Normalizing Breastfeeding for Older Kids

World Breastfeeding Week 2013 Blog Carnival - NursingFreedom.org and The San Diego Breastfeeding Center

Welcome to the World Breastfeeding 2013 Blog Carnival cohosted by NursingFreedom.org and The San Diego Breastfeeding Center!

This post was written for inclusion in the WBW 2013 Blog Carnival. Our participants will be writing and sharing their stories about community support and normalizing breastfeeding all week long. Find more participating sites in the list at the bottom of this post or at the main carnival page.

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American culture has relationship with the female body that I struggle to comprehend. The female image is constantly sexualized in the media and in day-to-day life. You don’t have to look far to run into the virgin-whore dichotomy. There’s a whole lot to me, though, that has nothing to do with sexuality.

Being a mother involves a very physical, but completely non-sexual, relationship with our children. We grow our children inside our bodies and feed them from our breasts. We deal with pee and poop. We snuggle and we patch up cuts. My hope for my daughters is that they can enjoy their bodies in all ways, not only sexually, throughout their lives.

I spent my childhood in the United Kingdom and Bangladesh, and I think those cultures impacted my own body image and my perspective on the human body in general. In Bangladesh, a Muslim country, the female body is generally far more covered than in the West. However, the body is functional. Breastfeeding is done in public, without apology, without shame, and without judgment. Mothers who blush at the thought of a man catching sight of their hair think nothing of covering their breast with only the head of their baby.

Woman breastfeeding

Photo credit: The Financial Express

The UK is comfortable with the female body in a different way. I remember being surprised by the number of American women who were uncomfortable changing in front of other women when I first came to this country. Nudity is more of a taboo in this country colonized by Puritans than it is in the Old World.

It’s easy to teach kids values that our entire society shares. They learn that saying “Please” and “Thank you” is expected and respected everywhere. Sharing is an important skill in all environments. Honesty is valuable, but so is being careful of others’ feelings. It’s a little more challenging to teach children values that are more controversial. I honestly have some trouble wrapping my head around breastfeeding being controversial, but it is. In our culture’s sexualized model of the female form, people see breasts as sexual organs instead of unglamorous food factories.

When my 7-year-old daughters ask to hear stories about their infancy, I include mention of the fact that they were nursed to 7 months of age. They must have been about 2 years old the first time they asked me why I had breasts and Daddy didn’t. I told them it was because I’d needed my breasts to feed them. It was like my belly being able to stretch to grow them. When we went to a museum recently that displayed machinery used in commercial dairy production, I told my daughters that these contraptions were upsized versions of the pump I used to collect milk for them when they were babies.

My girls were about 3 when our neighbour across the road had her second child. My J sat next to her on the couch a few days after the beautiful baby was born and watched her nurse, craning to see how everything fit together. I was grateful that my friend indulged her curiosity. A couple of times, my daughters have run up to coo at a stranger’s baby in the middle of a meal, and I ask them to wait: “Baby’s drinking milk from Mommy’s breast, so let’s not distract them right now.”

I breastfed my daughters when we were out and about, unashamed. I was discreet. I didn’t try to tandem nurse in public, for instance, and I’d turn away from onlookers to latch a baby on. I kept a printout of Texas and federal (my ex-husband is a soldier, so we were frequently on federal land) breastfeeding laws in the diaper bag, just in case I ever needed to defend my right to nurse my babies, but it never came up. I pumped at work and stored my milk in an unassuming bag in the fridge. I happily answered questions from new moms and moms-to-be on how I made breastfeeding work with twins and a job.

I have continued to talk to my daughters about breastfeeding in the hopes that they will someday become mothers and choose to breastfeed. Even if they choose not to, I want them to be supportive of women who make the choice to breastfeed, just as I want them to be supportive of women who choose to formula-feed, to be childless, or to adopt an older child.

My biggest reason to teach my girls that breastfeeding is normal is this: I want them to feel comfortable in their bodies as they venture out into the world. I want puberty to feel a little less scary, and I hope that they will always carry themselves with the confidence that they have today.

As often happens when we try to buck societal expectations, I may have gone a little too far. The other day, my daughter M had a serious question for me. She’s at summer camp with kids from kindergarten to 5th grade, and she had noticed something.

M: Mommy, can 5th graders have breasts?
Me: Yes, some girls’ breasts start growing around 5th grade.
M: 4th grade?
Me: Yes.
M: 3rd grade?
Me: I suppose so, but that seems really unlikely.
M: But they’re not married yet.
Me: Oh, honey! Breasts don’t wait to grow until you’re having a baby. They start to develop when you’re a big kid.
M: Oh! So they grow a little bit and a little bit and a little bit?
Me: Exactly.
M: What if they’re never going to be a mommy?
Me: A woman’s body grows, just in case.
M: Mommy, when do I get my bajymie?
Me: I don’t understand.
M: I mean, is it right when the baby gets in my belly? Because, you know, some babies come from their mommy’s bajymie. Only you had us from your belly because the doctor did that. (This is the 7-year-old interpretation of an emergency C-section.)
Me: Oh, I understand what you’re asking. No, you already have a vagina.
M: I do?! Where?
Me: It’s a hole between where you pee and where you poop. You’ve had it since you were born. In fact, even when you were inside my belly.
M: Whoa!

Well, I did say I was trying to get my kids to be comfortable with their bodies. M obviously understands the reproductive functions!

Are your children aware of breastfeeding? Do you feel awkward discussing it with them?

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She co-parents at a distance with her soldier ex-husband and his teacher wife. She decided to retire her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school in order to better protect their privacy, and was delighted to have the opportunity to keep a foot in the blogosphere through HDYDI. She also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.

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World Breastfeeding Week 2013 Blog Carnival - NursingFreedom.org and The San Diego Breastfeeding Center Visit NursingFreedom.org and The San Diego Breastfeeding Center for more breastfeeding resources and WBW Carnival details!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants. Below are a list of links for today’s participants; you can find a complete list of links (updated throughout the week) at our main carnival page:

(This list will be updated by afternoon August 3 with all the carnival links.)

  • Breastfeeding and NIP: A Primer — Rachel Rainbolt of Sage Parenting, featured today at NursingFreedom.org, uses her informative and candid voice to share with you everything you need to know to breastfeed successfully in public, from the practical how-to’s to handling the social stigma.
  • Lactivist Ryan Gosling — Breastfeeding mamas, the time is long overdue for a Lactivist Ryan Gosling. Fortunately, Dionna of Code Name: Mama has created some for your viewing pleasure.
  • In Defense of Formula — Amy of Mom2Mom KMC, guest blogging for Breastfeeding in Combat Boots, asserts that formula is a medical tool rather than a food. She examines how this perspective supports breastfeeding as normal and eliminates the negative tensions between breastfeeding and non-breastfeeding mothers.
  • World Breastfeeding Week 2013 Blog Carnival – Breastfeeding Tips & Tricks — Throughout her breastfeeding journey (since March 2009), Jenny at I’m a full-time mummy has shared countless tips and tricks on the topic of breastfeeding.
  • Nursing in the Wild — Meredith at Thank You Ma’am posts about how seeing other moms nurse can make all of us more comfortable with nursing in public.
  • Normalizing Breastfeeding — Sara Stepford of The Stepford Sisters confronts the social stigma vs. the reality of breastfeeding and opens up about the steps she takes to make herself and others more comfortable with the process.
  • Breastfeeding Alrik at two years old — This is where Lauren at Hobo Mama and her second-born are at in their nursing relationship, two years in.
  • Perfectly Normal — Stephanie from Urban Hippie writes about the way she and her family have done their part to try and normalize breastfeeding in a society that doesn’t get to see breastfeeding as often as they should.
  • Diagnosis: Excess Lipase — Learn about excess lipase and how to test if your expressed milk has it. That Mama Gretchen shares her own experience.
  • Redefining Normal — Diana at Munchkin’s Mommy reflects on how we can normalize breastfeeding in our society.
  • Nursing Openly and Honestly — Amy W. at Me, Mothering, and Making it All Work feels that the most socially responsible thing she can do as a mother is to nurse and nurture her children openly, honestly, and with pride.
  • Wet-nursing, Cross-nursing and Milk-sharing: Outdated? — Jamie Grumet of I Am Not the Babysitter shares a response to the Wendy Williams quote about milk sharing being akin to slavery, by giving a brief history of the wet nurse.
  • Tackling Mastitis with an Older Nursling — Much of the advice available for supporting recovery from mastitis seems to be aimed at mamas with younger nurslings. Juliet of Twisting Vines, posting at Natural Parents Network shares tips for dealing with mastitis while breastfeeding a toddler.
  • Milk in the eye — Gena from Nutrition Basics discusses how breastmilk cured her 3 year old’s case of pink eye.
  • Boobie Biter — Rachel Rainbolt at Sage Parenting offers guidance on how to survive and thrive a boobie biter with your breastfeeding relationship intact.
  • My take on breastfeeding advice — Diana at Munchkin’s Mommy shares her insights on nursing for both new moms and new dads.
  • My Top Five Breastfeeding Tips for Delivery Day: Think “A-B-C-D-E”Mothernova shares how her continued success at breastfeeding with her second child rests on a foundation of five key things she did to prepare for baby’s arrival, along with things she did when she and baby first met. Easily enough, these tips can be categorized as “A-B-C-D-E”: Access to lactation consultant, Baby-friendly hospital, Communicate your plan to breastfeed exclusively, Demand, and Expect to room in.
  • Breastfeeding Buddies: Twin Brothers Nurse while Living in the NICU — Twintrospectives at How Do You Do It? shares her 5 tips for learning to breastfeed multiples while in the NICU.
  • Breastfeeding on a Dairy-Free Diet: Our Journey and Our Tips — Finding herself nursing a baby with food allergies, Jenny at Spinning Jenny embarked upon a dairy-free journey with her son for eight months. Here she relates her reasons for making the decision to give up dairy in her diet, why it was worth it, and tips for moms on the same path.
  • Normalizing Breastfeeding in my Home — Shannah at The Touch of Life shares how she plans to help keep breastfeeding normal for her own children, even when her breastfeeding years are over.
  • A Year With My Nursling — The more you see and hear, the more normal it becomes, so That Mama Gretchen is sharing her heart on the last year of breastfeeding – the ups and downs, but mostly the joy of her priceless relationship with her son.
  • From Covered to Confident — Krystyna at Sweet Pea Births shares her personal NIP evolution: she started by covering up from neck to ankle while nursing in public. Eight years later, she has gained confidence and the ability to nurse without stressing about flashing a little skin. She shares her views on normalizing breastfeeding – what influenced her and how she hopes to help others.
  • Normalizing Breastfeeding for Older Kids — Sadia at How Do You Do It? hopes that openly discussing breastfeeding with her (now weaned) daughters will help her children feel comfortable with breastfeeding and their bodies in general as they grow.
  • Nursing in Public — Listen up, mammas. Those other people around . . . they don’t matter. It’s not about them. It’s about you and that beautiful baby. Nurse on, says The Swaddled Sprout!
  • How to Nurse a Teenager — Sarah at The Touch of Life declares: the purpose is to help normalize breastfeeding a toddler.

13 thoughts on “Normalizing Breastfeeding for Older Kids

  1. Pingback: Breastfeeding Buddies: Twin Brothers Nurse while Living in the NICU | How Do You Do It?

  2. Our girls — 4 1/2 — have recently become really interested in breastfeeding. We occasionally watch a show on the Animal Planet with baby animals, and there is lots of footage of feeding time. It seems the girls are just putting everything together with the human side of things. :)

    A dear friend (who has B/B twins whom we play with often) just had a baby. Our girls sat, glued on either side of her, when she breastfed the baby at our house a few weeks ago.

    When we met my friend and her boys for a play date, the baby stayed home with her daddy. I was beyond proud when my A exclaimed, “But Mommy! How will Mr. G feed the baby?” I told her that the baby would have a bottle. “Of milk from the gallon?” She was actually pretty alarmed. I explained the concept of pumping, in very simple terms, and she was finally satisfied that the baby would be OK away from her mommy. :)

    I try to be very matter-of-fact when I answer the girls’ anatomy questions, explaining things as best I can on a four-year old level. I feel it is a huge responsibility to model respect for our bodies, and all they are capable of.

    • A is so thoughtful! You’ve also done such a good job of teaching your girls that different families do things different ways, and it’s all okay.

  3. She sounds awesome :) I think it’s fab that she has such a matter-of-fact attitude to her body and to human reproduction, and that she can ask you and have you answer so clearly. As you say, I think it’s an important part of giving children confidence in their own bodies — especially for girls.

    • She is awesome! Because she has a facial cleft that her identical sister doesn’t have, there’s always been an extra impetus to focus on the functionality of her body (although, of course, she’s gorgeous). Honestly, I’ve become more comfortable with my own body in trying to model acceptance for my girls. Of course, this means that J says things like, “Mommy, I think your belly is getting a little jiggly. You need to go exercise to be healthy.” She’s right, of course.

  4. A large part of shame based discomfort with the act of breastfeeding and with girls’ bodies in general comes from the intense discomfort some parents have (and even unwillingness to discuss, answer questions, and use real language like vagina) in discussing these basic biological functions with our children. Kudos to you for telling it like it is in ways that are relevant to her.

    • Thanks! This is one area in which my mother was an excellent model. She criticized how I looked once I was older, but when I was a child, she was very supportive of a healthy relationship with my body.

  5. Pingback: Nursing Openly and Honestly

  6. Pingback: Roundup: It’s (Still) Worldwide Breastfeeding Week! | FMF Blog

  7. Pingback: How to Nurse a Teenager | The Touch of Life

  8. Pingback: Tackling Mastitis With an Older Nursling | Natural Parents Network

  9. Pingback: Spinning Jenny: Breastfeeding on a Dairy-Free Diet: Our Journey … – Your Guide To Breastfeeding

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