There was never really a question in my mind as to what to feed my baby. I’m a biologist, so it seemed a given to me to feed him in the biologically appropriate way. I remember at one point early in my pregnancy realizing that I hadn’t actually discussed the topic with my husband, so I tried to casually run it by him.
“You know the baby’s going to be breastfed, right?” I asked. He looked at me like I had two heads and for a split second I had the terrible thought that I’d have to start my breastfeeding relationship by convincing my husband. But I’d forgotten he’s the son of a veterinarian, very well versed in how mammals operate and what he said a moment later was,
“Well how else would we feed it?”
The reasons for breastfeeding at the beginning were simple enough, but now that we’re in our second year, I find the reasons changing and I know they’ll continue to change the longer we nurse.
Year One – For Us
Like I said, in the beginning it was pretty straightforward. This is the healthiest way to feed a baby. This is the way human babies are designed to eat.
When I add into that the fact that breastfeeding (once you get the hang of it) is much easier than bottle feeding – no bottles to sterilize, no water to boil, no babies screaming while you wait for milk to warm up – I was sold. Good for him, easy for me. What more could a mom want?
Year Two – For Society
Now that he’s past his first birthday and eating lots of solid foods and nursing slightly less, I feel the reasons I continue changing. Sure, breastmilk is still a wonderfully healthy food for him, but it’s no longer the only healthy food he’s capable of eating. The health benefits, while still present, are much more subtle now. But since he’s past his first birthday, I seem to have crossed some sort of societal cut-off line. The good-for-yous that I used to get when people saw me nursing are quickly being outnumbered by gasps of he’s-still-nursing? My grandmother actually leaned over him the other day while he was nursing, poking him and telling him to cut it out because he’s too big for that.
I made a decision last year after a particularly nasty reaction to my breastfeeding, that I would no longer cover or hide while doing it. I realized that what had been said to me was unsettling enough that it might have harmed my breastfeeding relationship had I been less secure in it. I also realized that since I have an incredible support network that many other mothers don’t, I can take that sort of abuse without being too badly shaken. So I decided that I might as well suck up as much of that negativity as I can, in the hopes it saves a mom who is on less sure footing with breastfeeding.
It’s not that I want to offend or scandalize anyone. It’s just that if someone sees me breastfeeding my walking, steak-eating toddler in public and they are offended or scandalized by it… well, then they won’t think it’s such a big deal the next time they see a mom nursing her newborn, will they? They might just start to think it’s normal.
So this year, I must say, I do it as much for the sake of society as I do for the sake of my Little Man.
Year Three (and more) – For the Future
And what will next year bring? More activism? Maybe. But it will definitely start to bring something else: a Little Man who isn’t quite so little anymore. A Little Man, actually, who might just be old enough to hold onto some memories. The longer I nurse him, and the longer I nurse any babies that might be in my future, the more likely it is that he’ll remember it. It will become a part of our family narrative that he’ll take with him through life. It will be totally and utterly normal to him when it’s time to have his own family and start his own family narrative.
The longer I nurse him, the more likely it will be that when his future wife looks at him and tentatively says she wants to breastfeed their baby, his response will be “Well, what else would we feed it?”