When it comes to feeding babies, breastfeeding mothers often get a bad reputation for 'pushing' their feeding choices on others and causing mothers who bottle feed to feel guilty for not giving their child what many see as the best start in life. The phrases 'breastfeeding mafia' and 'breastapo' or simply 'bully' are often used to demonise women who are just passionate about the choices they have made for their child. I personally have had to be very careful what I say when offering support to other mums who have been struggling so I haven't caused offence to those who have been unable to, or chosen not to breastfeed.
I know that making the decision to breastfeed your child is not always an easy choice, I have friends for whom medication, or medical conditions have been a deciding factor in their feeding choices and I also have friends who have made the informed decision that they would just prefer to bottle feed.
I have nothing against mothers who decide that breastfeeding is not for them. I am however, passionate that there is enough information and support available to every mother so they can make an informed choice.
With my first child I gave up nursing him a lot earlier than I had intended and I now feel that if the right support had been available to me I would not have been left in a position where I believed that switching to formula was the best thing for my child's health. I felt like I had failed in one of the basic elements of being a mother. These guilty feelings were not due to what others had thought or said, but rather a result of not living up to my own personal ideals. My feelings of failure do not mean that I view other bottle feeding mums in the same way, there are many different ways of raising happy, healthy children.
For me, my experiences with my first child made me even more determined to succeed in reaching six months of exclusive breastfeeding with my second, and despite having to overcome many hurdles, with the help and support of others, (both in online forums and local groups) I reached this goal. By this point we were on a roll and I was determined to continue to breastfeed my daughter for as long as she wanted and I felt comfortable with.
We are now over 20 months into our breastfeeding journey and over the last few months I have encountered a new kind of guilt, the guilt of the extended breastfeeder...
Although it seems to be thought of as wrong for a breastfeeding mother to question the choices of her bottle feeding peers, I now find that it is apparently completely acceptable for others to ridicule the decision of a mother who continues to breastfeed her child past the age of one.
Despite the World Health Organisation advocating breastfeeding up until the age of two or beyond, It seems that in our society, once a baby grows out of the 'cute babe in arms' stage then it is no longer seen as 'right' or 'natural' to think of them at their mothers breast. Instead we are happy to stand in judgement and make sweeping generalisations that nursing a toddler is 'just not right' or that it could be harming the child's development.
As my daughter has started to lose her 'baby like' looks and grow into a bright and bubbly toddler, I have been told many times by both family members and friends (and in one case a total stranger) that she is too old to still be feeding, I have been accused of holding on to it for selfish reasons and not wanting to let go, (of course I don't want to let go, she is my daughter, when she is eighteen and getting ready to leave for University I will not want to let go, but I shall not be offering her my breast!), I have also been told that there is no benefit for her to continue to feed at this age, (this is simply not true ). I have even been asked, 'did I know that breastfeeding an older child can have an effect on their sexuality in later life?!' Now that one I didn't even warrant with a response.
So it seems that if a breastfeeding mother questions the feeding choices of her bottle feeding peers she will be branded a 'bully'. However it is acceptable for others to call an image of a toddler being breastfed 'disgusting ' or 'just plain wrong' without thinking of the feelings of that mother or other mothers who are subjected to these views.
Well I for one respect the choices that any mother makes for their child, I will not judge a mother who chooses to bottle feed, and I expect the same courtesy in return when it comes to my feeding my daughter for as long as she wishes.