"So - when are you weaning her?" Now that Girlio has hit 18 months, I seem to be getting this question, in various incarnations, quite a bit these days. I wonder what it is, precisely, about the 18 month mark that makes folks grow more uncomfortable with breastfeeding? Is it the fact that my precociously verbal daughter asks for milk by name (and in full sentences)? That she can crawl into my lap to get it? That she is no longer a tiny, helpless baby who depends on my milk for her survival? Is it because she's such an, erm, dedicated breasfeeder? Whatever reason, I'm starting to feel external pressures, both subtle and not, to wean my bub.
This is uncharted territory for me, as Boy-o mainly self-weaned at the age of 15 months (I wasn't ready and cried quite a bit about this). L. and I had started the process of trying to get pregnant again, and our reproductive endocrinologist refused to inseminate us when I was still breastfeeding, saying that breastfeeding damaged our chances of conceiving. It isn't impossible to get pregnant while breastfeeding. I know loads of people who have. But when you're paying a lot of money to try and get pregnant, having your already slim monthly chances diminshed is very daunting. So we gradually introduced the bottle and a bit of formula (gasp, shock. awe. Whatever.) for everything but his bedtime and naptime feeds between 13 and 15 months. And then, he just decided he didn't want those last two feeds one day, suddenly. I felt horribly guilty and sad about it. I missed breastfeeding him. I missed him needing me and snuggling me and being contented by me before nap and bedtime. And I hated that he was missing out on the benefits of extended breastfeeding.
I have alternately loved enjoyed breastfeeding and felt hobbled and constricted by breastfeeding. It is not an easy road (public health messages be damned), and it is an intensely personal road. I don't begrudge anyone their choices around breastfeeding and weaning (and yes, that includes the choice not to). I thinkstringent breastfeeding proponents often gloss over the fact that it is hard, physically draining and also emotionally draining work - and it is not the right choice for everyone. BUT- it is the right choice for me. And for my babes.
I'm not going to belabour the fact that there are benefits to prolonged breastfeeding. But you know, there are like, benefits to extended breastfeeding. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that "Breastfeeding should be continued for at least the first year of life and beyond for as long as mutually desired by mother and child... Increased duration of breastfeeding confers significant health and developmental benefits for the child and the mother... There is no upper limit to the duration of breastfeeding and no evidence of psychologic or developmental harm from breastfeeding into the third year of life or longer." (AAP 2005 - emphasis mine). If you still don't believe me, go here and read any number of links listing a gazillion benefits to mom and babe for extended breastfeeding. (And if you're like me, try to ignore the tenor of the links - pro-breastfeeding literature in general tends to drive me nuts - but this is the subject for another blog).
At any rate - there are loads of reasons for which folks decide to keep breastfeeding past the generally accepted time-frames adopted in North America (which apparently, if my experience is any indication, ends around or before the 18 month mark).
My reasons are pretty darned simple. Let me spell them out so as to be crystal clear: 1. it still works for Girlio. 2. it still works for me.
And when breastfeeding ceases to meet these criteria - either Girlio or I will start the weaning process. Until then - I'd sure love it if everyone would back the fuck off.