Bottle-feeding a 4-year-old?

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  April 5, 2010 06:00 AM

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Barbara, One of the many reasons I broke up with my fiancee was that, although she slept with me when her ex-husband had their daughter, 95% of the time she slept naked with her 4-year-old, who is now 5, and gave her 3-4 bottles of milk. Her daughter would fondle her breasts while drinking from the bottles. I told her this was not normal. I also feel that her daughter's chronic constipation issues may also routed in her drinking milk, possibly an allergic inflammatory response.

I majored in Chemistry and minored in Biology/Psychology back in 1977. After consulting the DSM (
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders)
I believe she has Narcissistic Personality Disorder, since she manifests all 9 criteria and actively craves attention. We still talk, but I still feel this very bad. Am I wrong, crazy, or should I just give up and walk away, run away, and never look back?

Thank you for listening.

From: Douglas, Bedford, TX

Douglas,

From a parenting perspective, my bias is that this is a questionable parenting technique. Now, let's be clear: there are certainly mothers who are still nursing their children at that age, but there is plenty of debate about it.

You're not describing nursing, however, and bottle-feeding and breast fondling do not usually go hand in hand with a 4-year-old;.it's got all the ear-markings of infantalizing. The American Academy of Pediatrics would see two no-nos here: it recommends not giving a child a bottle in bed, and it recommends weaning from bottle to sippy cup about age 1.

This mom needs to understand this from a child development perspective. I would encourage her to ask her pediatrician about bottle-feeding for a 5-year-old. At the same time, there likely is an emotional component here for both mother and child. For that, this mom may need professional help of a different kind, and I'd strongly encourage that. 

It sounds like you've already distanced yourself in the relationship, but it sounds like you are (hopefully) worried about the child's well-being in addition to your own, and for that reason, I hope you can at least make these suggestions to the woman.

This is not a couple's site so here's all I'm gonna say about this woman as a potential partner: If you stay together, you would likely want children; you would have pretty different ideas about how to parent, and that would raise the potential for unhealthy disagreement. So, yeah, I don't see this as a healthy relationship. Do others agree with me?

I answer a question from a reader every weekday. If you want help with
some aspect of child-rearing, just write to me here.

 


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4 comments so far...
  1. It isn't made clear whether this is a previously breastfed child, but, as can be seen in the book 'Breastfeeding Older Children' (Free Association Books), many weaned children are left with feelings of longing and wistfulness and continue to want contact with their mother's breasts, often for years.

    Children have a primordial drive to breastfeed until they no longer have a need – effectively for several years. This is not convenient or to the liking of all parents. Being removed from the breast is an enforced separation which causes distress, and, in some cases, prolonged grief. This should be considered as an explanation before this child is labelled pathological. The mother, it seems to me, is in a bind and appeasing her daughter's unmet need in the only way she knows how... it's a sad case.
    Ann Sinnott
    Author, Breastfeeding Older Children

    Posted by Ann Sinnott April 6, 10 09:33 AM
  1. The real pathology indicated by this letter is that of our society. We have been convinced that we can ignore a child's normal and natural instincts and drives, and force our children into independence long before they are ready to manage it.

    Considering that children in many natural societies, such as newly-discovered Stone Age groups, all nurse six or more years and emerge impressively healthy and happy in adulthood, we can see that we ignore these built-in needs to our peril. Ideally, this child would have nursed until she herself no longer felt the need for it. Obviously this wasn't the case for whatever reason, and the mother is doing what she can to meet those needs now. This is surely better than leaving the child to try to get her dependency needs met later - we already have far too many adults in that sad and frustrating situation. The more completely a child's need for dependence is met in the earliest years, the more independent that child will be later on.

    For those wanting to learn more about the critical importance of meeting children's legitimate needs with love and compassion, please visit our Natural Child Project site at http://www.naturalchild.org. I also strongly recommend Ann Sinnott's new book Breastfeeding Older Children, mentioned above, as well as The Continuum Concept by Jean Liedloff.

    Jan Hunt, author of The Natural Child: Parenting From the Heart

    Posted by Jan Hunt, M.Sc. April 6, 10 01:42 PM
  1. If this was just breastfeeding it would be different. But the bottle feeding? And the nakedness? and the fondling? Just sounds weird.

    Posted by bms April 6, 10 05:31 PM
  1. Barbara, I think it is actually Douglas who needs psychological evaluation and support. The first "red flag" for me is the way he openly discusses personal things about his former fiancee, someone he claims to care about, including saying that he believes she has narcissistic personality disorder. How is the information about NPD even relevant to a parenting question? It seems he just threw that in there to stick it to his ex-girlfriend. Hmmmm...and who is the one craving attention?

    I don't hear 1 ounce of caring in the way he talks about her or her child. He talks more like he thinks he's their doctor. Sounds to me like they broke up because she didn't do exactly what he said.

    I also question why he feels so threatened by her relationship with her child. He seems very controlling and like he wants to dictate to her what she should do. I think he is purposely using sexually laden words such as "fondle". We don't hear her side at all. She may describe the skin-to-skin contact in a more maternal way. Clearly this child has already been through a divorce at a young age and experiences unnatural separation from her mother. To me this seems like a way for them to connect and make up for the separation they experience due to the divorce.

    Children are biologically meant to nurse for years, not months. Bottle feeding is not the biological norm at any age. If this mother were bottlefeeding a newborn it wouldn't be biologically normal. Bottlefeeding is a substitute for the biological norm, which is breastfeeding, at any age it is done. The fact that it is totally biologically normal to breastfeed at 4 years of age, including the child touching her mother's breasts, means that this situation, with bottlefeeding, is not psychologically abnormal on the part of mother or child. The mother is simply substituting breastfeeding with bottlefeeding, the same way a mother bottlefeeding a newborn is substituting breastfeeding with bottlefeeding. Since we aren't able to hear her side we don't know why she isn't breastfeeding instead, and if she were I would guess Douglas would still have an issue with it.

    In my opinion, it is this mother who needs to run from Douglas and never look back. If he is this controlling when they aren't even married and this isn't his child, then he will be 1000x worse with a wife and child. He doesn't seem to have a nurturing bone in his body.

    Posted by MimiP May 2, 10 10:21 AM
 
4 comments so far...
  1. It isn't made clear whether this is a previously breastfed child, but, as can be seen in the book 'Breastfeeding Older Children' (Free Association Books), many weaned children are left with feelings of longing and wistfulness and continue to want contact with their mother's breasts, often for years.

    Children have a primordial drive to breastfeed until they no longer have a need – effectively for several years. This is not convenient or to the liking of all parents. Being removed from the breast is an enforced separation which causes distress, and, in some cases, prolonged grief. This should be considered as an explanation before this child is labelled pathological. The mother, it seems to me, is in a bind and appeasing her daughter's unmet need in the only way she knows how... it's a sad case.
    Ann Sinnott
    Author, Breastfeeding Older Children

    Posted by Ann Sinnott April 6, 10 09:33 AM
  1. The real pathology indicated by this letter is that of our society. We have been convinced that we can ignore a child's normal and natural instincts and drives, and force our children into independence long before they are ready to manage it.

    Considering that children in many natural societies, such as newly-discovered Stone Age groups, all nurse six or more years and emerge impressively healthy and happy in adulthood, we can see that we ignore these built-in needs to our peril. Ideally, this child would have nursed until she herself no longer felt the need for it. Obviously this wasn't the case for whatever reason, and the mother is doing what she can to meet those needs now. This is surely better than leaving the child to try to get her dependency needs met later - we already have far too many adults in that sad and frustrating situation. The more completely a child's need for dependence is met in the earliest years, the more independent that child will be later on.

    For those wanting to learn more about the critical importance of meeting children's legitimate needs with love and compassion, please visit our Natural Child Project site at http://www.naturalchild.org. I also strongly recommend Ann Sinnott's new book Breastfeeding Older Children, mentioned above, as well as The Continuum Concept by Jean Liedloff.

    Jan Hunt, author of The Natural Child: Parenting From the Heart

    Posted by Jan Hunt, M.Sc. April 6, 10 01:42 PM
  1. If this was just breastfeeding it would be different. But the bottle feeding? And the nakedness? and the fondling? Just sounds weird.

    Posted by bms April 6, 10 05:31 PM
  1. Barbara, I think it is actually Douglas who needs psychological evaluation and support. The first "red flag" for me is the way he openly discusses personal things about his former fiancee, someone he claims to care about, including saying that he believes she has narcissistic personality disorder. How is the information about NPD even relevant to a parenting question? It seems he just threw that in there to stick it to his ex-girlfriend. Hmmmm...and who is the one craving attention?

    I don't hear 1 ounce of caring in the way he talks about her or her child. He talks more like he thinks he's their doctor. Sounds to me like they broke up because she didn't do exactly what he said.

    I also question why he feels so threatened by her relationship with her child. He seems very controlling and like he wants to dictate to her what she should do. I think he is purposely using sexually laden words such as "fondle". We don't hear her side at all. She may describe the skin-to-skin contact in a more maternal way. Clearly this child has already been through a divorce at a young age and experiences unnatural separation from her mother. To me this seems like a way for them to connect and make up for the separation they experience due to the divorce.

    Children are biologically meant to nurse for years, not months. Bottle feeding is not the biological norm at any age. If this mother were bottlefeeding a newborn it wouldn't be biologically normal. Bottlefeeding is a substitute for the biological norm, which is breastfeeding, at any age it is done. The fact that it is totally biologically normal to breastfeed at 4 years of age, including the child touching her mother's breasts, means that this situation, with bottlefeeding, is not psychologically abnormal on the part of mother or child. The mother is simply substituting breastfeeding with bottlefeeding, the same way a mother bottlefeeding a newborn is substituting breastfeeding with bottlefeeding. Since we aren't able to hear her side we don't know why she isn't breastfeeding instead, and if she were I would guess Douglas would still have an issue with it.

    In my opinion, it is this mother who needs to run from Douglas and never look back. If he is this controlling when they aren't even married and this isn't his child, then he will be 1000x worse with a wife and child. He doesn't seem to have a nurturing bone in his body.

    Posted by MimiP May 2, 10 10:21 AM
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Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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