Sunday, 29 March 2009

breast behaviour

A friend came to visit the other day and didn’t ask the obvious question.

She didn’t ask it because she is polite and tactful, but it hung in the air so I answered it anyway.

“I’ve always worked on the basis that I’ll stop breastfeeding him when he stops wanting it,” I said.

We both looked at Snooks, who earned this nickname from his eagerness to partake in the activity christened by the Engineer and I ‘snookling’. The intransitive verb, to snookle - I snookle, you snookle, he/she/it snookles etc covered the snuggling element combined with the imbibing of nutrients. And it sounds much less carnal than suckle. I even found the word ‘feeding’ too biological to describe what was happening when he was attached to my body. It made me think of hyenas.

And as the friend and I looked on, Snooks, now one year old, sporting eight teeth, almost walking and trying a few words (his current vocabulary is restricted only to things beginning with D - dadda, daddy and my personal favourite, doidy doy) was showing no signs of letting up.

My friend remarked that she had seen someone breastfeeding a child recently who could compose full complex sentences, and that this was a little disturbing to see.

I know, I know. I have heard many say the same. I watched Kate Garraway’s Channel 4 documentary, Other People's Breast Milk last year, which showed matronly American women feeding two at a time before they ran off to play on the swings. I wasn’t repulsed by it, as the programme makers clearly intended, only irritated by the ‘freak show’ subtext and the willingness of people to expose their most intimate moments on television.

But I did assume as I watched that this would never be me, that I would never fall into such a minority activity that it merited a television documentary that would inspire yelps of disgust from the kind of people I hang out with.

My assumption has always been that these women who breastfeed older children have chosen to do it for their own ends, rather than that the child simply did not want to stop.

And if it was just about my wishes, no I would not continue for much longer, as it is tiring, it can be embarrassing (Snooks chooses his moments; Mass, right in the middle of the transubstantiation) and it means I never feel in full possession of my own body. Like having a lodger, the place is still mine to live in, but any major refurbishments are out of the question.

But it is not just about my wishes. The World Health Organisation recommends breastfeeding for two years and even the NHS advice, which remarkably is heeded by only four percent of women in the UK is to exclusively breastfeed for six months.

And the other side of the story from the embarrassment and shared occupancy is that it is a wonderful comfort to both of us.

It is also more convenient than carting bottles and powders and sterilising equipment all over the job. And it is free.

The Engineer and I are planning another Mediterranean jaunt this summer (full-time permanent employment now having been resumed, thanks to the Engineer’s good reputation in the industry and a lot of prayers) and I have no fears about tap or bottled water and dehydration in the lovely, lovely heat.

And this week I was suddenly grateful again that we have continued to snookle despite the increasing odd looks in Starbucks, as Snooks went down with tonsillitis and was refusing anything by mouth.

As he howled between doses of painkillers and penicillin, I desperately cast around for something to soothe him. Something warm, I thought, yes and sweet. Yes some warm, sweetened water with a bit of milk in it. Oh yeah, that is pretty much breast milk, which is what he is having. What’s more, the anti-bodies will help him to fight the infection, I thought, feeling myself relax a bit, and it is easily digestible, unlike formula, so it won’t make him sick as it lands on top of all the weird stuff he is swallowing four times a day. And it’s on tap. And it’s safe. I’m making him well. Phew.

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