Just when I think we're past it, I hear it somewhere out in the world. A mother will go to breastfeed her baby, or talk about it, or ask a question about it, and some smug mofo will say, "You're going to spoil them." OMG. No! No, no, no, no, no, no no. Look, once more for the people in the back: you definitely aren't spoiling your breastfed baby, and certainly not by nursing them wherever, whenever, and in whatever way you see fit.
Women's bodies and how people choose to raise their kids are two things that way too many people seem to have an opinion on. Even people who are not in possession of a female body or identity or know the first thing about child-rearing. But, apparently, these people all suffer a terrible medical malady that makes it so that if they don't tell you their opinion they die. (LOL! JK! They're just jerks.)
So here's the thing with spoiling babies: you can't. The experts all agree on this undeniable fact. Why? Well, because babies lack both the capacity to learn anything from deprivation, and the wit to manipulate you into doing their bidding. They can only urgently and vaguely express their needs by crying and it's up to us to figure out what's going on. Honestly, I'm sure it's a huge hassle for them, too, and I bet your baby would prefer to just tell you what's up. Alas, neurological development is a harsh mistress who does things in her own time.
And so, with that in mind and because "alternative facts" seem to be all the rase these days, here are all the things that absolutely, in no way, spoil your breastfed baby:
Serving as your baby's sole food source can be challenging, and it's by no means necessary (combo-feeding formula and breast milk saved my damn life with my first child), but you're not creating some sort of breast milk monster if you choose to do so.
Exclusive breastfeeding is a completely normal, historically popular choice for parents. For some new moms, exclusive breastfeeding is simply a matter of convenience. After all, breast milk is the perfect food for babies and it's always on tap. For others, it's simply their preference. It doesn't mean they are spoiling their child. It means that this is how they've chosen to feed them.
Breastfed babies can eat a lot. Like, sometimes, it's an annoying amount of "a lot." Yet there's ample evidence to suggest that babies were meant to be fed on cue. There's nothing wrong with letting your baby dictate when they eat. After all, they're babies: they don't know anything except that they're hungry. They're not doing this to manipulate you. They're doing this because their tummies are grumbling and they want food.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends introducing solids to your baby at about 6-months-old. Some people choose to go a little earlier, some a little later, and either is fine. I introduced solids when my kids were between 5- and 6-months-old, but neither really took to them until later on. In fact, my son didn't eat more than a couple ounces of either puree or finger foods until he was about 1-year-old. He was just a lot more interest in the boob and that's fine.
A few people side-eyed my approach, too. Apparently they had a problem with the fact that I didn't push solids, but rather offered them up as an option, and didn't get bent out of shape if my kids' turned their noses up at it in lieu of breast milk. Some suggested that this was going to make them picky eaters. But while some infants gleefully inhale their sweet potatoes and banana as soon as they try them, a baby's main food source is still milk or formula until about a year. So... no, I don't think I'm dooming them to a life of milk-based dishes only.
Some people will say 12 months, others six, others three, and, this one time, my friend's boss told her that there was no reason to breastfeed a baby past two weeks. (To which I ask: "What exactly do you think people did before the invention of formula in 1867?") The point is, the age is always different because it's completely arbitrary. (Because, shockingly, the people who say this never seem to be medical or nutritional experts.) Major medical bodies, such as the AAP or the World Health Organization (WHO). tend not to put upper limits on breastfeeding. In other words, no one says when you have to stop by because there's no science saying you have to stop by any particular time.
Historically and internationally, babies are breastfed for far longer than they tend to be in America. So many Americans aren't used to seeing, say, a 9-month-old baby nurse. As s result, they tend to become uncomfortable and project that discomfort in the form of judgment and made-up facts... like the idea that breastfeeding a baby past when they're comfortable with it is spoiling the child somehow.
Breastfeeding isn't just food: it's succor. You know, sort of like how food for adults isn't just about nourishment, it's also about comfort, tradition, heritage, community, and a slew of other things.
Here's something to know about babies: they can't even. They have zero coping skills and they don't know what's going on. Babies are a hot mess. Adorable, yes, but a hot mess nonetheless. I imagine that it's pretty easy for them to fall into an existential crisis. You know what comforts them in those moments? Eating. It's not spoiling them, it's giving them comfort in the only place they really know to find it.
Family Member (FM): Here, have some of the cheesecake. It's delicious.
You: It looks delicious, but I can't eat dairy.
FM: You're not lactose intolerant!
You: No, but the baby is very sensitive to dairy and she's breastfed, so I don't want to give her any tummy trouble.
FM: Oh for goodness sake! You're going to let the baby tell you what to eat now? You're going to let them believe they're in charge if you keep up that attitude.
At this point you probably just give them a flat, deadpan expression because you're pretty sure that keeping them from being all gassy and uncomfortable is hardly spoiling them. And, from a self-preservation standpoint, you sure as hell don't want to deal with mucus-poop diapers or screaming at all hours due to gas pains.
We're not born with the concept of mealtimes. We're born with a bundle of impulses, so we eat when we're hungry. Nursing frequently isn't spoiling your baby: it's simply responding to their hunger cues, which they have no control over. They're not doing it to manipulate you, they're doing it because they're pure, concentrated instinct and they're growing at insane rates. It's honestly the kind of development we only ever see in sci-fi movies, so they need milk to fuel that rapid evolution.
And then there are the times when our breastfeeding babies are just not feeling it. While babies need to eat every two to three hours a day, for a total of 12 feedings in a 24 hour period, the Mayor Clinic says you don't really need to wake a baby up to eat once they reach their birth weight (babies lose a few ounces from birth in the first few days of life). You're not spoiling (or neglecting) your baby by allowing them to "skip" a regular feeding. Again: they'll let you know when they want to eat. You can just sit back and wait for it to happen.
I'm sorry, but someone who claims you can't nurse a baby to sleep has clearly never had a newborn, or are so far removed from the memory of having one that they've forgotten. Because you know what? Even if a nursing a baby to sleep were spoiling them (which it isn't because, again, they have little to no self-soothing mechanisms in place yet), IDGAF so long as they go to sleep. We can deal with the spoiling* later, but for now if I don't sleep I'm going to die.
*not actually a thing
Here's the thing about breastfeeding: not everyone likes it. Some people downright loathe it, but they do it anyway. Why? That's not for me to say. Certainly they don't have to. If you have access to formula there's absolutely no ethical reason to continue to breastfeed if it makes you miserable. But some people keep at it for reasons entirely their own, despite their personal disdain, and you know what they don't need? You telling them, "Just give your baby formula. You don't have to breastfeed," after they have already told you they want to continue. Obviously, for whatever reason they do not have to share with you, it's important to them. It's not spoiling the baby (who is, I promise, completely unaware of their mother's personal sacrifice and therefore unable to internalize or manipulate that information) and it's not your business.
Nothing about breastfeeding unduly spoils your baby, because babies cannot be spoiled.
Watch Romper's new video series, Romper's Doula Diaries:
Check out the entire Romper's Doula Diaries series and other videos on Facebook and the Bustle app across Apple TV, Roku, and Amazon Fire TV.