Since I blogged a couple of weeks ago about “Extended” breastfeeding, I think I have worked something out.

Most of the people who criticise or condemn longer-term breastfeeding do, on the surface at least, accept that breastfeeding a child is in principle a good thing. Most of them understand, up to a point, that it is healthy for the child to have breastmilk. Up to a point.

Yet so many, many people think that once you cross some sort of line it becomes unnatural / selfish / harmful / wrong.

Why? It’s not plain ignorance, because even when information is offered it is ignored. There must be something deeper in action than mere reasoning from false premises, because even when you point out the flaws in the premises not one person is moved to change their view.

I think the answer is actually quite simple: pleasure.

As long as we are making our breasts available to our infant children for selfless reasons, child-centred reasons – as long as we are doing it out of necessity and/or because it is clearly more healthy or nutritious for the child than any available alternative – that is fine. It is laudable, and moral, and praiseworthy.

But as soon as it becomes apparent that we do it “unnecessarily”, breastfeeding is no longer fine. As soon as breastfeeding is more than a selfless sacrifice of our own body for the benefit of the child, it becomes self-indulgence. At best, it is lazy (and ultimately harmful) indulgence of the child. It breeds an unhealthy dependence, something like an addiction. It satisfies the mother’s selfish and pathological need to be needed.

All the anti-extended-breastfeeding comments seemed to point this way, imagining bad motives and harmful effects. And I think that these imagined motives, projected onto breastfeeding mothers and used to condemn us, all serve to deflect attention away from the unpalatable truth: that we do it because we like it, because our children like it, because it makes both nursing partners happy.

So why is it, then, that so many people find it so difficult to stomach the idea that for some nursing partnerships, breastfeeding is pleasurable?

The more I think about it, the more I think I nailed it in my Sensual Art post:

“If we think of sex [as something special, magical, unique, essential, vital, irreplaceable, crucial, needful… the Ultimate], we elevate and isolate sexual feeling to a point where the possibility of anything which is like sex but which is not sex becomes impermissible, an aberration, wrong.”

If we equate sensual pleasure with sex, then it becomes impermissible to allow that breastfeeding could ever involve sensual pleasure. And if we cannot compute the idea of breastfeeding being a sensual (and “therefore” a sexual) pleasure, we end up casting about for other explanations when mothers breastfeed “unnecessarily”.

We imagine all these unhealthy, pathological and downright sinister reasons because the most obvious reason (because we like it, dammit) is so inconceivable that even the most absurd alternatives are considered plausible.

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