Mom Enough?

When my son Griffin was 3 years old, he had his ginormous tonsils and adenoids removed. I was skeptical about the surgeon's choice of hospital: Tulane, instead of my first choice, Children's. The same day surgery folks were nice enough, but I worried that they wouldn't have enough pediatric experience or patience with *my* most precious patient.

We were put at ease immediately. The nurse anesthetist who came to give him his pre-op evaluation (and a beautifully hefty dose of Versed) drew a frightened and anxious 3 year old into conversation. It didn't hurt that she wore a Boston Red Sox lanyard either. She carried him off to the OR, with him chatting eagerly about Big Papi.

Fast forward about an hour and a nurse hurried out to the waiting room to tell me that Griff was awake, crying, and he needed me. She rushed me to the recovery room, where my sweet boy was lying there with big tears streaming down his face. "Mama" he cried, reaching out to me. The nurse pulled up a chair for me and I sat down, cradling my little boy.

Without thinking, Griffin pulled up my shirt and rested his hand on my breast. The tears stopped, and he started to drift off to sleep. "You can nurse him, you know. It would help him to drink something."

Tears came to my eyes as I looked at this woman, who looked back, smiled warmly, and said, "All mine nursed until they were 3 and 4."

It's a special bond we all share -- us moms who have chosen to allow our children the dignity of weaning when they feel ready. We are outsiders....we crazed women (and partners) who allow our children to feed whenever they are hungry as newborns, who will stop what they are doing to nurse a toddler who has fallen victim to a boo-boo, who happily shares their sleeping space with nursing babies, toddlers, oversized children and dogs. Those of us who will not force their child to wear big boy (or girl) underwear until they show developmental signs they are ready (instead of looking at some calendar and proclaiming "it's time!"). We deal with rude strangers, concerned family members, and uninformed health care professionals. We have a list of "reasons we still breastfeed" always at the ready to fend off the obnoxious questions that invariably come our way.

Today, with the unveiling of Time Magazine's cover (and corresponding frenzy-inducing title "Are You Mom Enough?"), the public raised their voices on message boards all over the globe, calling me (and countless other moms like me) a freak, loser, a sexual abuser, and a pervert who "gets off when their kid sucks their tit", to name a few.

Literary geniuses, they are not.

Methinks those pour souls could have used a good bit of breastmilk in their younger days. Obviously they don't know that breastfed children score an average of 10 points higher on IQ tests.

Dr. Katherine Dettwyler is an anthropologist who has done extensive research on human breastfeeding, specifically weaning. The bottom line? The "normal" age of weaning is between 2.5 and 7 years. (Stuart-Macadam, P. and Dettwyler, K., ed. Breastfeeding: Biocultural Perspectives, New York: Walter de Gruyter, Inc., 1995.)

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that “Breastfeeding should be continued for at least the first year of life and beyond for as long as mutually desired by mother and child… Increased duration of breastfeeding confers significant health and developmental benefits for the child and the mother… There is no upper limit to the duration of breastfeeding and no evidence of psychologic or developmental harm from breastfeeding into the third year of life or longer.” (AAP 2005)

The World Health Organization urges breastfeeding at least until age two. They stress that illness rates go up once weaning has occurred, thus encouraging women to breastfeed for as long as possible. (WHO 2002)

The American Academy of Family Physicians has even more to say. The AAFP recommends that breastfeeding continue throughout the first year of life and that “As recommended by the WHO, breastfeeding should ideally continue beyond infancy, but this is not the cultural norm in the United States and requires ongoing support and encouragement. It has been estimated that a natural weaning age for humans is between two and seven years. Family physicians should be knowledgeable regarding the ongoing benefits to the child of extended breastfeeding, including continued immune protection, better social adjustment, and having a sustainable food source in times of emergency. The longer women breastfeed, the greater the decrease in their risk of breast cancer.” They also note that “If the child is younger than two years of age, the child is at increased risk of illness if weaned.” (AAFP 2008)

In the Bible, we read "when the child was weaned" -- meaning a minimum of 3 years old, though scholars estimate 4-5 is more likely. (Larry Overton has done a great job researching this.)

My children are now 10, 8, and 5. Each of them remember breastfeeding with fondness. They all had little habits that were unique to each of them, and they like to talk about them now. They often ask, out of the blue, "mom, tell me again what I used to do when I was nursing" -- and I tell them (Tucker always scratched one spot on my forearm. Griffin rubbed my face. Anne Claire twirled my hair.) I've asked all my kids what they remember of nursing. The resounding answer (from all 3) is always "you smelled good and the milk was warm and sweet." They have virtually no desire to breastfeed any longer. They are all potty trained, sleep through the night, and are independent, strong, funny, and incredibly healthy. They weaned when they were ready. There were no tears. No sleepless nights. No anxiety. They finished when they deemed it time.

No, I'm not a loser. I'm certainly not a pervert. My children are stronger, smarter, healthier, funnier, and more socially adept because they breastfed, not in spite of it.

So to all the haters that are gonna hate....Yes. I *am* Mom Enough.

Are you?

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