The octopus myth

When I was pregnant, I spent a long time waiting for the day when I would start to feel like a hippopotamus – large, uncomfortable, waddling and enormously heavy…though I’m sure that if you were to ask any hippo they would strongly dispute such a characterisation. Anyway, I waited and waited and waited, but before I knew it, the baby was born, no hippos in sight. I never felt uncomfortable or awkward or waddling…how I may have looked is a different matter entirely.

A similar thing has happened to me with breastfeeding. When I started breastfeeding my newborn daughter, I soon learned that the recommended age for feeding was a minimum of two years. I looked down upon the tiny little creature nestled so comfortably in my arms and everything just seemed to ‘fit’ so nicely…a newborn baby just seemed to be the perfect size for breastfeeding. How on EARTH would I be able to breastfeed an ENORMOUS two year old???

I looked around to get an idea of what a two year old was actually like and I tried to imagine what it would be like to breastfeed a child of that age and size. I was, to be honest, slightly alarmed – all those ARMS, all those LEGS…all that WRIGGLING about – WAS IT REALLY POSSIBLE TO BREASTFEED A TWO YEAR OLD??? It seemed to me that it would be rather like trying to put a wetsuit on a thrashing octopus…awkward, unwieldy, frustrating and quite frankly, nigh impossible. Nevertheless, I set my goal as reaching the magical age of two and I figured that I would somehow work it out.

I now have an eighteeen-month old daughter. Somehow, somewhere along the way, my newly born baby slowly morphed into this ENORMOUS creature, with all those arms and all those legs and all that wriggling about. Somehow, somewhere along the way, she just FIT. Nope, she doesn’t curl up neatly in my arms like a newborn baby…her legs hang over my lap and she usually fiddles with a toy in one hand while poking and prodding at me with the other. But somehow, it works…it feels comfortable, natural and normal. I now no longer worry about how on earth I’m going to breastfeed a two year old, or even a three year old for that matter. I know that they will still fit. Because they’re meant to.

A few days ago, a friend of mine dropped in for a chat. Somewhere in the conversation (I think we were talking about my desire for my husband to take my daughter camping for the night so I could have an evening in on my own) it became apparent that I was STILL feeding. My friend, a childless male, looked slightly perplexed and then commented “Oh well, she won’t be needing that for much longer”. Then, a short pause, as he cocked his head to one side, looked at me and said “How old is she again?”

And so, in a very subtle, quiet, unobtrusive way, I was given the message, yet again, that YOU MUST NOT BREASTFEED A CHILD AFTER THE AGE OF ONE. The message was so clear that it could have been written in big, bright flashing neon lights. Because, of course, as everyone seems to know, Breastfeeding After the Age of One is Dangerous. Unsafe. Unnecessary. For Your Own Reasons. Weird. Just Plain Wrong.

I know that I have now entered that territory in which I feel that I need to be a little bit more secretive about the fact that I am STILL breastfeeding. In the small town where I live, many mothers do breastfeed, but the age of 1 is definitely seen as the upper limit. To venture beyond this point is seen as being, well, quite frankly, weird…perhaps even bizarre. Why on earth would you keep breastfeeding when they can have cows milk at that age???

Personally I’ve got nothing against cow’s milk…when it’s given to baby cows that is. But the idea that I would wean my child from my milk on to the milk of an animal…well, quite frankly, I find that weird…perhaps even bizarre. I feel slightly ashamed of myself that I am not more open about breastfeeding my toddler. I have told some friends who I know have breastfed past the age of one and I’ve mentioned it casually in conversations to strangers, but I don’t feed my daughter ‘in public’ anymore and I am careful about what I say and to whom. Partly this is because we are still fairly new to this town and I know that whatever I say will eventually do the rounds. I’d like to think that if I had the anonymity of life in a big city I wouldn’t care less about where and when I fed my daughter and whom I told.

I’ve never yet been openly and directly challenged by someone about why I’m still breastfeeding my daughter, but I thought that if and when the moment arrives, I’d like to be really clear about it….so here’s a short list of MY reasons…

*Because the World Health Organisation recommends that babies are breastfed for a minimum of two years, and thereafter for however long the mother and child desire. To be honest, I’m not usually one for following ‘the rules’ – they have to make sense to me first and be backed up by good research (hopefully one of my fellow bloggers will blog about ‘the rules’ of starting solids and how Baby Led Solids turns all that on its head). Anyway, this is one recommendation that does make sense to me and is backed up by good research.

*It provides immunological support. I suppose I see my breastmilk as being almost like the ‘other half’ of my daughter’s immune system. Children are so susceptible to infections and illness in their early years of life and the consequences of recurrent infections can be quite serious for bodily systems that are still developing (think ear infections here). I know that breastfeeding has ensured that my daughter has had an amazingly illness-free start to life – she has been sick just once in eighteen months – no ear infections, no gastro, no vomiting, no skin problems. And she isn’t ‘protected’ from snotty-nosed kids either. She recently picked up and sucked on the dummy of a child who had two rivers of green snot streaming from his nose…she didn’t even get a sniffle. So the other part to this story is that my daughter has never needed medication or a trip to the doctor and I haven’t suffered sleepless nights tending to a sick child.

*It provides ideal nutrition. Everyone who has a toddler knows how fussy and finicky they can be about food. By continuing to breastfeed my daughter, I know that even on days where she hardly eats, she is still receiving proper nutrition and isn’t likely to starve!

*It provides comfort in times of distress and it is still a surefire way to calm her and soothe her into sleep – even if she rarely feeds to sleep nowadays, it does slow her right down before bedtime and makes the night-time routine that little bit easier.

*It provides some quiet spaces in the day where the two of us can just be peaceful, still, and enjoy some beautiful mother-daughter moments together. Actually this is more of a ‘perk’ than a reason for breastfeeding per se.

*OK, this is an aside, but if we were ever caught in a natural disaster situation where we didn’t have access to food or water for a while…well, my daughter would be fine.

I’m sure there’s a lot more reasons that others could add to this list and I’d love to hear from any other mum’s who have or are breastfeeding past the age of one. What have your experiences been and why did you decide to keep going past the age that our society considers to be the ‘norm’?

For my part I’m just glad that I’ve experienced the seamless transition from feeding a newborn to feeding a toddler, without letting my preconceived notions (about the octopus) get in the way…

5 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by plahski on May 26, 2009 at 2:26 pm

    I was in one of those situations yesterday with my 20 month old! hehe actually when people say “is she still breastfeeding?!?” I just look them straight in the eye and say “yes”. If she is on the boob at the time I facetiously say “no”…

    I don’t bother with any explanation even if one day someone wants to debate with me about it … I would just say “check yourself before you wreck yourself fool !” hehehe because I’m so hardcore man! hehehe

    Actually I don’t know ANYONE who would be game enough to call me on it. Not because I think I am wonder woman (well that is part of it) but because they would get my wrath, my husbands wrath, and any other of my family members wrath that happen to be around!


  2. I’m pretty lucky, it’s very common up here. I did have a conversation yesterday with someone who is feeding her 16 month old about Widget, asking when she had weaned. When I said she was still feeding (3 1/2) she was surprised but we then had a good chat about how great it was for their emotions, having something to calm them down and help them through when they are sick or out of sorts.

    I admit to having the octopus problem at her size however, we can only feed lying down in bed. I was thinking about it and wondering how women in developing countries, where it is common to feed toddlers, cope. I think it is a difference in philosophy. We have one feed a day, and because it is a special event it is long and involves lots of cuddles, so it is important to be comfortable. I also have to admit that I like my breasts and want them to stay relatively unsaggy, so I always wear a bra. Breastfeeding toddlers in developing countries seems to be much more casual, with a child wandering up, having a quick suck, then moving on. So they are much more likely to feed while Mum is doing something else, rather than everything stopping for their one chance in the day.

    I can’t believe when I write it that I’m feeding a child who’s about to go to school. I vaguely remember thinking that you had to stop when they got teeth, then finding out about the WHO recommendations and thinking ok 2 is fine, but I can’t understand those people feeding pre-schoolers. Now I understand completely. It’s so important to her that I would need a really good reason to stop her, and what other people think just isn’t a good reason. I don’t understand why people seem to think that their emotional needs are so much less important than their nutritional needs. And as for the rubbish that women are doing it for themselves! It’s very obvious that the people who think that have never dealt with that squirming octopus! I would love to wean her for me, but being a Mum means that sometimes you’re outvoted.


    • I agree about the fact that the emotional needs of a child are very much downplayed when it comes to breastfeeding. It’s interesting that for myself I haven’t even really counted it as one of the reasons that I continue to breastfeed, citing more the health benefits. The reality is that there is just SO MUCH tied in to this one act of breastfeeding that it is impossible to separate out all of the strands. And it’s interesting how it is seen as normal and altogether quite appropriate for children to be soothed through ‘artificial’ means such as dummies, special toys and blankets, but to be soothed by their own mother (through her breasts) is somehow ‘disgusting’ and inappropriate…go figure!


  3. Was an interesting read. My daughter is 11.5mths and about a month ago my dad made comments that I’ll be starting to wean soon. I told him that I don’t plan to yet so he started talking about ‘you know, you got to 12mths, you’ve given her the best start, she doesn’t need it anymore’ etc. I don’t know if I’ll BF to the WHO of 2 years but I expected to get to 12mths before the comments started…not 10.5mths!
    I can imagine I’ll get many more comments from my family as they are not pro-bfing, at the initial 3-4weeks of agony, they were all saying to FF. And when my supply dropped due to gastro at about 4-5mths, they said ‘must be time for the bottle then’. GRRRR. So I can just imagine what they’ll say when I continue past 12mths. PLUS, its a good excuse for her not to be able to stay at the inlaws HAHAHAHAHAHA 🙂


  4. I wasn’t fond of being pregnant, nor was I overly attached to the breast feeding experience (I have 2 boys) but was happy to feed them till they were at least one. My youngest boy, Hamish, was still feeding 3 times a day the day before his 1st birthday and I wasn’t sure how long this would last as he had cut down to 2 feeds but then picked up the 3rd again. But, alas, overnight he changed his mind. The day he hit the big 1 he weaned himself…not just stopped showing interest but stop dead refused to drink from me! I was taken aback…despite my desire to be independant again!

    I have a friend in my mothers group who still breastfeeds her almost 3 year old and is tandem feeding her 4 month old at the same time…I couldn’t do it, but she loves it and there’s nothing wrong with it in terms of health factors so why not!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: