“A kid who can write her own name shouldn’t be nursing. If you like your nipples sucked, let your husband do it.”
“It’s not being used as a form of birth control; it’s being done for the sole satisfaction of the parent.”
“I think that most of this is for the mother’s benefit. I personally know of one instance of this, and in that case it was the mother who was unable to let it go…”
“She must be nursing for her own gratification.”
Those are all genuine quotes about nursing an older child. And I hear and read all the time about people saying “Oh she’s just doing it for her own gratification,” or “at that age, it’s not for the child – the mother is doing it for her own purposes.” I have two, related, problems with this sentiment.
First, it’s very silly. Imagine if people said stuff like:
“There’s an admittedly fine line between the beautiful bond between mother and infant and the weird gratification some women get from cuddling a baby in inappropriate and exhibitionistic ways.”
“A kid who can write her own name shouldn’t be read to anymore.”
“At that age, lullabies are not needed to put a child to sleep; it’s being done for the sole satisfaction of the parent.”
“I think that kissing a booboo for a preschooler is really for the mother’s benefit – these mothers are just unable to let it go…”
“By now she must be brushing her child’s hair for her own gratification.”
If anyone shared the above opinions publicly, people would think they were nuts. Children have needs and wants. Some continue in one form or another from birth through the school years. No one would seriously argue that parents shouldn’t hug their children once the children can ask for it, or that a parent shouldn’t do anything for a child that she can arguably do for herself, or that a pleasant parenting routine must cease once it is not strictly necessary for the child’s physical health. We all understand that parents frequently do”babyish” things with their older children because it pleases the child, it helps accomplish the parents’ goals, it provides emotional support, or it’s more convenient. Yet somehow when it comes to breastfeeding, this understanding is forgotten. And I think it must be because of my second issue –
So frequently, critics of sustained nursing bring a sexually perverted perspective to the conversation. Mothers and babies do not find anything sexual in nursing. It’s the people loudly complaining who seem to find breastfeeding sexually charged. Look at the way people criticized sustained nursing when that Time issue came out:
“If you like your nipples sucked, let your husband do it”
“When your kid starts noticeably sporting wood at meals, it might be time to wean.”
“Sorry, this looks like a circus midget having the time of his life.”
“I think the biggest deal is that he’s still walking up to her boobs. If you wanna breastfeed until your kid is a teenager, then fine…do your thing. But pump the damn milk!”
“Borderline child porn.”
“At this age what is the difference in this and a father making his daughter touch his private parts?”
For people who relate to these comments, please try to get some perspective. Breastfeeding is not inherently sexual. Breasts are not inherently sexual. Yes, our current culture in America treats breasts almost exclusively as sex organs. Yes, many people assume that it’s a basic biological fact that breasts are sexual. They forget that people once felt the same way about women’s calves. That many people today feel the same way about a woman’s bare face or exposed hair. Throughout human history, different cultures have “known” that certain female body parts are so sexually stimulating they must be hidden, and that they could never be viewed as just a normal body part.
Families who are used to sustained nursing view a breast just like you view a woman’s leg. Sure, in some situations, to some people, it might be something sexy, but it’s not perverse or abusive to let your preschooler sit on your lap. Try to adjust, and realize your discomfort is a perception, not a fact. It’s OK if you feel uncomfortable. You can’t necessarily control that. But do please engage your rationality and recognize that you feel uncomfortable for the same reason that imams feel uncomfortable with they see Western women wearing pants.
To sum up, it’s silly to think that a benign, useful parenting behavior becomes wrong if it’s no longer strictly necessary, or the child can request it, or do it for herself. Nursing is no different – there’s no time when it magically becomes illicit and sexual. If you see a mother nursing an older child and it seems sexually perverse to you, you are the only one of the three people who is having sexual thoughts.