourite. Mama milk wins hands down every time.

       6) It is emotionally necessary.

And not just for my toddler. While it does provide the safe reprieve she needs after she smashes her face in to the corner of a sharp table and is bleeding everywhere, or has had a nightmare and can’t put herself back to sleep, it also helps to keep mama calmer. Breastfeeding is dependent on the release of oxytocin. Oxytocin also goes by the street name the ‘love drug’ meaning it gives you that happy, life is wonderful, the birds are chirping, the air is fresh, kind of feeling. And after four temper tantrums, two failed meals, and a basket full of dirty laundry, every mama can use a little love.

Trying new things such as bike riding requires a nurse recharge, helmet and all.

       7) It is the perfect bonder.

This reason to me could be a contributing factor to certain peoples general dislike of breastfeeding as it creates a unique relationship dynamic that can only be satisfied by the mother, making other caregivers feel inadequate in the event of the mother not being present. And while I get this, (my husband has told me he felt this way when Len was younger and wailed for the boob while I was gone), it isn’t reason to stop breastfeeding. Your child can bond with others in many different ways, and if we lived in communities more similarly built to those of African tribes, we would see many women nursing many children not of their direct bloodline, but that is another topic all together. Instead, breastfeeding is a unique relationship between mother and child. Each must make the time and energy to keep this relationship thriving. In doing so, each learn about the other person, growing and learning to love each other more deeply. 

         8) There is no downside.

While many would argue with me on this statement, even those who breastfeed, hear me out. When you strip away all of the bullshit that constitutes the majority of our cultural longings, you realize that what you think you may ‘miss’ out on is so insignificant in comparison to what your child would miss out on by not breastfeeding. So maybe you can’t drop your baby off at grandma’s house 2 months post partum for a night on the town with your girls, but maybe you will find that breastfeeding is so spectacular that you don’t want to anyways? Fearing that you will miss out on elements of your life previous to baby is not a downside to breastfeeding. It is a downside to wanting your cake and eating it too. Having a child is about giving up certain things to ensure the best life for your child. Start with breastfeeding. It will show you what you are capable of, as well as showing your child what you are willing to give to them to make them happy and healthy.

No easier way to put an active toddler to sleep than breastfeeding.
          9) Our culture needs it.

As I ranted about at the beginning of this post, our cultural norms have shifted so drastically that breastfeeding in a public space is often condemned (http://www.parade.com/news/intelligence-report/manner-up/2012/05/06-breastfeeding-in-public.html?cpage=0 this was my jumping point for this post and the last kick to the teeth for breastfeeding advocacy.) I have always been a bold person and as I told my mother as we sat at an a la carte restaurant in Mexico a month ago, Lennon nursing to sleep instead of eating her fancy fish, I think people like me who will breastfeed everywhere and anywhere absolutely need to do so. And I need to do it even as Lennon continues to get older. Even if I make people uncomfortable. Because breastfeeding is NORMAL. No one should be asked to be removed. Only after we expose people to the natural act of breastfeeding will these insane sexualized taboos begin to diminish as our babies and toddlers reclaim our breasts as theirs to enjoy emotionally, nutritionally, and in plenty. Another great article discussing the need for children to be exposed to breastfeeding as a normalizing agent can be found here: http://www.nursingfreedom.org/2010/08/why-children-should-witness.html

       10) It won’t last forever.

There are times when it feels like it will. When my skin crawls and I just want my tits back, to be less than lady like about it. And then my wonderful husband, or my closest friends, or my mama remind me that this too shall pass. And when I think about it passing, about Lennon moving away from me and no longer requiring this intense connection, I feel like crying. Having this reality check reminds me that the good outweighs the difficult, and that one day, they will be teenagers who think my naked breasts are gross and would rather die than caress my neck gently as we snuggle in bed for hours, giggling and blowing raspberries, drunk on milk and love. 
LZ at 15 months falling asleep with her na-nas and at 2 days, asleep on her  na-nas.
For all of these reasons and probably about fifty gazillion more, I breastfeed my gorgeous 16 month old daughter. I will breastfeed her until it no longer works for the two of us because as I said, breastfeeding is a reciprocal relationship built on trust, love, and sharing. It is a shame so many find it strange or even wrong. Let’s continue to educate our communities so they can experience the beauty I have in breastfeeding my little monkey.


  1. Great article Erin! Yes, I have had weird experiences while breastfeeding in public. Just recently, I asked to use a change-room to feed my baby at the Bay, and the lady said "we're too busy, can you go use the washroom upstairs?" I just said straight out that I wasn't going to feed my baby on the toilet. She eventually accommodated me, but GEEZ!
    Jenny (from PG)

  2. and I LOVE breastfeeding my little baby. It's so wonderful and convenient!! SO much easier than having to heat up a bottle in the middle of the night.
    As for the baby sleeping through the night, well, who needs sleep anyway? lol

  3. Absolutely excellent post! Thanks for putting this out there, particularly with all the dialogue I'm hearing in relation to the Time magazine cover. I'm breastfeeding my 19 month old also in Kelowna and do notice that it is not the norm. But I don't care. I breastfeed in the car, in our front yard, at the park, in restaurants, at the mall ... if baby needs to eat, I'm there with her. I do this also to play my part in normalizing breastfeeding, particularly of babies who happen to be older than a year. But really, it just feels right and loving and convenient and natural.