Birth, Babies, and Beyond

Pregnancy, birth, and parenting

Tales of a Serial Breastfeeder

My Kids were Drinkers

My mother called the minute she heard on morning T.V. that Time magazine’s cover photo is a woman nursing her toddler. Any time there is anything to do with long-term nursing, I get calls from my mother, or my sister, or a friend who remember when my girls were toddlers and just couldn’t get enough of the stuff. 

My Daughter and Me

Martha—now nearly 16 and I’m happy to report completely weaned—was fairly addicted to breast milk. But only in public. If we were alone together it didn’t serve any purpose for her. Eliza, her younger sister, weaned herself by kindergarten—or maybe slightly later.

 I did the nursing thing while standing (similar to the Time magazine cover minus the fact that I’m not a model and was never in such good shape particularly during the post-partum decade). And I nursed twins together, one on each side, like the mom on the Time website photo shoot.

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 In the heyday of my nursing years, I was flooded with unsolicited comments from anyone who saw me with toddler-to-breast. They told me I was ruining my hormones. I did some research and learned I was doing just fine and wrote about that too. After the article, I was contacted by a reader and asked if I wanted to join her and her breastfeeding friends in a monthly coffee group for, I guess, you can say, long-term survivors of breastfeeding. I wasn’t really into the advocacy part of it.

 You see, I never intended to become a serial breast-feeder. I was just trying to get through the day. With two other children (boys, who each nursed for a year), two dogs, a tortoise and a husband, I just didn’t have the wherewithal to wean. My girls were so demanding and I guess the only way to shut them up was shoving a breast in their mouth. Not something I recommend for other relationships.

 In any event, it had nothing to do with a parenting scheme, something Time magazine is calling the return of attachment parenting. Is there another kind? Attachment parenting, it seems, also includes co-sleeping. For the record, my girls and my boys and my dogs and my husband crawled in bed with me nearly every night. It was intimate in a family sort of way, but not in the husband-and-wife kind of way. (I’m happy to report that the kids no longer crawl in bed with us. Sadly, one dog is too lame to jump onto the mattress. But I get one dog and one husband every night.)

 

Not me or my daughter

But what rankles me about all this talk and debate about nursing and co-sleeping, is that I’m not sure why we need a blanket statement for every single family. For some women, nursing for years works and for others it doesn’t. For some people, having the baby in bed with them, is a lot easier than running to the crib every few hours. (Martha considered her crib more like a prison cell. It was, again, much easier for me to carry her into our bed than yet another failed attempt to soothe her.)

 Making all these parenting labels, such as attachment, sounds as if we are adding it to the DSM V—the bible of psychiatric diagnoses. We need to know which mothers are doing it right and which are just plain crazy.

 When my family was sleeping together and nursing too much, it was against all the gospel back then. So the first thing I did was stop reading parenting books. Next, I rationalized that at some point, my kids would no longer want to sleep in bed with me or nurse. It's sort of like diapers. You should encourage them to mature, but you can't worry so much about a time table. As my mother-in-law used to love to say, “he’s not walking down the aisle in a diaper.” At the time, I was more worried about pre-K, not standing under a Chupah with a son in Thomas-the-Tank-engine Huggies. (By the way, I got my kids into underpants before they stopped nursing but I’m not sure there is any correlation or cause-and-effect there.)

I guess what irks me is that everything about motherhood becomes a public debate. I’m not against public discussion, which I think is a great way to air out fears and joys about the whole process. But all too often these issues are portrayed like partisan politics—you have to vote one way or the other.

 I’m certainly not advocating that my parenting modes were any better than women who knew how to wean or get their kids to bed on time. Aren’t there more important things than breastfeeding deadlines and sleeping arrangements? Say, focusing on ways to instill happiness in your kids and promoting self-confidence? I’m happy to report that my children have their ups and downs but so far they seem pretty well adjusted. I’m not convinced it has anything to do with my lazy weaning routine or lack of bedtime rituals.

 

 

Randi Hutter Epstein, M.D., is the author of Get Me Out: A History of Childbirth from the Garden of Eden to the Sperm Bank.

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