One night Daniel and I were having dinner with our crunchiest of crunchy friends. My friend Cindy, who is still nursing her 19 month old son was talking about a recent comment someone made to her.
How long are you going to breastfeed that boy? Till he’s in high school? Are you going to go on dates with him so he can nurse???
Right when she finished her husband, Dr. Jim Bob, chimed in, “Well, if he dates Katie you can both go to the movies with them and they can nurse instead of buy popcorn. It’s cheaper that way!!!”*
Hysterical laughter erupted from all around the table. Surrounded by friends that know and trust our choices it can be fun to joke about the misconceptions that surround our parenting style. Did I say fun? I meant necessary. We all needed a laugh. Because sometimes it’s not funny . . . like when another mother launches a visceral attack because she’s just learned I don’t vaccinate.
I have a pretty thick skin. Usually, I’m not bothered when people question my choices. When I engage people with different parenting styles who know how to communicate with respect I learn a lot. By bringing in a new perspective they help me think through the issues at a deeper level.
Top 3 Extended Breastfeeding Myths
This week I got an email from one of my real-life friends. It brings up three common myths believed about extended breastfeeding. I’m only going to cover one myth per post, but here’s a preview of all three.
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.
For the record, my friend is a fantastic mom. She’s a very open and frank person and doesn’t mind asking tough questions. I’m not attacking her views. I don’t even know that they are her views. All I know is that some mom’s she knows brought up some objections to extended breastfeeding and she asked me about them. And I don’t mind trying to answer, so here we go . . .
Myth #1: Extended Breastfeeding Causes Homosexuality
Fact: Nursing is not sexual. It has nothing to do with sexuality. Nursing will not cause a child to become sexually active at an earlier age or homosexual.
The REAL Sexual Danger
I am more concerned about the effects of oversexualized advertising (which has almost become soft-porn in the U.S.) on my child’s perception of sexuality than whether or not they breastfeed into the preschool years.
Looking back I’m actually surprised I haven’t gotten the sexuality question before. I think it must be because Katie is a girl. My friends that nurse their sons into toddlerhood often get told they are “making them gay”. At first I dismissed this perception as something only believed by a small group of paranoid people. People that maybe also thought extended breastfeeding could turn children into smurfs or toadstools. Not so. Sadly, because of the strong association Americans place between breasts and sex a lot of people have come to believe that extended breastfeeding will mess children up sexually.
I would really, really like to have a study to put right here that clearly says extended breastfeeding does not cause an increase in sexual promiscuity/homosexuality/whatever. There isn’t one. As my blogger friend Melodie said, “Can you imagine a longitudinal study just to see if children who were breastfed beyond age 2 became homosexual? Who would fund that???”
We Need a Global Perspective
What I can tell you is that the American tendency to wean early is the exception, not the rule. The worldwide average for weaning is somewhere between 2-4 years of age. If you think about how uncommon extended breastfeeding is in the U.S. and some other westernized nations, consider how old children must be breastfeeding in other parts of the world to drive the average up that high.
Still think mothers that practice extended breastfeeding are weirdos?
- The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding well into and beyond the second year old life. This is a conservative organization which is saying two years is the minimum we should breastfeed for, NOT the maximum!
- The American Academy of Family Physicians (yet another very conservative organization) states that weaning a child before two years of age leads to an increase in illness.¹
Although I couldn’t find any studies to prove this either, my perception is that the U.S. has one of the highest population percentages that identify as homosexuals and one of the lowest populations of extended breastfeeding mothers. If extended breastfeeding is an influencing factor wouldn’t we have one of the lowest homosexual populations on earth?
Here’s what I really think is going on: Sex sells everything from Herbal Essence shampoo to cars to Axe deodorant in this country. It’s big business, and the idea that breasts are for nurturing and food just doesn’t fit with that. In fact, if you can banish that idea from the minds of consumers you can sell more stuff like infant formula and specialty “early” foods.
It has led to a ridiculous sort of paranoia where many consider breastfeeding a form of sexual abuse, like in this sad case:
Two children were taken away from their parents after a photo of a 12-month-old baby with his lips on his mother’s nipple was developed at a local drug store and then reported to authorities by the shop’s clerk. No experts were consulted, no evaluations were made, the children were simply whisked away and the parents charged with the second-degree felony of “sexual performance of a minor.”
Can you believe this happened in Dallas?
Being Different is Painful
I may have thick skin, but honestly it sometimes hurts to be different. Part of the reason I decided to write this post is to remind myself that as far as the global population goes I am actually in good company.
Before you click away I really want to know: Do you think our cultural perception of breastfeeding is healthy? What makes YOU uncomfortable?
*For the record, I’m not expecting to breastfeed Katie when she’s five. Maybe four, but honestly I sense she’ll probably self-wean between her third and fourth year. I’m trying to keep an open mind, though.
A Natural Age of Weaning by Katherine Dettwyler, PhD,Department of Anthropology,Texas A&M University
Sustained Breastfeeding by Kate Mortensen Grad Dip (Counselling), IBCLC, NMAA Counsellor