The Shock and Awe of Extended Breastfeeding

When I saw that picture for the first time I almost threw my phone in disgust, but I didn't' want to disturb my 2-year-old, who was about to fall asleep while sucking on my breast. Let me explain.
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If you are like me, when you saw the cover of TIME magazine this week, you had to look for a change of underwear. The image of this boy sucking the teat of his mother while standing on a chair was deliberately staged to shock and awe: especially because the child in question is a boy. Seeing a male with his mouth on a boob provokes questions of sexuality, regardless of the fact he is only three. In our culture, we glamorize breasts to such a degree that it is impossible to see their function over their form. As a result, watching women breastfeeding freaks us out, especially as the baby turns into a child. When I saw that picture for the first time I almost threw my phone in disgust, but I didn't' want to disturb my 2-year-old, who was about to fall asleep while sucking on my breast.

I am a mother who has continued to breastfeed into toddlerhood, and I am also a human who gets weirded out when she sees extended breastfeeding. Let me explain the contradiction. When I started to breastfeed my daughter, she was 7 pounds and very still. She would lie in my arms and suckle away like the cliché image we have in our heads of what is appropriate. In my mind, I was going to stop once she started teething, because the fear of a piranha consuming off me was terrifying. But then she started teething, which was quite painful for her, and the breast soothed her misery. So I didn't stop, because not stopping was her relief.

I then told myself I would stop when she started talking. The thought of her asking for my boob really freaked me out. But at 15-months, she started calling my boobs "na nas," then saying "more na na," but we haven't yet gotten to the "mother may I please have a turn on your na nas as they are quite lovely this time of day." So how did this happen? She will be 2 in July, which is when my new intended stopping point arrives, but I have this feeling it might be further delayed.

The aging of your child is such a gradual process, and it is hard to notice the transition. She is still my baby, so breastfeeding her feels normal, even though when I see another mother breastfeeding her older child I feel uncomfortable. I fall into the cultural traps, start questioning the sexual nature of it all, and think it is strange. But for me as a person, experiencing breastfeeding is not even the slightest bit sexy. In fact, my breasts are no longer a part of my sexy time lexicon. They don't feel sexual. I don't want them to be touched. They are off the sexy table completely. So why am I projecting something onto other women what I know not to be true for myself?

The magic of social conditioning.

This whole conversation of extended breastfeeding and attachment parenting is really just a mask for our own struggle with the influence society has on our psyches. None of these questions would be that impactful if we were all balanced people with the capacity to trust our instincts and learn from others whom we deem wise. The question "are you mom enough" is preying on how easily we doubt ourselves, and how much we crave acceptance. Dr. Sears and his philosophies have such massive influence on the minds of modern women, but ladies, the last time I checked this man has a penis. Sure, he has advice we may or may not find helpful, but it is easy for him to say "breastfeed throughout the night" because he has never had a human feeding off him while trying to sleep.

I guess my parenting style is somewhat similar to attachment parenting, but that is not because I am making a political statement. I slept with my baby because I was too lazy to walk to a crib in the middle of the night. I carried her in hippy pouches and went for walks because babies are boring and it was something to do. I have extended breastfeeding because she is a real jerk when I deny her. I am not kidding. We get into fights about it. When she wants "na nas" you better believe she will throw a tantrum worthy of an Exorcist remake. But these techniques never felt strategic. Like all mommies, I am just trying to get through the day. All these ideas on parenting are just that -- ideas and opinions. So let's stop judging ourselves so harshly.

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