Back Off: I’ll Stop Breastfeeding When My Daughter Is Ready

When I was pregnant, the questions about how I planned to feed my unborn child started as soon as the sharing of the news itself. The first time, I was around 11 weeks along when a well-meaning friend of my husband’s inquired, “You’re going to breastfeed, right? It’s the best way.” Um, eek! We hadn’t even shared word of my pregnancy publicly yet, let alone made firm decisions about feeding. Not to mention, the choice of what and how to feed one’s child has always seemed to me to be a personal one. I’d never asked about their children’s feeding situation, so I didn’t know why they were so curious about our plans. 

But it didn’t stop there. At my baby shower when I joked that next time we all got together (after baby), I’d finally be able to enjoy a glass of wine with everyone, the comment was met with criticism: “Well, no, because you’ll be breastfeeding…” I hadn’t registered for breast-related gifts and was mum on the topic of feeding, even with close friends, so these comments were as confusing as they were stressful to me. Anyway, the lactation consultant I’d already met with had told me a glass of wine right after a feeding is fine! But the point was more my friend’s firm declaration that I’d be nursing the baby.

All of the external pressure to breastfeed was stressing me out a lot. I feared that with a history of on-and-off anxiety and depression, I might suffer from postpartum emotional issues or depression and that breastfeeding would make it worse. I didn’t want to be held to some crazy standard by those around me and it scared me a lot. My husband and I spoke about it privately, many times, and agreed together that I would try because it was what I wanted to do for the baby, and if it wasn’t the right thing for us, we’d supplement or switch to formula. None of this, to me, felt like it should be anyone else’s concern. 

I did end up deciding to breastfeed my daughter, and from what I understand, we’ve had an easier time of it than many. Despite sleepless nights, clogged ducts, and other hiccups along the way, our breastfeeding journey has been a relatively smooth one. I’m proud of myself for having been able to feed her for now 16 months, and even more proud of my daughter for the independent and secure little person that she is. But no sooner did the pointed questions about our feeding plans stop, than a new set started. Apparently it’s not enough that I did breastfeed, as so many of our friends and family members insisted I should; now, they’re trying to tell me when I should stop. 

She started solid food around six-months-old. Since dairy allergies run in the family, our daughter has been drinking non-dairy milk from right around her first birthday. She drinks water, eats a very nutritious diet, and yes, she still breastfeeds. For now, anyway. And if you ask some of my friends and family members, it’s about time we stopped. This makes me crazy! I decided what to do with my breasts in the beginning and my daughter decided whether or not to take to them. Now, we are deciding as a team how to get through our current stage of early toddlerhood. And I could do without the questions — or the criticism.

I’ve heard it all, from “Isn’t she a little old to be nursing still?” to, “You’re never going to get her to wean if you don’t start now.” The thing is, I know these people are wrong. Just as wrong as it is to accost a new or soon-to-be mom and pressure her into breastfeeding, it isn’t cool to declare our time up when it has nothing to do with your life. 

I was never the type who sat at home all day breastfeeding — I work for myself and I get stir-crazy, so I would feed my daughter in coffee shops, malls, and at restaurants often. Now that she’s older, bigger, and gets distracted easily, we don’t do that so much anymore. For the most part, our one-to-three nursing sessions a day happen at home, either on the couch or in the rocking chair in her room. They’re mostly tied to sleep — either when she’s first waking up and cranky or headed to bed and feeling the same way. For my daughter, who’s a loud, busy, wild toddler, the closeness that nursing brings still seems important at certain points in the day. As a mom, I’m just not willing to take that away from her before she’s ready.

Will I ever get her to wean? Well, yeah. I highly doubt the poor kid will be packing up for college with her mom’s breastmilk fueling her. But I also have realized in my short time as a mom how ridiculously judgmental people can be about personal issues like this. I don’t think extended breastfeeding is the right choice for our family and I’d rather be done nursing this one before I get pregnant with number two, but I know a lot of moms who do nurse their older children, and that’s totally their business! 

It’s interesting because it isn’t just that nebulous word “society” that I’m talking about here. And yes, people out in “society” have said things to me — like a woman on an airplane who tsk-tsked at my then-11-month-old breastfeeding. Or even a babysitter we’ve used more recently: “She should be on cow’s milk by now.” Um, okay, lady… But it’s also friends. Family. The same people who are supposed to be defending us when the rest of the world tries to bully us into doing things “their” way.

I was at a family gathering recently when I mentioned that my whiny babe probably wanted to nurse. I know my child, and she was all over my boobs and crying, so I was really just trying to let people know where we’d be for the next 10 minutes. The comment, though, was met with criticism. “She’s still breastfeeding?” and even directly to my daughter, “When are you gonna give that up, kid?”

I just don’t get what the big deal is. When we set out on this journey, my goal was to make it three months, then six, then a year. By then, I figured she would self-wean. I did everything “right” — I offered food before the boob, used it as a last resort, and had her father get her down to sleep at night without my nursing her first. But she still shows an interest. And she relies on that comfort of a few minutes at various points in the day or when winding down at night. If this is working for our family, how does anyone get off thinking they have the right to weigh in?

I’ll be perfectly honest here. It’s not that I don’t care about you — I just don’t care about what you’re feeding your child. It’s not my business, and it never will be. If you need advice and think I might be someone good to ask, I’m here! But I’m not here to tell you what to do, or when to do it. The same should come back to me. My daughter is thriving. She’s healthy, secure, and hitting (or blowing past) all the developmental milestones of her age. She may no longer be a newborn, but she’s still my baby. And this is still my family. I’ll stop breastfeeding when she is done — until then (and even after!), just back off already. 

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