Extended Breastfeeding Myth #2

on June 7 | in Breastfeeding | by | with 23 Comments

Photo Credit: Mel Stampa

Last week I covered Myth #1 in my series about extended breastfeeding misconceptions, so it’s time to move on to #2. Here’s the email I received that inspired me to write these posts:

What are your psychological reasons for continuing to nurse Katie? I’m asking because we were discussing this topic last week in my women’s group and a couple of my friends shared some stories about their friends who did extended breastfeeding. One of their daughters showed signs of homosexuality at an early age and did grow up to in fact become a lesbian. The other grew up to have much resentment for her mother because she actually thought it was strange and embarrassing that she breastfed her for so long.The third had separation anxiety issues until he was an age where that should not have been happening anymore. It was an absolute challenge to be able to leave her with anyone for a date night or even when he began school. It put a strain on that couple’s marriage.

Myth #2: Your Kids Will Resent You For Making Them Weird

Fact: Your kids will probably resent you for something no matter what. . . . at least a little bit for a little while. It could be that you drop them off at school in a big ugly brown van or wear a tube top when you’re painting pottery in the Texas heat (Gigi I’m looking at you!). No matter what you will probably embarrass your kids and they will resent you for it. But if your relationship is healthy they’ll get over it.

Growing up with a hippie mom brought me in contact with non-conformists of all types and this is what I learned: People make similar decisions for very different reasons. A women who has deep needs that are not being met may become overly-dependent on her relationship with her child. This may express itself in the nursing relationship but will certainly continue beyond that. To me, it sounds like the daughters resentment of being “weird” indicates there could be other unhealthy dynamics underlying their relationship . . . breastfeeding and otherwise.

Here’s what I mean: A few years ago I remember reading about this group of high school girls that started a pact to get pregnant together. They wanted babies so they would have “someone to love them.” In my opinion this is a terrible reason to get pregnant. Children are not born into the world to fulfill our emotional needs. We are there to fulfill theirs. In many ways it is a feedback loop . . . fulfilling my child’s needs meets some of my needs for purpose in life, emotional growth, et cetera . . . but the loop begins and ends with the parent.

Do all women choose to have babies to fulfill their own unmet love needs? Of course not. To imply that women choose extended breastfeeding to meet their own needs is just as silly. There may be a small percentage of women that are overly-dependent on their children for some reason and extended breastfeeding can get wrapped up in how that is expressed, but that’s as far as it goes.

Or my theory about the girl in the email could be totally wrong. The emotion that girl expressed is a snapshot in time. Maybe her relationship with her mom is fabulous and that she was just feeling awkward about herself at the moment. Who knows?

Today Katie tried to give Maxwell (our kitty) a hug and ended up with her first real scratch. It was a bad one very close to her eye. Obviously there were many ways to comfort her but Daniel brought her to me to nurse. As we sat there I watched her transition from terrified and hurt to calm and soothed in just a few seconds. There is no doubt in my mind that she will not resent me for meeting her needs in this way as she grows up. Did it benefit me to waddle away from the dinner I was making to nurse her? No, but I was glad to do it.

For the record, I try not to highlight that Katie is still nursing in situations where it is not considered appropriate to avoid future embarrassment on her part. She’s at the age where I can tell her no and redirect her to something that interests her. Her life is not a political statement for me and I try to honor both who she is and who she will become.

Truthfully, though, I am not raising her to fit in anyway. I am raising her to shine. She is one of my greatest gifts to the world. This is how my mom raised me and although I have been labeled weird all my life I just don’t care. So maybe the girl from the email didn’t like being weird right then, but end the end she might realize it’s not the worst thing in the world. She might discover the beauty of being an original and thank her mom for putting her on that path.

What do you think?

Related Posts:

Extended Breastfeeding Myth #1: Extended Breastfeeding Causes Homosexuality

Myth #3: Extended Breastfeeding Will Make Your Child Uber-Clingy

Extended Breastfeeding Myth #4: Breastfeeding BOYS Past Nine Months Will Increase Their Sexual Awareness

Resources:

“Research reports on the psychological aspects of nursing are scarce. One study that dealt specifically with babies nursed longer than a year showed a significant link between the duration of nursing and mothers’ and teachers’ ratings of social adjustment in six to eight year old children (Ferguson et all 1987). In the words of the researchers, ‘There are statistically significant tendencies for conduct disorder scores to decline with increased duration of breastfeeding.” — Sally Kneidel, Nursing Beyond One Year

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23 Responses to Extended Breastfeeding Myth #2

  1. kate says:

    I like the way you said that Katie’s life is not a political statement. I think a lot of moms exploit their children for their own purposes.

  2. I am reminded of what may be the greatest non-biblical quote I’ve ever read. The point of it is that standing out and shining is one of our great privileges as people.

    “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.

    Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

    It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us.

    We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous,
    talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?
    You are a child of God.

    Your playing small does not serve the world.
    There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other
    people won’t feel insecure around you.

    We were born to make manifest the glory of
    God that is within us.

    It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.

    And as we let our own light shine,
    we unconsciously give other people
    permission to do the same.

    As we are liberated from our own fear,
    Our presence automatically liberates others.”
    - Marianne Williamson

  3. Karen says:

    That email about the psychological effects of extended breastfeeding is extraordinary! I’m a Londoner where extended breastfeeding is probably even less common and still feeding my 2 and 8 month old daughter who is showing NO sign of giving up. And I do balk at feeding in public now and wonder if she ever WILL give up but she is the happiest, healthiest child I know (aside from her 6 and a half yr old brother who I fed till he was 2) so I am just going with it; she doesn’t see anything less than natural about it so why should anyone else. Love the blog – I’m on the Real Food blogroll too, food stuff on the blog but I am very much into this kind of mothering too!

    • Heather says:

      Thanks for stopping by, Karen! I’m not at all surprised that many moms drawn to real food are also likely to embrace wholesome mothering practices like extended nursing. I think it comes down to the fact that we trust our instincts more than food pyramids, marketing hype, formula commercials, trendy parenting books, etc.

  4. Angela Campany says:

    My Mom worked 60-80 hour weeks all through my childhood, and THAT is something I resent. Why on earth would someone resent their mother for going out of her way to devote her time to them? There is no greater gift to a child. It sounds more like societal pressure making this girl feel “weird” instead of “loved”.

    • Heather says:

      Angela- Because my mom was a single parent she too had to work. I didn’t resent it because I knew she’d rather be with me, but I feel it is a privilege that I get to stay home with my children. I’m hoping they’ll grow up with a sense of security I didn’t have until I was grown up and married. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  5. Melanie Buck says:

    The thing I have learned with my journey of breastfeeding is that it is a constant social challenge no matter what the age. Beginning with the nurses in the hospital who said my baby was not gaining weight fast enough and to supplement. My family who told me I was starving my baby by not giving him formula and cereal. Even recently, I was challenged to wean due to a medication.
    I have tried to keep it simple with just staying true to the reasons I chose to nurse in the beginning, it is perfect and healthy nutrition with built in immunities and a bonding experience between mother and child. I have read that Mother’s Milk changes to adapt to the changes and needs of an older child, so my other simple thought is if my body is still making it and my child still wants it, there must be something to it.
    As always, I enjoyed your writing and research.

  6. Shawna says:

    Always interesting to read about your journey, my friend! :-)

  7. Melodie says:

    I do things very similar to you Heather. I’m at the stage where I won’t nurse my 3 year old in a public place or around anyone who I think might ridicule her and make her feel bad for nursing. But also like you I am not raising her in a way to fit, I am raising her to be one of the few people to help change the world, through healthy eating and healthy lifestyle choices.

    • Heather says:

      Isn’t it encouraging to know there are other moms out there with the same vision for parenting? I felt so WEIRD when I started this journey, but along the way I have met incredibly intelligent, accomplished women attempting the same thing I am. I am grateful for the children that you and other moms are raising : – )

  8. biscuit23 says:

    My husband and I don’t have any children yet, but I enjoy doing “research” for when we eventually do. This blog is so fun to read, and your remark that you aren’t raising your daughter to “fit in” but rather “to shine” brought tears to my eyes. You must be such an amazing mom!

    • Heather says:

      Hi Biscuit23 – I’m so glad to “meet” you! How awesome that you are already thinking about how you want to raise your future children. The subject deserves more consideration than it usually gets!

      But here’s a true confession: I am NOT an amazing mom. In fact, I am really fumbling my way through these early years with my firstborn. But blogging about it helps me process and restore my focus to what’s really important.

      Thanks for commenting!

  9. Liz says:

    Hi,

    My perspective is a bit different because I’m a lot older than most of you. Both my kids nursed late from an American perspective. My son had a somewhat mother led weaning at 3 when I was 5 months pregnant with his sister (there was some prospect that I might have to go onto a contraindicated medication), My daughter nursed until 5 and a half. Now I think there was a point in her life where she was uncomfortable with that idea, mostly because she picked up on the fact that our culture was uncomfortable with it. However, she now is the mother of a breastfeeding 16 month old whom she is in no hurry to wean. Having been a late nursling herself has given her the confidence to go toe to toe with her mother-in-law who thinks nursing beyond twelve months is abnormal. Interestingly, it’s my daughter herself who will tell people she nursed to five and a half. For the record, neither of my children are homosexual, both of them moved away from home, had sleepovers as kids, went away on club trips without parents along, etc. I think that the one thing I’ve seen in “extended” nursers as a group is independence and confidence combined with a genuine attachment to their families. If we really want to develop life long relationships with our kids and still have them able to find their own paths it seems like extended nursing can play a positive role in the process.

  10. [...] pretty sure mine wouldn’t be able to. They’d probably come across the post where I said I’m “raising my daughter to shine” and say “Oh! Oh! I want [...]

  11. Brynna says:

    I know this post is old, too (LOL! I just found your blog and am loving it!), but I just wanted to say I like this post! My 5 year old just weaned this past winter at 4.5years, and I am still nursing my almost 3 year old and my 14 month old. It’s always sad to me that I feel like I have to be quiet about them nursing past 2(ish) years for fear of people being negative.

    • Heather says:

      Hi Brynna! It’s wonderful to “meet” you. This was one of the most challenging and rewarding series I have ever written and I’m glad you enjoyed it! My dd is 3.5 and my son is 8 months. I’m nearing the point where I’m gently steering dd toward her last nursing session because it’s becoming uncomfortable, but I’m not in a huge rush. Just thinking about it :)

  12. [...] that I’ll make my child gay, or uber-clingy, overly aware of “sexuality” or maybe just plain embarrassed? Apparently, I do not. But I do know two more fantastic reasons to breastfeed into the second year [...]

  13. Here in South Africa some doctors tell parents that there’s “no point” in breast-feeding beyond 3 months. It grieves me that doctors can give such harmful advice, which unfortunately a large percentage of people won’t even think to question. The Western World, and even the non-rural communities here in SA, seem to think that they’ve got one up on nature by rushing through an important process like breast-feeding. Then they wonder why everyone is suffering from chronic diseases!

    Thanks for a really interesting post! I wish more people would take the time to educate themselves on such important matters, for their children’s sake.

  14. Holly says:

    what rot … I’m sorry but it’s just not that big a deal. Since when did we start psychoanalyzing all our children and blaming what Mom did or did not do for everything?! … extended nursing is shown to have health benefits for baby and westerners (ie Americans) are the only ones who tie themselves in knots over the issue!

  15. jessica says:

    I found your comment that ” you have heen considered wierd your whole” interesting because I think you are amazing! I love your blog and I truly wish I had stumbled into your blog a long time ago. Like 10 years ago before I had my 1st baby ( although I’m sure your blog didn’t exist back then, but you know what I mean). I wish I knew all the stuff I know now back then and not after my 3rd baby was already a year old. I think your blog is amazing and I am so grateful for all the information that you have on it.

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