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Emily Morrison Emily Morrison
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How much breast is best?

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What age did you stop breast-feeding? What age did you stop breast-feeding?

Some people might say I nursed my son too long, and it's definitely a matter for debate. He consciously remembers nursing, unconsciously fondles my mammary glands, and occasionally asks if I make milk anymore. I know what you're thinking. What kind of hippie-loving, rainforest-hugging, leg-hair-braiding mother am I?

Actually, I am none of the above. I am a teacher who wears comfortable shoes, slays whole rain forests with one-sided photocopies and shaves her leg hair according to the seasons daily in the summer, weekly in the winter (the other two don't count). I am not one of those women who belong on an Oprah Winfrey special or the cover of 'Time.' Nor do I agree with the American University professor who breast-fed her child in front of a captive audience, her students. Come on, lady. Let's have a little more decorum behind the desk.    

Though I have never professed, 'Breast is best,' I do believe its benefits are undeniable: easier to digest, good nutrition on the label and all sorts of germ-fighting superpowers. That's not really the issue here: which feeding frenzy is better. We didn't go breast milk crazy. My husband didn't use nectar of my nipples in his coffee, nor did I recline on park benches for public feedings. The issue is, how long is too long to breast-feed your baby? 

Why do we image-obsessed Americans put a magic window period around a woman's decision to say when? Babies aren't accessories we take off our breasts when it's no longer in style to bare them. People say, 'Any longer than a year, and it's weird,' or, 'If they are walking up to you and lifting your shirt, it's time to stop.' My favorite naysayer comment went something like this, 'If your kid can say 'nurse,' the jig is up.'

The decision to 'let the jig be up' goes back to the child's development. Is he getting all of his nutritional needs met? Probably. Is he getting all of his emotional needs met? How can we be sure? From a pop-psychology standpoint, are we doing detrimental harm to our child's cognitive development by continuing to nurse? Let me assure you, there is nothing sexual in a child suckling its mother's teat. Visit a farm nearby, or just watch Animal Planet. If you have ever seen a calf nursing his mother, you know the experience is a whole lot closer to an all you can eat buffet at Applebee's than a cozy, candlelit dinner for two. 

This is what mothers do: they man the snack bar, stock the mini-fridge, provide an endless supply of comfort food to meet the never-ending demand. However, for me, nursing wasn't only about giving my child the most nutritious food I didn't have to buy, mix or make. This was a way I could show my son he was flesh of my flesh, blood of my blood, the joey to my Mama kangaroo. I nursed him long enough for him to know that we were bosom buddies, him and me (pun intended).

When my first child was born, my mother wondered about my decision to breast-feed. She said to me, 'It's just not natural, the whole breast-feeding thing. Are you sure it's necessary?'

I asked her, 'What do you think breasts are for, decoration?' praying she didn't say something that would shatter my fragile perception of her and my father's private life.

'Well, no, they're not for decoration, but you were bottle fed, and you turned out just fine!' she said. 

How right she was. I was just fine, and I still am because this is what this debate boils down to: one woman deciding what works best for her and her child. If my mother wasn't comfortable unbuttoning her blouse and preparing for let-down, then so be it. I may have sucked my thumb to the age of 12, but I'm sure it's unrelated. Why can't we allow the same discretion for nursing mothers who are just as at ease letting Mother Nature take its course? 

So how long did I nurse him? When my son stopped needing it, I stopped nursing. Luckily, this coincided with my comfort level, but every woman is different. There is no magic window period. It is case sensitive, mother to child, every mother and child, and every mother and child is different. 

Now, if I could only find a way to keep his hands off my mammary glands in the supermarket, that would be brilliant.      



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