Photo courtesy of Erika Hardison

I Want Older Women To Support Breastfeeding Among Younger Moms

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When my baby was seven-months-old and experimenting with solids, we wound up in the hospital, where she was given a suppository to relieve her constipation. It wasn't pleasant experience, so, naturally, when it was all over, I did what I always do when she's upset: I put her on my breast and let her self-soothe. As I was nursing my baby, an intake coordinator came in to have me sign medical papers. She sat adjacent from me, told me my baby was beautiful, and asked her age. When I told her my baby was seven months old, she twisted her face and sneered, "You're still breastfeeding that baby?" and I sat there completely perplexed by her answer.

I was thrown off by her reactions because I thought breastfeeding babies — especially babies under a year old — was normal. I mean, she works in a hospital, I can't be the only mom she came across breastfeeding a baby over 6-months-old, can I?

I wasn't in the mood to defend or argue my choice to an older woman who thinks I should feed my baby chicken wings.

She proceeded to tell me I should be feeding my baby chicken wings and I was so caught off-guard that all I could do is give her a fake smile and tune her out. I continued to breastfeed and sign papers and she kept telling me foods to feed my daughter that I politely ignored. I wasn't in the mood to defend or argue my choice to an older woman who thinks I should feed my baby chicken wings. This wasn't the first time an older woman had given me unsolicited and awful advice on breastfeeding. It all started with my mother.

Initially, she was encouraging me to breastfeed because I was struggling with building my supply. She would buy formula for me to ensure my baby wouldn't go hungry. However, once my baby hit the 3-month mark, she started suggesting bizarre feeding techniques that I couldn't understand. She was telling me I should give my daughter cereal in her bottle and I should consider weaning her before she starts teething. She even told me that I would have difficulty finding daycare for my daughter because nobody wanted to care for a breastfed baby. That doesn't sound encouraging, does it? As a first-time mom, it scared me.

I stopped asking my mother for advice because I feared she was judging me for breastfeeding. I started searching for new outlets because I was feeling guarded about discussing my breastfeeding journey with my mother. I joined a lot of mommy groups on Facebook. I found a few breastfeeding positive groups, but there aren't that many, to begin with. I sought out the mommy groups to find solace with other experienced moms and perhaps undo the shame that was building up inside of me about breastfeeding. That turned out to be a big mistake.

A child that thrived on breastfeeding, thank you very much. Photo courtesy of Erika Hardison

So many older women were chastising young moms for breastfeeding their children over a certain age. The consensus was that breastfeeding interfered with everyday life activities for moms, or those breastfeeding too long would produce spoiled and needy babies. Some even argued that breastfeeding takes too much attention from husbands and partners. Older women know their advice and opinions are generally held with high regard, especially when it comes to parenting. We all take pride in honoring generational remedies and other hand-me-down advice, but older women must realize times have changed.

Baby boomers, in particular, are guilty of encouraging moms to stop breastfeeding. If moms want to breastfeed their children until they are 3 or older, let the mom decide what is best for their child. Yes, we know breastfeeding is hard, but when older women project their experiences on us it triggers doubt in new moms. Young and new moms don't need to live with the idea that their elders feel they aren't being a good mother to their child. As a new breastfeeding mom, I know the sacrifices I am making to breastfeed and the last thing I need is an older woman, telling me I should stop breastfeeding because I either can't spend quality time with my partner or I won't be able to secure childcare because she would demand too much attention.

I'd like for older women to show solidarity with breastfeeding mothers.

The older women that discourage breastfeeding are overall uneducated about the benefits of breastfeeding. We are fortunate enough to be living in a time where we can discuss breastfeeding openly. A lot of older women didn't have access to the same support groups and information we have now. When new and young moms are seeking breastfeeding advice or help, their responses are usually accompanied by articles and links to solidify their points. When older women talk about breastfeeding, they lead with the number of children and grandchildren they have and how a particular technique worked decades ago — and power to them! But from my experience, older women are generally the ones shaming me for breastfeeding publicly.

I'd like for older women to show solidarity with breastfeeding mothers. I want older women to listen to us and give us emotional support instead of discouraging us from breastfeeding. I would also like older women to stop sexualizing breastfeeding. Centering our partners and husbands when it comes to feeding our babies is not productive. We just want healthy, happy babies — just like they did when they were in our shoes.