If you’ve been online, you’ve undoubtedly seen the TIME’s breastfeeding cover. It is a controversial one and it has ALL of the opinions of the Internet coming out – for better and for worse.
The cover, to me, was simply shot for ultimate shock value and to sell magazines (why else would this boy be standing on a chair to nurse?) but I take zero issue with the extended breastfeeding happening on the magazine cover.
I am still nursing my nearly eighteen month old daughter Willow. It is a relationship that I cherish and could not picture my days without this being a part of it. She loves it too. She will walk over to me and sign/say “more” and when I ask, “More what Willow?” she looks at me and says, “More momma.” At night, she will walk over to the rocking chair in her room, pat the seat and say, “On. Momma, on” and she knows that I will sit down, scoop her up and nurse her to sleep for the thousandth time.
When she falls or gets a little bump, I nurse her to calm her down. When we were in the children’s hospital and she was in tachycardia (her heart rate was 225bpm), I told the hospital staff to let me nurse her and it brought her heart rate down to normal and potentially saved her from a scary situation. In short, it’s a situation that I am incredibly happy to be in and to be honest, I can not even imagine navigating parenthood without breastfeeding.
A cover like this one brings out some very interesting opinions. Opinions that make me really sad. It makes me sad because I like to think that our society is evolving, is open and is accepting. However, not all people are. In the issue of extended breastfeeding, it seems that a lot of people are extremely opinionated and the majority of those opinions are coming from people who have never breastfed, who have never done extended breastfeeding and who simply sit back and apply a label. Apply an opinion. Apply a judgement.
I could go on and on in anger about people’s opinions but it won’t change anything. I simply ask that if you are one of those people who think breastfeeding past the age of one is “gross” or “incestual” or “wrong” and if you believe in silly sayings like, “When your baby gets teeth, wean them off the boob” or “If they can ask for it, it’s no longer acceptable”, take stop for a moment, ask yourself why and reconsider. Consider alternate viewpoints and think about you and your children (or your family if you do not have children). Think about all of the things you do in your day, decisions you make for the well-being of your child and ask yourself, “How would I feel if I were scrutinized?”
Wake up tomorrow with the notion that you will be a more loving, accepting and open-minded individual and see what happens. It may very well surprise you.
In three days from now, I’ll celebrate a milestone with my wee Willow. We will have made it to 17 months breastfeeding. As I write that, I’m filled with a mix of emotions. I’m so proud of myself yet I’m also a little exhausted just thinking about it. Breastfeeding and practicing attachment parenting while running a company and maintaining an active social life is HARD WORK!
Over the past 17 months, I’ve nursed my child to sleep every single time (except for a handful of times when I was away from her), I’ve nursed her every single time she hurt herself, I’ve nursed her when she was sick, I’ve nursed her when she needed a little cuddle and I’ve nursed her when she first signed “more” and later asked for mama.
I’ve nursed her on a plane numerous times, in doctor’s offices, in parks, in a movie theatre, in the front and back seat of my car, in Wal-Mart, in a mall, while sitting at my desk working, in restaurants and anywhere else the need to feed my child arose.
I have slathered my nipples in Jack Newman’s breastfeeding ointment more times than I can count, I’ve suffered through “rusty pipe syndrome”, worried about foremilk/hindmilk imbalances, spent hours trying to wake my sleepy newborn to eat, dealt with growth spurts/cluster feeding, navigated through proper latches and different feeding positions, wore nipple shields, pumped for hours and dealt with opinions from strangers on the way I am feeding my child (mostly good, some not so good).
But now, at 17 months, I wonder if we’ve reached our end.
Willow, for the past week or so, has started biting me nearly every feeding. She seems way less interested in nursing and will only nurse for a few minutes before getting bored and moving on. The only nursing sessions that she actually does well with are those right before bed. Otherwise, she’s turned into an “angry nurser” and it’s killing both my spirits and my nipples.
I’ve done all kinds of things to get the biting to stop: I’ve tried removing her before she gets to the “done eating, play now” phase, I’ve unlatched her and told her no while setting her down, I’ve tried pushing her face (gently) into my breast when she bites so that she experiences something unpleasant after she bites but I’m seriously at a loss here.
It used to be that she’d nurse while we co-slept and those sessions were peaceful and always amongst my favourite. Now those sessions are horrendous for my nipples as she pulls back (with my nipple still in her mouth), bites and creates a super lazy latch, which causes problems for me.
So I’m not really sure what to do. Is it time to wean her? Is this her way of saying that she’s no longer interested in nursing? Or, is this just a passing phase? My goal was to nurse her until she was 2 years old but at this point, I don’t even want to nurse her one more time. I think I might be reaching my breaking point too (and I know this to be true because writing that phrase six months ago would have induced tears for me… now it almost induces relief).
The only thing I’m worried about is that if I do wean her, how the heck do I get her to sleep? We’ve only ever nursed her to sleep so I have no idea what I would do there.
Leave some advice, if you have any, in the comments! I really need to know if this is normal behavior, how to get through it or if you think that she might be ready to just wean from nursing. Thanks in advance!
This past Thursday, January 5, 2012, we noticed that my daughter had a bit of a white patch on her mouth. After taking a look at it closely, I diagnosed it as being more than likely thrush and I called her pediatrician. My daughter’s pediatrician was not available that day but the nurse recommended that I go to the after care clinic and she gave me the name and telephone number of Dr. Andre Engels here in Ottawa. I called, made an appointment for that evening at 7:15pm and my husband and I brought our daughter there.
Dr. Engels seemed like a really nice doctor. He was sweet with Willow, looked at the photographs I had taken of her mouth and looked inside of her mouth and agreed with my diagnosis. Willow did indeed have thrush. He spent some time admiring my camera and telling me that it took great pictures while my husband got Willow ready to leave the office.
After Dr. Engels wrote the prescription for an anti-fungal medication for Willow, I began telling him how fortunate we were that in thirteen months of breastfeeding, this was the only issue we had experienced. Dr. Engels then looked at his chart and back to me and said (and I quote word for word), “So, is it true that you plan on breastfeeding her until she is in high school?” I was incredibly thrown by his comments and was unable to respond so, sensing the discomfort in the room I am sure, he turned to Steve and said, “Well, at least it is legal in Ontario.”
He left the room and Steve and I turned to each other but we could barely speak as I am pretty sure we were both in shock. You see, you expect judgment on certain parenting choices from friends, family, the general public, etc. but you never expect it from a pediatrician. I was stunned because I had assumed that the doctor would be pleased that we were able to breastfeed and that it had been so successful thus far. I was not expecting to get this type of reaction from someone in the medical profession.
So, here I am. I am writing this open letter, and will also share it with my YouTube community, because I hope that it helps another mother who finds herself in that situation. You see, I was frozen and couldn’t speak because I had my guard down in that office. Normally, when breastfeeding in public, I am always on edge and ready with my rebuttals should someone say something to me about breastfeeding my daughter. Any breastfeeding mother can relate to this. However, in the safety net of the pediatrician’s office, I had assumed that my continued breastfeeding would be accepted – not ridiculed. I am going to share with you some facts about breastfeeding so that if you ever find yourself in a situation where someone questions your choice to feed your daughter or son by breast, that you have something to say in return because I sure wish I had been able to say any of these things in response.
Mostly though, I am hoping that Dr. Engels has an opportunity to read this, or watch my video, and understand the impact that he had on somebody who wasn’t his patient and who was in his life for only a fleeting moment. I want him to know that words have strength and weight and should not just be said in an off the cuff manner. If another mother found herself in that situation, and was not as confident in her decisions as I was, she might leave his office and feel embarrassed or feel like she was doing something wrong. She might stop breastfeeding after that, even if she was not intending to.
If you, reading or watching this, have ever thought it was weird or odd or different for a mother to breastfeed her child past the age of one, I am hoping that this video helps you to understand the benefits and why mothers do breastfeed for an extended period of time. I think that people in general are more approving, less judgmental and more understanding when they are armed with information.
Many people have asked me, “Could the doctor have been joking?” and no, he wasn’t. Even if he were, it was still an extremely distasteful and ignorant joke. Other people have said, “Well, not everyone thinks that breastfeeding past one is acceptable” and no, not everyone thinks that, nor do they need to, but when you are in the medical profession, you generally keep your own personal opinion out of it and stick to facts that can be backed up with scientific research or medical fact. Having the opinion that extended breastfeeding is weird or asking someone if they plan to do it to an absurd age is not based on medical fact or scientific research. What this doctor asked me is offensive and very unprofessional.
Before I go into the facts about breastfeeding, I feel that it is very important for me to state Section 1 of the Human Rights Code, RSO 1990, c H.19, which states, Every person has a right to equal treatment with respect to services, goods and facilities, without discrimination because of race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, age, marital status, family status or disability. The Ontario Human Rights Commission’s position is that the obligation not to discriminate on the basis of ‘sex’ includes an obligation not to discriminate on the basis of pregnancy, breastfeeding and gender identity.
This legal obligation is reflected in guidance contained in the Canadian Medical Association’s Code of Ethics, paragraph 17.
The experience that I had with this doctor is not simply an issue where I was insulted – this is an issue where I was denied my civil rights.
I want this text / video to contain education that will help others understand more about the benefits of extended breastfeeding so let me share those with you now.
Health Canada recommends the following: Encourage exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life, as breast milk is the best food for optimal growth. Breastfeeding may continue for up to 2 years and beyond.
The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life. At six months, other foods should complement breastfeeding for up to two years or more.
WHO also states that breastmilk is the ideal food for newborns and infants. It gives infants all the nutrients they need for healthy development. It is safe and contains antibodies that help protect infants from common childhood illnesses such as diarrhoea and pneumonia.
WHO states that beyond the immediate benefits for children, breastfeeding contributes to a lifetime of good health. Adults who were breastfed as babies often have lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol, as well as lower rates of overweight, obesity and type-2 diabetes.
WHO states that breastfeeding should not be decreased when starting complementary feeding.
A Dewey 2011 reference states that in the second year (12-23 months), 448ml of breastmilk provides: 29% of energy requirements, 43% of protein requirements, 36% of calcium requirements, 75% of vitamin A requirements, 76% of folate requirements, 94% of vitamin B12 requirements and 60% of vitamin C requirements.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the role of pediatricians and other health care professionals should be to protect, promote and support breastfeeding enthusiastically and, in consideration of the extensively published evidence for improved health and developmental outcomes in breastfed infants and their mothers, a strong position on behalf of breastfeeding is warranted.
The AAP also states that pediatricians should promote breastfeeding as a cultural norm and encourage family and societal support for breastfeeding. They also need to recognize the effect of cultural diversity on breastfeeding attitudes and practices and encourage variations that effectively promote and support breastfeeding.
The sad part is that, in a study performed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which involved a survey sent to 1602 active Fellows of the AAP, only 65% of the pediatricians surveyed recommended exclusive breastfeeding for the first month of life. Only 37% of pediatricians recommended breastfeeding for 1 year. The majority of the pediatricians surveyed had also not attended a presentation on breastfeeding in the previous three years however most said that they did want more education on breastfeeding. They concluded that pediatricians have significant educational needs in the area of breastfeeding.
Things need to change. My experience is unfortunately one of many. The attitude that our society has toward breastfeeding, and more prevalent to my experience, extended breastfeeding, is narrow. We especially need to work on creating more education for pediatricians and providing them with ample access to lactation consultants who can advise on such issues.
I hope this video reaches a mother who, like me, was ridiculed for breastfeeding past one year and I hope that it helps her realize that her decision is the right one. I hope it also provides other mothers with information that they can use to present to their pediatrician should an issue ever come up.
And to Dr. Engels, should you ever see this video, I would really appreciate knowing why you chose those words that evening and what your intentions were behind saying them. What made you think that breastfeeding my 13 month old daughter meant that I would breastfeed her until she was in high school? How do you support other breastfeeding mothers? What part of me breastfeeding my daughter is “legal in Ontario”? I have so many unanswered questions about our interaction and I’m hoping that this helps me receive answers.