Recently, the AAP changed its breastfeeding recommendations and they now suggest that mothers breastfeed for two years or beyond. Of course, these updates seemingly struck a chord amongst mothers all over—as breastfeeding is no easy journey and most women are already unsupported when it comes to it. While these new guidelines harp on the benefits for both mother and child, they leave a lot of mamas crumbling under more pressure. But for me, on the other side of the additional strain that comes with breastfeeding in today’s society, these new recommendations are actually a sigh of relief—and I finally feel validated.
My son is about to be 14 months old. Since he turned one, I have felt like our time for breastfeeding has been closing in on us—and it’s bittersweet to comprehend.
Since becoming a mother, I have carried the weight of societal expectations when it comes to breastfeeding. I also have grown to believe that there’s this hidden judgment for mothers who choose to breastfeed beyond infancy—and it has added a burden to my breastfeeding journey.
Society judges moms if they breastfeed for too short a time, judges them if they breastfeed for too long and blames them if they don’t breastfeed at all—yet there’s no support for mothers any way it goes. And none of that is OK.
Because women feel the pressure from all sides—and it leaves them feeling guilty for choosing the path that they embark on to feed their child.
When my son and I first started our breastfeeding journey, it was hard. He had one perfect latch directly after being born, then the weeks following seemed like an uphill battle. I remember nights spent expressing milk onto a plastic spoon and feeding it to him. I remember trying to pump and not feeling like he was getting enough food. I remember feeling like a failure—grieving over the fact that the one thing my body was supposed to be able to do for my child was not enough. I almost gave up.
It felt like as soon as we got into the ebb and flow of breastfeeding, our journey became fleeting.
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But one evening, I found the number of the lactation consultant in a folder from the hospital—and I decided to give breastfeeding one last chance. Because of that, about two months after my son was born, we finally found our rhythm.
It was sweet. It was harmonious. It was the cadence of our bond.
But unfortunately, it felt like as soon as we got into the ebb and flow of breastfeeding, our journey became fleeting. Before I knew it, I was getting bombarded with questions like:
How long do you plan to breastfeed?
Have you started weaning yet?
Once he starts getting teeth, don’t you think you should stop?
The enjoyment of our journey felt like it was taken away as soon as we found our balance—and replaced with a new pressure to begin the weaning process.
The idea of weaning always filled me with angst. As my son neared one, I started to feel shame and guilt that I hadn’t fully committed to the process quite yet. Some days, I’d try harder than others to get him to go without breastfeeding until nighttime. Other days, I wouldn’t try at all and he fed multiple times throughout the day.
Related: Breastfeeding is no easy journey—but I gave it my all
I started feeling like I was stunting his growth and independence. The one thing that still soothed him was the rhythm of breastfeeding—and I believed we had to let it go. Not because it naturally felt like it was time to, but because of this lingering thought of a societal expiration date that I should stop once my child reached the age of one.
I felt as though society considered breastfeeding beyond babyhood to be abnormal. Just as I have seen non-breastfeeding mothers or mothers who only breastfed for a short time judged, I have also seen mothers breastfeeding their child beyond the age of one met with judgment. And in all honesty—it feels like mothers just can’t catch a break.
I felt myself suffocating under all this pressure to do things according to how society tells mothers they should. I found myself carrying grief through a journey that was supposed to be soft and beautiful. It felt the exact opposite. But these new guidelines have given me room to move aside the pressure and just exist in the present moment—and I am so thankful for them.
They have made me feel validated to breastfeed beyond the age of one. They have given me room to slow down, exhale and enjoy the journey. Because it doesn’t last forever, but the time that it does last should be a beautiful one.
I am laying down the burden of feeling like we have to wean right now. We will wean when the time is right for us—when it comes naturally.
I no longer feel like I have to hold my breath. I no longer feel like I owe anyone an answer when they ask when I’m going to stop breastfeeding. Because there is no one answer. The answer is different for every mama and for every child.
And quite honestly, right now I have no idea when our journey will come to an end. But my focus is not on that anymore. Right now, my body is an ever-flowing well of nourishment for my child—a fountain of sustenance.
By breastfeeding, my son is calmed, I am calmed, and it is our rhythm. One day that will change—but for now, I will dwell in these precious moments while they last.