The question took me aback. I looked down at my child cuddled in my arms — obviously nursing — and I wanted to respond with, “Why, yes, I am, ding dong.”
But of course I didn’t. I was too taken aback. My son had recently turned one, and I seemed to get this question more and more often. I found it odd, not to mention rude.
For the first time in my motherhood journey, I felt as if I should be apologizing for nursing — as if one year of age was the magic American cut-off date for breastfeeding your baby. I wondered how in world I missed the memo, and I wanted to know who wrote it and why.
It was ironic because up until this point I was indoctrinated with literature and lectures on the benefits of breastfeeding. I got the message from doctors, nurses, family and friends that I should try to breastfeed.
Well, I did try it, and luckily for me, the whole breastfeeding journey was easy for me. I knew that the journey was often not as easy for many women, including my own mother, and I felt blessed.
People complimented me when I breastfed my son during his first year. They said wonderful things like, “Oh, wow, you are amazing to be breastfeeding.” “Wow, that is commendable. You are awesome.” I got an entire year of people fondly admiring my mothering efforts when they saw me nurse.
That is until January 21, 2004, when my first son turned one. That is when things changed dramatically. All of a sudden, it seemed to surprise, if not bother, a lot of folks that I was still breastfeeding. Instead of receiving positive reinforcement, I felt like I was often looked upon as a woman with three heads.
And, of course, I was not prepared for this. The truth is I never planned to breastfeed for any specific amount of time. I did not have an end date in mind — it never dawned on me. Like many things in life, I decided I would try to give it my best, and I figured my baby and I would wean when we were ready.
Now after having three children, I know from experience that breastfeeding is about so much more than nutrition and health. As my babies became toddlers who learned to talk, walk, and venture away, they each have loved the sense of a safe home base that the experience of nursing provides. So I continued breastfeeding past their first birthdays because I could see how safe, comforted, and loved they felt when I nursed them in my arms.
Looking back, I am not sure how I answered that awkward question the first time. I think I stumbled through it, perhaps even apologizing. When I was asked similar questions later, my answer was usually that I wanted to wean naturally when my child was ready.
Unfortunately, though, this answer often got even more confused responses. There are not a lot of extended breastfeeders, and education of the masses is not an easy job. Often I was met with, “Well, that kid will never want to stop.” Once I was told,“ That child will want to go to college nursing.” I wanted to say, “Let’s put money on it.” If I had, I would be a lot richer today.
But now with more confidence and experience after having breastfed all three of my children through their toddler years, I know the perfect response to that question:
“Yes, I am still nursing. Isn’t that great?”
Moms, just leave it at that.
It is a simple, freeing answer. And you’re welcome to borrow it if you’re nursing and get asked a similar question. In one short sentence, you can clearly state your values and return the ball very gracefully to the other person’s court.