Anyone who nurses their child into the toddler years will tell you that, to them, it feels completely normal. Nursing is just part of life, and even as the child gets older, it’s experienced like nothing more than a sweet exchange of love, closeness, and milk. The fact is, toddlers (and even preschoolers) are still our babies, and nursing them feels as natural and ordinary as a young child sucking their thumb or playing with your hair as they curl up for snuggles.
The problem is the way the rest of the world views it. People who are not familiar with it, or who have never seen it in real life, are quick to judge. You’ll hear the classic arguments against it like, “Oh, he’s too old for that!” or “Why can’t you just pump and put it in a cup?” (And yes, these are all myths, and are often said right to mothers’ faces.)
For new mothers especially, it’s easy to take such judgments to heart, and start to wonder if maybe nursing a 2-, 3-, or 4-year-old really is shameful. It can make a mother feel on edge about it all, especially when she does it in public. Some mothers hide the fact that they nurse this long or choose not to share it openly.
These stigmas are exactly what prompted photographer Natalie McCain to embark on a new, totally inspiring photo series depicting mothers breastfeeding their toddlers. The series, called Breastfeeding Our Toddlers: A Full Term Nursing Series, was recently shared on McCain’s website and Facebook page. And it’s as amazing and groundbreaking as it sounds.
The series is part of McCain’s Honest Body Project, which showcases real women’s bodies in an effort to celebrate diversity, end body shaming, and give women a platform to tell their stories. In addition to a previous series about toddler nursing, McCain has also done photo series on bottle-feeding moms, C-section moms, and women struggling with infertility.
As McCain writes on her website: “The Honest Body Project was created to help women everywhere learn to love their bodies and themselves. I photograph these amazing women, and have them write to me to tell me their stories. I ask them to speak from the heart, no limitations.”
And her new toddler nursing series does just that. Set behind a stark black background, these black-and-white photos depict mothers of all shapes and sizes breastfeeding young toddlers, as well as older children. The photos and stories are gorgeous, real, and striking. Beneath each photo is the mother’s honest thoughts about nursing her child.
More than anything else, the photo series shows that breastfeeding toddlers and older children is nothing more than a loving embrace between a mom and her child. And that kind of normalizing is exactly what McCain is going for. In an interview with Scary Mommy, McCain explained that she wants to break apart the stereotypes and open people’s eyes to the fact that breastfeeding is actually completely normal, in America, and around the world.
“In so many places, people wouldn’t bat an eye at a mother nursing her toddler,” says McCain. “But here in the U.S., you are put down and made to believe you are doing something wrong.”
McCain points out the the World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding for two or more years, and that breastfeeding this long is just not that big a deal for many moms. “Breastfeeding beyond infancy is a very natural continuation of what you have done since birth,” McCain explained. ”My hope is that more eyes will be opened from reading their stories and seeing their portraits.”
Luckily, McCain says that she doesn’t generally get too many negative reactions when people see her photos, but that she knows how rampant ugly comments about toddler breastfeeding can be. But that kind of thing only tells her that more exposure is needed, and projects like hers are necessary. “People are judging something they don’t even truly understand. They are far too quick to judge,” she tells Scary Mommy.
And to the naysayers who simply refuse to see past their own limited perspectives, McCain has this to say: “I would urge them to judge less and open their eyes to the idea of just how natural it truly is. I hope that the more and more extended nursing is seen, talked about, and done, the more normal it will become.”
Amen to that. And here’s to the absolutely stunning moms and kids who posed for the photos and are helping to break the stigma of nursing past infancy.