Are you still breastfeeding?

This week a mum presented me with a dilemma. ‘Why do I feel so ashamed of the fact that I’m still breastfeeding at 12 months?’ she asked. ‘I love breastfeeding, the closeness of it, the fact that it not only nourishes my daughter, but comforts, protects and heals her too. I have no idea how I’d deal with teething or starting childcare without it.’ Yet, when friends asked that question ‘Are you still breastfeeding?’ she felt the need to make excuses, and felt paranoid that she was being judged by them. She told me that before she had children, her initial reaction to someone feeding an ‘older’ baby was not particularly kind.

I suggested she turn it back on them. Be proud. If anyone ever asks that question again, simply answer, ‘Of course!’ with enough attitude to make them feel like they're the silly ones for asking the question. Very simply, in just two words, she can demonstrate that breastfeeding is the most natural thing in the world to her, without making it a mothering contest about who fed the longest, or who’s right and who’s wrong. No smugness necessary.

I’m not necessarily talking about extended breastfeeding here, either. Mums of 6-week-olds tell me they are often questioned as to whether they are still feeding, or how long they plan to do so. Like the aforementioned mum, they sometimes find themselves stumbling, justifying, thinking of reasons that might satisfy the person who is asking. I asked around at what other mothers have said in such situations, and the responses are hugely varied. Humour is a good one – ‘Maybe I’ll still be feeding him when he goes to uni, it’s good for his brain!’, or just admitting exhaustion – ‘It’s the only chance I get to sit down!’. Being vague works well – ‘I’ll probably wean when he gets a bit older’, or just cash in on your baby’s cuteness – ‘I just can’t resist!’ or, using your best coochie-coo voice, ‘he’s a little boobie monster!’

Add to the mix of annoying questions is ‘Are you feeding him again?’ proving that a lot of people out there just don’t get it. They don’t understand that breastfeeding isn’t just about nutrition. Yes, it’s great for them, helps their immune system, prevents allergies, gastro, ear infections, but sometimes we’ll feed a child because he’s bored, out of his comfort zone, because he wants to sit on our lap and the boob is just, well, in his face, or because we are having an in-depth conversation with another adult, and we don’t want to be interrupted — I know I do that – a lot! Hey, us mums have to have a full conversation once in a while. Or a hot cup of tea, for that matter.

Of course, not all mums feel they need to defend, and some of us even like to stir trouble, or be a bit cheeky about it. My favourite response to the ‘how long’ question is ‘At least until 2 – that’s the recommendation by the World Health Organization and the Australian Government, so no, it’s not just a Third World thing.’ Other funny responses from my mummy friends include: ‘Yes, are you thirsty?’ or ‘Just for a few more minutes, then he’ll have the other side.’

I also love throwing in a bit of evolution. ‘Did you know the natural age of weaning is between 2 and 7? So if you let your child lead the way, not many of them wean under the age of 2. After 7, the jaw changes shape so they physically can no longer breastfeed. That's the way nature intended it.’

If you'd like more info on dealing with unwanted criticism, check out this article on the La Leche League website (USA equivalent to ABA):