Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Myths, culture, and a very sore tongue...

Yup, sore tongue, from biting it. As in "No, I will not flip out on the first-time mother who just regurgitated a half dozen of the most infuriatingly illogical anti-breastfeeding myths perpetuated on mothers in western society that boiled down to why my son is too old to still be nursing. I will take a breath and politely state that these things are not correct, and gently suggest that she do some research." Now, mind you, my son was not actually *with* me for this conversation, just my six week old daughter. The conversation was lovely, all "let them nurse until they're done!" until I had to go and mention (with, admittedly, some small degree of pride) that my almost-three year old son was still nursing, and at that point things instantly spiraled into raised brows, judgmental tones, and cultural myths about the proper age of weaning. "I'm all in favor of breastfeeding, but..."  (Here's a clue, if there's a "but" attached to that sentence, you're about to prove the exact opposite.)

Sore tongue. Very sore tongue.

Now, I could list every statement that made my teeth hurt, and rant about the ways they're wrong. I could link to peer-reviewed studies and medical journal articles and so on giving the current research which backs up the historical reality, but it's been done, a lot, by other bloggers who have more patience for hunting such things down. If you're reading this, you have access to search engines. Google "breastfeeding myths" and dive in, the education is endless.  (Okay, I'll link just one, because it's brilliant and fascinating and a great jumping off point. "A Natural Age of Weaning" by Kathy Dettwyler. Nutshell, natural human weaning can be expected anywhere from two and a half to seven years of age.)

I don't want to put out my own version of everything you'll find under the above mentioned search. I want talk about the culture that allows these lies (let's use the ugly word, because it's accurate) to become so ingrained that they are passed on, mother to daughter, educator to student, doctor to patient, without a second thought.

See, this idea that there is some predetermined age that is "too old", that breast-milk ever becomes bad or unhealthy or worthless, that mothers don't wean out of selfishness (or worse, are sexually abusing their older nurslings), all of these and more are inventions of western culture during the past century at the very most. Fifty years ago, it was still perfectly normal in the United States for a woman out and about with her nursling to simply unfasten her top and feed the hungry child. To this day, there are cultures all over the world, all along the scale of first-second-third-world nations, where it is STILL normal and expected that children will nurse at their mother's breast until the child simply no longer wants to breastfeed. Throughout history and around the world, breastfeeding dyads (that's mom and child) have been respected, protected, honored, and held up as metaphor for beauty, strength, trust, healthy relationships, etc. Breastfeeding to natural term, when *both* mother and baby are ready, is healthy and natural and has been the accepted norm for thousands of years. These modern ideas centered around "too old"... they make very little sense when you actually stop to think about it.

A couple of things to consider, just some starting points as food for thought...

------- When Samuel's mother took him to the Temple to serve the priesthood, it was when he was weaned. What use exactly would the aging Eli have had for a one year old??? Or even a two or three year old, for that matter.

------ A pacifier or thumb is seen as an acceptable substitute after weaning... and yet both have been shown to negatively impact the development of facial structure, alignment of teeth, speech, etc. Breastfeeding, no matter how extended, does not, and in fact has a positive effect on the development of the dental arch.  Logic fail.

------ Every time I have been questioned on natural term breastfeeding, I've discovered that the person thinks my son is still consuming ONLY breast milk. *facepalm* Yes, because a formula-fed toddler is still taking ONLY formula at nearly three. He eats a normal amount of food for his age and nurses to sleep, for comfort, to reconnect with me or his sister, if he's thirsty, scared, has a belly-ache, etc. At this age, breast milk has become ... what's that word the big companies use for the extra stuff they figure our young kids should be eating... Oh, yeah... *supplemental* to his solid food diet. Now, most kids will go through a picky phase. All those supplemental drinks and snacks marketed toward picky toddlers? Nature's answer: Breast milk. (Note: Breast milk does not provide sufficient amounts of vitamin D for even a small baby, so yes, Ana gets vitD drops along with her sunlight, because I burn easy and we don't get outside as much as I'd like.)

------ Let's just say, for argument's sake, that there is some arbitrary post-partum date upon which morn a mother's breast-milk no longer holds any nutritional value. (There isn't, but go with me here.) I'm nursing an almost-3 year old and a 6 week old infant, often at the same time. In order for the above assumption to prove correct, my body would somehow have to be switching between healthy, rich, nutrient-packed milk for Anabelle and ... well, I guess water? for JJ.  Just pause and think about that for a second. I'm good, friends, but I'm not that good.

------I have an almost-three who generally does as he's told, most days goes to sleep within 30 minutes of bedtime, sleeps through the night, does not throw screaming fits or tantrums, is healthy and strong and frighteningly smart, and six weeks in shows no evidence of being the least bit jealous of his baby sister. Tell me exactly how removing the ONE guaranteed never-fail comfort and connection tool from this equation makes sense?

------ While this is changing, doctors as a rule (even pediatricians) do not receive accurate up to date education about breastfeeding in their years of education and training. They have to seek this information out in their own time, of which they have very little. So they fall back on the decades old fiction devised by formula companies and perpetuate the myth that cow's milk or formula is somehow better for humans than... wait for it... *human* milk.

I couldn't resist, I cracked right up when I saw this.

SO... a first time mom spouted a bunch of the usual "he's too old!" sound-bites at me. It's actually not her that I'm mad about. It's the medical professionals who didn't get the right information in school and so repeat to new mothers the lies dreamed up a century ago by formula companies. It's the backwards cultural paradigm that places sexual display and individual discomfort at a higher value than the natural process of feeding one's child. It's the reality that the mothers least able to afford formula and processed "supplemental" drinks and foods are the ones most targeted by the companies which produce them, all subsidized by a government that refuses to acknowledge we are the only developed, industrialized nation in the world without federally mandated paid maternity leave.

Rather than educating mothers about the free, healthy, and generally unlimited bounty produced by their own magnificent bodies, we allow these myths to be passed on, year after year. THAT is what makes me mad, not one young woman with her first child doing what her __insert authority figure___ said and needing to be validated that she is doing right by her child.

So no, I will not force-wean my son before he decides he is ready. I promise, there isn't a ten year old boy alive who wants it known that he still gets milk straight from the tap. Pretty sure he'll give it up sometime before middle school.

No, I will not hide my son's nursing away at home, or refuse him milk just because a stranger might see and disapprove, anymore than I will subject my daughter to unnecessary and uncomfortable coverings for the sake of another's potential offense.

No, I will not pretend it's okay when -
              - people suggest I haven't weaned him because I am not ready. Because I really love having my breasts poked by an insistent two year old umpteen times a day. Okie dokie.                                                - Or that I'm making him too dependent and anti-social. Come meet him, he's anything but.
              - Or that he'll never bond with or trust anyone else. He asks for Daddy first thing every day. He sits and plays solitaire with his grandmother. He calls his various aunties on Skype without needing my help to do it. He abandons me to play chase with other littles at the drop of a hat.
              - Or that I should have weaned before Ana came because now he'll be jealous and won't learn to share. See photographic evidence below to the contrary.
              - Or that I am sexually abusing my son by allowing him to take nourishment and comfort at my breast alongside his baby sister.
Seriously, I will junk punch you.

I will not do these things. I will not hide, I will not be ashamed, I will not give tacit admission that there is anything wrong here. Because this conversation needs to be had. Children need to see mommies nursing babies, and toddlers, and even (legasp!) preschool and elementary age kids, and be allowed to ask questions. I don't get flustered when a curious 5/8/12 year old walks up while I'm nursing Ana or JJ and asks questions, I answer. Why? Because that is how we get back to a world where feeding a child is normal.

By feeding our children and treating it as normal.

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