Google+ Authentic Parenting: Lactivism As Radical Parenting

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Lactivism As Radical Parenting

This post was written by Kimberly as a submission for the Authentic Parenting Blog Carnival, there is still time to submit your post, see details on the carnival here and here.

Over the weekend, I reacted strongly to a tweet from @fentonslee, who said: ˝for the record, breastfeeding my 12 month old does not make me an extended breastfeeder.˝  The tweet piqued my interest not because I felt that twelve months of breastfeeding did, in fact, constitute some egregious amount of time.  In fact, I was struck at how fairly radicalized I had become with regard to the issue of extended breastfeeding.  While it was considered cutting-edge in my mother's day to make a bee-line from the hospital nursery to the formula bottle, now the pendulum has swung toward the opposite end – with a (not so) small army of lactivists like @fentonslee, @mamapoekie and others leading the charge by breastfeeding their infants and toddlers well past their first birthday.

But back to me.  I am a breastfeeding mother, myself.  At the time of Blanka's birth, I thought that 4 months of exclusive breastfeeding would be hard-core enough and afford me a spot among the ranks of breastfeeding superstars - women who took it seriously enough to work through the initial learning curve and become really skilled.  Now, my daughter is approaching 6 months and we're *happily* still at it.  In the early days, what I most definately did NOT want to be was one of those women who pushed the envelope, breastfeeding a toddler.  Now, I look at those women and I salute them because breastfeeding has changed me forever. It forces me to slow down. To close up my laptop and truly enjoy up-close-and-personal time with my daughter, moments that will be gone forever if I don't pay attention.  And now that she's a little more mature and engaged with her surrounds (and her surroundings include me), my love of breastfeeding has only grown as has HER love for breastfeeding.

So with that praise, indeed, let me tell you why I won't be there in the trenches with @fentonslee, @mamapoekie and the rest of the lactivists.  Very simply, the reason is that I'm 36 years old.  And as selfish as it might sound, I have high hopes of continuing to grow my family.  Simple biology dictates that at my age, the longer it takes for my fertility to resume post-partum, the less chance there is of that happening.  And so, I find myself a person in conflict - dealing with my own declining fertility while dearly wanting to continue feeding my infant daughter food that is nutritionally perfect (and to enjoy that particular connection between breastfeeding mother and child).  If I were 26 instead of 36, I would be right there in the trenches.  But I'm not.  And thus, I must remain just a lactivist sympathizer.

Next to being mom to a baby girl, Kimberly started a project called Fertility Flower that will launch in June 2010. In the meantime, she can be found on <Facebook and on Twitter @fertilityflower



  1. Just curious- you think you may want to stop breastfeeding because you want to get your period back? Starting solids after six months will probably do the trick- its usually only exclusive breastfeeding that acts as residual birth control. I have a dear friend who is 42 and is tandem nursing a 3 year old and a 1 yr old. Don't let wanting another baby stop you!

  2. My next door neighbor breastfed nonstop for 7 years through 3 children, with some overlap. She didn't start having babies until she was 34. Maybe you are worried unnecessarily. Solids at around 6 or 7 months will probably do the trick (and they really need it by then).

  3. Everyone is so different. I know how you feel wanting to be in control. I am almost 36 and am counting on BFing my almost 4 month old as long as I can. I want to keep it up for a lot of reasons but one of them is for birth control reasons. Some people forget that birth control can mean "being in control of your births". Whether you are encouraging pregnancies or discouraging them it is all a form of birth "control". My baby is my 7th and so far my track record is fairly predictable. My fertility does not resume until I totally wean. Even nursing a toddler once a day holds my fertility down. With your first you never know how your body will handle the tug of war between hormones. Being a mother pulls you in a lot of directions. Wanting to extend breastfeeding is one and wanting to take advantage of your fertility is another. Own your decision and it will be the right one for you! :)

  4. thank you for your post. i know every woman is different, but i just wanted to share my experience. i was a week shy of 38 when my first baby was born. though i was exclusively breastfeeding, my period came back at 10 weeks post partum. i got pregnant (barely trying) when my daughter was a nursing 16 month old. she nursed throughout the pregnancy and she and my second child (born when i was 40)now tandem nurse. she is 3 and my baby is 10 months. as i said, every woman's body is different, and returning fertility is one of those 'who knows when' situations, but i share in the hope of highlighting another possibility...good luck with whatever choice you make!

  5. I agree with Sarah - you can get your period back and still nurse! There are even natural things you can drink/take (I'm thinking red raspberry leaf tea among other things) that can make your period/ovulation *regular* while you breastfeed. I'll be 35 in August and we are trying for our 2nd. My nursling is 29 months old and I've had my cycle back since he was 12 months old. (I've got fertility issues that started way before my son was conceived, breastfeeding has nothing to do with them.)
    So - of course you have to make the decision that is right for your daughter and yourself, but I just wanted to give you some encouragement if you *really* don't want to stop nursing! I've got to tell you - there is nothing like comforting those toddlers with mama's milk ;)

  6. I agree with Sarah. Most women will resume their periods and fertility after solids increase so give it a try. I do hear you on the struggle though - I will eventually have to wean to do a frozen embryo transfer and I just can't imagine weaning my little girl. Yet, I want to give life to my snowflakes. It is hard.

    More importantly though!!! I think we need to look at the definition of lactivist. If you believe in SUPPORTING women to breastfeed and removing roadblocks that make it difficult then YOU ARE A LACTIVIST. You could be childless, a grandmother, a formula feeder and still be a lactivist. If we narrow the ranks then we all lose in my opinion. I'm not going to be less of a lactivist is my personal situation happens to make me wean in a parent-led way instead of child-led.

  7. Thank you, all of you - for your comments. If you insist - I'll happily carry the mantel of a card-carrying Lactivist!

    I noted on Authentic's FB page, as well, that I'll probably keep going another month or two - Blanka will be 7/8 months by then - and we'll see what happens. I was actually a little sad tonight when I nursed her to sleep - thinking, oh well...this will be ending soon. Maybe it won't, in the end. We'll see.

  8. I have a friend who, at the age of 40, had her second child. Her older child was 2 when his brother was born and she has continued to BF both of them.
    You actually need to have quite a lot of nipple stimulation to cause your periods to stay away. The earlier posters are quite right- introducing solids (if Blanka is ready for them) will help to reduce the amount of nursing you'll need to do. Then your fertility will resume.
    Its interesting to note that here in Canada it is recommended for mums to nurse for MINIMUM of 6 months. 2 YEARS is the optimum time to nurse your child. This suprised me as most health care professionals seem to be obsessed by the 6 month mark! Remember that if you're planning to stop before the age of 1 it would be best to use formula as an alternative, as Blanka won't get what she needs from cow, goat or soya/rice milk.
    Good luck hun! I know (as a 39 year old who is about to start IVF to make #2) how much this will mean to you!

  9. I have four children. With each of them, my cycle returned when they night-weaned. I continued nursing and got pregnat again while still nursing; nursed through pregnancies and tandem-nursed my babies!

    That said, it is important to be aware of your own body. Some women have a return of cycles while still exclusively nursing even at night. Some women are so sensitive that their cycle won't return even though their toddler nurses only once a day. Once you have night-weaned and your baby is eating lots of solids, watch for your cycle to return. If it doesn't, you may still be able to ovulate again by just reducing her daytime nursings rather than weaning completely.

    If you do wean her completely, she'll need replacement but please NOT store-bought formula! Make your own:

  10. All I can give in addition to props for a well-written post is some anecdotal evidence supporting fertility, pregnancy, and healthy babies after 40: I had my first baby at 41 and was bed-sharing and exclusively breastfeeding and still got my first post-partum period at 10 weeks. I never got the second period because I got pregnant that cycle. After an early miscarriage, and still bedsharing and exclusively breastfeeding (no solids yet), I got pregnant again when the first was 8 months old. I delivered that healthy baby two weeks ago.

    I know it's only one mama's experience, but I hope it illustrates the spectrum of possibilities!

  11. I am 34 and still nursing my second child who is now 18 months. This is for me (unusual-I know) very efficient birth control as there has been no ovulation or period. It was the same for my last too. I totally understand why you would want to at least partially wean to get your hormones going again, as I would have to do the same. It is a personal decision anyhow, you really have to just follow your instinct.

  12. Thank you thank you for this - article, comments & all in their entirety. Just hoping i haven't come to the conversation too late now to start a little more dialogue. I was looking for somewhere - an established & sympathetic forum - to post this (below).. I'm in exactly the same boat now as Fertility Flower was then, so would only add to my questions this one: what happened next for you..? :) PLease read on & share if you can:
    i have a happy, relaxed & thoroughly well-nourished gorgeous 13MO daughter whom I’ve breastfed on demand since birth. Since then I’ve had just one crisis of feeding/ weaning confidence just pre-one year mark which, with hindsight, was because i was sick & exhausted & struggling with sleep & supply. Never once was it to do with questioning the principle or justification of sustained breastfeeding, just a personal meltdown which prompted thoughts of stopping. Now I’m in a different situation: my bf mojo is back (hurrah!), but I’m trying to conceive a second time & been advised that (based on previous struggles with hormone levels) this is so unlikely to happen for me whilst still breastfeeding. AT ALL. My oestrogen levels have always needed all the help they can get! So long story short: 1) has anyone else out there been in a similar situation, where dropping then stopping feeds is entirely motivated by the need to start ovulating again and 2) how to make this transition, at the 13mo stage, where i’ve no desire to ‘substitute in’ formula or cow’s milk (she has a very healthy, balanced solids diet) but more about the gentlest way to replace those 2 key feeds a day (first thing & last thing) with a similarly special rhythm and, if necessary, the best nutritional replacement too. I hope this makes sense – as you can possibly tell, this is the first time since her birth when an answer or ‘solution’ – the natural path – hasn’t come to me instinctively so would be so grateful for supportive comments & insight. Thanks so much..

  13. Jujubelle, I think that fertility is probably one of the paths where our sense of the natural is most undermined. Women who are merely postpartum are advised to take hormonal pregnancy avoiding medicine, instead of educating them about fertility. Most of us don't know how natural fertility works anymore, and we don't have any good references from older women either.
    I know fertility flower went on to become pregnant while breastfeeding not long after this post :) I'll post your comment on my FB as well and you'll get some reactions there.


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