Question #1: Nursing — Right or Privilege?
(This post is part of a series for July 2013 entitled “Question Month.” Read the intro to the series here.)
My Facebook post earlier today:
“After a night like last night, with two children reluctant to sleep and frequently waking, fatigued me would wean Owlet and night-wean Platypup. How much say should fatigued me get? No, that’s not my real question this morning. This morning my question is this: is nursing a right or a privilege? Is that static or changing with age?”
I knew this was the right question as soon as I realized I was able to convince myself that nursing was a baby/child’s right, turn around and successfully debate that it was a privilege, and do the same with constant vs. evolving over time. I am a decent debater (some call it argumentative) but I am not often this effective at changing my own mind! In fact, it is precisely my tendency to judge and close the issue promptly that this Question Month is targeting.
Some great points were raised by commentators and I found myself enjoying having a central topic for my stray thoughts to gather ’round today. Below are as many of my mental trails as I could encapsulate in one sitting:
– nursing relieves hunger and thirst, soothes physical and emotional upset, and encourages sleep.
– the above are all things I feel it is my duty as a parent to take care of on behalf of my children, in step with their age.
– milk is a child’s biological birthright, and nursing to term, as other mammals do, means several years by all accounts.
– nursing is always a privilege because the mother’s body is her own and she chooses whether and when to grant access.
– nursing begins as a right because it is the main way to nourish and soothe an infant (ignoring the modern options of pumped milk or formula for the moment) and evolves to a privilege gradually as the baby begins to eat, drink, and find comfort in other ways.
– can my children, raised in a society so strikingly in conflict with their evolutionarily honed inborn expectations, be trusted to know what they need the way their distant ancestors would have?
– somehow lately, especially in the week and a half or so since I began letting Owlet nurse more frequently, I have found myself using nursing as a parenting tool — to Platypup, that means no milk if he is using his whacking-mama’s-chest sign for milk (instead of the sign language gesture or really any sort of gentler affirmative response to the idea of milk). To Owlet, that has meant making statements like “no milk now because you were just hitting your brother.” I am somewhat uncomfortable with this notion that milk can be part of the sticker reward system method of discipline that I am mistrustful of to begin with. Does my discomfort mean I feel milk is a right and not to be sullied with bargaining or even expectations of behavior?
– The Continuum Concept, a book that I highly recommend despite how severely dated it is (published in 1975), suggests that we all have certain need-quotas that must be met in order to properly mature into the next stage of development. If we lack the right kinds and amounts of physical contact, intellectual stimulation, feelings of dependence and independence, etc., we will keep seeking them out even as we enter adulthood. Is nursing on demand integral to the development of our species, such that we are forever short of our potential without it?
And some admittedly more mundane hypotheses tangential to the question:
– Hypothesis: nursing on demand may turn out to be less effort for me than soothing the rejected party in other ways, i.e., the whole day may progress more smoothly because kids are secure and their requests accepted.
– Hypothesis: nursing on demand may mean much more effort for me than soothing the rejected party in other ways, i.e., the whole day may progress less smoothly because mom is resentful and irritated.
– Hypothesis: nursing on demand may make eventual weaning much harder.
– Hypothesis: nursing on demand may make eventual weaning easier.
(No joke, I have read the “experts” I trust as well as heard first-hand accounts supporting both of these pairs of conflicting hypotheses many times over.)
Further thoughts, anyone? I find the issue less than closed, as you can see.
(If you nurse them, they will sleep.)