The other morning after I finished nursing my 21-month-old baby, she sat up and smiled, looked me in the eye and said in a tiny little happy baby voice: "Tink you, mommy." Awww, your welcome, sweets — wait, what did you say?! Uh, is this weird?
Maybe I should already know the answer, but like certain holidays and The Oscars, instead I'm just confused about whether I'm supposed to care. It reminds me of this story my friend told me a few years back about her son she'd nursed. After seeing a baby being breastfed in public, he remarked to her later at home that day that she had fed him that way, too.
"Sure," she said. "But you don't remember that, do you?"
"Yes, mommy," he said matter-of-factly, pointing to a blue recliner. "We sat right there in that chair and I would drink from your boobs."
We both laughed at the hilarious word choice, but it made me uneasy. Was it weird for him to remember? Wasn't nursing the stuff of early infancy, lost to infant amnesia like all those accidental falls, bad holiday outfits and pureed asparagus?
Strangely, now that I'm the one with the toddler who's drinking from my still-open-for-business boobs, it is the uneasiness that seems absurd. I started out figuring I'd nurse for a year, but that year blew right by, and it was obvious baby very much still needed and wanted the comfort. And with all the research pointing to sustained benefits the longer you do it, before you know it, boom — you're nursing a toddler, two years and counting. Hang on, I think I hear TLC calling.
Not like you didn't already have enough weird, judgy parenting shit to deal with, but yay, now it's not just whether you nurse and whether you like it but how long you do it for — and don't forget to feel bad about where, you human gargoyle.
Even ol' Prudie McJudgy over at Dear Prudence, who fancies herself the most reasonable and permissive person on the planet (about porn for men), joined in on the haranguing when she had about two hemorrhages in November answering a letter about a woman who nursed her 5-year-old in, gasp, plain view of other humans.
Jokes about cream in the coffee (bar-har-har) out of the way, she fired off, "5 years old is way too old to still be on mommy's breast," conveniently omitting what, exactly, gives her the authority to state such a random assertion as if it's fact.
Is it really too old? The oft-quoted stats are that humans are designed to wean anywhere from age 2 years of age up to 7. (Quelle surprise, Dear Pruny!)
The worldwide average is 2 to 4 years, and once you start poking around online you instantly realize how common extended nursing is beyond infancy. So common in fact, it seems weirder to stop so soon, especially if only over social disapproval, if all parties are comfortable continuing.
Of course, you rarely see it in action, because most women have the good sense to do it privately, as the world is full of Prunies. But in some corners it's treated as so skeezy and inappropriate that you may as well be joining some secret underground nursing sex club with labyrinthine approval systems. (Suggestions for the club name: The Milk Dud, Duct Works, Thanks for the Mammaries!, Milky Way, Duct and Cover, Titty Bar.)
That said, I'm probably going to be ready to wean soon, and I have no idea how to end this dance. I wouldn't even know where to start. I've read all the shit, and I still don't know the best approach for us.
All of this was swirling around in my head when I asked my pediatrician recently about the self-weaning process, and whether letting the child take control — apparently a thing that people do all the time — was perfectly all right or not.
The answer: "Now's the time to start thinking about what's best for her and you, and not just what she wants."
This, by the way, is a pediatrician highly regarded for her less aggressive immunization schedule and preference for the homeopathic over the antibiotic whenever possible and safe. And, yet, here she was telling me to cut the cord already. There's no way I'm implying that my mobility, wishes and own independence don't matter, but I'm still looking for a more holistic answer somewhere other than the Internet.
Also, pediatricians are kind of annoying sometimes? Has anyone else noticed this? They're always saying these dumbed-down things you can tell are just these rehearsed little sound bites that may or may not have resonance on a patient-to-patient basis.
For instance, when talking to one about introducing solid food a while back, he suggested that nutritionally speaking, you could go a bit longer on breast milk than 6 months and it would be fine. Merely trying to understand the science behind his statement, I asked if technically you could nurse a baby exclusively for its entire first year — just out of curiosity.
His answer? "Sure, but then you have a 1-year-old who can't hold a spoon."
Stop the presses! My 1-year-old won't be able to hold a spoon! I hear the application to Harvard is written entirely in SPOONS!
Ugh, just answer me, dude? Is it a trade secret? Do I seem stupid? Is this a back-room deal you have with Gerber?
Another said I should wean now, you know, unless I still wanted to be nursing a 14-year-old in the future. Really, guy? 14? So I can either stop nursing at 6 months old or we'll be topping her off before she takes her first algebra test? Whatever happened to nuance? What about the middle? What about flexibility? What about how everyone is HORRIBLE?
I guess, like anything, it all depends on which side of the boob you wanna be on. For us, right now, nursing is an unbeatable tool in our arsenal. It has helped tremendously when she's teething; it's a godsend when she is sick. And nothing gets an upset baby to calm down or go back to sleep like a quick dose, as my husband likes to call it, of the knockout juice.
Yes, we're fostering more dependence as long as we're tethered, but until we figure it out, I suppose that's just my D-cupped cross to bear.
Tracy Moore is a writer living in Los Angeles. She's down to two feedings a day, honest — for the whole last year.