My baby is definitely more of a toddler than a baby these days. He hasn’t quite taken his first truly independent steps yet, but he’ll be there soon, and he’s showing lots of other signs: saying “no” all the time (ok, that might be that he just likes to shake his head), getting pickier about his food, showing more signs of separation anxiety, his hair looks more like “real” hair and less like “baby” hair… I could go on. These all sort of developed gradually over the course of several months, so they don’t seem too shocking to my system.
The really big change seems to be how other people perceive him. Although the flack I’ve been getting about still breastfeeding him has been pretty minor, compared with what lots of women experience, there has definitely been an uptick in the number of surprised exclamations of “oh, you’re still doing that” when I breastfeed him in public (defined, for the moment, as anywhere populated by people besides me, my son, and my husband). It seems like once Jesse turned one, everyone started having an opinion (or, it’s possible I’m just noticing it more?).
Several of my cousins have gone out of their way to say things like “Are you going to nurse forever, like R did with P and S? Did you hear about the time P asked to nurse at [insert big family event]?? She just went right up to R and said ‘Mom, I want to nurse!'” I know they don’t mean to be mean — these are otherwise some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet — but I do think their attitude is part of a cultural pattern in regard to how people in America think about breastfeeding. As a fellow blogger describes in her critique of nursing covers, breastfeeding is foreign to most American women. We don’t see others do it, and we don’t really have much in the way of context and reference points. I’m pretty sure the reason my cousins are still talking about how R nursed her kids, twenty some years after the fact, is that seeing a child older than a new infant nurse is just not something they see often. For my part, their ragging on my (and R’s) nursing decisions made me even more determined to stay the course (and seek out R for advice and a pep talk, which she kindly obliged with!).
At this point, I feel like I see nursing infants everywhere, which is probably partly because I spent a lot of time with my local new moms’ groups, and with my local babywearing group where these things are to expected. Partly though, it may also just be that I’m in a pretty liberal part of the country, and there’s a lot of breastfeeding education and outreach locally, and the breastfeeding rates are relatively high. What I don’t see are nursing toddlers, usually. There are lots of reasons for this — it could be largely because many toddlers cut back their nursing to the point where they don’t ask to nurse other than morning and bedtime or naptime. That’s a very good reason to not see many toddlers nursing in public!
I wonder sometimes, though, whether there are also a fair number of moms who are worried about the looks they might get if *gasp* their child used WORDS to ask to nurse when they’re out and about. It’s like people don’t think infants can ask to nurse. They defnitely do (James was holding my cousin M’s new little one last weekend, and even though Jesse hasn’t rooted like that in a while, he recognized the signs right away that little J wanted his mom to nurse him). R said that when her kids were little, La Leche League suggested teaching a “code word” to toddlers so they could say, for instance “hippopotamus” and nobody but the mom would know that meant “can I nurse now, please.” R apparently thought that was silly at the time, and I have to admit that it kind of flies in the face of what I want to teach my kids: to use accurate language, describe their wants and needs politely, and to communicate well. I think teaching a code word really undermines that. I also don’t want my kids to think that there is something wrong with breastfeeding and that it needs to be hidden. Now, that being said, you do have several options for what accurate words to use. If you’re comfortable with your kid asking to breastfeed, teach them that word. If you prefer “nurse” use that. We usually use “nurse” and “milk” pretty interchangeably, partly because I think other people might be discomfited enough by the toddler asking for it, and I don’t feel the need to push the “breast” issue. Jesse already usually asks for milk when he wants to nurse, even though we may be the only ones who understand “MIH!! MIH!!” at the moment (l’s and k’s a bit challenging). My only complaint with how he asks to nurse is that he usually refers to ME as “milk” and not as “Mama” but I suspect that at some point, he’ll work out the difference :)
Before I end this (super long… sorry!) post, I should give a shout-out to my in-laws. My mother-in-law and father-in-law also asked me, on our recent trip to visit, what my nursing plans were, but rather than being snarky, they just seemed genuinely curious, and ended up sharing with me how much they (mostly MIL, but FIL too) were sad to see the nursing days go away when their youngest weaned, and I got to hear all five of my MIL’s weaning stories. The whole conversation just left me with a lot of warm-fuzzies, and it’s a good reminder that I do have women in my life (R, MIL, among others, I’m sure) who I can go to with questions, and to share the joys and challenges of nursing past infancy.