I bet at least half of those reading this are uncomfortable with that picture.
I get that society isn’t comfortable with breastfeeding in many ways, despite all the lip service given to “breast is best.” So it’s not a big surprise that socially speaking most people don’t even have a basic idea of what’s normal or healthy with breastfeeding. With this in mind much of what is unsupportive support comes from this place of ignorance and lack of exposure to normal, healthy breastfeeding. It is my hope that time will change this problem because we have allowed our emphasis on the sexual nature of breasts to replace a general understanding of normal human biology. However, waiting won’t change the unsupportive support spreading as a result of this collective ignorance of society so those unintentional acts must be addressed. Continuing the series on unsupportive support, let’s take a look at a few of these common issues stemming from society’s lack of understanding of normal and healthy breastfeeding.
Does this one weird you out too?
How not to support and how to avoid being unintentionally unsupportive- part 6.
Unsupportive support is…
Ever asking “Isn’t he too old for that?” or “If they can ask for it they’re too old, it’s just gross.”
First thought that goes through my mind when I hear this: “Aren’t you too old to be so rude?” Manners, people, try them. This is not your child, this is not your choice. Plus, the answer is no, the child isn’t too old. Wherever you draw the imaginary cut off line for breastfeeding, it’s just that, imaginary. What is it you’re really afraid of anyway? That it somehow becomes sexual? Remember, that fear is founded in an adult perception of breasts, not a child’s. Are you concerned that the child will grow overly dependent on breastfeeding and need to breastfeed when they are in college? Please, in cultures where it is common for children to wean on their own timeline, this is unheard of. And even if it were to happen, wouldn’t that make it their problem, not yours? Still, I’m not going to give this concern any more energy, I’ve never once met someone that had a college-age child breastfeeding. You may be out of touch with what normal duration breastfeeding looks like, sometimes called “extended breastfeeding” but I have to ask, extended beyond what? The minimum recommendations? Extended beyond society’s distorted perception of normal breastfeeding? Extended beyond your personal comfort level? Extended beyond the imaginary cut off line for breastfeeding The major health organizations in the world encourage mothers to breastfeed for at least 2 years and they recommend women continue as long as it is mutually agreeable. Mutually. Between the breastfeeding mother and the breastfeeding child. Not you. It’s up to them so butt out. Babies start using the only communicating tools they know to start asking for it as soon as they are born, you can read here about normal newborn behavior. A mother responding to her child’s signs of hunger = good parenting, not a bad habit. It’s important that you recognize and get comfortable now with this thought: “My opinions aren’t always right for everyone and sometimes I should just keep them to myself.”
Sneaking food to a small child without asking their parents permission or arguing with them about their choice to wait to introduce foods.
It boggles my mind how often I read “I can’t trust my mother-in-law/uncle/brother/grandpa/etc. with my 3 month old, they insist on giving him tastes of food, even stuff like ice cream or dangerous choking hazards!” People, it’s not your kid, not your turn to make these kind of decisions. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, shoot, friends get to spoil a kid, it’s true. When my kids are older I don’t care if my parents take them out for ice cream for breakfast when they get to have them on their own. It’s their grandparent prerogative and I support it on occasion. But that has to be something discussed and approved (even with disapproval) and the limits recognized and respected. Giving a baby foods that their parents, you know, the people that are responsible for them, take them to the doctor, are reading the most up to date information on what babies need, and are up at night with them, haven’t approved is not only disrespectful but it’s dangerous. Between ruining a virgin gut (google it), risking allergen exposure, and introducing textures they may not be physically developed enough to handle and thus pose a potential choking risk, there is absolutely no good reason EVER to sneak food to another parent’s child. And arguing with them about their decision for the health and safety of their child, even if you think they are wrong or extreme, is not helping either the parent or the child. If you’re truly concerned do your research before bringing it up. In order to offer support that’s actually helpful, you need to be familiar with current information and research as well as possible controversy. In the end you have to respect their decision or you will remain that person they can’t trust. And yes, they can’t trust you which means they will never be comfortable leaving their child in your hands. Coming to terms with “I am not the person(s) ultimately responsible for this child, I do not have the authority or position to make this decision and must respect the people that do.” By the way, this goes for formula fed babies too. Allergies, food sensitivities, immature digestive tracts, and choking hazards are real concerns for them as well. This is their long term health you’re messing around with and you don’t have that right or responsibility.
Breastfeeding is the biologically normal way to feed a small infant and child. Just because we’re not used to it as a society does not mean that there is something wrong with it. Before critiquing the mother willing to go against societal norms to do what she truly believes is best for her child, please educate yourself as to why she would do that in the first place. Or at least express your thoughts and concerns by asking respectfully why she has chosen a certain path over another. When it comes to decisions regarding that child’s health step carefully. There is controversy surrounding just about every health decision parents are faced with today, cut them some slack and just respect that they are thinking people that may be ok with discussing their decision but deserve to be respected in them even if you disagree. Please don’t let cultural ignorance determine how you feel about something or how you respond to something. Challenge yourself, is the problem really what that mother is doing or is the problem that as a society we just can’t imagine anything other than what we’ve grown accustomed to. Push yourself outside of your comfort zone and offer real support, not ignorant social judgments.
Have you received comments about your child being “too old” to breastfeed? How did you respond?
Are there people around you that you can’t trust because they don’t respect your parenting choices?
Have you ever had someone feed or almost feed your child something you felt was dangerous?