Saturday, May 14

old enough to ask for it

"You should stop breastfeeding when they can ask for it."

Does a newborn not have hunger cues?
Can they not ask the mother for a tummy full of warm milk,
for the comfort of mother's embrace?
Does a mother not know when her baby is hungry?
If baby does not tell her, then how would she know?
Expressions, body language, coos and cries.
They all mean something. It is not all mindless babble. Babies learn at an incredible pace and they are much more intelligent than we give them credit for. Communication is a basic human instinct - we all want to reach out to each other. Why are they any different?

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Iris asking for milk at 5 months old.
Iris has been signing for milk since she was born. As a newborn, she would put her fist against her cheek. The hungrier she became, the more insistent this body language became and she would literally punch herself in the face to get the point across! Around 3 months old, she started clasping her hands together and holding them up in the air or over her head. It didn't take long to learn that this was her new 'milk sign'.

Some people thought I was crazy, that I was spending too much time with my baby and was beginning to imagine things. Until they saw it for themselves. My mother was in shock that Iris signed so deliberately and often - there was no denying that what she was asking for was to nurse.

She has recently started saying "mememe" for milk. Just because she is able to voice her desire for food, should I deny her? Now that she is legitimately "old enough to ask for it," has breastfeeding somehow become dirty and wrong?

Originally, my goal was to breastfeed for a year. I see nothing inhibiting that goal at all, we are sailing there almost faster than I can believe. There are significant benefits to nursing past one year, so my new goal is 2 years. Human children need a mammal's milk for at least the first two years of life, as the fats are necessary for optimal brain development and overall growth. The western world is very uneducated about the benefits of nursing and how other cultures around the world embrace it.  I am absolutely willing to continue past 2 years, for as long as Iris wants to. In fact, I would be thrilled. The physical, immunological and emotional benefits far outweigh any cultural stigma.

I want to inspire people. I want the people in my extended family, as well as those people I meet in public, to realize and understand that breastfeeding is not abnormal or unnatural. A 2 year old breastfeeding is just as beautiful as a newborn latching for the first time. It is the natural way to nurture our children. If given the chance, children will wean themselves from the breast when they are ready. I want to give Iris that chance. In an age when breasts are overly sexualized and their true purpose is glossed over, we need to reclaim our natural, wonderful ability to make the perfect milk for our perfect babies. 

So one day, when Iris runs over to me and asks "mama, have nursies?" I will say "yes, baby." Just as when she cooed up at me with her tiny fist pressed against her cheek, she is speaking to me. Her language, at any stage, is worthy of my respect and validation. 

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