What I Want My Daughters To Know About Motherhood- Feeding Babies

by Jessica Martin-Weber
Recently I was reflecting on why I started Milk: An Infant Feeding Conference and I thought back on my different feeding journeys with my daughters, looking back and wishing there were things I knew when I first started out that I know now. I considered writing a post to my young self but then I realized that the ones I really want to know now what I wish I knew then about infant feeding are my daughters. Before they embark on their own motherhood journey, before they begin feeding their own babies (yes, I’m assuming that out of 6 girls at least one of them will have children and I will get to be a grandparent), there are so many things I want them to know, I could write a book and not just on infant feeding. Respecting that their journey will be their own, not some version or extension of mine, what I want to share isn’t a how to nor is it a manual, it is more just… my heart. Why am I starting an infant feeding conference? My daughters are why.

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Dear Daughter,

From time to time I reflect on the days when you were new to the world, newer than you are now, which is still pretty new. Those days when you were tiny and fit snuggled on my chest with your arms and legs tucked under you, my hand supporting your little bum. I think about the smell of your head, the feel of your skin, the depth of your eyes. I smile as I remember arguing with your father and sometimes others that it wasn’t gas, you were actually really smiling in your sleep. Like precious family heirlooms, from time to time I reverently unpack the memories of your daddy gently swinging you on his arm during fussy periods of the day, how one of your big sisters would interact with you, the way you calmed when I held you, the seriousness with which you would watch light dancing on the wall, and other fragments of the time when you were the smallest big thing in my world.

Some of those cherished mental keepsakes have little barbs on them. They sting when I unpack them, no matter how careful I am. How you were taken away from me just after I had the first chance to hold you because I was hemorrhaging, the time I screwed up and dropped you due to careless use of an infant carrier (Oh sweetie, I tried to call Child Protective Services on myself), hours and hours of screaming that nothing would soothe and the obvious pain you were in (heads up, colic is hell), the stint in the hospital with RSV, and so many more. I could keep these painful memories locked up and forgotten but I don’t, though I don’t linger over them too long, they are an important part of the story we share.

A good number of those treasured memories so carefully packed in my mind are around feeding you. You, as babies do, ate often. Satiated is but a temporary state of being and babies stay there only for brief moment of visitation. Some of these memory gems are truly sublime, shining moments that reflect the light of my love, your beauty, and our connection in sparkling bursts of color from ever angel and with every turn. Some of them are more like clunky chunks of rough rock, the weight and texture of which can make me raw. There is beauty there, beauty only appreciated when the whole topography is viewed. I cherish them all.

My baby feeding story journey isn’t isolated to just feeding you. All 6 of my children have impacted me and feeding each of them has had a hand in shaping me as a mother and directly impacting how I parented. And so, there are a few things I really want you to know about feeding babies. This won’t give you everything you need to know but these, my strong, intelligent, and courageous daughter, are the things what I want you to know from my heart about feeding babies and I hope sharing this now feeds you in a new way.

Feeding is important. Very important. Feeding our babies is the most basic, most essential, most immediate, and most elemental aspect of parenting. It can be said, without fail, that not feeding your baby is parenting failure. Neglect. Abuse. This may seem obvious and it is, but it is also important in ways you wouldn’t first see.  In my experience, how our children come to us is a journey that shapes us much like rushing water can shape rock. Babies aren’t the only ones birthed, mothers are birthed through the arrival of their children into their lives. Likewise, how we feed our babies can lay a foundation for how we parent. Feeding can shore up our confidence as parents and it can tear it down.

But not that important. For as deeply as it can impact us, you’ll feed your babies so many times each day that it can become mundane. That’s ok. You don’t have to experience each moment feeding your baby as a super special time of bonding. That would be like expecting every meal with your significant other to be a candlelight dinner that you poured yourself into preparing and spent looking deeply into each other’s eyes. In the end, as long as the feeding happens, the important part is done. And because it has to be done so frequently, letting go of expectations as to how it happens can be freeing to enjoy each experience as much as possible without the stress.

You matter too. Before baby comes, everyone is all about the mother-to-be. After baby comes, everyone is all about the baby and the mom is little more than the easel holding up the masterpiece. With that comes all the opinions on how to care for, and certainly how to feed, the masterpiece. But you matter too. According to many, you’ll be doing it wrong. Even those who support the method you are using will find ways to tell you are doing it wrong. Everything is subject to such “support” when it comes to feeding your baby. Bottle feeding? You’re holding that bottle wrong, using the wrong bottle, giving a bottle at all… all wrong. Breastfeeding? You’re using the wrong position, the wrong pillows, the wrong place, the wrong timing, doing it at all… all wrong. Pumping? You’re using the wrong pump, the wrong setting, the wrong method, doing it at all… all wrong. With everyone focused on the adorable masterpiece, they will want to “help” you care for it “right.” In the process, some will forget about caring for you. Mothering may change how you see your body and how you feel about it, aspects you may not love may be the most wonderful to your child. Mothering will change your heart and how you feel about it, aspects you may not love about yourself may be the most wonderful to your child. Take care of you, your children will need you to, they need and love you. It may feel selfish but taking care of you is important in taking care of your baby. You matter. Find those that can genuinely support you and your goals in caring for your baby. Those who believe you matter too.

The system is broken. It is improving and I hope by the time you are embarking on this journey, the system will be in a much better place. Right now though, it’s broken. From uninformed health care providers to uninformed store managers, from predatory marketing to pushy breastfeeding supporters, from poor insurance coverage to poor maternity leave, from ignorant judgmental strangers on the internet to ignorant judgmental friends in person, the system of infant feeding support in our society is failing moms. It is imbedded in our culture and it is hurting people. That can change but only by addressing the system rather than individual parents. They, you, just need someone willing to support them as a person, not a conquest. There is a lot of hurt, anger, guilt, shame, fear, arrogance, and hope surrounding this and you will hear it but it isn’t really about you.

Science is cool. There’s a lot of it and you’ll want to take the time to be familiar with it before you head into feeding your babies. Not everyone agrees on the science, it’s worth hearing the various view points. Being informed and personally conscientious can help you tap into your own powerful confidence. Decide what makes sense to you, what works for you according to the information, resources, and support available to you within your personal context and individual circumstances.

But feeding babies isn’t science, it’s a relationship. At some point, all the information in the world, all the evidence, all the support, all the goals aren’t important any more. Because it is a relationship. You and your baby. You are the one who knows what that relationship needs, you are the expert, you are the one most qualified. Even when you feel like you aren’t. You taught me that what a baby really needs is a fully invested parent who lovingly cares for them. Listen to yourself and your baby and don’t let anyone else define your relationship, feeding or otherwise.

There is more, so much more about feeding I want to tell you but for now I’ll stop here. Except for this:

I believe in you. I support you. Whatever you need, I am here for you and plan to be there for you. Unless you ask me not to. But most of all, I love you. You’ve got this.

Love,

Mom

____________________

What would you say to your children about infant feeding? How will you tell them the story of feeding them? What do you want them to know?

Milk BLO event graphic

I started Milk with MommyCon founder, Xza Higgins, with the goal to bring together health care providers, parenting advocates, infant feeding influencers, and parents for workshops, seminars, and connecting centered around conversation supporting feeding our babies.

Founded on the belief that infant feeding support makes a difference and can directly influence confidence levels in parents, MiLK focuses on information sharing and mindful support that builds parents up without tearing down, respecting the unique journey of each of us. MiLK aims to actively educate and support infant feeding by connecting health care providers and the families they care for discussing breastfeeding, formula feeding, breastmilk pumping, at the breast supplementing, bottle feeding, cup feeding, spoon feeding… FEEDING. This is not, to be clear, a breastfeeding conference. It is an infant feeding conference with a goal of bringing together health care providers and parents where we can learn from each other.

Most importantly, I hope we learn how to really listen and what support can really looks like.

I hope you can me join me in Los Angeles, California, July 31st and August 1st. The speakers and panelists are all people I greatly respect, people that inspire me not only in my infant feeding journeys but in supporting others in their journeys as well. Offering 9.25 CERPs (IBCLC) and 11.1 Contact Hours (BRN), MiLK is for the lay parent and the health care professional.

I would love to see you there.

__________________

We have a MiLK giveaway!
3 prizes:

Grand prize: 2 tickets for one winner with the VIP option and a set of general admission to the local breastfeeding support group of their choice, 1 Arm’s Reach Mini-CoSleeper in Santa Fe, 1 tekhni Nymphai wrap, 1 Ergobaby nursing pillow, 1 Ameda Purely Yours Breast Pump, 1 [email protected] shirt, 1 box Earth Mama Angel Baby Organic Milkmaid Tea, 1 Earth Mama Angel Baby Natural Nipple Butter, 1 pair Earth Mama Angel Baby Booby Tubes.
Prize pack 1: 2 general admission tickets to milk, 1 tekhni Nymphai wrap, 1 Ergobaby nursing pillow, 1 manual pump, 1 Ameda nursing tank, 1 [email protected] shirt.

Prize pack 2: 2 general admission tickets to milk, 1 tekhni Nymphai ring sling, 1 Ergobaby nursing pillow, 1 [email protected] shirt.

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How to Wean Your Teenager

by Jessica Martin-Weber with Ophélia and Lavinia Martin-Weber

How to wean a teenager

It is a well known fact that if you don’t make sure you get a baby off the boob by the end of their first year or definitely by the time they are two, they will never, ever stop breastfeeding and you’ll have to go to college with them. This is a fact known by every Tom, Dick, and Harry, Cindy, Karen, and Amanda. If you’re not aware of this, don’t worry, any conversation about breastfeeding beyond infancy in person, on an online article, blog posts, and of course, social media, will eventually become about this very fact. It is an inescapable truth: if you breastfeed past infancy your child will never wean and you will find yourself breastfeeding a teenager or young adult some day. Once they can ask for it you have to cut them off or they will never stop. Clearly breastfeeding is more addictive than chocolate, alcohol, crack, speed, shopping, and independence.

Because everyone knows that 3 and 13 are pretty much the same thing, you just stick a one in front of that 3. Teens are, according to most people, really just toddlers in bigger bodies, with raging hormones, pimples, and a slightly larger vocabulary. The temper tantrums are pretty much the same. Childhood goes so fast, don’t blink because you’ll miss it if you do and the next thing you know your 6’ 1” teenage boy will be folding himself onto your lap and tugging at your shirt saying “nene please mama.” Fact.

*Disclaimer: I have teenagers, they were breastfed as babies and toddlers but they never breastfed beyond early childhood so I can’t say I have any experience with this fact myself, nor have I ever encountered a breastfeeding teenager and unless my friends are lying, neither have they. But thousands of people say it is true. I know, I read it online.

But let’s say you’ve done it, ignored all the warnings and breastfed your child after their 1st birthday and then even after their 2nd and 3rd and 4th birthdays, now what? If you haven’t already, you’re headed straight to meeting them at lunch in high school so they can have mama milk. And if you have more than one child, you really are in big trouble. Juggling all those schedules to get your kids their babas is going to get really challenging.

It’s true, I guess, you’re just going to HAVE to cut them off at some point unless you really are ok following them to college and then some day on their honeymoon. There could be bonding moments in the future as you breastfeed your grown son while his wife breastfeeds their son. If that just won’t work for you though, how are you ever going to get that teenager to stop breastfeeding? When is it really time to wean and how do you do it?

I turned to my resident experts on teens: Earth Baby, 16, and Storyteller, 13. They were a bit shocked when I initially brought it up to them:

Me: “How should a mom wean their teenager from breastfeeding?”

EB: “Wait, WHAT?”

Storyteller: “That’s a thing? I don’t think that’s a thing.”

Me: “It’s totes a thing, I read it online.”

*At this point I got “the look” from Storyteller.

Storyteller: “You should never say ‘totes again’ and now I know that’s not a thing.”

EB: “Wait, WHAT? Are you really asking what I think you are asking?”

Me: “What’s wrong with me saying ‘totes’? And yes, I’m really asking.”

EB: “I don’t think any of my friends have conversations like this with their moms…”

Storyteller: “OMG, I know mine don’t. They also don’t breastfeed. Or say ‘totes.’ People saying teenagers breastfeed are severely lacking in intelligence. You can’t say ‘totes’ because you’re too old.”

EB: “Our family is weird, isn’t it?”

Me: “They either don’t breastfeed because their mom weaned them when they were young enough or they do breastfeed in secret. Some of them have to because I read it on the internet. Why am I too old to say ‘totes’?”

Storyteller: “You do know you can’t believe everything you read on the internet, right? It’s just dumb to think that kids that don’t stop breastfeeding when they are little will end up wanting to breastfeed as teenagers. Saying ‘totes’ is dumb too. What is wrong with people?”

Me: “I write on the internet, of course you can believe everything you read on the internet!

Earth Baby: “This is ridiculous.”

Earth Baby and Storyteller how to wean teenagers

Storyteller (left) and Earth Baby (right).

It took a while to get them to just go with me on this but that was an excellent example of just how hard it could be to wean a teenager. They’re stubborn creatures and smart too, they can argue until you’re blue in the face and they’ll still continue. Weaning a breastfed teenager could be intensely difficult! I can see why there are so many warnings to wean while they are still young.

Besides, can you imagine breastfeeding through the dreaded wisdom teeth stage?

After bribing them, they came up with some ideas. I shot down a few, such as the suggestion that you just tell them no, that it’s all done. Oh puh-lease, teenagers and “no” go about as well together as oil and water. I’m not so great at taking a direct “no” either so I know it’s best to save them for the big things such as “no, you absolutely can not surf on the hood of a truck going down the highway.” They agreed that “no” wouldn’t work given our family’s own personal experience with how well “no” is an effective strategy for a teenager. #itsnoteffectiveatall

Here are the ones we all thought might be most effective though, all approved by the teenagers in my house:

Gentle conversation. According to my 13 year old, teenagers are reasonable.

BAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

Moving on.

Bribe them with cake. That’s right, offer cake and tell them if they give up “bobbies” they can have cake. Also acceptable would be cake pops, frappuccinos, mini doughnuts, and iTunes gift cards.

Wean to drive. They can’t drive or get a drivers license until they give up the mama milks for good. No exceptions. It would be so important for mom to hold strong when the whining starts after they’ve started driving and start whining about how badly they need their nene.

Entertainment options. If you’re trying to wean a younger teen or maybe a tween, you could try saying no PG 13 movies because those movies are for big kids and big kids don’t get to breastfeed any more. This will work because all their friends will be talking about the next Pitch Perfect movie and they’ll totally be left out which would even be worse than weaning.

Smart phone. Like breastfeeding, all the teens are smartphoning these days. It’s simple though, mom will have to get another job to afford the bill so she can’t breastfeed any more. If they want a smartphone to fit in with their friends, they’ll be more than willing for mom to hang up her nursing bras and go to work.

Dating. Explain that any possible dates will be a little horrified if they found out they were still breastfeeding. It could really hurt their chances of finding a date… ever. But since embarrassment is worse than death for teens, simply posting a breastfeeding selfie and tagging them on social media would possibly do it. Also, would take care of the whole talking to you thing.

Prom. There’s just no way you could find an on trend yet age appropriate prom dress that has easy boob access. Show them what you’d have to wear to prom so they had mama milks when they needed it. They’ll never want to breastfeed again.

Charge. Teenagers are the largest demographic with a disposable income. Use it to your advantage, my 13yo thought that $1/1 minute sounded about fair if a teen wanted to continue breastfeeding. That would encourage them to wean real quick: buy a new outfit or get some “bob bob” and the decision would be pretty simple.

Just say no. My teenagers maintain that saying “my body, my choice” would be a firm boundary no teenager would cross. Specially if you’re already teaching them to respect themselves and others.

So, tell us, what are your tips for weaning teenagers?

 

*Please note: this is intended to be humorous with a bit of satire.
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When your older, weaned child asks to breastfeed

by Jessica Martin-Weber

Today my 4 year old Smunchie who hasn’t breastfed in quite some time, asked for bobbies.  She hadn’t been feeling well all day and though it had been a while since she had breastfed, it was obvious that she found even the idea comforting.  Her eyes wide and a seriousness about her, she implored for some mama milk.  I offered to try to express some into a cup for her and the tiny bit of hope in her face dropped as she said ok but she really wanted to try to get the milk herself.  Without missing a beat, her two year old little sister rushed over, hands out, and screamed “my bobbies!”

Yes, my children were fighting over my boobs.

I gently reminded 2 year old Sugarbaby that they were my bobbies but that I share them and decided to invite both girls to cuddle up to nurse.

IMG_8849

I expect this post will make some people uncomfortable but we need to talk about it anyway.

Sometimes, older, weaned children will ask to breastfeed.  Whether it be a new baby added to the family or just what seems a random interest, it’s not unusual for a child to see breastfeeding and want to give it a try.  They may be quite insistent or perhaps shy and act embarrassed.  It may come when you’re sitting there feeding their younger sibling or when they get a moment alone with you.  There is a possibility that they are more than a little curious and will want to re-establish a breastfeeding relationship.

Before you freak out (probably too late), keep in mind that children don’t have a developed sense of sexuality or even what makes something sexual.  Unless the child is more like a teenager, the interest in breastfeeding has more to do with curiosity than sexual confusion.  Even though adults in much of westernized society place a heavy emphasis on the sexual function of the female breasts over the nutritional and nurturing functions, children just don’t see it that way so you can take a deep breath and know that there is nothing wrong with your child, they’re just a normal child with normal curiosity.  Breasts are another body part made intriguing by the fact that children have yet to develop breasts themselves and if a child encounters breastfeeding and had it explained to them without shame, they are going to understand breasts as a food source rather than identifying breasts for sexual pleasure.  Please note: gender identity, the differences between the sexes, perceived gender roles, attachment, emotional bonds, body autonomy, and understanding appropriate touching is developing from infancy.

And no, feeding children well past infancy into early childhood is not messing them up.  You don’t have to worry about psychological damage from breastfeeding past one or two years old.  That myth has totally been debunked both through scientific research and anecdotally by many older children and adults that remember breastfeeding at such an age.  Read one such account from an outspoken 12 year old who breastfed until she was 4.

If their sexual awareness has yet to develop, they don’t yet buy into society’s emphasis on female breasts primarily as sex objects, and it’s not messing kids up to breastfeed well beyond the 1st year of life, how should we respond?

With patience.  With love.  With acceptance.  With gentleness.  Without shame.  Without fear.  Without judgment.

As is often the case, the manner with which we respond to our children is more important than what we actually do.  If your older, weaned child asks to breastfeed, saying yes or no is less important than how you say it.  Before you respond, ask yourself what your reaction could be communicating to your child.  Is it loving?  Does it communicate acceptance? Or is it expressing shock and disgust?  Could they confuse your response as a rejection of them?  That they did something wrong?  That breastfeeding is shameful?

What should you do if your older, weaned child asks to breastfeed?  I have no idea.  Whatever is right for you.  I would just encourage you not to rush your decision, take a moment and reflect on why or why not you may be comfortable with that.  With older children, a conversation is usually possible and a reasonable place to start.  Involving them in a conversation as part of your decision making could be a bonding experience for you both.

Your decision is completely up to you and your personal boundaries.  If you’re not comfortable letting your older, weaned child breastfeed then don’t.  If you think you may be ok with it, then let them.  Your boundaries and modeling bodily autonomy is important too and an older child is capable of understanding such boundaries.  If you decide you’re comfortable with it and even want to encourage them to relearn how to properly latch (yes, that is an option) and that works for both of you, that can be significant journey as well.  Whatever you decide, just do so gently and you’ll both be fine.

My two eldest children never expressed an interest in breastfeeding once they weaned, not even when siblings were born.  Curiosity and copying with their own babies (dolls), absolutely, but they were never interested in trying to breastfeed for themselves.  Since then though I’ve had each of my 4 younger ones ask to try.  It weirded me out at first and I refused but that particular child began to ask repeatedly every time I sat to feed her younger sister and eventually I decided I didn’t actually have a good reason not to.  Having such a large child at my breast (she was 4) seemed strange to me but it only took one try and then a polite thank you with a hug to make me realize that was about my issues and what I considered normal than it was about somehow being wrong.  She did enjoy having my milk in a cup for months afterward though and that was something that meant a lot to her.  The most common reaction my children have is to have no idea what to do at the breast, attempt a couple of sucks, giggle, pull away, and inform me they aren’t babies any more and “bobbies are for babies.”  Sometimes they do get milk and don’t like the taste.  Even if they are interested in trying again, once their curiosity was satisfied they were happy to move on and leave breastfeeding to babies.

But that’s not what has happened with my current 4 year old.  She returns every so often to the breast, has even figured out that if she can get her little sister to start on one breast and then switch after let down, it’s easier for her and she’ll get more milk.  It doesn’t happen often, increasingly less and less, but she does still ask from time to time.  This time, after latching and not getting any milk, she decided she was good with just a cuddle.

“I like your milk, mommy, but I like your cuddles best.”

For us, it was worth letting her try.

breastfeeding the weaned child

 

___________________________

What do you think you would do if your previously weaned child asked to breastfeed again?

___________________________

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Will you allow me a proud mama moment?

This post was originally published in 2013, updated for 2014 by Jessica Martin-Weber

Sometimes it seems like these days of breastfeeding, diaper changes, and needy babies are going to last forever.  We fear losing ourselves in the blur of caring for our children.  Counting diapers, checking ounces, charting milestones… every day becomes so full it doesn’t seem like this time will ever really end. I always hate it when “they” say to hold on to this time, it goes so fast and the next thing you know you’ll be sad how fast they grew up.  It never really helps me, just makes me question if I’m ungrateful and selfish to not savor the poop filled, constantly breastfeeding stage when I’m tired and worn out.  And I have had moments where I’ve been convinced that my child would be the first child to actually still be breastfeeding when they go to college. But you know what?  “They” are right.  I have 6 children, 6 beautiful girls ages 2 years to 15 years old.  I blinked, you know, blinked and I have a 15 year old.  I could swear she was just a baby.  And no, she’s not still breastfeeding.

Help Ophélia Martin-Weber go to summer dance intensives

“They” are totally right. It goes so fast.  Faster than saying can even convey.  And it is so bittersweet.  One day you feel stuck in a whirlwind of diapers and boobs and the next you’re helping them plan leaving for the summer.  Or forever. Over 15 years ago I was made a mother when The Piano Man and I had our eldest.  Some days I look at her and remember the breastfeeding challenges I encountered with her and smile to think how far we’ve come and how distant that time feels.  Yet how very close still.  She helped mold and shape me to not only be the mother she needed but also to help form me to be the mother her little sisters would need and even set me on the path that led to starting The Leaky Boob.  I have shared the breastfeeding journey she and I experienced together, why I breastfeed for her even today, shared some of her sexual abuse survivor story, and she’s even written for The Leaky Boob herself sharing her views on breastfeeding just before she turned 12.  I am one proud mama. We named her Ophélia Chantelle, which means little helper, little song but I call her Earth Baby here to give her a little bit of distance between her real life and what I share online.  She’s not completely anonymous.  With her permission I’ve shared her face, her name, and parts of her story.  She follows The Leaky [email protected]@b and Beyond Moi and has seen conversations I’ve had and from time to time she will help make a post using my phone and taking dictation while I’m driving.  Thanks to her questions and sharing her thoughts, I’ve been inspired for articles, status updates, and tweets.  Her critical thinking has pushed me to reconsider my views on some topics and to open myself up to considering other perspectives.  Her giving, kind, and generous heart moves her to care deeply about others and inspires me to do the same.  I am one proud mama. Giving and full of love, she is a model big sister, making room in her life to play with her 5 little sisters in ways that are meaningful for them from building forts to playing peek-a-boo to going on walks to games of Battleship and climbing trees.  Creativity exudes from her, she knits, bakes, draws, writes, and above all, dances.  Her heart is big and she cares deeply not only for her family but friends and even strangers.  Sharing meals with homeless members of our community, volunteering to help others with babysitting, donating her funds when she can, volunteering for local and international efforts, and even making the choice to prioritize fair-trade chocolate so the treats she enjoys don’t oppress another child.  I am one proud mama. She loves learning and is willing to take risks to pursue what she loves.  An introvert, she is growing every day in understanding herself more and putting herself out there.  Nothing brings that quite together like dance does and in just 3 years we’ve watched as she went from the girl turning 11 and begging for ballet lessons more than anything, even saying to us “I don’t care if I ever get an iPod, a cell phone, or a car, I just want to dance!” to today blooming into a young ballerina with opportunities to pursue her dreams.  Bloodied feet and being behind most dancers her age have never deterred her, just spurred her to work harder until she caught up.  This past January she pushed herself to a new level and attended auditions for summer ballet intensives with hundreds of other students, most of whom have been dancing at least twice if not three times as long as she has.  It was scary but she did it.  I am one proud mama. It was worth it too.  She got into most of the programs for which she auditioned.  Consulting with her instructors and with The Piano Man and I, she narrowed down her choices to 2 programs.  Before she was even sure of where she wanted to go she began baking, running an ongoing bake sale to raise the funds that would be required to attend these training programs.  In a few weeks she raised enough to cover the registration to the two programs she selected.  I am one proud mama. So it is from that place that I share her efforts and invite you to hear from her as she works to reach her goal.  Putting it all out there, she’s raising the funds to get to these summer ballet intensives to train further.  Employing the help of her sisters and her father and me, she created a video and fundraising campaign to try and get the rest of the funds before the deadline.  We had hoped for scholarships but that didn’t happen this time around and the costs involved simply are not in our budget, all the scrimping and saving couldn’t make it so.  The sisters worked together to plan, film, and edit the video sharing Ophelia’s love for dance and her willingness to work hard for her dreams.  I am one proud mama. It’s not easy for her to ask for funds to reach these dreams, doing so is just one more indicator of how motivated she is to take risks and work hard towards her goals, goals that include helping others and using her talents to be a voice for the voiceless.  A tenacity that will serve her well through out her life, I believe.  Check out her fundraising campaign, it’s worth watching the video even if you’re not able to donate.  I’m sharing this and I hope you watch it then share it too because I’m one proud mama.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=j9wzWcV_gSs

Last year’s video, it’s amazing to see how much one year changes things even at this age! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ycG-NW1UGno

From a needy little baby to an increasingly independent young woman, I am one proud mama.  Thanks for letting me have a proud mama moment! See her fundraiser here, every contribution, big or small, helps:

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What does it look like to breastfeed a 2 year old?

by Jessica Martin-Weber

Child with birthday balloon

What does it look like to breastfeed a 2 year old?  Is it gross?  Creepy?  Or is it just a continuation of the sweet and simple nurturing experience the mother and child already have together?  I can’t keep her safe and protected from everything but while she still wants to be in my arms and finds comfort at my breast, I’ll continue to do what I can.

What does it look like?  This:

This past weekend we celebrated Sugarbaby’s 2nd birthday.  The day was fun, special, and she understood it was all about her.  And cake.  With 6 big girls in the family, it was a loud and energetic, ushering in her next year of life with enthusiasm.

And without much notice, I now am breastfeeding a 2 year old.  This doesn’t feel significant to Sugarbaby, nor to my family.  The only reason this is noteworthy is because breastfeeding beyond the first 12 months is hardly normal in our society, let alone breastfeeding beyond the first 24.  Many myths surround breastfeeding in general and they just increase after the deadline some have assigned (see Six myths about breastfeeding toddlers and preschoolers).  For many, breastfeeding this long is strange, extreme, extended, and questionable, at best.  Abusive, pedophilia, and psychologically damaging at worst.  A view point I don’t understand and research doesn’t support and when I asked a 12 year old that breastfed until she was 4 to share, she didn’t see what the issue could be either.

Breastfeeding beyond the first year makes many, many people uncomfortable.  Breastfeeding a child that walks and talks and plays, going well beyond the 2nd year makes most people uncomfortable.  It’s understandable too.  In our culture the majority of babies aren’t breastfed past 6 weeks and of those that are they usually are weaned off the breast by 12 months.  It’s rare in the majority of western culture to see a child over the age of 1 breastfeed, let alone 2.

But imagine you were in a different culture.  A culture where the average age of weaning was between 2-5 years old.  It would be common place to see a young child breastfeeding and nobody would think it’s odd.  In fact, if those people were to come here they would probably wonder why our children don’t continue breastfeeding at that age and perhaps find it unsettling and concerning.

What it boils down to in many ways is what we’re conditioned to.  The WHO and the AAP both recommend breastfeeding until it is mutually agreeable to the mother and child.  Which, for a good number of families would be well beyond that 24 month mark.  But we rarely get to see it.  For that to become an acceptable reality in the States it needs to be seen and not just as something to be laughed at in movies.  In other words, we need to start conditioning our culture to accept a new normal and we need to start doing it ourselves.  Which is totally possible.  Just look at standards of dress.  What was once considered inappropriate attire is now every day wear.  Adjusting our standards to accept a new normal is something that happens in culture on a daily basis.  Over time, we’ll get there and it may not ever be common place (though I sure do hope so) but it will seem less odd.  So while I don’t breastfeed to make any kind of point or in pursuit of any particular agenda, I do share the breastfeeding images and videos to help bring about that change.

breastfeeding 2 year old

This isn’t to say that women have to breastfeed beyond any point at all.  In fact, women don’t have to do anything and manipulating, shaming, or attempting to force someone to do something they really don’t want to do only serves to make the issue a controversial one and doesn’t help society to accept it as normal.  How could they when a portion of the population would resent it.  The messaging isn’t that it’s better to breastfeed longer or that those that don’t aren’t loving parents willing to sacrifice for their children.  The message is simply that there are reasons to and every family has to weigh those along with their personal reasons to make the right decision for their situation.

For our family it is simple.  Breastfeeding beyond societal accepted norms isn’t about anything but the simple, sweet, loving continuation of what we already have.  As I shared on Facebook, the decision to continue wasn’t about or for anyone else but us, and at 2 years old now she’s quite happy with our arrangement and blissfully unaware that others may look down on her continuing to find nourishment and comfort at my breast. A strong and confident little girl, I know that when Sugarbaby is ready to move on, she will have no problem doing so. For now though, I won’t be cutting her off even though some don’t understand. No arbitrary deadline can dictate how I care for my daughter and continue to meet her needs as she experiences them. Your breastfeeding goals, whatever they may be, are about you and your child, reach for them and don’t worry about what others think or say. Two weeks or two years (or more or less!), we support you.

For more on natural duration breastfeeding or breastfeeding beyond infancy, see what a toddler has to say here.

 

 

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How to explain breastfeeding to children of all ages

Every once in a while, pretty much every time breastfeeding in public comes up on The Leaky Boob Facebook page or in a group setting, someone expresses in frustration why they feel women should cover or go somewhere private to breastfeed asking “what do I say to my child as to what she is doing?”  Inevitably I think they are joking for some reason and for a moment I’ll be amused.  But then I realize they are completely serious and they find this to be a very valid reason as to why women should not breastfeed in public.  So I, very seriously and with compassion for their situation, offer suggestions, believing that knowing how to talk to children about nutrition, life, and normal infant feeding is important and I don’t want to leave them hanging.  How DO you talk about it?

If you’re very busy, and you probably are, I’ll go ahead and save you time and you can get on with your day:

Tell them she is feeding her baby.

This explanation is the most straightforward and appropriate response no matter what the age of the person asking.  It has the added bonus of being neither awkward or an untruth.  From 12 months to 120 years old, anyone can understand that a breastfeeding woman is feeding her baby.  It is simple, it is clear, it is true.

Eplaining breastfeeding to a child

Now, it is possible that some may find this confusing and want to argue that it is somehow gross, indecent, or too intimate to be done in public.  This argument is made possible by beer commercials, the media’s portrayal of women’s bodies, and our own overblown ideas fixating on only the sexual nature of the female breasts.  However, those that would raise such objections are not likely to be children but rather adults that have bought into the messages of society that the female body, in particular the female breasts, exist solely for the sexual gratification of men.  Children do not naturally have such bias so it is doubtful that, if your child is asking what a woman is doing while breastfeeding, they are equating the act with sex.  The anxiety you feel about their question is coming from your own inner insecurities and not that of the child.  Have no fear though, it is a simple fix: take a deep breath, own your issues, and answer honestly.  Hopefully by doing so you can avoid handing down the same issues you have internalized in objectifying women.

Need more help in handling this situation?  As a mom of 6 children and a teacher of many more, I’ve had lots of practice.  Check out these 6 simple ways of answering the question “what’s that lady doing?” when your child sees a breastfeeding woman:

18 months – 2.5 years old: “You see the mommy feeding her baby?  Isn’t that sweet?  Let’s leave them alone so that baby can finish their snack, would you like a snack too?”

Or, for the toddler that breastfeeds as well…

“Yes, that baby gets to eat just like you.  Would you like to have some mommy milk now too?”

2.5 years old – 4 years old:  “Oh, that mommy’s just feeding her baby.  All mammal mommies have breasts to feed their babies and even the daddies have nipples but really only mommies have nipples that work for feeding babies.  Where are your nipples?”

Or, for the preschooler that breastfeeds as well…

“Yes, that baby gets to eat just like you.  Would you like to have some mommy milk now too?”

To help them understand how normal this is and that all mammal mommies feed their babies this way, watch one or all of these sweet clips from Sesame Street:

Mom and baby mammals

Buffy nurses Cody

Maria Breastfeeds

You’re My Baby music video

4 years old – 8 years old:  “She’s feeding her baby.  That’s what breasts are for, feeding babies.  That’s where the term ‘mammal’ comes from, all creatures that feed their babies with their teat or breast are called mammals.  What animals can you think of that feed their young this way?”

Or, for the child that breastfeeds as well, all that plus: “Would you like to have some mommy milk now too?”

8 years old – 11 years old: “Thanks for pointing out the mom feeding her baby, I love seeing moms feeding their babies, don’t you?  Can you think of other ways babies are sometimes fed?  Do you know what kind of creatures feed their babies this way?  What other animals feed their young with their mammary glands?  Do you know how I fed you as a baby?  You were breast/bottle fed and I’m so grateful for the time I had getting to feed you, it was so special.”

11 years old – 13 years old: “It is so nice to see a mom feeding her baby.  What do you think of seeing this?  It isn’t always easy for moms to breastfeed in public, our society hasn’t always been very supportive of moms.  It is the normal way for babies to eat though, we should smile at her to encourage her as she takes care of her baby.”

13 years old – 18 years old: “She’s feeding her baby, isn’t that cool?  Does it bother you?  I wonder why a mom feeding her baby would make you uncomfortable?  Did you know that the primary function of the female breast is to feed babies?  Breastfeeding is the normal way for human babies, actually, all baby mammals, to eat.  You and I don’t have to hide when we’re eating, why should that baby have to hide?  And did you know that bottles are designed inspired by the breast?  I’m really glad we got to see this mom feeding her baby, I hope it helps us remember that this is normal and good.  Too often the only capacity in which we see the female breast is with an over emphasis on the sexual nature that ends up objectifying women.  Let’s smile at her to show our support and in thanks for the reminder that women aren’t sex objects.”

For an adult that acts like a child when they see a woman breastfeeding, refer to the explanation for the younger two categories, that should be simple enough for them to understand.

If you would, however, rather not inform children about breastfeeding and would prefer to hand down issues, simply act like breastfeeding is shameful.  With a reaction like that you can continue to be a part of a society that pressures women to breastfed yet sends confusing messages that doing so is somehow shameful and perverted.  Such a reaction will go a long way in helping absolutely nobody.

Because it really is as simple as breastfeeding is a mother feeding her baby.

 

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Changing for the breast? A 14 year old shares her views on breasts, breastfeeding, sex appeal, and society.

by Ophélia Martin-Weber, see more about Ophélia here and support her efforts.
Photo credit Dorothea Lange, 1936 Library of Congress, American Memory

Photo credit Dorothea Lange, 1936 Library of Congress, American Memory

I wonder when people started treating boobs as objects used just for sex.  A long time ago did people respect moms and their breasts feeding hungry babies?  Even though they didn’t see women as equal did they know that breastfeeding was the healthiest, easiest, and natural source of nutrients to feed the baby and nothing to shun?  There was a time when women didn’t have the right to vote but could freely pull out their breast and feed their baby and today it seems like we have flipped those. (Though the voting thing is certainly a good thing, let’s not go back to no votes for women!) In some ways we have come so far in how women are treated and viewed in society but in other ways women, particularly mothers, are dismissed as their real value being only in their appeal to the opposite sex.  I wonder if we’ve lost something.  Then I wonder what that means for me and I’m only a 14 year old who loves to dance.

When I was younger I didn’t know breasts had amazing powers to produce milk even though my mom breastfed my sisters and me.  All that I knew was that I had little boobies and I couldn’t wait for the day when my nipples would transform into breasts.  I don’t remember when the fact that mature breasts can give milk really stuck in my head but when it did I thought humans were related to cows.  Sure, humans and cows are both mammals but when I was a kid I thought maybe women actually were cows.  Today I know that’s not true and I also understand there is a lot of attention given to the sexiness of the female breast and that makes me uncomfortable.  Uncomfortable because now that I have breasts I find myself wanting smaller breasts in part because of dance but also because I know that bigger breasts are supposed draw attention from guys, are seen as more sexy, and could decide how I am treated by others.  Part of me feels that if I want to be liked I have to have big breasts.  I want guys to notice me but I don’t want guys to notice me (yes, I know this is a contradiction) and I really don’t want them to think I’m just here to have sex with.  I’m just not ready for that and don’t know if I ever will be.  To me, I’m so much more than my sex appeal.  So I’m careful about what I wear, I don’t want communicate that I want attention based on sex but that frustrates me too.  The clothes I like the best are more form fitting but if I wear yoga pants that fit my butt well will it be communicating that I want the wrong kind of attention?  Or in a leotard are my breasts speaking louder than my mind or my art?  I hope not.  I want to matter to others for more than just my body.  As a dancer, I work with my body a lot and I work hard to make it strong and healthy but not for attention.  That work is to help me tell stories, to use my body as an artist and an athlete.  Struggling with my body every day is part of my lot as a dancer and I have a love hate relationship with it and I’m ok with that.  What I don’t want is to question my natural biology simply because of how others say it should be.  Sometimes it feels as though society wants to punish those with female body parts yet tell us we’re equal without having to act like we really are.  I don’t get it, I understand that breasts are considered sex things but they don’t seem any more “sexy” than most of the other parts of my body such as my lips, my arms, my shoulders, my legs.  Men may find them sexy (is it that way in every culture or just ours?) but they aren’t sexy to me, they feed babies.

The author, Ophélia Martin-Weber

The author, Ophélia Martin-Weber

Looking back to what my childish mind was thinking and comparing it to some people’s opinions about moms openly breastfeeding in public, I wonder if they too see breastfeeding moms as cows?  Do breastfeeding mothers need to be fenced and herded together, separate from everyone else?  I know there are people that think about moms that way but not everyone does.  A lot of my adult friends have different opinions about breastfeeding but they don’t think poorly about my mom and they don’t ask her to cover when she’s feeding my little sister.  It doesn’t bother them that part of my mom’s breast is visible.  Pictures of beautiful and sexy women show off breasts at least as much as a mom’s breast is seen when she is breastfeeding.  In our culture, what is the most sexy part about women’s breasts?  The breast that is popping out of a too small shirt or the covered nipple?  Why?  If it’s the nipple, why is it such a big deal about breastfeeding in public if the baby is hiding the nipple?  Understandable because of the messages we get from certain parts of society, they might think it is sexual because a person’s mouth, even if it is a baby is on a woman’s breast but they need to get a grip and review their history lessons.   And also learn how breastfeeding works.

And why is it ok for men to show off their mammary glands but women can’t?  Why aren’t women “allowed” to expose their chest as much as men can?  Why is it considered indecent for me to be topless by my neighbor across the street can walk around just in his shorts and nobody has a problem with it?  How is that equal?  How is that not discrimination?  Stop telling me I can be equal to my male counterparts but then tell me I have to hide my body more as if there is something wrong with me.

I’m not sure I even want to have babies but if I do I will breastfeed them though I have to admit the idea of breastfeeding in public scares me because I know how people think of breasts, women, and moms.  That kind of attention isn’t what I want for myself.  I don’t know what I will do though because I know too much about breastfeeding to not breastfeed and I don’t think I’d want to just stay home all the time.  How sad is it that anyone would be afraid to feed their baby in public?  I’m a little disappointed in myself for feeling this way, I mean, my mom is The Leaky Boob, I feel like she’s the queen of breastfeeding.  But that’s where I am right now.  Fortunately, I have a long time to figure that out and I know I have a family that will support me along the way.

If all this obsession with female breasts didn’t actually happen, what would life be like?  If we could change the attitudes against breastfeeding would we actually change attitudes about women?  I hope we can learn from our mistakes because I think people are being hurt by the accepted cultural attitudes of social norms.  And I’m still young, I have to have hope.

 

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What do you think?  

Do you feel attitudes about breastfeeding are related in any way to our attitudes about women in general?  

How did you think about breasts, breastfeeding, and your own body when you were a teen?

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Completely unrelated to this post, this video shares the author’s story of dance and her dance aspirations.

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IMG_0404 Ophélia Martin-Weber is 14 years old, the eldest of six girls.  Ophélia is in 8th grade, homeschooled, and is   passionate about dance.  A few years ago Ophélia wrote for The Leaky Boob, sharing her views as an 11 year old on breastfeeding and Jessica recently shared a proud mama moment about Ophélia.  You can see some of Ophélia’s dancing and hear her share her dance story and dreams in this video.
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It doesn’t have to be all or nothing

by Kari Swanson

full term breastfeeding

My daughter was placed on my chest immediately after my obstetrician finished stitching up my c-section incision. She latched onto my breast and started breastfeeding right there in the operating room. Last month we celebrated her third birthday. She knows that babies have mama milk. She also knows that big girls have mama milk until they are ready to stop having mama milk. I expect that sometime between now and the time she is around 5 years old she will gradually wean.

Some might consider the fact that my daughter is 3 and still receiving breastmilk to be extreme, but anthropological evidence indicates that this is biologically normal for a young hominid primate. That being said, it is probably no surprise that I consider myself to be a lactivist. I believe that human breastmilk is the biologically normal food source for human infants and I volunteer as an admin on The Leaky [email protected]@b in order to support other breastfeeding mothers and to help normalize breastfeeding in a culture that has largely lost sight of the real reason women have breasts.

What may come as a surprise to some is that my daughter and my son before her received formula in addition to breastmilk. Why? Because I work full time outside of my home and I am among the unlucky few who truly do not respond well to breast pumps. For whatever reason my body just does not give up the gold for a machine despite my supply being more than adequate. After a time, despite numerous tips and tricks, pumping whenever and wherever I could, I ceased to be able to pump enough milk to entirely meet my babies’ nutritional needs while they were separated from me while I worked.

With my daughter I was fortunate to be able to spend 3 months home with her after she was born, and to spend 3 months thereafter working half time. I pumped at home before returning to work and I pumped before work, during work, after work, and on non-workdays once I returned to work. I had a small stash of milk in the deep freezer when I returned to work, but it was quickly depleted. When I first returned to work and pumped I easily had enough milk by the end of the day to send to the daycare without dipping into my frozen milk stash.

I determined how much milk my daughter needed in her daycare bottles using an iPhone app called “Breast Milk Calculator.” The app uses the baby’s weight, age and number of feedings in the previous 24 hours to suggest how much milk he or she needs per feeding. Using the app I determined exactly how many ounces she needed per bottle. The number of feedings was based on the number of hours she was away from me and how frequently she would normally nurse.

But, just as it had when my son was a baby, my pumping output dwindled over time. Eventually I was pumping less than an ounce per side per pumping session. I used up my entire frozen milk stash. Despite my best efforts at around 6 months I was no longer able to pump enough to send only breastmilk in my daughter’s daycare bottles. So, I sent as much breastmilk as I could and to make sure she had sufficient nutrition I sent formula too.

When my daughter was a newborn she, like her brother, needed supplementation. They both had jaundice and they both lost more than the usual amount of weight after birth. Although her condition was better than her brother’s had been (he was a very sleepy 37 weeker with more severe jaundice), my daughter was also a slow gainer. So, the IBCLC we saw recommended supplementation while I built up my own supply. When my son was a newborn he received formula supplementation, but my daughter received donor breastmilk, or as we referred to it “Auntie milk”—because our milk donor was my sister who was still breastfeeding her toddler son at the time my daughter was born.

By the time my daughter was in daycare full time and my pumping supply could not keep up with my daughter’s demands my sister’s son had weaned. I considered donor breastmilk, but decided against it. My strong, healthy baby did fine on formula, and I felt that the relatively limited supply of donor milk in my area should be available to babies for whom formula was not an option, babies whose mothers could not breastfeed them at all or whose health really warranted the exclusive use of donor milk. So, we chose formula instead.

I already knew exactly what formula I would choose for my daughter if I reached this point, because I had read quite a bit of research about formula before I had my son. I looked up numerous scholarly research articles and reviews of the literature about formula on PubMed. At that point I knew I wanted to breastfeed, but I had been given the somewhat unhelpful advice that my desire to breastfeed and to go back to work full time were “setting [myself] up for failure”. So, in case that was true I did all of that research about formula and based my decision on what I had read. (Bear in mind that my son was born in 2004 and donor milk was not as prevalent, except from milk banks by prescription and at a rather high price.) Despite many assertions otherwise, infant formula is an acceptable, nutritionally adequate alternative to breastmilk and is a much better choice than the milk of any other mammal or milk made from plants.

Eventually both of my babies received only formula in their daycare bottles. Both times the amount I was able to pump became miniscule compared to the amount they needed and the stress and frustration of pumping so little became too much for me, so I stopped. They both did fine on the formula they received part of the time, so I felt comfortable giving them as much as they needed while they were separated from me. My daughter had breastmilk exclusively, either at the breast or in bottles, for more than 6 months. They were around the same age when they started receiving formula alone in their daycare bottles: 7-8 months. Despite this both of my babies continued to breastfeed whenever they were with me. They never experienced nipple confusion, expressed a preference for the bottle, or had nursing strikes. They both stopped receiving formula when they no longer needed bottles at daycare.

So, yes I am a lactivist. I believe breastmilk is the biologically normal food for human infants. But, breastfeeding doesn’t have to be all or nothing.

 

You can read more from Kari over on her site and enjoy her thoughtful, thorough writing and beautiful photography.

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Did you respond well to breast pumps?  Have you had to supplement?  If so, what did you use?  Were you able to supplement and still reach your breastfeeding goals?

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Are Children Who Pretend To Breastfeed Their Toys in Danger?

The Breast Milk Baby (which has a Facebook page if you’re wondering) has people talking up a storm.  My own family had a lot to say about the doll too and I interviewed them to get their thoughts on the matter. Public opinion is widely varied, while some think it’s a great idea and would love to get their little tyke one, others are concerned that it’s the start of a new sexual revolution of youngsters.  They muse that perhaps the doll oversexualizes our daughters and may encourage teen pregnancy.  But what I find myself asking is, isn’t children copying what they see their parents do normal?  Isn’t breastfeeding the biologically normal way to feed a baby?  Does this mean that all kids that pretend to breastfeed are doomed?  And, if they are, how could it possibly be any worse than when I used to pretend Barbie and Ken had sex?  More importantly, are we really so ignorant as a society on the biological function and distinctions between breastfeeding and sex that we can somehow equate the two?

Oh my word… what kind of message are we sending our little girls with this?!

Maybe that breastfeeding is how mommies feed their babies?

Perhaps we should evaluate the potential dangers of children pretending to breastfeed their toys. Surely with some careful study we’ll be able to determine the legitimacy of the over-sexualizing and teen pregnancy concern surrounding The Breast Milk Baby.  I asked the Leakies on Facebook to send me pictures of their little ones copying their moms by pretending to “breastfeed” their “babies” to see if I could get a better grasp on the concern about children pretending to breastfeed.  Looking through these photos I’m hoping to understand what could be so unhealthy, dangerous and abnormal about this type of pretend.  We should ask these kids if breastfeeding “babies” is normal.  I wonder if their parents are concerned, I mean, with pretending to breastfeed their toys is it possible they are being over-sexualized?

Hmmmmmm… I’m not seeing it here.  Maybe the next one…

Well, she’s completely adorable but I don’t see anything that screams “teen pregnancy waiting to happen!”  Maybe one of these?

Yeah, still not seeing it.  Have to dig a little harder, I’m sure there’s something…

Oh, there!  See, there’s trouble there!  A BANDAID!  You can tell she’s up to no good… feeding that teddy bear… so cute…

Look at these smiles, clearly they are enjoying this WAY too much, they’re going to want to get pregnant just as soon as they start ovulating in about 12 years!  And after this I’m sure no education from their parents could counter that desire!

And these two?!  Tandem nursing?  WOAH!  They think breasts are for feeding babies?  They are going to be so sexually confused!

Ok, I’m just not getting it, they’re all cute but I’m not seeing anything to be concerned about.  Maybe these will help me understand the hoopla.

BOYS pretending to breastfeed dolls and stuffed animals?  Could you imagine if it was that Breast Milk Doll?  These poor boys might actually think breastfeeding is normal and not mind “sharing” their partners breasts with their children some day.  Heaven forbid!

Funny, all these little ones “breastfeeding” their dolls and toys don’t seem to be on the cusp of dangerous over-sexualization.  They look like happy, normal children, children that see happy, normal mommies breastfeeding.  Seeing as they are all quite a long way from their teen years I’m not seeing teen pregnancy rates threatening to climb to an all time high either.  And I’m willing to bet by their teen years they will have developed other interests and won’t be in too much of a hurry to breastfeed their own children right away.  If anything, all these kids pretending to breastfeed their toys really do make breastfeeding seem normal.  Certainly nothing we should be scared of as a society.

Now how is that a bad thing?

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Does or did your little one(s) pretend to breastfeed their babies?  Does it bother you at all to see children pretend that way?

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The Breast Milk Baby Doll, 4 Girls and 1 Daddy

One of my favorite photos of me as a little girl shows me at about 2.5 years old sitting on the couch next to my mom with my glasses, blond curls, my shirt pulled up and a baby doll’s face pressed against my chest.  I have the biggest cheesiest smile of a very proud preschooler because I was breastfeeding my baby just like my mom was breastfeeding hers.  That picture is featured in one of our many family photo albums.  I don’t ever remember being embarrassed or thinking it was strange.  It was just me, pretending to be a mommy and as far as I was concerned, that’s just how mommies feed their babies.  To me, it was normal.  (I search for potential warning signs of abnormal in children pretending to breastfeed toys here.)

I haven’t changed much in my opinion on that even now.  That’s just how mommies feed their babies.  To me, it still is normal.

When the Breast Milk Baby first came to the media’s attention state side (I had seen the Spanish version about a year before) I figured there’d be a report or two and then everyone would move on to more interesting topics.  Like, you know, real news.  I wasn’t going to blog about it since I don’t usually write about what’s in the news and my opinion of it would probably seem pretty obvious.  Then I kept seeing it, over and over again, different articles, news talk shows, and loads of blogs.  Everyone was talking about this thing in both positive and negative terms.  Are we normalizing breastfeeding with this doll?  Over-sexualizing young girls?  Encouraging teen pregnancy?  Making formula feeding moms feel guilty?  Making a lasting impact on the future of breastfeeding?  News commentators and bloggers pontificated on the perceived dangers or wonders of the plastic baby.  I thought I’d let them and I’d just continue on my merry way writing about whatever I want instead of the popular hot topic news.  Which is how I like it.

But then I was reading one of those articles and clicked on the video to watch the commercial for the doll.  Over my shoulder I heard “What’s that?  A baby doll?  Why is there a video about a girl playing with a baby doll?”

I invited my young impromptu audience for a viewing of the clip and asked them if I could ask them a few questions afterward.  They agreed and piled onto the couch with me their air crackling with anticipation worthy of a world premier.  It was as if we were attending The Leaky Boob film festival.  All 6 of us.

“What’s that she’s putting on?”

“Just watch.”

A giggle.

“Awww!  It’s a baby!  I like babies, mommy.”

“Is the baby eating the flowers?”

“Why would a baby eat flowers?”

“Just watch.”

A burst of laughter at the baby’s burp.  Bodily functions humor never fails to elicit a laugh from the under 14 crowd.

“Was that supposed to be a burp?”  More laughter.

“The baby burped!” Even more laughter.

“This is a weird doll.”

“I think it’s cute”

“Is the doll supposed to be breastfeeding?”

“Shhh, just watch.”

“That’s silly, babies don’t eat on top of a mom’s clothes!”

“I like it, can I have one?”

“I want one too!”

“Maybe this doll could teach little girls that breastfeeding is good, right mom?”

“The cute baby is eating the flowers mommy.”

“But mommies feed their babies UNDER their clothes, you don’t have to put something special on to feed them.  Moms just use their breasts, right mom?”

“I like the top thing, it’s pretty.  Can I have one?”

“I’m hungry, can I have some pretzels?”

The reaction of my 5 children to this doll was quite entertaining.  The 3 and 8 year old were convinced it was pretty cool and wanted one.  The 10 and 12 year old looked at it suspiciously.  The toddler started pulling at the neck of my shirt and signed milk, then please on my chest.  Not sure if it was the video or the fact that we were sitting on the couch together but she decided to she had to nurse right then.  Their reactions gave me an idea though, I should interview everyone in the family and see what THEY think of the doll and blog about the thing after all.

First up is 3YO Squiggle Bug and the shortest interview ever.  Squiggle Bug was breastfed to 22 months when we weaned due to pregnancy complications.  It was very sad, she did not want to stop and I expected her to return to the breast once Smunchie was born just 2.5 months later but she never really did though she tried occasionally.

TLB: Hey sweetie, what do you think of that baby doll?

Squiggle Bug: Awwww, it’s a cute baby eating bobbies (her word for breastfeeding).  I’m hungry, can I have pretzels.

I was surprised she understood what the baby was supposed to be doing.

TLB: Would you like a doll like that?

Squiggle Bug: *In hysterics.* I want pretzels!

Thus ends the interview and we got pretzels.  I never did find out if she wanted a doll like that but to be fair she said she did while we were watching the video and she’s never really cared about dolls at all.

Then there was Lolie.  The true middle of our 5 girls, Lolie is 8 years old, a big sister of 2 and very much a nurture.  Lolie was breastfed until about 18 months then relearned how to latch 3 months before she turned 5 when Squiggle Bug was born.  She nursed occasionally for 3 months before deciding she was too big when she turned 5.

TLB: What do you like about this doll?

Lolie: What I like about it is that the baby makes sounds.  It cries “waaaa” and the sucking sounds. It’s like it’s real. I like that there is an apron thing you put on.  And I like that it’s clothes are cute and it’s mouth is open.  I like that it eats without a bottle, like Smunchie.

TLB: Is there anything you don’t like about the Breast Milk Baby Doll?

Lolie: No.  I kind of don’t like that it’s plastic and that it would wake you up at night to eat.

I told her I didn’t think it would wake you up at night to eat and she replied “well, that’s not very real.”  Apron thing with flowers for baby doll to “nurse” from is totally believable but not waking at night is what makes this thing unrealistic.  What do I know?

TLB:  What do you think of the name “Breast Milk Baby Doll?”

Lolie:  It’s a cool name, there are breast, it has milk and it has doll and baby.  That’s what it is.  I like it, it’s hard to explain.

TLB: Do you think it’s ok for little girls to pretend like they have breasts to feed a baby?

It’s worth noting that after I asked this question she gave me the funniest look like I just asked a totally asinine question.  She might’ve been right.

Lolie: Yes. (But it sounded more like she was saying “duh” and included an eye roll.) Because you have a baby and it’s ok if you pretend because it’s like you’re a real mom.  Real moms feed their babies with their breasts, with breast milk.  Little girls should pretend to feed their babies with breast milk and bottles because real moms sometimes do both.  I don’t think it’s bad for little girls.  Little girls should pretend they are mommies.  Little kids should pretend they are mommies and daddies.

TLB: Do you want to be a mommy some day?

Lolie:  Uh-huh.  Yes.

TLB: How do you think you will feed your babies some day, when you’re a mommy?

Another weird look.  Seriously mom, what’s with the stupid questions.

Lolie: I will feed my babies with my boobies. (Again, more like “duh” and this time with a sigh as though she was accepting that her mother is an idiot.) I want to breastfeed.

We chatted for a bit longer about how wonderful breastfeeding is and how she wants to breastfeed her babies.  There was also a point where she mentioned that she wanted to let the daddy breastfeed too, not like me not letting daddy breastfeed.  It sounded like she thinks I’m really selfish in not sharing the breastfeeding opportunity.  Er, yeah.  Time to talk about gender differences again it appears.

After Lolie I chatted with Earth Baby who, at 12 years old, was trying to be very philosophical about the doll.

TLB: What do you think of this doll?

Earth Baby:  I think it’s cute but kind of strange too.  It says that breastfeeding is right.  I don’t like that she had to put something over her shirt, why can’t she lift up her shirt?  It’s not something that’s part of your body, something attached to her body, like breasts.  It’s something she has to add.  But it’s good, it tells girls you can breastfeed and it’s good and healthy and you don’t have to be ashamed but it also tells them their body isn’t good enough.  I think girls hear that a lot so I don’t like that.

TLB: What do you like about this doll?

Earth Baby:  I already said what I thought, can I go read now?

Alrighty then.  That interview was over.

Next up is The Storyteller.  Ten years old and very outgoing, even though she was breastfed the shortest amount of time of all my children, she is the most outspoken about breastfeeding.

TLB: What do you think of this doll?

The Storyteller: That it’s weird!

TLB: What do you like about it?

The Storyteller: It tells girls that breastfeeding is ok and it’s good for you and it’s the way to a healthy child.  And that nothing’s wrong with breastfeeding.  I think it’s good practice.  So kids can get the feel of breastfeeding.  They don’t need a doll to learn how to breastfeed.  They should practice feeding their baby in public it’s ok too, it’s ok to breastfeed in public because you’re giving your baby food.  I like the movement the doll makes with the mouth.

TLB: What don’t you like about it?

The Storyteller: I don’t like how you can’t… that you can’t… lift up your shirt or something.  You don’t have to have the sounds, you don’t have to.  Why can’t the baby doll know there’s a real nipple in front of it instead of that thing she put on.  The burp was so not realistic, I thought it was funny.

TLB: Would you want one of these dolls?

The Storyteller: It might be fun to play with sometimes.  Maybe.  I don’t know, I probably wouldn’t play with it.  You know what I want?  An iPod.  Can I get an iPod instead of one of these dolls?

TLB: What?  I wasn’t actually offering to get you one of these dolls, just asking if you would want one in theory.

The Storyteller: So how about an iPod?  Or if you want to get me a doll I do want a new Waldorf doll with long red hair.  Ok?

TLB: So, we’re done talking about this doll I take it?

The Storyteller: No, we can keep talking about it.  I really want an iPod…

She went on about an iPod or Waldorf doll for another 10 minutes.  You would have thought I’d pulled out my credit card to order the other doll so convinced she was that I was ready to buy one for her.

So then I thought I should ask The Piano Man.  After all, he’s the father of 5 girls, what would he think about his children playing with a doll like this?  I was particularly interested in his views regarding the perceived potential some news commentators had about oversexualizing young girls are encouraging teen pregnancy.

TLB: What do you like about the doll?

The Piano Man: The only thing I kind of like about it is that it encourages kids to breastfeed their babies.  But that encouragement could so easily come from the parents instead without the extra gear and the extra price tag and without electronically produced sounds.

TLB: What don’t you like about it?

The Piano Man: A doll won’t teach breastfeeding.  The “lesson for life” doesn’t come from a doll, it comes from seeing it done.  It’s also limiting imagination because it does something but it’s limited in what it does.  Generally speaking I don’t like dolls that make noise because in play you’re limited by the sounds the toy can make.  Gone is your opportunity as a kid to have your baby do other sounds, including silly sounds.  I find the whole camisole/apron/tank contraption confusing.

TLB: Do you think a doll like this oversexualizes young girls?

The Piano Man:  What?  That’s just stupid.  How in the world could it do that?  Barbie might but not a baby doll that pretends to do what babies REALLY do.  Where did you get that idea?

TLB: It’s not my idea.  Some news commentators and commenters on articles and blog posts brought it up.

The Piano Man: What’s wrong with these people that they’d even think that?  Seriously, what thoughts were going through their heads when they watched the video?  My first thought is people that would even think that are messed up.  My second is that they don’t have a clue how kids’ minds work and don’t interact with kids enough to really know children.  That’s just stupid.  I think it’s sweet when our girls pretend to breastfeed their babies, when they do what they see you do.  It’s sweet.

TLB: Do you think it’s possible that a doll like this could encourage teen pregnancy?

The Piano Man: *Laughs* Oh yeah, in fact we should ban all dolls because pretending to be a mommy or daddy is going to make kids want to have unprotected sex.  Where do these people get these things from?  Let’s ban play kitchens too because kids are going to want to hurry and grow up too fast if they pretend to cook.  And toy trucks and cars because that 6 year old is going to go try to drive a real car if they play with matchbox cars.  No!  It’s not going to encourage teen pregnancy!  Good grief, want to start a witch hunt for what’s encouraging kids to have unprotected sex?  Look at TV, look at the entertainment industry.  Or any celebrity, clothing style, video game, or toy that tells girls their worth is in their sex appeal.  Let’s look at all the messages we’re sending boys that a woman is only for their sexual pleasure and that somehow they have no control over their sexual urges like men are too stupid to have self-control.  And how about parents and the way they do or don’t talk about sex, let’s look there.  There are tons of legitimate areas to explore first.  Blame a baby doll?  That’s pathetic.

At some point a little later The Piano Man and Lolie started talking about the doll.  I listened in and jotted down some of their conversation.

The Piano Man: Does mommy have to put anything special on to breastfeed her babies?

Lolie: No, she just lifts up her shirt.

The Piano Man: What do you think of this doll needing you to put something on?

Lolie: It’s ok, it’s just pretending.  You have to put it on so the baby knows where to suck.  That’s just the way it works.

The Piano Man:  Would you like the doll the better with or without the top?

Lolie: I’d like a doll without the top better.

Conversation continued to swirl around The Breast Milk Baby for a few days in our house and I was asked a couple times to watch the video again.  It’s been a while now and I haven’t heard anyone bring it up again.

As for my personal thoughts on the doll, I certainly don’t see anything wrong with it and agree with most of the points my family made concerning the doll.  The price intimidates me a little only because I wouldn’t be willing to pay $89 for a plastic doll but plenty of people buy $100 plastic dolls for their kids in the form of The American Girl Dolls and those don’t even do anything special.  We already spend about that or more on handmade, all natural material dolls (Waldorf inspired) though so it isn’t exactly the cost that I find prohibitive.  However, I know that would be a major factor for many families.  The doll is a bit odd to me, I don’t like plastic toys, the halter top bothers me and I wouldn’t buy one for me children.  Still, I think it’s great to have a doll that helps normalize breastfeeding and for families where plastic toys are common anyway this doll can encourage positive attitudes on breastfeeding from a young age.  And not just in girls.  Little boys that either play with the doll themselves (I hear people everywhere freaking out at the idea) or at least see their sister or friends play with the doll will have an early precedent set that breastfeeding is just how babies are fed.  I don’t see how that could be a bad thing.  It’s just how mommies feed their babies.  Just like it’s, you know, normal.

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What do you think of The Breast Milk Baby?  Would you get one for your child?  Why or why not?

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