I was just reading this post by Corin at The Human Pacifier (as recommended by Half Pint Pixie) and it made me think about the world that Lily and I are about to enter. You see, she will be 11 months old next week and many of the women in my mother's group are starting to wean their babies. It seems that while breastfeeding is widely accepted and adopted here in Australia, 12 months or so is seen as a good age to wean.
Now, to be fair, there are many reasons for this even just within the context of my mother's group. Many of the women are going back to work and don't want to pump milk all day. A number of others are pregnant and think that their milk supply is reducing (and may just want a bit of their bodies back before giving birth again). Others have found breastfeeding a difficult and exhausting chore right from the start and are keen to see the end of it. Still others had medical reasons for weaning months ago meaning that the option of extended breastfeeding is no longer available.
I want to be clear that I am not criticising any of these choices. I know that all of these women are loving and dedicated mothers and the last thing that women need is people who haven't walked in their shoes peering over their shoulders and criticising the extremely difficult job that they do. However, I have started to realise that for all of the above reasons my commitment to keep feeding Lily well into her toddler years is going to start seeming stranger and stranger to those around me - and, well, I guess I just wish that this wasn't the case.
I wish that women received more support to breastfeed - that there wasn't so much pressure to go back to work after 12 months, that medical issues and difficulties with breastfeeding were better supported, and that more information was provided to the wider community on the benefits of breastfeeding past the first year. I wish this last point because when I tell people that I want Lily to self-wean and that I hope that she breastfeeds until she is 3 or 4 many of them look at me with utter confusion. It seems as though many people genuinely believe that it is only babies that ought to be breastfed and that there is something incredibly weird or unnecessary about breastfeeding a toddler.
The other difficulty that I face is that I feel a little tongue-tied on the subject. I feel reluctant to list the benefits (both nutritional and developmental) of extended breastfeeding, because I feel as though it may be interpreted as a criticism or judgement against those women who are not planning to also breastfeed their toddlers. I honestly believe that mothers do an incredibly challenging and often thankless job (in terms of wider society, not their little ones) and I abhor the fact that so many people seem to think that they have a right to judge and second-guess the way that they perform this 'job'. At the same time, it concerns me that some women may be weaning their babies or leaving them to cry-it-out or forcing them to be 'independent' because they do not have access to the research and information about the nutritional and development benefits of extended breastfeeding (or, indeed, the psychological damage practices like cry-it-out etc can cause).
I guess I am just saying that I have just realised that I am now entering another phase in my life where something that I am committed to doing is going to make be not just an object of curiosity, but also is going to provoke defensiveness amongst people if I am at all honest about why I am doing it. Like veganism, co-sleeping, or attachment parenting, it is hard to explain why I chose to practice extended breastfeeding without touching on what concerns me about weaning (or eating meat, or being non-responsive to your babies cries). I just wish that I knew the best way to be honest about my choices in a way that might inspire people, without leaving them feeling defensive or judged.
What is the vegan chocolate cake equivalent to extended breastfeeding?