You hear a lot about how breastfeeding is so good for your baby… and it sure is. But in the stressful days of early motherhood, maybe you’d like to know about something that’s easy for you. The good news is that breastfeeding is just as easy for Mom as it is healthy for baby! What a divine design!
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The convenience factor came up in a conversation around my kitchen table last week, she nursing her 8-week-old boy and I nursing my almost-3-years-old girl. “I just can’t imagine having to get out of bed in the middle of the night to go get a bottle, and waiting in the cold kitchen for it to warm up. Meanwhile the baby’s crying, cause when he’s hungry, he wants it right away.”
How much easier it is to roll over (in the family bed), let him latch on, and go right back to sleep! And in the sleep-deprived early years of mothering, that alone makes breastfeeding an all-out winner in my book.
When baby’s breastfed and you’re going out somewhere, you pick up the diaper bag, you pick up the baby, and you’re out of there! When baby’s on the bottle, that’s one more thing to pack and take and carry around (when you already feel like a pack mule). Then you’ve got to think about how you will keep it cold and sterile until it’s needed, or find sterile water to mix with the powder, and how will you warm it up when it’s feeding time. And if you want to do one extra errand, or stay a little longer, or stop off at a friend’s house, did you plan ahead and bring an extra bottle? For me, that’s a lot of extra complications to think about… and a significant reduction in my ability to be spontaneous about my choices. To breastfeed all I need is a place to sit down (even the floor will do.) Sweet simplicity.
With bottle feeding, you constantly need to wash and sterilize bottles and nipples. You need to shop for formula and extra plastic liners, carry them home, then carry the empties out again in the trash. Sometimes you will also get to dump out the unused portions, which at the price of formula is a little like pouring liquid gold down your drain.
Breastfeeding, on the other hand, is cheap and always ready with no extra preparation, any time of day or night. The container for breastmilk is elegantly designed (just ask your husband!), and keeps the milk the perfect temperature with no sterilization necessary.
Now, if you go back to work early, you’ll lose a few of the preparation benefits cause you’ll have to sterilize containers for the times you pump. But you’ll still get the preparation convenience for those times when you’re home and baby gets it straight from Mother Nature’s faucet, and all the savings in time and money of not buying formula at the store.
Breastfeeding is free. It costs zero… zip… zilch… absolutely nothing beyond making sure you eat healthy food (and your own health is the best investment you make, cause you’re going to need it to take care of this kid!) So whether you’re on food stamps and welfare, or living in the fanciest neighborhood in town, you can give your baby the very best nutrition available in the world. Isn’t that great?!
Just try to save the extra money for college… because studies show that breastfed children tend to have a higher IQ. (Could nursing now mean a scholarship later? Who knows!)
Breastfeeding uses up a lot of calories. You get to keep eating a lot (you’re even encouraged to do so!) and you’ll still gradually lose most of the pregnancy weight. Need I say more?
When Illness Strikes
Kids do get sick from time to time. And you thought you were busy before! Perk #1 (and this is a biggie): breastfed kids get sick less often, and very likely get well faster, because they’re healthier to start with and are getting your antibodies through the breastmilk to protect them from disease and to help them recover. Trust me, this is a benefit to you, not just to the child. You’ll see what I mean!
Perk #2: when every other food comes right back up, there’s a very good chance that breastmilk can still be digested. This means that you don’t have to worry about dehydration or malnutrition, and is one of the strongest arguments in favor of nursing into toddlerhood. You’ll never appreciate breastfeeding more than when you have a 2-year-old who can eat nothing else for a few days. As long as she’s nursing, you can let go of some of your fear. And when you’ve got the flu yourself, breastmilk is something you can feed her without getting out of bed to fix it!
When a boo-boo (or a scare) is bigger than a kiss can fix, breastfeeding is the ultimate source of healing comfort. By the way, my kids have never found a need to use a pacifier or a “blankie” or stuffed animal for security, so we’ve never had the “trying to wash the blankie” scenes you read about. I’ve read studies about orphaned baby animals in zoos who will bond to a stuffed animal. We all need something to get us through, but I’d rather my kids bonded with me than a lump of cloth.
The Nursing Giggle
There are moments (days, even) when I wonder why I ever had kids. How did I ever get myself into this? And then, as if on cue from God, they’ll do something so incredibly sweet and pure and beautiful that my heart melts, and I wonder why I didn’t have two more and do it ten years sooner.
I once read that the minutes of breastfeeding were like an island of peace in the middle of a stormy day. When the cry for “Noony, Mommy…” comes, it’s a guilt-free invitation to sit down (ah….) and to savor the precious, fleeting moments of sweet babyhood in an intimate connection like no other on earth. Breastfeeding is not so much a mother’s “job” as it is one of her “rewards” for taking on the difficult task of motherhood. I’m sure glad I didn’t miss it.
My son nursed until he was close to 5 years old. I was waiting for this “child-led weaning” I’d read about. It never came. He wasn’t about to give up one of the best things in his life. Sometimes I’d feel like I’d had enough of this nursing thing. Then I’d think about how this would probably be my only child, and once I stopped nursing, it would never come into my life again, and I wasn’t ready to give it up either.
And then there was the “nursing giggle.” While we were getting situated and pulling out the titty, he’d always smile and giggle… a special little giggle that I never heard any other time. And I’d think, “How could I deprive him of something that obviously brings so much joy into his life… when it’s really so simple for me to do.” And that special little giggle was one of my rewards for persistence.
Now I don’t mean to scare you, but some (not all) mothers have a tough time starting the breastfeeding process. I vividly remember sitting in a hospital bed with tears in my eyes and my breasts swelled up like melons, thinking “I’ll never be able to do this… my baby’s going to starve before I get it right.” But with the encouragement of books (mostly Karen Pryor’s Nursing Your Baby), and a wise pediatrician who assured me I had at least a couple of days before I had to worry about my baby starving, and a loving husband urging me on, I kept on trying ‘till we got it so right that it was as natural as breathing.
Starting to breastfeed is a learning process for both mom and baby. Even with my second child, I had a hard time getting it going. If you can make it through the first week, you can make it through the first month. And if you can make it through the first month, you can breastfeed forever. So don’t give up on one of the most incredible experiences of your life just because you have trouble at first learning a new skill. Give up, and you’ll wonder and regret. Persist, and you’ll know and be rewarded.
It Feels Good
When I was pregnant, I couldn’t imagine being able to tolerate a baby even touching my nipples. Lo, and behold, it didn’t feel strange at all. At the beginning, there was some soreness (try a wet teabag… really!) and I had a couple of short-term breast infections (keep nursing and don’t wear a tight bra). Most of the time, feeling a sweet-smelling, soft, warm infant snuggled against your skin and suckling (and looking up at you) is relaxing, comfortable, and enjoyable. There’s really nothing else quite like it.
Pride and Self Esteem
Want to work on your self-esteem issues? Try breastfeeding in public! Let’s face it, there are a lot of people out there (sometimes they’re in your own family) who will think (and even tell you) that you’re doing the wrong thing. Yes, these folks believe, even after countless centuries of evolution and/or divine design, that breastfeeding is a dirty, messy, sinful, or inferior method of feeding a baby. They’re convinced that modern Science (with all its homage to the profit motive), after investing just a couple decades of Sacred Research, has discovered every nutrient a baby could possibly need and put it in a nice, neat can. Yeah, right. Trust me, there’s absolutely nothing in the Bible that says “thou shalt not breastfeed.” (How do you think Mary fed Jesus?!)
Your body was created by God, a Higher Power, or the forces of evolution (whichever you see fit to believe) with breasts in order to deliver the most perfect food for babies, at the perfect temperature, at any time, in the most nurturing, comforting manner, from a sterile, portable, self-maintaining container… and don’t let any fool, no matter how well-meaning, tell you any different! The relationship between a breastfeeding mother and her baby is sacred and inviolable, filled with purity, innocence, and selfless service.
It’s not hard to be reasonably discrete (wear two-piece outfits and try to stay fairly covered up). Besides, why in the world are some people “embarrassed” to see a mother breastfeeding, when they’ll watch abuse and murder on TV and call that entertainment? Isn’t this a strange culture we live in? When the world around you is insane, the essence of sanity is to choose that which is life-affirming and nurturing, even if (perhaps, especially when) it’s not socially approved.
When you breastfeed in public, do it with dignity and great pride. You are demonstrating the highest and holiest way of nurturing new life. You are giving your child the best possible start in life, physically, emotionally, and intellectually, no matter what your economic situation. You are serving as a model for other mothers to learn from and gain the courage to breastfeed. You are showing bottle-fed children that there’s another way they can feed the babies they will someday have. You are doing a very good thing and you have earned the right to be proud… and that’s where true self-esteem comes from.
Get the Perks and Feel Noble
Now that you know the facts, please choose breastfeeding for yourself and your baby. Where else can you reap so many benefits for yourself, and still feel noble and proud of yourself at the same time? What a deal! Enjoy it!
© 1996 Lois J. Henrickson (Lytingale)
This article has also been published in MotherTongue
La Leche League International ~ This organization represents the wisdom of thousands of breastfeeding mothers. Articles from New Dimensions.
Infant Feeding Action Coalition (INFACT) ~ “The Infant Feeding Action Coalition Canada is a non-profit, non-governmental voluntary organization that promotes better infant and maternal health by protecting breastfeeding and fostering appropriate infant feeding practices in Canada and internationally.” Lots of information! Read about Breastfeeding in a Bottle Feeding Culture. Newsletter archives.
Lytingale (Lois Henrickson) is the homeschooling mother of Katie (4) and Michael (10). She is a singer-songwriter who has produced 3 albums of her original songs, and serves as the Director of Music, Newsletter Editor, and Webmaster for the Unity Center on Airport Road, Arden, where her husband Chad O’Shea is the minister. At age 47, she says her next article may be about breastfeeding through menopause – “Has anyone else experienced this?”