Ashamed to breastfeed a toddler
This mum finds herself skulking off to a corner when she needs to breastfeed her 18-month-old, as if it's some kind of 'dirty deed'.
toddler breastfeeding

The other day I saw a mother breastfeeding a child who didn't look a day over two. I then heard: "Oh gross, have you seen how old that kid is and he’s still breastfeeding?"

This common, negative attitude towards extended breastfeeding is completely unsubstantiated. The World Health Organisation recommends exclusive breastfeeding (no other liquids or solids) “up to six months of age, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond.”

In New Zealand, the Ministry of Health recommends "You should continue breastfeeding until they’re at least one year of age – or beyond ... The longer your breastfeed your baby, the better."

I hear what you're saying... Oh, groan. Another article on breastfeeding. Why don’t breastfeeding mothers just shut up about it already?  Well, I can’t shut up about it for the exact same reason formula-feeding mums of newborns can’t seem to shut up about that either: we all feel judged.

Will it really mentally scar your child?

So many people seem to think that breastfeeding beyond a certain age will turn babies into clingy, needy or otherwise dysfunctional children or adults. Where is this belief even coming from? I think part of it is the fact that we’ve sexualised breasts so much in our society that we have trouble separating their two functions in our minds.

If it did produce such as effect, don’t you think these highly respected medical organisations would recommend a cut-off age? Quite the contrary, countless studies have shown that kids who are securely attached to their mothers are healthier, happier and more well-adjusted than kids who aren’t. And one way to help form that secure attachment – but not the only way, of course – is through breastfeeding.

I may be feeling defensive because of the weird looks I see other mums throw at me when they spot me breastfeeding my one-and-a-half-year-old. Though this doesn't happen as often anymore because I avoid doing it in public as much as I can. My husband encourages me to proudly pop out a boob and stare down my detractors, but I can’t help feeling embarrassed. Even though in my heart I’m so proud to still be breastfeeding, it’s just easier to hide in the car or in a parents’ room or at home than to deal with the judgemental glares. 

As for those who go by the mentality "if they're old enough to ask for it, they're too old", well it makes my life a hell of a lot easier than when she just cried to alert me to any one of her many needs. It takes all the guesswork out of it.

Judged by family

If I thought I had it hard, my experience is nothing compared to the trials and tribulations of breastfeeding a pre-schooler. Mum Danielle, 33, is still breastfeeding her four-year-old son on demand and she feels judged by her entire family – even her husband.

"We were having dinner the other night and Oliver wanted to breastfeed," she says. "I told him I was having my dinner, but he still wanted it, so in the end I just let him stand next to me and feed while I continued eating. It didn’t take long, just a minute maybe, but [my husband] Dave got really uncomfortable and lowered his head to his dinner plate. It’s like he could barely look at us and then he said, ‘You have to stop breastfeeding, Oliver, you’re too old. It’s embarrassing.’"

I’m willing to bet many of you are thinking: He’s right! Four is way too old! And if I’m completely honest, I probably would’ve judged her too before I became a mum. I remember thinking that it was weird to breastfeed kids that age and I just couldn’t understand it. Surely it was just for comfort and not necessary?

Now I understand that yes, it is for comfort and no, it isn’t necessary – and that’s OK. Is everything we do as human beings out of pure necessity? Hell, no. How would you explain music, drugs and art?

So if a mum decides to breastfeed her kid past an age that you would feel comfortable with and the experts say it’s not only fine but beneficial, why not just accept it as one those things in life that you’ll just never understand – like quantum physics or hoarding – and move on. Oh, and please stop staring.

What age did you breastfeed your children up to? Did you ever feel embarrassed to breastfeed them in public?

This article was written by Sabrina Rogers-Anderson and adapted for Kidpsot, New Zealand's favourite parenting resource for Early Life Nutrition.

Breastfeeding is best for babies and provides many benefits. Combined breast and bottle feeding in the first weeks of life may reduce the supply of your own breast milk. Always consult your doctor, midwife or health care professional for advice about feeding your baby. This post is part of the Early Life Nutrition story.

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