Ecological Breastfeeding: Part 3

Like I promised… I am finally getting around to Part III of my Ecological Breastfeeding Series.  If you haven’t yet, read Part I and Part II first.

Today I wanted to talk about the 2nd and 3rd Standards of Ecological Breastfeeding.

Standard #2: Pacify or comfort your baby at your breasts.

Some people may be surprised to find that nursing is not just for nutrition.  Babies are naturally comforted by nursing.  The sucking motion helps to relieve tension, and the closeness of the baby to his mother encourages a feeling of safety.  Some may already know this but think that breastfeeding for comfort is dangerous, or a bad habit, and that you should only feed your child when he is hungry.  There are some misconceptions about this and, I think, it is mostly confusion caused by the widespread use of bottles as a substitute for a mother’s breast.  One of the biggest concerns is that if you nurse for comfort your child will learn that eating is for comfort, which will lead to overeating and other bad eating habits later on.

Now, if your child is using a bottle with either breastmilk or formula, than giving the child a bottle to pacify them does lead to this problem.  When a child uses a bottle, it is merely a feeding; using food to comfort your baby when he is not really hungry will lead to bad habits and possible overeating, especially if this continues throughout toddlerhood.  However, breastfeeding is different, it is not just food.  In fact, Sheila Kippley in her books suggests that parents do not refer to nursing as “eating”, because it’s not.  Nursing and eating are different – bottlefeeding and eating are much the same.

While a child is nursing, many things are going on simultaneously.  The child is recieving nourishment from the breastmilk, but he is also feeling the warmth, protection and comfort afforded by skin to skin contact with his mother.  The mother and child are bonding through touch, smell and through visual contact.  The child can hear his mother’s voice and interact with her.

More effort is given to the sucking motion, since it is more difficult to get milk from a breast than from a bottle.  This helps in two ways, first by exaggerating the sucking and jaw motions, which release chemicals that relax the child, and second by regulating the amount of milk the child is getting.  Because of this a baby can be on the breast for extended periods of time without overeating.

The slow release of the milk regulates how quickly the child eats, and the supply regulates how much milk there is to be given.  Bottles afford none of these benefits.  The milk or formula comes out quickly and is not self-regulating.  If a parent is in the habit of offering the bottle for comfort reasons, the child will get much more than he needs and will learn to overeat.

Furthermore, bottles can only provide comfort in two ways: the sucking motion and through food or drink.  The sucking motion does not give as much comfort with a bottle, since little jaw-work is needed – so the primary comfort is in the food.  This can cause serious issues for the child later on.  With nursing, there is comfort on many levels, and the amazing craftsmanship of the breast has built-in ways to prevent a child from eating too much.

Now that I have alleviated the concern for breastfeeding for comfort, I want to explain a little more about how it works.  It’s actually, in my experience, a much simpler and easier way to mother a child, than if you are only nursing for nourishment (which is a principle I have found true throughout my ecological breastfeeding journey).  It makes sense, and it makes my life so much easier.

Instead of having to always find ways to placate your baby, all you have to do when your child is upset or fussy is nurse him.  There is no attempting to make up fun distractions or problem-solving; you just put him to the breast and let him be comforted.  Of course, if your baby really needs something like, to go potty or to be burped, etc. you should pay attention.  But if it’s just comfort he is needing (which is often the case with small children) all you need do is nurse.

This has alleviated so much stress and frustration on mine and Jake’s part and so much crying on Evie’s.  There is no need for her to cry or for me to be stressed, because I always know how to comfort her quickly and easily.  Evangeline will be two in March, and she is still happily nursing.  She loves food, but also still gets much of her nutrition from nursing.  Her nighttime nursings and nursings during naps tend to be the longest and where she gets most of her nutrition from.  Otherwise she only nurses when she is upset, thirsty or needing comfort, and those are usually very short (less than a minute) feedings, and she’s off again.

Standard #3: Don’t use bottles and don’t use pacifiers.

The third standard, like the others, is a pretty simple instruction.  But for many, this is easier said than done.  As mothers, our society has taught us that we are not enough for our children.  Although the medical and scientific communities have recanted much of their prior rhetoric, such as the outlandish claim that commercial formula is healthier for a baby than breastmilk, (ugh…) there are still many lies out there.

Pampers is intent on convincing you that the longer your child wears diapers the better off he will be.  Government and society want you to believe that you are not capable of teaching your child, and that only a certified school teacher has the capability to properly raise him.  The medical community passive-aggressively whispers to you that you need to come to them to learn how to keep your child healthy… or else.  Society tells us that we should have careers and lives outside the home, that our children should not be such a consuming vocation.  They promise that providing your baby with mothering substitutes is just as good as giving yourself to him, and that it’s better for the family as a whole.

The world wants us to depend on them to raise our children.  They want to incapacitate us and make us think that we need their help, so that they will be in control and we will always be slavishly chained to the services they offer.  Perhaps this sounds a little overly-dramatic, but I see it everywhere ladies.  And it needs to stop!  You are more than capable of raising a healthy, intelligent, socially adept child and guiding him to reach his full potential.  In fact, you are the best person on the face of the planet to do so.  No one else knows your child as well as you do.

Don’t believe the lies that you need all this outside support to be a good mother.  God gave you this child and He will provide you with the abilities, knowledge and skill to raise that child physically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually.  Believe it!  When somebody tells you that a pacifier, bottle or even one of those teddy bears with mommy’s smell and the sound of a beating heart, is better for him than you – don’t buy it!  These things are a mere shadow of the warmth and love in a mother’s touch.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  If you do use bottles, pacifiers or one of those fancy teddy bear things, it doesn’t automatically put you on my “bad moms” list.  It simply means that, for whatever reason, your child is getting less than he could be.  I realize that in many cases mothers have no choice but to use these substitutes.  Our society has been built around them, and it creates a kind of dependency that is very difficult to break, especially if you need to work outside the home to support your family.

But here is my challenge to you – realize that these are substitutes for you, nothing more.  You are better for your child than any substitute, and when you give him a bottle or binky instead of your breast, you are giving him less than the best.  Don’t wallow in guilt, but consider the reality.  If you do work, pumping is the second-best option for the physical health of your child.  Many moms can work part-time and successfully pump and keep their milk supply, although it doesn’t always happen that way.  If you are in a difficult situation such as this contact your local La Leche League group for support and council.

If you are a stay-at-home mom and have used these tools for convenience, or because someone told you that it would be better for you or your baby, reconsider.  A case can be made that these things only cause more inconvenience and expense and, as I’ve already stated, there’s nothing better for your baby than you.  And there’s nothing better for you than doing what’s best for your baby.

Evangeline has never used a bottle or a pacifier.  We never had to spend money on those, or their accessories.  It’s cheaper to breastfeed and it’s easier than keeping track of a bunch of substitutes.  If it’s not attached to my body I will probably lose it… so there ya go, now you know.

I admit, sometimes it was REALLY tempting to just put a bottle in her mouth.  Some of the most difficult times for me early on were road trips.  I am a full-blown attachment parenting mommy for babies.  I cannot stand to hear the sound of my baby crying, (I assume God put that instinct in me for a very good reason…) and so I always comfort her when she does.  But you can’t exactly cuddle a baby who’s strapped into a carseat can you?

Like I said, our society has grown into this dependency on substitutes.  That’s just how we have developed.  But I’m stubborn, and you can be to.  Here’s a secret: You can nurse your baby in the carseat.  Yup, it’s true.  I’m not saying it’s comfortable or fun, but it’s a heck of a lot better than listening to eight (or more) hours of screaming.

That’s what we did on one road trip in particular from Indiana to Missouri.  We didn’t stop for Evie once, but she nursed probably six of those eight hours.  Afterwards my back and neck hated me, but my little girl still knew that her mommy would always be there for her.  And that, my friends, is priceless.

Ecological Breastfeeding Standards 2 & 3

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