A few days ago, I stumbled onto this clip from the Bethenny Frankel show. This clip’s a bit old, but the opinions in it are the same old, recycled nonsense that I can’t seem to escape in news stories and discussions about extended breastfeeding.
“Once the baby can ask for it, I think it’s time to stop.”
“If he can drink milk from a sippy cup, he doesn’t need to breastfeed.”
“If he can walk and talk, he’s too old to breastfeed.”
“Is she eating solids? Then why does she need to breastfeed?”
“Once she’s that old, she’ll remember breastfeeding!”
“At that point, I just think it’s the mother being selfish and pushing her needs onto the child.”
“I just don’t think that’s right.”
All of these comments are said with such conviction. Such finality. As if mothers who are breastfeeding their toddlers are going to hear “I just think that’s not right” and are going to stop and go, “You know what? You ARE right. What have I been thinking? Thank God you had the courage to make such a compelling argument. If only someone had shared that dazzling insight with me earlier, I might not have wasted all this time fucking up my kid with things like nurturing with my OWN MILK and my NAKED BREAST.”
This clip from the Bethenny show just regurgitates those same cliches about extended breastfeeding. Bethenny is — let’s just be frank — a special kind of slow even amongst celebrities. She doesn’t even do a good job pretending to be interested or unbiased as she’s asking questions of Alanis Morissette or this other nursing mom — barely disguising her attempts to set this women up while she riles up the crowd for what she expects is a roasting (and what she secretly hopes will be vindication for all those breastfeeding mothers who apparently judged her for abandoning breastfeeding after four months).
For the most part, the audience delivers on what she expects — though they’re a little nicer about it. They settle into the comfort of one-dimensional arguments and sound bites about extended breastfeeding and attachment parenting.
This debate enrages me, though it shouldn’t. I should have more empathy and more ability to educate others. I once found myself spouting the same inane arguments about extended breastfeeding, rolling my eyes when I saw a mother breastfeeding a toddler or cringing when I saw a child “ask for it.” It wasn’t until I had a child of my own that I understood how silly those thoughts were and how wrapped up they were in our cultural customs that oversexualize breasts. I felt uncomfortable — just like most people who have a problem with extended breastfeeding do — because my mind was associating breasts with something sexual, and as soon as a child could no longer be identified as distinctly a baby, the act of breastfeeding started to take on sexual connotations. Which. is. ridiculous.
Talks about extended breastfeeding are so wrapped up in so many other insidious social problems that it’s hard to have a clear conversation about it: The oversexualization of breasts, the oversexualization of our culture in general, the disintegration of our parenting principles for convenience sake, the dangers that glorifying formula feeding and cow’s milk has for our children, the devaluing of mothers and women in general, and more.
Women are being harassed about how they feed their children, where they feed their children (better not do it in public), when they feed their children, and for how long they feed their children. The answer is simple: Women have the right (and the responsibility) to feed their children the food that nature intended anywhere, any time, and for as long as their child needs it.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, when it comes to breastfeeding, we need to just get over ourselves and let mothers be mothers.