Wednesday, February 2, 2011

I Nursed a Baby Cow!

Ok, so technically, it was a stuffed cow and I only nursed it at the behest of my son (who insisted he had to share the same boob with said cow), but the moment was no less ironic for me.

What made this moment especially sweet was that no mama cow has ever given her milk to my baby boy. It's not because I'm anti-cow milk. (In fact, I was raised on it my entire life from birth onward. ) It's because my son has had a milk allergy from birth so profound that I have been eating completely dairy free to keep my breast milk safe for him from the time he was less than a month old forward.

When I first shared news of my son's allergy with people almost everyone had the same question. "Do you think the allergy will go away? What will you do when he gets to be a year old or older? What will you give him to drink? Toddlers and kids need milk to grow, you know." I would always answer sheepishly, "I suppose I'll have to continue nursing him." You'd think I had announced that I was going to become a topless dancer from the looks of shock I sometimes got out of people. Even though Vermont, the state I currently live in, has one of the highest rates of extended breastfeeding in the country, it's still not considered completely "normal." "You'll nurse him until he's eight! You'll be one of THOSE mothers!" a friend teasingly predicted. A part of me was worried, too, not because I actually thought I'd be nursing him until he turned eight, but because I was afraid of being abnormal or weird.

Well, here I am with a baby who's a year and a half old and I'm still nursing and, to me, it is completely normal. Perhaps even more normal than it would be if the milk he were getting was in a sippy cup and came to him through some mama cow's boob instead of my own. It turned out that my breast milk has all he needs in just the right amounts and he is thriving despite having multiple food intolerances. Although, if you really think about it, that should be no surprise . . . after all, humans began making breast milk for other humans long before cows were domesticated! Don't get me wrong, I don't think giving your kids milk is evil or wrong or anything like that. I just want to point out that the milk toddlers are actually designed to need is human milk and that cow's milk (or goat's milk, or soy milk, or almond milk) is actually the socially acceptable substitute we've decided it's more appropriate to give them.

Every time I open most magazines, I feel inundated with ads extolling the virtues of "graduated" formulas or the necessity of having your kids drink milk, but what is missing is the admission that while it is good and natural for mammals like us to drink milk (after all, we get the name "mammal" from our attractive lactating mammaries), we are genetically designed to benefit most from the milk of our own species. (No offense to mama cow whose milk makes darn fine ice cream and other yummy treats!) In fact, if you think about it, it is downright weird that we don't encourage women to breastfeed longer considering all the benefits of breast milk past early infancy. Breast milk is magical stuff! It does not cause tooth decay. It contains nearly every nutrient the human body needs. It even might prevent cancer! (Just check out the links on the bottom for more information on the nutrition of extended nursing.)
I think the biggest scam ever perpetrated on our society was the one that worked to convince new mothers that their breast milk wasn't good enough and that formula was somehow better. The only thing that wasn't good enough about the breast milk was that it was free and no profit could be made from it. Greedy manufacturers made money on what is a potentially a life-saving product (formula) for people who really can't nurse by selling it to people who can but think that their milk is somehow inferior or that nursing is somehow "dirty" or socially unacceptable. I am convinced that if breast milk became known as "Super Milk" and came from an animal or a plant that could be mass produced and sold at a high value and not from our own sexy boobies for free, there would be an agricultural revolution like the world has never seen! People would buy it in gallons for everyone and no one would ever eat cow's milk ice cream or cheese again! Poor mama cow would end up nursing only her babies instead of feeding the world because "Super Milk" would corner the market!

So, does that mean that I really do plan on nursing my son until he is eight? No. But it does mean that if we all think about this logically, we should be content to breastfeed for as long as we are content to hand our children glasses of cow's milk. After all, human milk is actually designed for them. Does that mean that I am immune to the societal discomfort about extended nursing? No, in fact, I'm actually sort of hoping that he will wean himself sometime around two with little or no help from me before people really start treating it as awkward. (I'm just not sure I have the courage that some other mamas have!) On the other hand, if my son is really struggling with not wanting to wean, I'm not sure what I'll do then, either. I guess I'll just wait and see. In the meantime, I am perfectly content to nurse my son (and any of his stuffed friends) any time he needs it. After all, poor beleaguered mama cow is doing the same for many of our human babies and toddlers!

--Thanks, Connected Mom Shawna

Links on Extended Nursing (nursing past one year):


Kelly said... [Reply to comment]

What a great post! My son is about to turn one and I have no intention of weaning yet. It really does strike me as odd that we are the only species who drinks another animal's milk! Now don't get me wrong, I love milk (and cheese, and ice cream...) and actually drink a gallon a week myself, but I am just not in any rush to introduce it to my son yet. I am hoping he will continue nursing for at least another year!

Shawna said... [Reply to comment]

Thanks, Kelly! I hope he does go the full second year for you! It's a special time. I'm not in a hurry to end it, either!

Sally said... [Reply to comment]

Thanks for the great post. My daughter will be two in two weeks, and is just now weaning. I never thought I would nurse very far past one (I wanted to start weaning around one and be done about 15 months) but it just didn't happen like that. She had a very rough start with solid foods, and would gag on even a bottle of breastmilk, so I certainly wasn't going to force the issue! The strange thing is, since we breastfed all along, it didn't seem a bit wierd - it's just what we've always done. I was kind of afraid waiting until she was a toddler would make it hard to wean her because toddlers tend to not like change, but she has pretty much weaned herself! Now in less than two months, we are down to just nursing at naptime. It's like the less we nursed, the less she wanted to nurse. So have courage! The transition may be easier than you think, and in the meantime, hold your head high for doing what your baby needs, when he needs it!

Shawna said... [Reply to comment]

Thank you so much for the kind words, Sally! You do give me some courage! I'm sorry I didn't see this sooner! Thank you!

Renee :) said... [Reply to comment]

Shawna - my daughter weaned herself at 18 months which was great, as I was never sure how I would go about doing so. I'm in support of mothers weaning as long as they need to, although I have to admit to feeling slightly strange when seeing a three or four year old lift up mummy's top for a bit of 'noonoo' or whatever it has come to be known as! I recognise that it's my own squeamishness and have tried to think about why it makes me feel that way. My own feeling was that once my daughter was getting all the nutrients she needed from food, she didn't *need* to nurse any more. I do give her soy milk, but only as an occasional alternative to water, not because I think she particularly needs it as *milk*.

I totally agree that the insistence on cows milk being good for you is bizarre - it's good for baby cows certainly, but do we really *need* it?!

Thank you for your interesting and thought-provoking posts, I am now a follower :)

Renee :) said... [Reply to comment]

Oh - I thought I'd share as well - I have a couple of friends with young babies, and my toddler, being a nurturing soul, has started 'breast' feeding her dollies, from her bellybutton! They get milk, and then water :)

I think her daycare teachers think it's very funny when she passes up the plastic bottles in order to feed her baby from 'my body'.

Renee :) said... [Reply to comment]

@Renee :)

Sorry, my first post should have said "I'm in support of mothers *breastfeeding* as long as they need or want to"

James said... [Reply to comment]

This article made me laugh, because just last night I "nursed" a rubber duckie, courtesy of my 19 month old; one of the things I never thought I would do!! *somehow this only lets me post using my husband's account. *James* has not nursed anything that I know of... --Denise*

Jamie said... [Reply to comment]

Just wondering if you had seen this:

natalia Verand said... [Reply to comment]

Hello. I am still breastfeeding my 16 month old baby girl because I truly believe in it. However, I feel exhausted (she still wakes up every 2 to 3 hours at night to breastfeed - we co sleep), as a result, I am very anxious, stressed and depressed, and I am pretty sure she is affected by this (the worse I feel the more she cries) ... so I would like to "train" her so she can sleep all night long. I would love to keep breastfeeding her during the day though. Do you know if this is possible? and if so, what would be the best way to do it? Thank you kindly.

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