Monday, March 7, 2011

Breastfeeding Beyond Infancy: Radio Documentary

Dionna of Code Name: Mama nurses her 37 month old.
When my son was about two years old I started noticing that I was becoming a little self-conscious sometimes when nursing him in public. One night while visiting family in New York, we were having a late dinner at a restaurant and my son was sleepy and cranky. When he asked to breastfeed, I discreetly positioned him to nurse in an effort to soothe him. My grandfather was clearly surprised and asked, “How long is that going to go on?” I happily retorted, “At least 5 minutes”.

While that is the extent of “criticism” I received for nursing my son past infancy, I had heard many stories in the media and from friends about negative public nursing experiences, as well as critical comments that people had received for breastfeeding beyond 6-12 months.

I began to think a lot about the discrepancy between these stories and experiences, and the recommendations put forth by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization. I also thought a lot about how something that felt so natural and normal could take on emotional associations like shame, embarrassment, discomfort, or in some cases, even anger.

I decided to construct a radio documentary featuring the largely “unheard” voices of some of the many articulate, intelligent, informed, nurturing mothers who chose to breastfeed past infancy – in an effort to help foster a more informed cultural conversation about this issue.

“Breastfeeding Beyond Infancy” is an independently produced hour-long radio documentary. It features the voices of fourteen women who have breastfed their children between one and four years. Half of the women reside in the San Francisco Bay Area and half in New York City. Some of the major topics covered include: dealing with judgment and criticism, public nursing, benefits and challenges, changes in perception, weaning, nursing while working, and support. Also featured is commentary from Dr. Nigel Rollins, of the World Health Organization, Dr. Jay Gordon, a Fellow of the American Association of Pediatrics, and Dr. Katherine Dettwyler, Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Delaware.

Extended breastfeeding (breastfeeding past one year) is arguably among the most heated and controversial child rearing choices, occupying an emotionally fraught landscape along with co-sleeping, sleep training and discipline. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding exclusively for 6 months, and then for at least a year, or as long as is mutually desirable. The World Health Organization recommends that a mother breastfeed her child for at least two years. The recommendations are based on countless studies showing significant health benefits of breastfeeding for babies and children, as well as for mothers. However, science and societal views don’t always align.

Because of the potential for judgment about the basic merits of their parenting, many mothers keep quiet about the joys, frustrations, challenges, and struggles of nursing their kids past babyhood. This can lead to mothers feeling isolated and unsupported. It is this lack of support, in addition to the fear of public criticism that leads many mothers to wean before they and their children are ready.

The goal of this radio documentary is to stimulate dialogue about breastfeeding past one year in the United States. In addition, it aims to educate mothers, family members, and health care practitioners about the benefits and challenges of breastfeeding past infancy.

You can listen to a clip of Breastfeeding Beyond Infancy here, or listen to the show in its entirety and read more about it at Knitwise Media.

“Breastfeeding Beyond Infancy” was produced by Vanessa Lowe, whose background includes a doctorate in Clinical Psychology, as well as four years as host of a radio show on KWMR, a community radio station in Point Reyes Station, CA. She is a musician and songwriter, and has released four records, with a fifth due for release in 2011. Vanessa is the mother of a five-year-old son.

Kent Sparling, a Bay Area composer, sound designer and re-recording mixer associated with George Lucas' Skywalker Sound, completed the final editing and mixing of “Breastfeeding Beyond Infancy.”

Photo credit: Code Name: Mama


I enjoyed the audio clip, How do I find the whole discussion? I was unable to get the Knitwise Media link to work. Thank you. Ah, and I adore your "at least five minutes" story!

Here's a link that should work for the full episode
I just googled around and I haven't listened yet, but the idea sounds great. My dd is "only" 19 months, but we're looking forward to child-led weaning and I don't see an end in sight any time soon.

Hi Kaila,
I had a problem with it too, if you type into your browser it should work. A very interesting and reassuring documentary for a mom nursing a poorly toddler just now!

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