I had a conversation this morning with a group of moms at a school camping trip about how long people breastfeed. There were a lot of opinions flying around the breakfast table about how long it's healthy and appropriate to breastfeed. Suddenly everyone stopped and looked at me, perhaps expecting that I, as a lactation consultant, could clear up this matter authoritatively and definitively.
Sure, I recited the recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics (at least a year) and the World Health Organization (at least two years), but the moms wanted to know what I tell my clients. So I admitted that I don't tell my clients anything about how long to breastfeed. Instead, I ask them what their breastfeeding goals are. Everyone answers this question differently, and in many cases, a length of time is never stated. Moms tell me that their goal is to give their baby milk and comfort at the breast. Or to exclusively breastfeed. Or feed some breast milk and some formula. Or to nurse until their toddler outgrows the need. Or to breastfeed until it's time to return to work. Or to do it as long as the AAP or WHO recommend. And on and on and on...
So I listen to my clients, and I meet them where they're at. Because ultimately, there isn't a standard recommendation that I could give (even if I had one) that holds up in the face of so many different mother-child relationships. One size would never fit all. And who I am to stand outside that sacred relationship and dictate its course? That is not my role, nor would I want it to be.
I have always found it puzzling that so many people want to apply a deadline to breastfeeding. The question usually rears its head very shortly after the newborn rears its sweet little head: how long are you planning to breastfeed?
Have you ever heard anyone talk about how long they plan to let their baby ride in a stroller? I suppose that in the course of human history, this has come up, but it's not a common question. In fact, it sounds rather silly, doesn't it? You push your baby in a stroller until you and baby no longer have any use for that arrangement. And that's it. I would venture to guess that most people would keep their noses out of another family's stroller business and not give the matter a whole lot of thought.
Not so with breastfeeding. It's emotionally charged. People take stances. Friendships are strained. Family members stop speaking.
And it's really no mystery why this happens. Breastfeeding is, and has always been, about so much more than milk. It is two people connecting and communicating. It is dynamic and complicated and sweet and frustrating and beautiful and heartbreaking. Which is why every mom at that table this morning had something to say. She was tapping into her own experiences and the experiences of those around her. Such an electric part of human existence could never adhere to a prescriptive timeline. Breastfeeding is love, and love is boundless.