Sunday, 13 May 2012

Soapbox Sunday: Breastfeeding & that TIME cover

The internet is buzzing with responses to the Time magazine cover depicting a woman breast feeding her five year old son.  The issue is actually about Attachment Parenting but they have of course picked out the most controversial aspect of Attachment Parenting and presented it in a provocative manner.  Sells more mags right?

First off breast feeding is an individual choice and I have no beef one way or another with mothers who do or do not do it.  Even so, I had no idea I would come to feel so strongly about it after having Little E.  I knew it was something that did not work out for a lot of people, but to my mind the important thing was that I tried my best to make it work and if it didn't well, most people use formula these days. I was formula fed. JJ was formula fed. Interestingly, although I don't remember it, my sister had her first child when I was 13 and breast fed her little girl for two and a half years.

I thought I had read around the subject when I was pregnant but looking back now realise I knew very little. My son came into the world after a four and a half hour labour, he was washed and dressed before he was put in my arms. There was no skin to skin until some hours later.  He took no interest in feeding. Not that night, the next day or in fact for four days. I became increasingly teary and upset.  The ward filled up and emptied as other mothers took their babies home. The midwives took Little E away a couple of times and gave him formula. I had advice to go home, maybe I would relax and it would happen. I had advice to stay until he fed properly. I buzzed for help feeding him late one evening to have a midwife tell me 'you do know we have emergencies to deal with don't you?' she disappeared off to get me a Latch Assist device and never returned. Thank Christ. Sometime over those days I decided I was not leaving the hospital until Little E had fed properly irrespective of what anyone said. I met a lovely nurse from the SCBU who helped something click into place and here we are 2 and a half years later still nursing. 

I consider us exceptionally lucky, despite those first few days we have loved breastfeeding and the comfort it brings to Little E. However, I often feel the need to justify why I still feed him, even trotting out partial truths to do with his dairy intolerance, his slow weight gain.  I am cross with myself, I have the courage of my convictions don't I?  The fact is I read a lot of research regarding immunity, brain development and social capabilities in relation to extended breastfeeding and decided at some point, I can't remember when, that we would continue nursing after 6 months. And then after a year. And then after two, as long as me and Little E are still happy.  I have a few people in my life who are actively and sometimes vocally disapproving, more than once making comments to my son 'What do you want that for? You don't want that.'  using a disapproving tone of voice that suggests it is something nasty he found in the road.

We all make choices about how we parent. It is perhaps not common to nurse past a year old in the UK and America.  This article raises some interesting points and more concisely in a direct response to the Time article here. The author Katherine Dettwyler states natural weaning can occur bectween 2.5 and 7 years. I must admit the idea of 7 does make me balk a bit. I am a product of this society too after all but I certainly won't be condemning anyone else for doing whatever they feel is best for their child and family.  It is a highly individual thing. 

Perhaps once you get past Time's provocative cover and antagonistic strap line 'Are you Mum enough?' (Wow, whole other blog post...) inside is an insightful article raising some interesting points about parenting. Unfortunately since the cover is pure sensationalism the thrust is likely to be lost. Either way it is unlikely to win over any breast feeding dissenters using this approach but has if nothing else prompted a raft of discussion and comments:  For, against and puerile.