Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Breastfeeding your omnivorous child

Please note: This post discusses issues surrounding breastfeeding. While I will make every effort to keep my wording appropriate for all age groups, reader discretion is strongly advised. Children, please do not read on without the approval of a parent.

I am not a fan of blogging on bandwagon issues. There has been enough ado about last week's "Are you mom enough?" Time magazine cover, featuring a woman breastfeeding her almost 4-year old. If you have not seen the image, I don't suggest you do. I for one found it extremely offensive and perverse, mostly because of the provocative pose the woman is striking, and her prideful expression as she stares into the camera obnoxiously.

But get on the bandwagon I will, simply because there seems to be confusion among breastfeeding advocates like myself, even Christians, as to whether this is a right-and-wrong issue, or simply one of personal preference and cultural programming.

Myth #1: Breasts are not objects of sexual gratification

The reasoning is that if breasts are used for breastfeeding (which is decidedly NOT sexual), breasts themselves must not be sexual. Of course, this is a ridiculous idea. Any normal man in this world is attracted to breasts because that is a natural instinct, not societal programming. The Bible is replete with references to breasts being sensual objects, and between a husband and wife, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. But since I am only married to one man, I keep myself covered from all else the rest of the time.

Not to be graphic, but birth itself involves the passage of the child through some very private body parts. Few would claim that birth, in all its bloody and painful gore, is a sexually gratifying act. Does that mean those body parts are therefore, by design, never intended for sexual gratification? Of course not. Does it mean that because the child once had a need to use those parts, he/she can have future access to them? Of course not!!!

In the same manner, breasts can both be a tool to nourish a baby, as well as an object of sexual gratification. Obviously not to the child, who even at the age of 4 is almost a decade away from having such thoughts. But no normal woman would feel comfortable latching a walking, talking preschooler onto her breast. If she does, she is perverted.

Myth #2: Extended breastfeeding has been practiced historically

I agree that women used to breastfeed more, and longer, than most women in the US currently do. However, that is only because formula makes most moms ditch breastfeeding before the child is six months old, if they ever even try it. 

Claiming that in Bible times, women breastfed until their children were 6 or 8 years old has no biblical basis whatsoever. Sure, there may be a painting by a queer Catholic artist somewhere that shows "the blessed mother breastfeeding" a naked Jesus. But that doesn't make it so. The same dude would paint an adult Jesus with long hair wearing a dress and looking effeminate. 

But even if there are societies around the world that find it acceptable to breastfeed a pre-teen, that would not make it right. Some cultures also think that cannibalism is okay, or that putting huge disks into your lower lip is attractive or cool. Some cultures are just stupid, because they have strayed so far from the Bible. 

Myth #3: Humans are mammals

Mammals are animals. Humans are - well, humans. NOT animals. How long an elephant breastfeeds her calf

 has little bearing on humans, unless you feel that you are an elephant trapped in a human body. If you want to start acting like an animal during birth and postpartum, maybe you should watch this video of an elephant mother giving birth.

So, does the Bible say anything to answer the question whether or not you should let your child take a nip here and there in between him eating a steak for dinner? Let's see: 

Heb 5:13  For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. 

According to this verse, everyone that uses (i.e. drinks and needs) milk is a baby. An almost 4-year old preschooler is NOT a baby. 

1Co 3:2  I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.  

Is a 3-year old able to bear food beyond just breast milk? Then that is what he should be having.

1Pe 2:2 As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby:

The purpose of breastmilk is to help a child grow. During no time of its entire life will a child grow as rapidly as it does in the first year of his/her life. Breastmilk is there to support such rapid growth, when the child is too young to use other food sources such as table food.

If one wanted to argue that breastfeeding a child that can talk, who is capable of eating any food in the world by himself, and who is old enough to remember this, is okay, then breastfeeding a child of any age should be acceptable. Why not breastfeed a teenager? Where is the cutoff, if it is not infancy?

Personally, my cutoff has always been 24 months, although all of our children have given up nursing of their own accord between 15 and 21 months. 

Extended breastfeeding and "child-led weaning" are only one aspect of "attachment parenting". While this post dealt only with the question of breastfeeding, I will pick apart the rest of this insane parenting approach in my next post.


  1. Great article. I agree with almost everything you said.
    I would add, even if we are indeed animals (and that's what I think) : is that a reason to do what the other animals do ? Lions kill their own babies, is this a reason to do it ? Not it's not. And anybody knows it. I hate the "it's natural" argument because nature is not always a good example.

    Funny thing, though. When you (or your husband in the sermons I listen to) give a biblical verse, I always check it in my French translation of the Bible, because I'm always afraid to lose the meaning if I only trust English - not my first language.
    This time, I checked Heb 5:13. And you know what ? The verse in French said something else. It said "child" and not "babe". But there is no good equivalent to the KJV in French, so I'm not even surprised.

  2. Most people would consider 24 months to be extended breastfeeding. A 2 (or almost 2) year old can walk and talk and is more than capable of eating any food in the world by themselves so that would make you an extended breastfeeder.

    I agree with you, it is unnecessary to breastfeed a child for so long.

  3. I shrug everytime someone calls humans mammals. I literally shrug and gag. Just because we have glands that produces milk we are mammals? We have bones, kidneys, insides, eyes so a lot of body parts that animals have too.
    But we look awfully different (is this even the right word?), we talk, we dress up, we count, we do so much thing that even a 2yo that your baby is becoming soon can understand the difference between animals and humans.
    I don't want to be called a mammal. I don't behave like an animal, I have a human body with human mind and soul attached.
    (PS. I'm not sure if you know the song Bad Touch by The Bloodhound Gang... The refrain is: "You and me baby ain't nothing but mammals so let's do it like they do on the discovery channel." I'm not expecting you to listen to it... but everytime someone calls humans MAMMALS... that song pops in, and the video. They are dressed as monkeys and they are doing what monkeys normally do. NO thanks, I am not a blessed monkey. And my love life isn't what they do on the Discovery Channel!) Pls feel free to cut out whichever part you don't like but I'd like to share my 2 cents to this one. Thanks. PS: Now I am eating pineapple with a fork and knife. How mammalish is that?

  4. As for the breasts....
    The most ridiculous and untrue thing to say is that breasts are not objects to sexual gratification.
    In my life I have been complimented - with a quite obvious undertone - on my neck, my ankles(!!!) my hands, my hair, the perfume I was wearing, some crystal decorations in my nail polish (yes, they were called "sexy", no comment!) and once, that was the most ridiculous part, someone told me not to expect him to stay cool while I'm around him with a jingling flowery gold bracelet on my wrist. A bracelet. Since there had been hints here and there and I had been fed up before that already, I ripped the bracelet off my hand and tossed it at the person so they can live happily ever after. And looked for another job.
    Point being is, how in heaven can someone claim that breasts won't stir up any sexual desires in men? How stupid does someone have to be to claim that? No, they won't just like thighs and buttocks either. Very, very smart. OK, I better take a walk before I get all upset over stupidity and LIES.

  5. I am going to disagree with you on the perversity of allowing a preschooler to nurse. Preschoolers should have no idea that breasts are used sexually. They are still babes in many ways. I guess I.m asking: how did you decide that 24 months is long enough?

  6. As a nursing mom, I agree with you 100% I also found that cover disturbing as much as all the hubabaloo over it. I am curious about your next post because like you I, I think we share a few of the attachment parenting ideas like baby wearing, co-sleeping, feeding on demand...the biggest difference I see between me and that philosophy is the total lack of biblical discipline and training that and nursing a kid old enough to chew a steak like you wrote about. Great post!

  7. Thank you, my sentiments exactly! I am what you may call a "lurker"; I have been reading your blog for months but never comment, because I completely disagree with you on many topics, though I have also read much that I have enjoyed and learned from. The magazine cover you are writing about offended me and I think you are completely right about how asinine it is to breastfeed past infancy (I only breastfed for 4 months because, despite following all of my lactation consultant's advice, I could not make enough to feed my son, and had to give him formula so he would not starve). Is it okay if I share your thought on this topic on Facebook? Also, I wanted to make a small comment on your thought about "queer catholic artists who make Jesus look effeminate". While I am sure that is accurate in many pieces of art, It is also true that many other artists of all denominations present Jesus in a similar fashion, not out of disrespect but out of ignorance. That does not mean they are irreverent or homosexual or perverts, in means that they want to lovingly portray their savior and frankly don't know that he probably looked much different, they paint him the way they were taught. I am much more offended by the paintings of Jesus with lily white skin and long flowing blonde locks!

  8. The 24-month mark is just my personal limit, and yes, I know that this could technically be considered "extended breastfeeding" in a world where few mothers breastfeed past 6 months. Which is partly the reason why I took issue with the Time cover - just because I don't throw nursing by the wayside after a token attempt at it, doesn't mean I am willing to breastfeed a preschooler.

    I came up with the 24 month max because I don't believe a child should be nursed for less than 12 months (if possible), but by 24 months, that child can start eating any and all foods (including peanuts, and other foods like strawberries that are considered more allergenic before). Also, most women who do not use birth control would find themselves pregnant sometime between the last baby's first and second birthday, at which point that child will typically wean of their own accord within a few weeks or months.

    At 24 months, children will have no recollection later in life of breastfeeding. There is a big difference between knowing that you were breastfed, and actually remembering it. I'd hate for my sons to grow up and have actual memories of it they can "pull up" in their mind.

    I have both a 17-month old, as well as a 3 1/2 year old in the house right now. Nursing Anna would be normal to me, although I am relieved (being 7 months pregnant) that she threw out nursing several months ago. But breastfeeding Becky??? NO WAY!!! She is more than twice as mature as Anna. She talks in complete sentences, dresses herself, is out of diapers, helps with chores, helps take care of animals, can go swimming in the pool, get in and out of the car herself (including buckling her car seat), and a million other things that Anna is still a baby in. HUGE difference.


    You may post my sentiments anywhere you like. And yes, pictures of a cheese-white Jesus with blonde curls and blue eyes make me cringe, too. So true!

  9. I'm not into the "attachment parenting" philosophy as a whole, though we do many of the things that are included under that umbrella.

    And I agree with you about the cover of the magazine being skeevy. Ick.

    However, to me your post seems like a pendulum swing waaaaaay farther than it needs to go. I've not heard anyone claim that breastfeeding at 6-8 years old is the norm elsewhere and should be the norm here. 3-4 years is more like it, with a few outlying cultures maybe practicing more extreme extended nursing due to extreme situations. Which is not stupidity. It's survival.

    As for cultural stupidity and removal from the Bible--my husband's country was one of the very first to be evangelized and has both a strong Jewish and Christian influence in the culture-long before the Bible hit Europe and then America. No issues there with breastfeeding an older toddler or small child. Unlike Americans, they haven't sexualized the issue. There is no perversity in it whatsoever.

    Biblically speaking, I must wonder whether Hannah dropped Samuel off at the temple on his first birthday. I rather doubt it.

  10. By dictionary definition humans are mammals.

    noun /ˈmaməl/ 
    mammals, plural

    A warm-blooded vertebrate animal of a class that is distinguished by the possession of hair or fur, the secretion of milk by females for the nourishment of the young, and (typically) the birth of live young

    We may not choose to live like other species of mammals, by becoming educated, wearing clothes, building shelter and so on, but the fact remains that we are still mammals. That is not a myth.

  11. Thanks for going into detail on your 24-month mark. I still don't agree wholeheartedly with your proclamation that it is perverse (and therefore wrong for everyone) to breastfeed for longer amounts of time, but I understand your personal reasoning.

    I'm a mom who also works and goes to school - I'm glad that my daughter does not have to depend on me for her sole nutrition. I was able to express milk for some time to feed her at day care and now that she's nearly one, she gets some solid foods. I don't know how long I'll nurse, but I will let her wean herself naturally, just like your Anna did.

    I have friends who have nursed their children (male and female) for much longer and are very open with their children concerning breastfeeding, sexuality and bodily functions like menstruation. That's not for me, but at the same time, I have one child and I am not at the stage where she can ask questions. Your children are older and you've already had to make decisions on what you will tell them and how you will broach those subject (I'm sure very lovingly and informative with an emphasis on the teachings you and your husband have gleaned from the bible).

    We all have to parent in a way that works for us and it saddens me when moms with more experience than I try to call out other mothers for making decisions that work for them. Let us rejoice in our diversity and share in God's love. There is a line between giving advice from a Christian perspective and judging another for not meeting our personal expectations.

    On an unrelated note, I hope you will reconsider your wording "some cultures are just stupid, because they have strayed so far from the Bible." Your example of people practicing cannibalism and stretching lips refers to cultures that I think most would agree haven't even been fully introduced to the Bible. I think it's quite unfair to label any whole culture as mentally delayed.

    Thanks for bringing up this dialogue.

  12. "...unless you feel that you are an elephant trapped in a human body" - You had me laughing at that one! I completely agree with everything you said here. My daughter self weened at 15 months and she is only 2 1/2 now and I would feel VERY strange bf her at this age never mind older.
    -Karen E

  13. I have many memories from 18-24 months, which have been confirmed by my mother. They were not things she'd talked about with me, they were incidents that I simply remembered on my own.

    Your kids may be the same way. I understand you may wish to delay the next pregnancy, but be aware that there may certainly be a child or two who has early memories as I do.

  14. I agree and plan to breast feed this baby till about the same time frame as your cut off.

    How do you feel about feeding pumped breast milk to older children? I have a friend who has a 3 year old she does this with for the nutrition and other benefits. So while she is not still nursing, she is still feeding breast milk as she has not conceived another child.

  15. Oh man, I KNEW there was something "different" about me...elephant birthing video, here I come!!!

    Seriously though, I really liked this post. I once witnessed a 6-7 y/o being nursed in public as she was upset. It made me uncomfortable, as it really did seem very wrong.

    Great post!

  16. I read on a Jewish woman's blog that the Jewish tradition for nursing is till 24 months, so I think that's actually a lot closer to how they did it in Biblical times.

    My son weaned himself at 25 months, but I was allowing him to go that long only because he was born a month early due to pre-eclampsia, so he was gestationally equivalent to 24 months. He's also been a bit slower than the average 2 yr old on development (though he is extremely intelligent.. I think the drugs I received in the hospital put him behind a little).

    He's 2 1/2 now, and I couldn't imagine still nursing him. He talks, eats normal food, and the only "baby" thing he has left is that he wears diapers (but he's learning about the potty). Once in a while someone will refer to him as a baby, but he is definitely not a baby anymore.

    As to remembering being nursed... I agree that I wouldn't want my child to be nursed old enough that they could pinpoint a memory on that, but sometimes you can't prevent them from remembering. My mom weaned me at 11 months, but I have one vague memory of her nursing and rocking me to sleep as a baby. I actually have a few memories from before my first birthday.

  17. Samuel in the Bible was sent to the temple immediately after weaning. This means he was at least a preschooler when he was weaned, certainly old enough to leave his mother full-time. Traditionally Jews consider children "infants" until they are 3 years old. Also, the Bible has at least one instance of a woman having a nose ring, and there is no judgment. If God has condoned these things, what qualifies you to say they are wrong?

    I am surprised by all the people who claim to be living Biblical lives yet do not seem to know what is actually in the Bible.

  18. I too think the Time magazine cover was done deliberately to be provocative. I feel sorry for the little boy, this photo will follow him the rest of his life. I also did not like the question "Are You Mom Enough?" That implies that any Mom who does not do prolong nursing just isn't doing it right. I do think Moms should breast feed for the first year. There is too much medical evidence that breast fed is best fed. Once a baby is over one and food is gradually introduced the need to nurse is decreased. It seems most do wean themselves by about age 2.

    Humans are mammals by definition:Any of various warm-blooded vertebrate animals of the class Mammalia, including humans, characterized by a covering of hair on the skin and, in the female, milk-producing mammary glands for nourishing the young.

    "There may be a painting by a queer Catholic artist somewhere that shows "the blessed mother breastfeeding" a naked Jesus. But that doesn't make it so." I'm fairly certain that Mary nursed Jesus, and pictures I've seen of her nursing and holding Jesus are beautiful. Mary's eyes reflect her love. Jesus isn't naked. How would you know if a long dead artist is queer or Catholic? Does it matter? Art is either beautiful or it's not. It doesn't matter to me who painted it. Their religion doesn't matter to me, nor their sexual orientation. I appreciate good art, and don't even care if others don't like the same art I do.

  19. The thing I found with the time cover, more than the breastfeeding itself, was that photo! I know mothers who have breastfed up to 5 or 6 years, they don't stand there with a feminist, 'just try to tell me I'm wrong' pose while the child stands on a chair to suckle! A few days later an Australian news show interviewed a woman who also breastfeeds her 3 year old, and the photo showed them together on the couch in a far more natural setting. While I still didn't agree with it, the image was nowhere near as offensive.

    There are extremists out there, I saw one woman on a documentary who had like 4 or 5 kids, the eldest being 12, and she breastfed ALL of them, plus her husband (there's a blurring of the sexuality line right there!)

    And people try to blur sexuality and birth all the time, they can't accept that a body part can have two purposes. As a homebirther you've probably come accross these ideas of 'orgasmic birth' etc.

    Anyway, in Australia anything beyond 12 months is considered extended breastfeeding, so I do agree with extended breastfeeding, but like you, my limit is around the 2 year mark. Somewhere between 18 months and 30 months, certainly no later than 30 months (2.5 years). Having said that, my first had to be formula fed from 2 weeks. But I have high hopes for the second! lol.

  20. 12 months was my cut off. When they were old enough to open my shirt and try to get at it themselves they were old enough to no longer be nursed. I think after a year breastfeeding is all about the mom and not about the kid. It's about mom not wanting to let go. That Time cover was disgusting but not as disgusting as that British woman who is breastfeeding her 7 or 8 year old kid (or older) I think that woman is abusing her daughter.

  21. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this post!!!! And thank you!! I was actually going to ask your opinion on this topic anyway! I have a post scheduled to be published later this week on this very article..


  22. I have to disagree with the arguments you present as a reason against extended breastfeeding. I'm still on the fence about continuing through my son's second year (he just turned 1) but the reasoning you provide is certainly not going to sway me.

    There is a significant difference between a functional breast when it is used for feeding and one being used/presented for sexual gratification. My husband, as the only one to see that part of my body (other than my nursling) does not see me nursing and immediately get excited. His love and respect for me deepens seeing me nourish our baby the way we agreed is healthiest. We discussed this early in our parenting journey, and he agreed that my feeding our child, although beautiful is not in any way sexual or arousing.

    Breastfeeding is not sexual, and (I certainly hope!) no woman who feeds her offspring is doing it for the sexual pleasure. The people who see it as a sexual issue or presentation are the perverts, regardless of the age of the nursling.

    It is also not a myth that women breastfed for longer historically. Using it as a reason for extended breastfeeding today is a tenuous grasp at best as economic situations, food quality, health and hygiene have considerably improved, and in poorer times breast milk may have been essential for longer to provide nourishment, immunity and growth. However, regardless of the biblical/non-biblical nature of the rest of their society, children were fed for longer back then than the average rate today.

    Again, it is not a myth that humans are mammals. It is defined by having hair, a spine and producing milk to suckle live born young. The nature and length of time of the feeding relationship between mother & child or animal & pup is irrelevant, and shouldn't be compared as you said, but the fact remains we are mammals, and designed to nurse our young.

    Unfortunately with some basic facts applied, your argument boils down to little more than "It grosses me out."

  23. Time cover freaked me out. I didn’t read the article, but as a strong supporter of breastfeeding, I thought it sent exactly the wrong message. I don’t like it when women breastfeed 3 or 4 year olds. I can’t say I have an appropriate cut-off age, but at a certain point, it starts to feel weird and icky to me. Not planning to try to make it illegal or anything – really don’t care all that much – but if I think about it, I don’t like it. Maybe it’s because I feel like those women are doing it for themselves or to prove something to society than for the child.

  24. which one of these statements of yours is the true one?
    "Personally, my cutoff has always been 24 months, although all of our children have given up nursing of their own accord between 15 and 21 months."

    "I usually wean my babies within a couple of months of becoming pregnant with the next, just simply because of the discomfort that nursing causes me during pregnancy." http://stevenandersonfamily.blogspot.co ... nswer.html

    1. I'm sure both statements are true. My last pregnancy also overlapped my son nursing. By 18 months he had given up all daytime nursing but still woke up two times at night and needed assistance in learning a different way to fall back sleep. When I first took it away he cried so I waited two weeks and then he was ready and gave it up no problems. The above statements probably depend on which baby because they are all different.

  25. Just wanted to point out that the first Rivkah (me) and the second Rivkah who posted (not me) are different people. Shalom "other Rivkah" :o)I will siign as Rivkah H in future.

  26. I just wanted to say, that someone on my FB account (an attachment parenting advocate) "shared" the article today; so I got an eye full of the cover photo...

    YUCK!!! The photograph was perverse, and obviously was intended to be so. Poor child.

  27. Rivkah H, I will post as Rivkah R. then. Rivkah is the Ashley of our community, I know I am not talking to a Jew when they ask me about my unusual name!

  28. I understand if you read this and refuse to post it, as what I'm about to say includes an extraordinarily disgusting topic.

    I purposely borrowed this particular Time magazine regarding extended breastfeeding. And my question is this: What is the difference between the picture on the cover and child pornography?

    If it weren't Time magazine, without the cover, without explaining that he is breastfeeding, the woman in the photograph would be charged by the police.

    And I utterly agree about the cheesy paintings of Jesus with blonde locks and blue eyes.

    God bless you, Dad, and the seven,


  29. Oh my. I disagee with this post and the tone of the post. What's the solution? Would we like a law to tell us how long it is appropiate to breastfeed our own child?
    You write, "But since I am only married to one man, I keep myself covered from all else the rest of the time." The hair is also sensual, yet in another article of yours you mock those who cover their heads for the same reason.
    As we have traveled to several third world countries we have seen breastffeding an older child make the differnce between life and death many times. Most of the world does not have clean water as you do in the States. I also agree with Rivkah's view on Samuel.
    For those who take a holistic approah to raising children there is much comfort, nutrion and health in mother's milk. The photo was meant to cause a stir, but the child photographed was only three.
    My baby boy will be two next month, I am so thankful to meet his needs through breastfeeding and will do so until he is ready to stop. Most of our eight children have self weaned on thier own by 2 1/2 but I would have no problem going longer.

  30. Hi! I enjoyed reading your post, but I must disagree with pretty much everything you said. :) 1) Nursing a toddler (a child between two and four years old) is not perverted at all. It's an incredibly nourishing, healthy way to feed your young child and build a loving, secure bond with them. 2) I have never seen anywhere in the Bible where it talks about nursing a six to eight year old child. I think two to four years was the norm. 3) Humans are mammals. That is a scientific fact, as other posters have explained. That has nothing to do with the duration of breastfeeding.
    My son is not quite one year old. I plan to nurse him for at least two years, longer if he wants to. Every mother and child pair is different. I think the important thing is to respect each other's decisions, and to love and support each other. After all, we are only doing what we sincerely believe is best for our child. A mother's love is beautiful!


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