So many things have stood in the way of me writing regularly and so there has been a wee hiatus. And here I emerge from literally weeks and weeks of everyone in my family suffering back-to-back servings of bronchitis and related stuff. You will note from a previous posting that my little boy is extremely small (8kg at 21 months), so illness and teething, which almost definitely put him off his food, (getting him to eat well is always a challenge but sometimes we kick big goals…illness kicks us in the teeth…so to speak) means a plummet in weight and a very stressful time all around. He was teetering on the 9kg mark, and now we find ourselves back at 8kg and I’m wondering if there are any volunteers out there who think they could do a better job of this child-raising gig? I jest…I think. Though on the darker days I quite honestly could throw in the gastronomic towel as food gets thrown, pushed, outright rejected and my nearly four year old daughter plays into the stress which must be exceedingly tangible at mealtimes and also provides her own version of mealtime hell (she does not need worrying about as for the most part, she eats well, albeit sometimes her fussiness makes me want to send her on a “Get toddlers to cook and fend for themselves” course, but sadly such a course does not exist. Please, someone? Anyone? Please start such a course and ensure that toddlers are required to stay over for a full week while they learn everything from cheese sauces, pancake batters, pasta sauces, quiches, pies, cakes, savoury muffins, slow cooked children…and such…).
So I’m trying to lighten the mood at mealtimes now because we were headed down a very slippery slope where mummy truly nearly loses her mind and descends into a dark abyss where I virtually break out in hives or excruciating headaches whenever one of the three main meals is imminent. When things are good, they’re great. When they’re bad, I try to disappear in my head to the Bahamas and appear like I don’t care, and when it comes to my son, I break all the rules I had established for my daughter, and offer all manner of alternatives…including sugary things which I have always steered clear of. However, Sod’s law would have it (sod Sod) that my boy does not seem to really care for the chocolate milks, chocolate mousses or loads of other fattening naughties which most other kids would inhale without a thought. We succeed with chocolate custard now and then (Pauls…oh my gawd it’s filthy), icecream, yoghurt and the odd smoothie, but the idea is to push protein and get the boy eating some honest grub. The rest of us are fattening up nicely.
But the point of this post was not to bang on about tricky eating, yet here I am predictably banging on. The point is that recently, because of the illnesses plaguing my family, I have been forced to visit our local GP far more often than I would like. I like her on the whole, though in the beginning she would bandy about alarming prognoses for my son when he simply had acid reflux…not cystic fibrosis or some other alarming thing requiring stomach surgery (please think before you speak doctors…mothers on less than four hours sleep per night do not respond well to amateur dramatics). Recently, I was so exhausted, on my third dose of antibiotics in seven weeks, my chest crushing with pain with every horrendous hacking cough, my head banging with tension and stress, that I had a little teary in her office. I think I blurted something like “I’d be coping much better with all this if my boy hadn’t boycotted food entirely for the past month and only weighed 8kg…I go through stages where it stresses me out beyond belief…”
Now the GP is well aware of our predicament and that my son is seen regularly by a pediatrician, who indeed the GP recommended, and that aside from his weight gain, all else is looking good. When I first started seeing this particular pediatrician in April (Z was about 17 months), I was breastfeeding four times per day (always after meals). She was all for the breastfeeding, but suggested cutting down a couple of the feeds to encourage him to go for more food. Over the course of the next couple of months I cut out three feeds and currently it is only the last night time feed which remains, though if Zeph had his way, he’d be back on boobie full time (bloody loves it, as did my daughter). Cutting back boob has made absolutely no difference to how much he eats, though I am not disappointed about cutting back the day time feeds as we get a lot more done in the day, and at childcare two days per week, no boobs are on offer so it was something he had to get used to. So where was I? Oh yes, my GP. Rather than confirming all the correspondence she has received from the pediatrician saying that Z is developmentally sound and everyone is just keeping a keen eye on his weight gain and so forth, she launched into a rather accusatory tirade about how my son was clinging to his role of the baby of the family, and that I was facilitating this by continuing to breastfeed, that I should take more control and give up breastfeeding immediately as only then, she believes, will my son start taking eating more seriously. IN HER OPINION!!! She also suggested that I was just breastfeeding Z now at the ripe old age of 21 months out of self-interest, because I can not let go, and implied that I was complicit in retarding his skeletal growth and brain development. She managed all of this with a smile and a sense of “I’m here for you, but this is your only option”.
I was shocked. I was also emotional and wearing a bloody flu mask over my face as per the doc’s request, so I was not best placed to fight my corner. However, I hastened to ask her whether she had actually read the pediatrician’s reports, in which there was absolutely no suggestion that Z’s skeletal and brain development were anything but on track…he is just small. And no recommendation that I cut breastfeeding out entirely. Oh yes of course she had read these papers and of course his brain is fine….so did she just fancy throwing in the words “retarding his skeletal growth and brain development” for a fecken laugh?! Breathe.
The GP continued, saying that with both of her children she made a conscious decision to breastfeed for six months. A seemingly arbitrary figure in my mind, given that when she made this very finite decision, she had never had children before and could not envisage how they or she might respond to breastfeeding; it might have been the most bloody marvellous thing she had ever done! But this was what she was prepared to do and in her view, was entirely sufficient…and it appears that this is also the bar she sets for everyone else. She was convinced that neither of her sons started eating in earnest until she had completely got them off the boob. They were only six months old for god’s sake! In the UK we didn’t introduce our bubs to food until six or so months! Eating in earnest?! I responded with “Well Dr Hooflicky, that’s where you and I are in very different camps. I would never give up breastfeeding after six months or a year or two unless it felt right.” She said “Ah, but that means you are not in control, your baby is.” Trying not to show that I was getting riled…easier due to previously mentioned lurgy mask, I said “That’s not how I see it at all…this is a mutual relationship, this is a journey we are on together…it feels totally and utterly wrong to withdraw the breast now…I feel it would be destructive rather than productive.” (As a side note…is there really anything wrong with a child having some say over how he likes to take his milk?!) The doc went on to call me an earth mother and the ‘h’ word got thrown in for good measure. She is a very warm, lovely woman, and I am aware that she has no interest in working against me, but still, all of this gave me the shits. Good and proper.
I was informed by the Australian Breastfeeding Association about a recent survey which revealed that GPs who had never breastfed were better armed with information about breastfeeding than GPs who had breastfed. Apparently this is because those doctors who had experience of breastfeeding tended to consider themselves experts on the subject and subsequently were less likely to read up on current research and advice. Hmmmm.
Interestingly on my next visit, the doc made no mention of the above conversation; a conversation which, had I been made of less feisty stuff and less assured of my position, might have propelled me to launch a full-blown weaning assault, denying my baby boob forever more and removing a much-loved source of emotional, physical and nutritional sustenance and comfort (I’m aware that he also gets that from many other interactions and people but you cannot imagine the joy and solace boob brings my boy) and been in the middle of a very predictable and horrendous Zephyr-mummy meltdown. And for what? One woman’s momentary inability to hold back her own views on a very personal issue. And the denial of boob may have had no impact whatsoever on his food consumption and would merely have eliminated a very reliable source of nutrition.
I was moved to confide in a number of dear friends about this situation (notably all in the UK…I don’t know if it was just the nature of the people I was surrounded by in London, but when I lived there, breastfeeding my child at home, in public, up until two years of age, was never commented upon; it was not considered to be remotely unusual and many of my contemporaries were doing the same.), and one of them wrote the following:
“As a GP I wonder why her medical view differs so much from WHO infant feeding recommendations:
“Breastfeeding is an unequalled way of providing ideal food for the healthy growth and development of infants….
…infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life to achieve optimal growth, development and health.
Thereafter, to meet their evolving nutritional requirements, infants should receive nutritionally adequate and safe complementary foods while breastfeeding continues for up to two years of age or beyond…”
Look, this post is not about judging women who don’t breastfeed or only breastfeed for three months, six months, one year or until their children are five. I’m not judging anyone. But I do have a few things to say, because since moving to Australia, I do feel judged…often. Not just with respect to my preference for birth centres and hypnobirthing (calm birthing in Australia I believe), but often people have something to say about the fact that I am still breastfeeding my wee lad. A quick call to the Breastfeeding Association of Australia unearthed an article on the ABA website entitled Breastfeeding rates in Australia, where it states:
“…statistics from The 2006-2007 Longitudinal Study of Australian Children study show that at 12 months, 28% of children were still being breastfed; at 18 months, 9% of children; and at 24 months, 5% were still being breastfed.”
So I am indeed one of a very small minority in Australia still breastfeeding my 21 month boy. This is apparently referred to as extended breastfeeding (anything pat 12 months). Perhaps this will explain the surprise I regularly encounter.
I breastfed my daughter until just before she turned two, but only because she had stopped asking for it. Easy peasy. It was a very gradual, calm process, involving no emotion and had she shown an interest in carrying on, then we would have carried on. I am a big believer in breastfeeding; the relationship between my children and me when they fed or feed is exquisite, incomparable, life-changing, hugely comforting, nourishing and so much more. It is down time. We gaze into one another’s eyes. We giggle, caress, cheeks glow, eyes glisten, loving words are spoken and we melt into one another with such an indulgence of love that it feels like we could burst…and yet there is always more to give. My partner and I started off saying that when my daughter was capable of asking for boob then it was time to stop. What a silly rule to prescribe before you know anything about anything. The day came when she was able to ask for it and we just kept on going. It felt right. I reiterate that I am not undermining the relationship mothers have with their bottle fed babies…my kids never took to bottles so I have no experience of this. Some of my dearest friends breastfed for a relatively short time and their bond with their children is clearly no less significant than mine. I am not judging them at all. I just knew that breastfeeding was the way forward for my family. I’m not entirely sure where my breastfeeding instinct came from, but it was strong and it worked for my brood.
Where am I headed with this? I guess I wanted to offload. I guess I wanted to say that I’m surprised that I am in the 5% of women in Australia breastfeeding my child at almost 2 years. I’d truly like to meet some of those in the 5% and I’ve discovered through the ABA how to do this if the urge persists. I guess I also wanted to say that doctors ought to be very careful about how they advise their patients on such matters. They ought to liaise more carefully with all related medical practitioners and they ought to do some research which goes beyond their own very insular and tiny experience. I guess I also wanted to say that breastfeeding is a gift. I have tasted my breastmilk and so has my partner and it was sweet and delicious. If my children are drinking it, why on earth would I not try it too? I wish I was surrounded by women still breastfeeding their bubs as it is a lovely experience to share. I have made a conscious decision not to go into a discussion of people’s issues with public breastfeeding. That is another post for another time. Surely you can imagine my take on that one!
So when my boy starts to lose interest in boob and when I sense that our breastfeeding days are numbered, I will gracefully kiss these beautiful days goodbye and consign them to my pool of exquisite memories. Until then my friends, it’s boob or bust!!! xx