I had had the whole idea of a name change brought to my attention, from Ruth among others, with an argument that calling it "extended" breastfeeding suggested an abnormality to the practice. That is, plain old "breastfeeding" was reserved for nursing an infant, and anything past a certain cut-off (six months, one year, depends on the cutter-off) would be "extended breastfeeding," and therefore out of the range of normal.
I agreed that "full-term breastfeeding" was much more satisfying to my sensibilities, because, as the mother of a two-and-a-half-year-old who's "still" nursing, I feel that breastfeeding a toddler is considered outside the norm in my society. Calling it "full-term" has been much more positive to me, even in my own head. I'm not being a freak; I'm letting my child nurse until we have completed our term together. See?
But some commenters on my post collecting links and articles about the subject of full-term breastfeeding and then an article and many commenters at Breastfeeding Moms Unite! suggested that "full-term breastfeeding" was just as offensive as "extended," if not more so.
The main objection is that it sets up a nebulous yet high standard for breastfeeding "success," meaning that if women wean their children — at all, I guess, but particularly before a certain age — then there has been a lack of full-term breastfeeding. So, for instance, if a mother weans at 15 months, she's nursed for much longer than most Western mamas, but under the full-term breastfeeding ethos, she will not have breastfed full term, because her baby probably (maybe) would have gone on longer. (I can't see any of my ardent lactivist friends not just giving such a woman a huge hug and pat on the back rather than criticism, but that's beside the point in this language discussion.)
Some commenters suggested alternatives to "full-term," such as "post-infancy breastfeeding" or "child-led/determined breastfeeding" or "biologically determined breastfeeding" (though I suppose the last two would run the same risks) or "bonus breastfeeding" (from Sarah V. of Good Enough Mum who asks for scientific proof that breastfeeding beyond infancy in First World countries offers any definite benefits — I could go into a tangent about needing such proof, but I'll try to stay on track a little here). Some preferred calling it "extended" breastfeeding anyway, due to familiarity or due to positive connotations with the word because they enjoyed being beyond the norm in a good way. Some insisted that we don't need a special term at all, because it should just be breastfeeding, and if needed, you could insert the age of your child.
I got a little upset reading the comments on Melodie's post, so I'm going to try not to replicate any tendency toward rantiness (on my own part) here. I know no one was writing against me, but I guess I didn't expect so much disagreement within the crunchy community. Must take my emotions down a notch. Deep breath. Calm, calm, peace, zen.
With all due respect to the idea that we could call it all just "breastfeeding," I really think we do need a term for breastfeeding past [insert a certain age here]. Because I want to talk about it, and so I need a name! To say it should be "just breastfeeding" is nice and all, and maybe you live on a hippy commune where it is just breastfeeding (that would be cool!), but where I live, I'm a total freak. And I want to be able to name and discuss my total freakiness, so I don't feel so alone.
So then we're stuck with terms that feel pejorative against one or the other group — some of us who breastfeed toddlers and beyond object to terms that suggest a perversion of the natural order by continuing to nurse beyond our culture's accepted cut-off points (it's extended! it's post-infancy!), and — theoretically — those who do not breastfeed toddlers but do breastfeed infants are put off by terms that suggest what they have done is subpar (it's not full term, not child-led, not biologically determined, etc.).
So here's where my question is, then, and why I emphasized "theoretically" up there. It seems like most of us arguing this in circles are people who are fine with (full-term/extended) breastfeeding (a toddler/preschooler/non-infant) and who even practice the same. What I'd like is to hear from the three groups (I can identify) who could shed some light on the subject of offensiveness:
- Women who intend to breastfeed or have breastfed during infancy (up to a year old) but who have not considered or do not desire breastfeeding beyond that age: Does "full-term breastfeeding" make you feel inadequate? Does it make you want to learn more about nursing beyond infancy, or does it lessen your interest? Is it an intimidating term that makes you feel like Why bother if I'm not going to do it full term? or that your best won't be good enough? Is there another term that would make you feel less intimidated or guilty? Or does it not bother you that some people choose to breastfeed past infancy, if you're comfortable with your own choice?
- Women who don't intend to breastfeed or have intentionally chosen not to breastfeed during infancy: Does calling it full-term breastfeeding make it more or less likely that you would consider breastfeeding in the future? Does it make you feel like, Why bother breastfeeding at all because clearly I'm not going to do it full term? If you feel uncomfortable with your decision not to breastfeed, does hearing about full-term breastfeeding make you feel guiltier than hearing about breastfeeding an infant?
- Women who intended to breastfeed past infancy (again, let's say past a year old) or for a certain "extended" period of time (eg, two years or till child-led weaning) but for whatever reason could not or did not (surgery, illness, prolonged nursing strike, pregnancy, unexpected baby-led weaning, low milk supply, emotional or physical discomfort, separation, etc. — I know there are lots of good reasons!): What do you think of "full-term breastfeeding" as a phrase? Does it make you feel guilty or sad or otherwise uncomfortable, or do you feel you had good reasons to wean when you did? Is it still your goal in the future to attempt (full-term) breastfeeding again, and does the term inspire you or intimidate you? Do you feel judged by people who use the term? If so, would you feel less judged if they used a different term, and if so, which one (extended, post-infancy, child-led, a completely different one, etc.)?
I don't expect to hear much from categories 1 and 2 up there. If they're reading along, I certainly hope they chime in, and I do expect some category 3s have something to say. But: My theory is that we mostly use this term among ourselves, i.e., among full-term breastfeeders. It's not going to be on the cover of Parenting magazine. (Now, watch — it will be, just to spite me.) But I mean, I think the bulk of the people concerned with "full-term breastfeeding" and what we call it? Are the people doing it. Everyone else couldn't really give a flip. I would never use either (any special) term to talk about breastfeeding a toddler with my friends who stopped breastfeeding at six months — because they don't want to hear that I'm still breastfeeding and I feel uncomfortable mentioning it, and so we just don't talk about it at all. I wouldn't expect them to know (or care) that there was a term circulating for the specific type of breastfeeding I do.
That's just my take on it.
So why can't I have my cushy, feel-good term? What's wrong with calling it something that makes me feel a little better about being in the minority? So what if it's subtly pretentious and sets a high standard? What's wrong with a high standard if it's a good one? There are a lot of things I don't do that I know I should do; do I blame the people who do the good things for being pretentious and for setting too high a standard? Why isn't it the ideal thing to breastfeed a child until the mother and child mutually choose to stop? And, therefore, why shouldn't the term I use wave that flag?
Here's an example from my real life. I wanted a home birth. I researched home birth. I bought a birthing pool (well, an inflatable kiddy pool, but for a reason!). I squirreled away birthing supplies and scoured thrift stores for cheap but decent towels and sheets to get messy. I was ready. I was excited.
And then, and then — labor. After 39 hours, I ended up transferring, voluntarily, to a hospital. I had my natural hospital birth, but I was sad about missing my home birth. I had a healthy baby, a healthy me, rah rah, everything was great, really, but — I was grieving my lost dream.
I went on Mothering.com after the birth, asking questions about newborn care and checking on my due date club sisters. And every time I saw a little "home birth" smilie icon, I winced a little. I wondered if they judged me for transferring, and I wished — how I wished — I could be part of that group. Sigh.
But I got over it. I still was part of that group, in spirit and intention. My next birth I would be trying again to do it at home. I knew I had good reasons for transferring to the hospital, and if I could do it all over again, I would (reluctantly) make the same decision. It really was in the best interests of my health and the baby's, even in hindsight, so I've come to peace with it, even though it was not my ideal. I also feel like I do belong in the home-birth smilie club, because that's where I place myself ideologically. I don't judge those who choose not to have a home birth, even though I could offer (good) reasons to consider it, and I still wish to pursue home birth for myself in the future. But, you know, even if in my next pregnancy or labor I find good reasons to transfer again, I will, and I will still consider myself a home birth advocate.
I wonder if women who wanted to breastfeed a toddler but couldn't for whatever reason feel guilty or no? Feel intimidated or no? Because I can't speak for them. I can offer my metaphorical anecdotes and opine on what I feel about the terms surrounding breastfeeding a great big little kid, but — I need to hear from the other perspectives, too.
So, here I go, opening up the floor. If you do not belong in categories 1, 2, or 3, you are welcome to share your opinion, but don't share your opinion of what you think anyone else might think, because I don't want to muddy the waters. Let's find a little clarity here, if indeed it exists.
[Sorry if this sounded over-emotional and ranty, because I reread all the comments on my post and on Melodie's and I really don't know why I felt so emotional about the subject, but I did. There it is. A news flash that I'm not always rational when it comes to people talking about (judging?) the ways I parent, and even the ways I talk about that parenting. I've wondered whether I should hit publish, but I'm going to go ahead and trust to your graciousness in accepting this for what it is. Thanks.]
[ETA: Just saw "long-term breastfeeding" on Adventures in Babywearing. Takers for that one?]