By Sara McCall and Heather Spada
We recently shared a photo that caused quite a stir on our Facebook page. In case you missed it, check it out. We thought it was a fun photo showing one of the crazier ways that a toddler could breastfeed. I mean, who hasn’t been in the middle of an activity (such as yoga) and then suddenly their child wants to nurse?
However, the response was shockingly different. There were a few positive, “Hey, I can relate!” responses (for those, we thank you!). Unfortunately, the majority were negative – ranging from a respectful, “I think it’s weird and I wouldn’t do it, but to each his own” to assertions that the mother was an attention-seeking pervert who should be reported to child protective services. They claimed to be sickened by the photo, but we were sickened by most of the comments. Why does the sight of a breastfeeding toddler elicit such intense and negative emotions? There is science backing breastfeeding into the toddler years, TONS of it; yet the sight of a woman nursing a toddler brings about comments like, “she’s doing it for her own sexual satisfaction” and “once a child can ask for it, it’s time to stop”.
The demeaning things that some nursing mothers hear are enough to shake anyone to the core – “slut”, “loose woman”, “pedophile”, etc. They undercut our core desire to raise and nurture our children. It’s offensive to the nth degree.
But how do we even begin to combat a mindset that’s so mainstream? Exposure? Education? Features on celebrities who breastfed toddlers, and are proud of it?
There isn’t an easy answer. The fact that someone can say, “I won’t breastfeed because my breasts are sexual objects” reveals that we’ve forgotten who and what we are. Breasts are secondary sex characteristics for a woman, just as an Adam’s apple is for a man – but ours have a FUNCTION. Men are instinctually drawn to women with larger breasts because of the (false) correlation with an increased ability to bear children. That’s right – breasts are attractive because of their perceived ability to breastfeed a child.
What’s almost more interesting is that by age 1, most families switch their children to cow’s milk. The question then is: how is it more acceptable to drink the milk of another species and reject the milk of one’s own?
Breastfeeding still has miles to go before it is “acceptable”. Even though roughly 75% of mothers initiate breastfeeding, the number plummets by the time babies reach 3 months. There is a lot that can be done to increase those continuation rates – and the one thing we all can do is to continue sharing our breastfeeding photos, not just infants, but toddlers too. We can continue to encourage celebrities, like Kelly Preston and Alyssa Milano to share their stories and pictures with the media, because they have the power to influence millions in a positive way and normalize healthy behaviors like breastfeeding. After all, long ago it was considered scandalous to show one’s ankles, so we have faith that over-reactions to the sight of a woman calmly breastfeeding her child will eventually diminish.
You don’t see much breastfeeding in person, unless you seek it out (like at a breastfeeding support group). Seeing photos reminds moms that they’re not alone. Moms who are nursing their first baby or feel nervous about breastfeeding may particularly benefit from seeing women breastfeed, just like children benefit from seeing someone ride a bike; they are both learned experiences.
Another reason to share toddler breastfeeding photos is because it gives people a chance to practice respect; though if you read the comments on the Internet, you’d believe there’s no such thing. You may not agree with every breastfeeding photo you see. Some of the photos you might see won’t be typical of your “every day” nursing mother, but they capture the varied and changing nature of a breastfeeding relationship.
What’s not ok is calling the mom awful names; joking about how it’s a sex act; calling it pedophilia and demanding the mother be investigated. You may not agree with a 3 year old child nursing; that’s fine. But don’t be a jerk about it.
The more we see of breastfeeding (especially full term breastfeeding), the less shocking it will be, and the better for all of us.