Saturday, July 11, 2009
Image credit: teresia on flickr
I received an e-mail from a reader who is feeling alone and criticized due to her parenting choices. Unfortunately, she is not alone in feeling that way. A lot of people do. Here is her story:
I am a 23 year old mom, with a 2 1/2 year old son. I really don't know many young women my age with children, so I don't have any friends who are in the same situation. I have a lot to learn from others, this is very new to me, and sometimes I'm not sure whether my gut instinct is enough.
I've had a few issues that I really don't know how to respond to...
My toddler sleeps in our bed with my husband and I, and unfortunately, family members seem to be enraged that I don't have him sleeping on his own yet. I love having him in bed with us, and it tears me to pieces to force him to sleep on his own.
The fact that I am still breast feeding has everyone up in arms as well. Unfortunately, I feel like I'm always being criticized. I feel an enormous amount of pressure to quit, and while I am ready (I would love to be able to own my boobs again lol) he is still quite attached. I have no issue breast feeding until he is ready to wean himself off, (I really thought by 2 years of age he would be done...) but the pressure from others is making me feel like I'm doing something wrong.
I'm even slightly embarrassed to admit to family members that I still am. I live in the U.S, and somehow it seems like its taboo to breastfeed past the age of 1. I hate this pressure that I'm feeling, but I really have a hard time ignoring it. Have you had negative responses to extended breast feeding? If so, How do you cope with negative responses to extended breastfeeding? Do you recommend an age that would be an appropriate to quit?
She raised a number of different issues in this e-mail that I think are quite common for women that are co-sleeping or breastfeeding their toddlers.
Dealing with criticism
Sometimes it seems like everyone thinks they are entitled to an opinion about how you should raise your kids. There are a few things that I have found useful to combat this type of thing:
- Be confident: If you nurse your toddler confidently, with a big smile on your face and your back straight and don't look nervous about doing it, people will be less likely to feel like they have the right to say something about it. But if you look nervous or if you mention any negatives about it, then they will take the opportunity to jump in with all sorts of advice about what you should be doing. I have found that making it very clear to people that I am happy with my choices and that they work for us usually keeps people from opening their mouths. I call it flaunting my crunch.
- Know your stuff: If people suggest that you should be weaning already, then you could mention that the World Health Organization recommends nursing for at least 2 years and then for as long as the mom and child want after that. You could mention that the average natural age of weaning is between 2.5 years and 7 years. With regards to co-sleeping, there are many benefits to co-sleeping and despite what people often assume, children that co-sleep are generally more independent and have higher self-esteem at preschool age than those that don't.
- Pass the bean dip: If none of that works or if you don't even want to discuss it (because it really is no one's business but yours), then you can make it clear that you don't want to talk about it using a technique called pass the bean dip.
That is what works for me, but there are other things that you can do too. There are some more ideas in this article on handling criticism about breastfeeding.
An age for weaning
You asked if there is an age that I would recommend for weaning. I think it is a very personal decision, so I wouldn't recommend a specific age.
As I mentioned above, the natural age of weaning is generally between 2.5 years and 7 years and the WHO recommends a minimum of 2 years. The approach I have chosen is to do everything I can to ensure my children nurse until 2 years and then after that it is up to them to decide when we will stop. But after 2 years I will also take what could be considered risks to our breastfeeding relationship (if I feel my child is ready), like for example going away for a few nights.
If you choose child-led weaning, then you would continue to nurse for as long as he continues to have that need. It doesn't mean that you can never say no, you certainly can if it is not a convenient time. The approach that I have taken is that I try to offer as often as my daughter asks. For me it is a relationship, one we are both invested in, and I don't want her to feel that she always has to be the one to initiate it. Also, I try to watch to see when she really needs to nurse versus maybe just doing it out of boredom. If she is really upset or sick and really needs me, then I try not to say no, but if she is just bored and I'm trying to get something done then I might tell her to wait a little bit. If you want to read another story about child-led weaning, you can read Sam's story on the babyREADY blog.
If you feel ready to stop breastfeeding and do not want to go down the path of child-led weaning, you can choose a gentle weaning technique that will respect your child's needs while at the same time slowly decreasing the frequency of breastfeeding until it stops. One method is called "don't offer, don't refuse". That means that you will nurse as often as possible when he asks, but you will not offer. That is considered a gentle weaning technique, but depending on how committed the child is to weaning it could go quite quickly or it could take a very long time.
If you want to stop more quickly than that, some things you can do include:
- Avoid sitting in the places that he usually likes to sit to nurse.
- If he does tend to have a specific nursing schedule, try cutting out one session at a time very slowly (e.g. one session every few weeks). Try to replace it with something else that is enticing - e.g. if you always nurse right after nap, then replace the nursing with a visit to the park, a favourite game, favourite snack or something else that he loves.
- Create a few rules about when and where breastfeeding can happen. Start off not too restrictive, but you could become more restrictive with time. Although we generally do child-led weaning, I did have a rule with my son of no nursing between dinnertime and bedtime, because otherwise he would nurse all evening and then I couldn't entice him to go to bed. Saving nursing for bedtime was a way to get him to go to bed.
- Try shortening nursing sessions, e.g. tell him that he can nurse, but just until you count to 10. You can then count very slowly to 10 and when you reach 10 let him know that he is done. You can count more quickly or more slowly depending on what you think his need is. This technique is used a lot by moms that are pregnant and finding nursing uncomfortable during their pregnancy. It is a good way to meet their child's need to nurse while still restricting it and keeping some control over their own body.
For more information on weaning, I would recommend this article on how weaning happens.
My final word of advice to you would be to dig deep into your own mind and decide what you want to do. Whatever choice you make, be confident in your decision and make it clear with your body language and, if needed, your spoken words, that the opinions and advice or others are neither needed nor welcome.
What do you think? What additional advice can you offer on dealing with criticism from others or about deciding when the right time is to wean?