When Do YOU Think Breast Milk Expires?

Breast milk, there is no expiration date.

So why are we giving it one? 

Why are we as Americans giving breast milk an expiration date? Why are we as a human race so quick to judge those that don’t toss out the milk once it has “expired” according to our own personal expectations of when it should indeed "expire?" `Why are we so damn nosy and judgmental anyway? 

Stop and think for a second about when you think is a good time for a mother to stop breastfeeding. Go ahead. Pick a timeline, whether it is six weeks, six months or a year, and choose what you feel is best for a baby.

If you are a wise one, your answer would be that there is no expiration date. If you are a wise one, your answer is that breastfeeding expires when mother and baby wants it to end, keeping in mind that most mothers wean their child before preschool. If you are a wise one, you didn't even stop and try to think of a good expiration date; you just kept on reading because a wise one knows that only mother knows best. Only mother knows the expiration date.

Don’t worry; I wasn't always so wise myself. I was one who thought that I wouldn't nurse my child past six months and would just meet my one year goal of breast milk through pumped milk. I was one who thought that a big toddler hanging from my breast just sounded, well, pretty damn weird. I type this now as a mother of an almost ten month old who rarely takes a bottle and is well, always hanging from my damn breast.

As a breastfeeding mother you quickly learn that there is no expiration date and that everything you may have ever thought about breastfeeding can change from the moment your little one latches on. Extended breastfeeding is a term that floats around in the chitter chatter of breastfeeding mothers, but really what is defined as extended? What do you define extended breastfeeding as?

The general population tends to have their own views of breastfeeding for extended periods of time and unfortunately, we as a human race are quick to judge and say when we think and feel that breast milk should expire. Many people have an "expiration date" that is much shorter than the goal of the breastfeeding mother. 

Have you ever thought about what breastfeeding mothers think and feel? Some of us have worked hard at breastfeeding and I mean freaking hard. Some of us have cried because our child wouldn't latch on in the beginning and later cried tears of joy when a month later they finally did it. Some of us have changed our entire diet and eating habits just to support the allergies and sensitive tummies of our little ones, giving up every food that came close to tasting good. Some mothers have cried in the tub out of sheer exhaustion while secretly wishing that their milk would indeed “expire,” only to then fuss themselves for even thinking such a thought. Some of us have pumped in a closet at work every three hours during the day for the last 365 days. Some of us have stared at our stretched out, stretched mark breasts with the cracked nipple and wondered if they’d ever look and feel the same.

Breastfeeding is work. 
It is hard, exhausting, painful work.
But it is rewarding work.

Some babies have allergies that require special formulas that cost an arm and a leg, therefore the mother who really didn't intend of breastfeeding for a long time resorts to it for the sake of her child’s well being and her family’s pocket book. Some babies simply refuse bottles and the thought of making that child cry endlessly and go hungry for hours just to give them one is enough to make a mama never take off a nursing bra. Some women fear that their family history of breast cancer or ovarian cancer will catch up with them so they resort to “extended” breastfeeding to steadily decrease their chances. Some women, like doctors, know the facts and base their breastfeeding “expiration date” off of those facts and look at it strictly from a scientific standpoint.

Then there are those other women. 
 Then there is me.

There are those women that cherish the bond of breastfeeding their child so much that thought of stopping hurts their heart. The idea of ending a journey that only mother and baby can share is a painful thought. My daughter relies on nursing not just for food, but for comfort and security. My daughter cries to nurse when she hasn't seen me all day just because she wants that comfort of knowing that mommy (and her milk bags) is back. My baby sweetly nurses herself to sleep before each and every nap. She covers her little face with her arm, gets her “noonie” and falls asleep nuzzled next to me. For some that may be weird, but for me it’s the sweetest moment that warms my heart into one million flippin', fuzzy pieces.

Breastfeeding mothers know when it’s best to stop breastfeeding their child. Breastfeeding mothers are the only ones who can mark the expiration date and we are the ones who will determine just what “extended” is and to us, it really isn't that extended. Some mothers breastfeed for six weeks, some for one year and some, even the best darn OBs and doctors out there make it until preschool. Would you judge your highly educated doctor if you knew she was still nursing her four year old?

A wise one knows that to each their own. 

A wise one knows their facts before they judge. A wise one would know that the World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding for at least two years and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding for a year or more as long as mother and baby want to. Oh, I bet you didn't know that…

It's okay, we’re not all up to date on what is a good breastfeeding expiration date; that’s why I am typing this.

Because only mother knows what’s best. So next time you want to insinuate that someone is breastfeeding for too long, know your facts. Consider what that mama thinks and feels and consider the hard work she has put into something that not every woman is brave enough to try. Rather than judge her or put her down, tell her she did a good job. We ALL do a good job as a mother whether or not we breastfeed at all, or for a short time or a long time. We ALL deserve to hear "job well done." Not one of us deserves to be judged.  

Remember, no one gave you the privilege of stamping the expiration date on my milk, her milk or the cow's milk down the road. Remember to be wise. 

Remember that mother's always know what is best. 

What's your thoughts on "extended breastfeeding?"
Did I change your mind any?

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