Breastfeeding, Swimsuits and Modesty

This past week we (well some of us) celebrated World Breastfeeding Week.  I have been brewing up this post in my mind for quite some time now and I decided today would be an appropriate time to post it.  You see, we moved this summer, and in all that craziness I didn’t have the chance to take my children to the swimming pool until just a few weeks ago.  That’s right.  The former lifeguard/swimming instructor/camp pool director did not get her own kids in the pool until the end of July!  Shame… yes.  I know.

I was really excited though.  I had made sure to unpack our swimming suits and lovingly place them in a special swimming tote just for this occasion.  This was our youngest son’s first time at the pool, and it was going to be loads of great family fun!  And we did have fun.  But my excitement was tempered by that gnawing feeling that we sometimes call being self conscious.  As I looked around the pool there were two basic types of swimsuits.  The first was the teency weency yellow polka-dot bikini type.  You know the “How much skin can I actually show without being totally naked” approach.  And then there was the super modest swimsuit wearers, mostly older ladies with totally unflattering (it’s not their fault the clothing industry can’t seem to put cute and modest in the same sentence) suits that had necklines up to their… well necklines.

And then there was me.  I had what would probably fall in the cute and not modest category.  I had my entire midriff covered and also a skirt that went a little less than mid-thigh (not great but I tried).  But what was actually making me uncomfortable was the cut.  My swimsuit has a v-neck that is certainly more than my regular shirts show.  A momentary sense of panic rushed through my head.  It went something like this: “WHAT AM I WEARING?!?!  When I went shopping for a swimsuit why didn’t I get one of those matronly ones that was REALLY actually modest and not this one that is obviously just cute and not at all appropriate?!  What must people be thinking!”  I felt like hiding in a corner or going home… or at least somewhere people couldn’t see me.  And then, as I was racking my brain honestly trying to remember what I was thinking when I purchased this swimsuit – it hit me.  I was thinking of my baby.

I was acknowledging that if I was ever going to swim in public ever again I needed to find a swimsuit that was accessible for my child to nurse.  A high neckline swimming suit is not conducive to nurturing your child with your breast.  It just isn’t.  My choice was, either do not go swimming any time in the foreseeable future (which would be a travesty for me and my children) or buy a swimsuit that actually allows me to breastfeed if my child needs to do so on the way to the pool or from the pool or *gasp* at the pool.

Then I realized, a lot of clothing is like this.  Dresses?  I don’t wear them often, and when I do they are usually “low-cut” or strapless or something of the like.  I wore a strapless dress to church one Sunday with a cardigan over it.  During Bible study the pastor denounced wearing low-cut dresses to church (I don’t know if it was directed at me or not but I felt like crawling under a rock and dying).  It hurt to hear that!  Why do I wear strapless or low-cut dresses?  Because, honestly, they are the only kind of dress that is reasonably capable of being moved out of the way for me to nurture my child when he needs it.  Yes, there are “nursing dresses” on the market.  But I have yet to find one that has a high cut and goes past my knees.  I feel much more comfortable showing a little more around the shoulders than I do of my thighs.  And if we want to get biblical about it, does the Bible ever denounce the nudity of breasts?  Or is it the thighs?  It seems if I am ever going to wear a dress again I have to pick one, so I’ll go with the biblical definition of modesty thank-you-very-much.

I do not dress “sexy”.  I do not dress to show off.  I cover as much skin as I reasonably can while still making sure my children have adequate access to the life-giving nourishment they need most.  If that means wearing a swimsuit that cuts a little low or pulling my shirt up so I can nurse in public, I’m going to do that.  I do practical things to be as discreet as possible.  I almost always wear a tank under my shirts so that my belly isn’t showing and I can pull my top shirt over the breast.  This way, very little of anything shows while I nurse.  If I am wearing a swimsuit or dress that doesn’t allow for that I will use a nursing cover to give extra coverage, or try to go somewhere private and comfortable.

I am not one to stand up for my “rights”.  I much prefer to live out of love for my neighbor.  I do try.  I try not to offend.  But offense is taken anyway.  I practice ecological breastfeeding.  You can read my post about that here.  Basically it means, when my baby needs me, I give him myself.  I don’t give him a bottle or a binky or a substitute and I don’t let him cry it out.  I give him what he actually needs – me.  I believe this is the very best thing I can do for my baby; that is why I do it!

Methods of parenting are not all the same nor do they end with the same results.  What we do as parents matters.  And we do a disservice to nursing mothers and babies everywhere when we try to pretend that all methods of parenting are equal.  If a piece of plastic is the same as my breast, then why not just go back to being “modest” and putting the comfort of strangers above giving my baby access to nursing?  On the other hand… if it does make a difference, mothers should be putting the health of their children above the comfort of others.  Not all mothers can nurse, but for those who can, we should be supporting them in continuing to doing so.

Did you know that an increase in breastfeeding could actually prevent up to 10% of all childhood deaths under the age of five?  (Source) Breastfeeding is healthy; it is good for you and your baby.  I usually do not advertise this, but my three and a half year old daughter is still nursing.  This would not have been possible if I had restricted her nursing in any way during the first six months of her life.  It would have not been possible if I had made her wait hours between nursings during her first two years of life because the locale was inconvenient or we were in mixed company.  I nurse my children when they need it where they need it.  It’s important to me, and the science backs me up when I say that it’s important to my babies too.

We need to support and encourage mothers to breastfeed in all situations and in all places.  We need to make them feel comfortable and secure, because an anxious mother will not get her baby to nurse no matter how hungry he is!  Just trust me on that one.  Please, for the sake of us mothers and our children, understand we are not trying to offend or show off and there is no reason to be uncomfortable.  If you are uncomfortable don’t feel bad, just understand and be empathetic while you are working through your own feelings.  The activity of nursing a baby really is easy to ignore if you don’t want to see it or think about it.  Just look the other way and continue on with whatever it was you were doing before.

We need to rethink modesty.  I am not a single teenager trying to get guys to notice me.  I am a happily married mother of two children who wants to give them access to the comfort and nourishment that God designed for them to have.  I hold my children.  A lot.  They are constantly tugging at my shirts and even the snuggest necklines stretch out after a while.  Despite my best efforts, there is a little bit more skin showing now then there was four years ago.  For a very long time I was confused about that and totally uncomfortable.  That has  not been fair to my children, because I hate to admit it, but I have not always been there for them when they needed me.  Sometimes I have let my self consciousness get the better of me and, instead of giving them what they really needed, I capitulated to my own fears and doubts.

No longer.  My episode of panic at the pool was not necessary.  I am wearing the clothes that are best for my children and I am parenting them the most natural, God given way I know how.  I’ll keep doing it, and I will work really hard at being as comfortable with my choices as possible.  Not because I am some activist who needs to stand on her rights and wave her freedom in your face whether you like it or not.  But because I love my kids.  I don’t just love them when it’s convenient for me, or when other people think I should; I don’t offer them toys or plastic substitutes for my love.  I strive to love them all the time, without conditions, just as God loves us.  And breastfeeding is how I love and serve my young children.  I hope other moms who read this are encouraged to go out and love their children (and wear the clothes that go with it) in the confidence and comfort that I wish I had when I started on this journey three and a half years ago.

1147765_10151715438061877_154581840_oBreastfeeding is not sexual – it’s nourishing.
Breastfeeding is not weird – it’s natural.
Breastfeeding is not icky – it’s healthy.
Breastfeeding is not immodest – it’s feminine.

Breastfeeding is GOOD!  Good for babies, good for moms and good for society.  Spread the word.

Ecological Breastfeeding: Part 4

Before you read this post be sure to catch Ecological Breastfeeding Part I, Part II and Part III!

I know mothers who follow all of the ecological breastfeeding standards except the two that we are going to talk about today.  And guess what?  They don’t benefit from the same blessings that following the entire plan give.  Of course, following five of these principles rather than none is definitely a good thing, but you and your child are still missing out on ecological breastfeeding and the gifts it can give your family.

So, I ask that today you keep an open mind.  Don’t immediately disregard this phenomenal method of parenting your baby until you have heard all the facts.  I know that many people will read the next two standards and think “There’s no way I’m ever doing that.”  But just wait, make an informed decision; you owe it not only to your child but to yourself as well.

Standard #4: Sleep with your baby for night feedings.

The story is old and worn and well known by all Americans… “I got pregnancy insomnia, and then after he was born he wouldn’t sleep for three months!  Now he only needs one or two feedings a night, which is better, but I feel so exhausted all the time…”  If you are like many families and have children in close succession, this could mean literally years and years of being sleep deprived.

Whether you believe in birth control or not – it was obviously not a part of God’s original plan for growing families.  This leaves me with one of two conclusions, either God intended for mothers to be useless and sleep deprived for all of their childbearing years (which for some can literally be decades).  Or… God had another model that prevents unnecessary sleep deprivation for mothers.  I tend to go with the latter.

And honestly?  I think I can probably count on one hand the number of times I have been sleep deprived since becoming a mother.  Currently nursing and growing a baby does make one quite tired… but I got ten hours of sleep last night.  Yup, ten wonderful… amazing… needed hours of sleep.  When people ask me how Evie sleeps I always tell them that she started sleeping through the night at four days old… that’s not exactly true, but it’s easier than explaining the reality that I started sleeping through the night again when she was four days old.

I am actually not sure when Evie started sleeping through the night… and honestly I didn’t care when she did, because I didn’t need to care.  When she wakes up and needs to nurse I just have to readjust and help her latch on; normally I never even remember doing this.  See?  Feeding your baby is so easy you can do it in your sleep! Haha…

But in all seriousness, this one practice of having our baby sleep in our bed with us has given us so much more rest and sanity than many young parents I know have had in years.  It’s terribly sad to me that our society has lied to mothers telling them that cribs are the safest and only place a baby should sleep, not even stopping to consider the mental and emotional toll it takes to raise a child that way.

Think about it.  While breastfeeding, chemicals such as oxytocin are released into your bloodstream.  These are very helpful in bonding with your child, but they are also deeply relaxing.  Many moms find it difficult to stay awake while nursing, and it isn’t just because it’s 2am.  Nursing induces sleepiness.  Why would our benevolent and omniscient Creator make our bodies want to fall asleep at the very time that it’s dangerous to do so?  It doesn’t make sense.

Sleeping and nursing go together – it’s natural!  And also completely safe.  Ads like this one make me furious.  They are misleading and inappropriate to say the least.  Many babies in our country DO die every year from dangerous co-sleeping situations, but not from sleeping in safe environment with a nursing mother.

Instead of pushing the crib habit, the government should be focusing on giving real information about co-sleeping that is helpful.  Information like, don’t sleep with your child if you are impaired with drugs or alcohol, don’t let your baby sleep near a crack or on the edge of the bed, don’t fall asleep in awkward places like your recliner, etc.  Asserting flat-out that cribs are the only safe place for babies is not founded on science and is simply untrue.  In fact, it is actually safer to co-sleep in a proper family bed under the right circumstances than to place your baby alone in a crib.  This is a very good summary of how to co-sleep comfortably and safely and is very similar to what we have done as a family.

Not only does co-sleeping give you more rest, but it ensures that your baby always knows he is safe and taken care of.  No one should have to sleep alone, especially not babies who do not have the ability to understand why they are all by themselves.  Low serotonin levels have been scientifically linked to a higher risk of SIDs, and high levels of stress induce such dangerous chemical imbalances in the brain.  What could cause a high level of stress right before sleep?  Being left abandoned in a dark place, all alone, where no one responds to your cries of terror.  This is what an infant experiences when parents unwittingly use the “cry it out” method to get their babies to sleep on their own.

Even with gentler crib sleeping practices, a crib is still not as safe as being next to mom in bed.  Carbon dioxide has been shown to cause the inhaling reflex in infants.  If you are sleeping facing your baby (as you would be nursing while you sleep) your constant breathing rhythms help to regulate your child’s so that his body continues to breathe safely through the night.  Not to mention that forcing yourself to stay awake in a rocking chair or elsewhere while nursing can lead to the more dangerous sleeping-while-nursing scenarios that we want to avoid.

So, what does all of this have to do with making sure that your baby continues nursing through toddlerhood and receives all the nutritional benefits he needs?  Well, a lot actually.  If you don’t sleep with your child there is a necessity to begin limiting nighttime nursings, scheduling, etc., which inevitably limits how much your child nurses.

Putting any limitations on nursing at all can cause your child to wean early and lose many of those nutritional benefits he could have been reaping his entire life.  Furthermore, nursing at night is many times nursing for comfort.  This is an important part of the nursing relationship and, if you cut it out, he will to learn to go to other sources for comfort causing weaning to begin much earlier, whether you are ready for it or not.

Standard #5: Sleep with your baby for a daily-nap feeding.

I won’t delve into the safety issue much here as I covered that already; but sleeping with your baby during the day is more or less the same as sleeping with your baby at night, and just as important.  Not only does laying down with your baby for naps give more opportunity for nursing (which is important for extended amenorrhea and a long nursing relationship) but it also gives you more opportunity for rest.

Becoming a new mother is exhausting and simply sleeping through the night may not be enough.  You need to give yourself permission to take naps, and the best time (if not the only time) you can do this with a newborn is while he’s napping.  Because of our body’s natural tendency to get tired while nursing a babe to sleep, this is a perfect opportunity for you both to bond, rest and benefit from the nursing relationship.

This is probably one of the easiest standards to shrug off because so many of us are not used to the luxury of napping daily.  And, you might say, if I am already sleeping with baby at night will this really make a difference?  The answer is, yes.  Just as with any of the seven standards, you lose one and you’re done.  Fun rhyming eh?  Ok… too many bad puns in one post will lose me my readers, sorry, I’ll stop.

Now with me and Evie, and with most I’d wager, we don’t take naps together every day.  In fact, I only napped with her on a daily basis for maybe the first two weeks.  After that it depended on whether or not I was tired enough to sleep.  If I wasn’t tired, I would get up after Evangeline fell asleep and go do something else.  If she woke up before I knew she was ready I would nurse her back down, and sometimes then I’d be ready for a nap too.

Even still today I nurse her to sleep for bed and for her naps every day.  I usually don’t nap with her, although with the pregnancy it’s become more tempting… When I am not tired enough to sleep I will lay down with her and nurse her till she’s fast asleep and then I’ll leave.  When she wakes up I (as Jake fondly refers to it) nurse her back to life.

She always needs to breastfeed upon waking.  I’m not sure what it is about that transition period, but it’s what we’ve always done and it’s become one of my favorite nursing times of the day.  I think it started when she was smaller and woke up two or three times during her nap; I would nurse her just to see if she would fall back asleep, so even when she was ready to get up we would still nurse.  In any case, it’s been an enjoyable bond between us.

I think I’m going to wrap it up for tonight, but as always if you have any questions on this or any of the other previous breastfeeding posts please comment or shoot me an email.  At the end of this series I am going to have a Q&A and I would love to tackle anything you’d like to throw at me.  Blessings on this, the 4th Day of Christmas!

Oh and umm… Go Broncos!

Nursing Toddlers are Cute

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

Ecological Breastfeeding: Part 2

Hey all, thanks for your patience.  I owe you lots of posts this week 😛
Today I opted to get out Part II of my Ecological Breastfeeding series.  Although, for those who are waiting for pictures for the weekend here’s a little something to tide you over…
Ecological Breastfeeding II
In my first post on ecological breastfeeding, I did a brief overview of the seven standards that must be followed in order for this natural style of nourishing your child to “work”.  First, let me define what I mean by work.  Any and all amount of breastfeeding that a mother is able to provide for her child is good, healthy and beneficial for both mother and baby.
However, I do believe that these standards are an accurate representation of God’s good and natural plan for the nourishment of children.  This being the case there are real and tangible benefits to following this plan, and in order to have these benefits to the fullest, these principles should be followed.
The benefits of ecological breastfeeding are many.  One benefit that I mentioned in my previous post is the extended period without a menstrual cycle, which not only naturally spaces children in a family but also provides many health benefits for the mother.  The average length before the return of the cycle, for women who follow ecological breastfeeding, is 14-15 months postpartum.
Another benefit to this natural method of nursing is the extent to which the child nurses.  It is very well medically documented that the more a child nurses, the healthier that child is, and the more a mother nurses her child the healthier she is.  Without following each of these standards of breastfeeding, children will wean much earlier, probably shortly after their first birthday and almost always before their second.  Conversely, children who are breastfeed with these standards in mind, nurse more frequently and are never given a substitute for the love of a mother.
I have talked with mothers who have wanted their children to nurse longer, whether for the health benefits or because of the continued bonding opportunities, but they could not keep their children interested in nursing through their second year of life.  This is because there has been either some substitute for the mother introduced (binkies, bottles, etc.) or a restriction placed on nursing.
In order for these benefits to be fully realized and a child to nurse for the full extent of God’s intended timing, all of these standards must be followed.  Today I was going to go through the first three standards, but I got a little chatty, so we’ll just do the first standard today and go from there.  Here is a little more on the whys and hows and what the first standard has looked like in our family…

Standard One: Breastfeed exclusively for the first six months of life; don’t use other liquids or solids, not even water.

This is possibly the most important standard to follow, simply for the health of your child.  Before six months of age children are unable to properly digest solid food.  Giving a baby food before their body has the appropriate ability to digest it can actually cause their bodies to develop an allergy to that food for the rest of their life.  Furthermore early introduction to solids can be linked to other difficulties such as asthma, lactose-intolerance and other health difficulties.
Many doctors will encourage parents to give their children baby cereal rather than breastmilk or formula to help their children sleep longer through the night.  Cereal does help children to go longer intervals without eating, but it isn’t because it is more nourishing or filling, actually quite the opposite.  Babies stomachs cannot properly digest grain, in fact grains should be one of the last foods introduced as they are one of the most difficult to digest.  Because their body doesn’t know what to do with it, the cereal literally sits in their stomach like a rock, rather than being absorbed and utilized in the body.  It may be more convenient, but it certainly is not best for baby!
After six months of life, you can begin slowly introducing solids as your baby becomes interested.  What I realized quickly with our dear daughter is that most babies are not ready until much later.  She was a little interested, but not really.  I was a little more aggressive in pushing solids at exactly six months, thinking that that was what was best, but next time around I will be more relaxed.
Some doctors assert that there is a window between which children learn to eat, and if they don’t learn to eat during this window they will not be able to learn later on.  This is not true!  Children are born knowing how to eat and they will develop this desire when their bodies are ready to process the food.  Each child grows differently.  Think of the great differences that exist between when babies learn to crawl, walk or talk.  Some are early, others are later; it is the same with eating solid food.  A few babies bodies are ready at six months, most are not ready until much later.
After I realized this, we relaxed for several months on pushing the solids; she was perfectly happy nursing, and so was I.  Around about a year old she became interested again in tasting what we were tasting, but it really was only tasting.  At nineteen months she still has not eaten a full meal of solid food.  She gets her nutrition from nursing – which is the best nutrition she could receive!  Breastmilk is the healthiest food for a baby whether they be four months or fourteen months.  I am so at peace knowing that she is eating the healthiest diet she possibly could.
Some days she eats more than others, especially if it’s a meal she likes!  But she hasn’t really begun eating for nutritional value yet, and that’s perfectly ok.   If you have heard the phrase “Solids before one are just for fun.”  Remember that and don’t push them!  Your child will eat solids when he is ready.  As for me, my motto is more like “Solids before two are just for fun.”  The first two years of life, the best and only nutrition a child needs is breastmilk.
Another blessing we have had from not pushing solids too early is that when she isn’t feeling well, I don’t have to worry about her getting enough nutrition.  She didn’t eat anything for two days when she was sick over the summer, but she nursed a lot.
As far as other liquids go, we still heavily limit what liquids she gets.  Usually when she is thirsty she will just nurse in order to quench her thirst.  God has created our bodies so perfectly to give our children exactly what they need.  The initial milk that lets down when a child is nursing is the thinner milk, which is less nutrient dense, but works very well for quenching thirst.  So when our babies are thirsty they can get a quick bit of milk and go back to playing.  If they are in need of a nutrient-dense meal they can nurse a few minutes (or a lot of minutes for a newborn!) longer to get the thicker hind-milk.
Over the last year or so we have allowed her to have as much water as she wants, which hasn’t been much.  She mostly likes to drink it because we are drinking.  Although, the last month or so she has actually be using water to quench thirst along with the breastmilk.  Other than water, we don’t give her any other liquids.  Juice is simply not healthy, even 100% juice causes the blood sugar to shoot up and can cause long-term problems.
We simply don’t want her to be hooked on sugary drinks.  It starts with juice as a toddler and ends with soda… so we stay away from that for now.  We also avoid milk because the milk that is available to us at this time is pasteurized to the point of having little to no nutrition.  Besides, she gets human milk so she doesn’t need cow’s milk!  Later on we will introduce this, but at this time water and breastmilk are all she really needs.
In short… nurse exclusively for at least six months.  After that feel free to follow your child’s lead.  If he is interested in tasting solids because it’s what you’re doing, go ahead and let him try.  But don’t push the desire if it’s really not there.  Force-feeding baby food is counter-productive and unhealthy.  If he doesn’t want to eat, it probably means he’s not ready to eat!

Ecological Breastfeeding: Part 1

In a recent post I discussed the many benefits of extended breastfeeding.  Both mother and child benefit physically and emotionally from a natural breastfeeding relationship, and babies also receive developmental benefits from the nutritional value of the milk.  Unfortunately, in our society, this natural way of mothering has been all but lost.

With so many distractions and roadblocks put in the way of motherhood, and so many alternatives to the comfort and safety of a mother’s breast being endlessly advertised… it’s no wonder we have forgotten the beauty and the blessings that come with mothering our young children the way that God created and intended us to.

When I was pregnant with my daughter, I knew that I wanted to give her the best start possible, and I also knew that would include breastfeeding.  It wasn’t until I read Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing that I realized I hadn’t thought of how I wanted to breastfeed.

My approach to parenting has always been that God has given us all the tools necessary in His creation to raise children who are healthy physically, emotionally and spiritually.  I don’t buy into the idea that you need the latest gadgets, toys, orthodontic binkies or whatever the latest craze is…  It’s not that these things are inherently wrong in and of themselves, I just didn’t think that they are necessary.

I knew that God didn’t create babies for cribs or strollers or bottles.  God created babies for mothers and fathers.  So I have always been skeptical with cultural parenting practices; I critique cultural parenting techniques from every angle before I will accept them, because I know that God did not create man for 21st century America.  Many of our innovations have gotten away from God’s intended purpose for families, so I make sure that whatever cultural practices I do adopt in my vocation as mother, they encourage God’s order rather than undermine it.

This is why I have chosen ecological breastfeeding.  I truly believe that the principles of ecological breastfeeding are the natural, intended way God created us to nurture our children.  I also believe that when we follow God’s intended order for our lives that it is healthier for us in every way; there are natural and spiritual consequences when we choose our ways rather than God’s ways – even when it comes to breastfeeding.

To be clear, I am not condemning anyone who does not follow this particular pattern of nursing.    I am saying that having the worldview where children are burdensome and so I will only have a few, and the sooner I can get them to not need me for extended periods of time the better… is a wrong perspective.  God has such a better way.  With that being said… let’s get to the good part.  These are the seven standards of ecological breastfeeding:

  1. Breastfeed exclusively for the first six months of life; don’t use other liquids or solids, not even water.
  2. Pacify or comfort your baby at your breasts.
  3. Don’t use bottles and don’t use pacifiers.
  4. Sleep with your baby for night feedings.
  5. Sleep with your baby for a daily-nap feeding.
  6. Nurse frequently day and night, and avoid schedules.
  7. Avoid any practice that restricts nursing or separates you from your baby.
These seven principles should be followed for the entirety of your nursing relationship with your child, until he is ready to wean himself.  This is not something that you instigate, but a natural consequence of maturing that will happen when he is ready.  The only principle that you do not continue indefinitely is the first.  Obviously, after six months of age, food can be introduced when the child begins to show interest.
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I want to finish up today’s post with some of the benefits our family has had from following this path.  I have been using ecological breastfeeding with Evangline from the time she was born.
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  • Evie has only been sick twice in the short 19 months of her life; both times she fully recovered in just a couple short days without any need for medication.
  • She has never had an ear infection or other any of the other common illnesses babies tend to be susceptible to.  She is incredibly healthy in every way.
  • Evangeline is an extremely happy and secure baby.  She knows that we will always be there when she needs us.
  • I gained 45 pounds during the course of my pregnancy.  Without any kind of dieting, exercising or trying at all, I lost 41 of those pounds within the first 7 or 8 months postpartum.
  • For many women this natural form of breastfeeding helps to naturally space out children.  Although our family was not concerned with the spacing of our children, this definitely has been a side-effect of ecological breastfeeding.  I did not have my first cycle until 15 months postpartum. (I have to say it was nice to go two years without having to deal with that!)
  • Not only is this extended period without a menstrual cycle beneficial in spacing children, but it is also very healthy and is one of the main ways that ecological breastfeeding can help prevent breast cancer.
These are just a few of the short-term benefits we have seen in our own family.  In Part II of this series I am going to go through each specific standard of ecological breastfeeding and explain some of the whys behind them and how implementing each one has looked in our own household.  If there are any questions let me know and I will include them at the end of the series.
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