Charlie wanted to nurse while we were waiting for our food at Beach Chalet with my in-laws today. He was tired and hungry. I told him that the food was coming soon, but he insisted, I want to nurse, and was on the verge of crying. So I pulled out his muslin blanket, covered up, and breastfed him. I noticed our server looking at me. I wasn’t sure how to take it, and started feeling uncomfortable. So I just avoided eye contact with everyone, focused on patting Charlie, and imagined that maybe people would think I was just covering up my napping toddler.
When she brought our food, she asked me, How old is the baby? I told her he was 2, and she told me that she has 2 kids of her own. I felt confused.
Then, as we were finishing our meal, as she set a cup of water down for Charlie, she leaned toward me, and quietly said:
This may not mean anything to you, but I just wanted to say that I commend you for extended breastfeeding. I did it with my kids and didn’t always get support, but it’s such an amazing bond, and you really are doing the best thing for him.
That’s when I realized that what I saw in her face wasn’t disapproval but rather the working up of courage to give me the support and encouragement she knew I needed. I smiled and thanked her and almost started crying. Before we left, I made sure to thank her again and to let her know that she made my day, that what she said meant a lot to me. I am still processing just how much.
Here’s the thing: I made the conscious choice to breastfeed Charlie until he decides he’s done. Making that choice doesn’t make extended breastfeeding easy. Sometimes, it’s frustrating. And when I nurse him in public, there are times that I feel so self-conscious, defensive even. By law, I have the right to breastfeed in public places. As a mother, it’s my decision whether to nurse (or not) and for how long (or short). But it’s wearing to get asked how long I plan on nursing/when I plan on stopping from so many directions. It’s especially wearing to be told that I should wean him already.
By telling people about Charlie’s dairy and other food allergies, I’ve been able to “justify” nursing past age 1, pumping until he was 17 months old, and nursing past age 2. This somehow makes it easier for people, like the dental assistant at Charlie’s appointment last week, to accept that the only milk Charlie will drink is the milk my body produces. (By the by, in case you didn’t know, the American Pediatric Association recommends breastfeeding until at least age 1, and the the World Health Organization recommends it until at least age 2.)
And here’s the truth: I don’t breastfeed my son just because he’s allergic to cow’s milk. I breastfeed my son because of the nutrition and antibodies it provides him. I breastfeed my son because it comforts him and helps him fall asleep. I breastfeed my son because it’s one of the ways that we bond, especially during the work week. I breastfeed my son because it releases endorphins and oxytocin, which boost my own sense of well-being. I breastfeed my son because he wants to. I breastfeed my son because I want to. I breastfeed my son because I can.