Since several people have sent me links to this story in the last couple of days, I feel compelled to write something about it.
For some insight into how people have responded to the story, the comment section from the NY Times "Motherlode" post captures a range of opinions about nursing generally, nursing in public, "discrete and/or appropriate" nursing, tandem nursing and toddler/child nursing, etc. Apparently it's a very controversial topic. And that's something I find tragic.
So, my opinion, because I know everyone awaits with bated breath:
I'm delighted that the woman in the article agreed to talk openly about this topic even while knowing people wouldn't hesitate label her and her child freaks. It's especially nice that she comes across as articulate, intelligent and obviously a loving mother. I admire this woman's willingness to be someone who initiates discussions on these topics. It's not an easy role to take on. And, despite the headline, I think the journalist did a good job of not making the story sound biased.
However, I am constantly saddened by the level of ignorance people (including myself) have about normal nursing practices. My hat is off to the formula companies for so successfully brainwashing our society as a whole that, in merely a few generations, we've lost even the most basic understanding of how we as mammals should feed our young. Even more saddening is how willing people are, in the absence of any real information or understanding of "normalcy", to have strong opinions and harsh judgements about what is appropriate with respect to nursing.
Some bon mots people have felt compelled to share with me: "Once they're walking and/or talking I think it's gross." "Once they can ask for it, it's just wrong." "Once they have teeth I think that's enough." "Once they have the manual dexterity to unbutton a shirt or undo a zipper, it's just creepy." "Women who keep nursing toddlers need to ask themselves whether they're doing it more for themselves or the kid." "Once they can drink cow's milk why would you keep nursing?" etc. All statements made with a total lack of concern for the fact that there is no evidence whatsoever to validate them.
Furthermore, and it seems utterly ridiculous/insane to have or need an opinion on this issue, I strongly support a baby's right to be able to nurse anywhere/anytime they need it. Adults rightfully get angry when told they can't eat or drink when they are hungry or thirsty. Are babies somehow lesser humans? Plus, everyone likes a quiet baby and the surest way to guarantee a quiet baby is the timely application of a boob. An obvious win-win.
I'll never be one who enjoys whipping "the girls" out (for nursing or otherwise) in public but a woman shouldn't feel she has to cover herself and her child in order to avoid offending anyone. If obese hairy men with bitchtits are allowed to go topless in public without fear of discrimination or criminal charges for gross indecency, then please don't try to tell me that a woman should have to hide to feed her kid. I also strongly believe that if we really want to change the way people think about what is normal with respect to being mammals and feeding our young, we need to see more public nursing. We need to normalize the behaviour and take away the conditioned response that there's something sexual, perverse or private about it.
With respect to the "appropriate" duration for nursing, despite growing up in a pro-nursing family, I'm still learning a ton about how children transition from milk to solids. Having a very "do-it-on-her-own-schedule" kid has provided me with a wonderful learning opportunity. She wasn't remotely interested in solids until almost a year old. She hates purees and is really only interested in a few fingerfoods. As she still only has 8 teeth, when you think about it, it's not particularly shocking she's not big on stuff she needs to chew yet.
I'm not sure why anyone would think it necessary or "proper" to wean a child who's not getting sufficient calories from other nutrient sources just because she's reached a predetermined age, height, developmental skill-set, etc. Plus, it should seem a tad obvious, but nursing is about more than just nutrition. It also fulfills a need that children have to feel loved and provided for. That need doesn't end just because the kid learns how to hold a cup.
To be honest though, I'm hoping that I don't have to worry about tandem breastfeeding. I'd really like a break between rounds. And, I like to think that a nursing relationship is just that: a relationship. With two people in it. It only works well if it's working for both people. Mothers shouldn't feel guilty if they want/need to end the relationship. I'd just hope they'd have the same respect for their kid that they would for an adult and let them down easy. After all, it's really not them, it's you and it would be nice to stay friends.