Doing it for myself

It’s World Breastfeeding Week and we are celebrating at Fusion Parenting. Thank you for celebrating with us!

 

It’s a comment designed to hurt, embarrass and shame. It’s a comment that is both ignorant and absurd. It’s a comment that also seems fairly ubiquitous – I’ve seen it on blogs, forums, newspaper columns, magazines and from the mouths of people who should really know better, like health professionals. It’s a comment that is aimed at mothers who breastfeed their children beyond the age that ‘society’ has decreed as the ‘norm’ – here in Australia, that’s somewhere around the 12 month mark:

“You’re just doing it for yourself”

What this comment essentially means is that women who breastfeed beyond the age of 12 months are doing it to ‘meet their own needs’ and not the needs of their babies. The implication here, of course, is that there is absolutely no benefit for the child in being breastfed past their first birthday, because apparently everything that’s fantastic about breast milk suddenly dries up the moment they turn one. Now I’ve got a few problems with this comment, apart from the fact that it’s just plain ludicrous. The first and most obvious problem is that they’ve got the age all wrong. We all know, or should know by now, that babies should be breastfed until at least the age of two and longer if desired by mother and child. Leaving that clanger aside, the next problem I have is that it seems as if it’s outrageous to consider that a baby’s needs and their mother’s needs might actually be one and the same – my child has a need to feel safe, secure, comforted and nurtured; as a mother, I have a need to provide safety, security, comfort and nurture to my child. How preposterous to think that both of our needs could be met through the simple act of breastfeeding!

Then the other problem with this statement is that it also sneakily implies that there shouldn’t be any benefits for the breastfeeding mother. That breastfeeding should only be done to meet a child’s needs and mothers aren’t supposed to get anything out of it for themselves. But any breastfeeding mama will tell you that there’s plenty of perks to be had and there are. Lots, in fact. And why should it be any other way? Breastfeeding can be exhausting, demanding and relentless, especially in the first few weeks – the most critical weeks – so, biologically-speaking, it makes sense that it’s a win-win situation for both mother and baby (like more sleep, for example).

At first I used to get annoyed when I heard the ‘doing it for yourself’ comment. Then, I decided that actually it’s quite true (well at least it’s half-true) – I am doing it for myself. I’ve got a 20 month old daughter. We breastfeed together about half a dozen times a day. It’s a beautiful part of our day and we both love it. And I’m really proud of the fact that we have this fantastic breastfeeding relationship and I’m really pleased that I get a few kickbacks for persevering thus far. Basically it makes my life so much easier…so, I’m doing it for myself…

I’m doing it for myself because I don’t want to be getting up at night tending to a sick child – sick with gastro, ear infections, colds, coughs, skin problems, allergies, asthma and whatever else commonly ails a young child. I’m also doing it for myself because I don’t want to be paying for medications or trips to the doctor. My daughter has been sick twice in her life. I happen to think that that’s pretty good going for a child under two. Of course I choose to believe (and the research would back me up here) that the fact that she’s breastfeeding is a key factor here – especially given the fact that she’s inherited less-than-perfect genes from her parents but is yet to show signs of any of our afflictions (including asthma, eczema and allergies). The first time my daughter was sick, she had a pretty yucky cough and cold that lasted a couple of weeks. Because her nose was clogged up it was hard for her to breathe and therefore get to sleep and stay asleep. And less sleep for her invariably meant less sleep for me, making my life so much more difficult. Not to mention my misery in seeing her suffering and miserable. So I am doing it for myself after all.

I’m doing it for myself because I genuinely enjoy the fact that my daughter feels comforted and soothed at the breast. No, she doesn’t run to mummy for ‘milkies’ every time she falls over and bumps her knee, but I know that if she’s ever in real distress, a soothing breastfeed will calm her down and comfort her. And I love that and I’ll continue to offer her the opportunity of comfort at the breast as long as it works for her. So, yep, I’m doing it for myself.

I’m also doing it for myself because it means I get to stress less over how much she eats. If on some days all she’s had are a few crackers and bites of an apple, I know that our breastfeeds get her over the line – they quench her thirst, satisfy her hunger and provide everything that she needs, all in one neat little package. Plus it’s cheaper than food anyway! So, again, I’m definitely doing it for myself.

I’m also doing it for myself because when my daughter is really tired she still falls asleep on the breast instantly, so it takes me 5 minutes to put her to sleep rather than up to an hour. Definitely doing it for myself on that one!

So next time I hear anyone berate a breastfeeding woman for ‘doing it for herself’, instead of getting cranky, I’m going to remember that breastfeeding is supposed to come with plenty of perks for both mother and baby and I’m certainly going to make the most of them while I can!

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3 responses to this post.

  1. You’re so right. I hate the implied selfishness, as if mothers are supposed to only ever do anything that’s good for their babies. And the double standard – if you’ve put them on formula that’s OK because ‘happy Mum, happy bub.’ But if you kept breastfeeding them, undoubtedly just to make everyone else feel bad, then you are just proving you’re a martyr and have given up every right to do something for yourself. It’s denigrating both groups of Mums!

    Reply

  2. Posted by Guggie Daly on November 12, 2009 at 3:05 pm

    I’ve bumped into a similar variation, “You’re forcing your child to breastfeed that long.”

    Riiiiight….who in the world believes anyone can force an infant to nurse?! Are ya kidding me?

    Reply

  3. Posted by Angie Menser on November 13, 2009 at 1:22 am

    You don’t think it’s weird for an 8 or 9 year old to still be breast-feeding? Even primordial mums would have booted their babes from the bosom before then. I think this is just a rebellious adult behavior, the grown up version of being punk.

    At some point we all have to grow up, and weening is one of the earliest pushes toward independence. For what it’s worth, my kids breast fed until the age of 2 and 3–plenty of time to enjoy the benefits, without crossing into over-indulgent parenting.

    Reply

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