Ecological Breastfeeding: Part 5

This is my last official post in the Ecological Breastfeeding Series, although I will finish it all up with a Q&A Session.  We have two more standards to discuss today and these, very much like my last post, are closely related.  As always I will discuss what these standards mean, and give you an overview of how it looks in our house, along with some commentary and bunny trails along the way.

Ready?  Let’s get to it!

Standard #6: Nurse frequently day and night, and avoid schedules

Nursing frequently is more or less self-explanatory, although it also can be subjective.  Newborns nurse frequently, but as babies get older they nurse less often.  My daughter  (almost 2) nurses frequently, for her  age.  She nurses through the night, when waking up or going down for a nap, when she’s grumpy, sad, upset, tired, etc.  Sometimes she nurses because she’s thirsty and other times just because I think she feels like it.  If I had to guess she probably nurses somewhere around 7-15 times every day, with her nursing sessions varying from 30 seconds to 30 minutes, depending on her needs.

This is not a gauge for you to see if you’re measuring up to my child’s nursing frequency; at this stage in the game there is a quite varied range of nursing needs for different children.  I would expect a child who began eating with gusto at 6 months not to be nursing as much at 2 years as my daughter who didn’t really become interested in food until she was about 15 months old.  Just as in height, weight, talking, and everything else… babies grow very quickly and at much different speeds.  They even out later on, but at this age comparing isn’t really much good.

My point in showing you how frequently Evie still nurses is to give one example of what “frequently” might mean.  Your child may nurse much less than that at a younger age, or he may nurse even more than my daughter – be open to your child’s needs.  Sometimes this means shirking the preconceived notions we have about how much babies and children should nurse.  Many newborns are often denied on-demand nursing in favor of scheduling.  This can be detrimental to the nursing relationship, especially at such a young age.

Scheduling is a breastfeeding practice that has developed (in my opinion) not for medical or scientific reasons, but for convenience and cultural reasons.  There is no science that will back up the notion that scheduling nursing times will give you a healthier child.  But if you don’t nurse while you sleep I can definitely see how getting up every single time baby cries and nursing as long as he needs it would drive you crazy and make you sleep deprived beyond use.  Enter scheduling.  If you know you have two hours to sleep before nursing again, you can take comfort in the knowledge that you can sleep at least that long.

I have heard other reasons for scheduling too, most of which confuse eating with nursing.  I talked about this in a previous post during the series.  Nursing and eating are not the same thing.  I have had people tell me that if I don’t schedule nursing times my child will grow up to think she can eat anything she wants whenever she wants.  No… if I don’t schedule nursing times my child will learn that she can nurse whenever she wants.  Since starting solid foods we have scheduled times for meals and snacks.  She understands the difference between nursing and eating; in fact, she doesn’t even make a connection between them at all.  If she wants food she says “eat”, if she wants to nurse she says “milk”, if she wants a drink she says “water”.  My two year old understands that nursing is not eating; it’s different.

Nursing habits do not transfer into eating habits.  This is why it is helpful to always make a distinction in your vocabulary between the two; I never call nursing “feeding” or “eating”, I say nursing or breastfeeding.  This helps me to remember that they are seperate in reality, and also in the mind of my toddler.

So, why is scheduling nursing times bad?  Because scheduling nursing inherently limits the amount of nursing that takes place.  Limiting nursing limits the benefits of the nursing relationship and the length of the nursing relationship.  If you do not nurse on demand your body recognizes this; if you only nurse every hour for however many minutes on each side, your body will only make enough milk to do so.  This might sound helpful, especially if you deal with long periods of engorgement like I do… but it isn’t.  You want your body to make an excess of milk, especially for those first few months.

It’s much easier for your body to decrease milk supply than to increase it.  In fact, once it’s gone many women can’t get it back and instead face supply issues and have to discontinue nursing.  If you only have exactly enough milk to feed your baby, what happens when he goes through a growth spurt and suddenly needs more milk?  You don’t have it for him, and supplementation must begin.  Babies and children are growing rapidly and need different amounts of nourishment at different stages.  The only way to ensure that you can provide enough milk for those growing periods is to have a little extra readily available.

With nursing on demand you use most, if not all of your milk supply.  Your baby will still be sucking even after the milk is gone – this is nursing for comfort and it is good for your supply.  When a baby continues sucking after the milk has been depleted it triggers your body to know that it needs to make more milk, ensuring a continually replenishing supply.  If your baby only gets a few minutes on each side and never quite depletes your milk supply, your body will realize it always has extra and it will stop making enough.

In short… don’t schedule nursing times, just nurse whenever your child needs it, for nourishment or for comfort.  Not only will this strengthen your bond with your baby, give your baby the assurance that you are always there, and give him important nourishment that he needs, but it will help prevent you from unknowingly decreasing your own milk supply.

On a final note, nursing frequently, although it looks different for everyone, always means that you will be nursing even when your child does not ask for it.  The rule is sometimes mistakenly followed “don’t offer, don’t refuse” meaning that you don’t ever offer the breast, but if your child asks for it you always comply.  This is actually a weaning technique, and if you follow this rule your child will wean, very possibly sooner than they are ready.

Standard #7: Avoid any practice that restricts nursing or separates you from your baby

summer-vacation-094Evangeline has never had a babysitter.  If I have to go somewhere she stays with her daddy for a little while.  There have been a couple times that we have left her with the grandparents to go have some time to ourselves, but those are few and far between.  That is probably not so much my ecological breastfeeding side talking, and a little more of my attachment parenting side.  But I don’t want her spending any time with a person she doesn’t know well and would be scared with.  I just don’t want to.  Besides, not utilizing baby sitters cuts down on your opportunity to leave your baby, which is just want you want to do if you’re going to be ecologically breastfeeding.

I have never been away from my daughter for longer than about three hours.  The first time I was gone that long was when she was nine months old and already asleep.  I didn’t do it again until just a couple weeks ago when I went out to dinner with some friends.  Only twice in about two years.  And guess what?  I don’t feel deprived at all actually…

Jake and I never had a date or alone time without the baby (well sometimes baby is in another room but that’s really the same thing) for over a year after she was born.  And our marriage is great.  In fact, I think we are better off for it.  We know the truth about marriage; it’s not about me.  Marriage is about service to others, service to your husband or wife and service to your children.  This is where our society has got it all wrong.  When we look at our spouse or our children and say “How much time can I spend away from these people?”  Or “How much should my husband be doing for me to make sure I get what I need?” That is when the seeds of divorce are planted in a marriage.

Conversely, when we remember that we come last, and I mean really honestly last in the food chain, when we put our children and husbands (or wives) before ourselves, that is when marriage grows and blossoms in the most deep and beautiful of ways.  Jake and I went on dates when Evie was a baby; we just brought her along.  Babies don’t eavesdrop, and their giggles and excitement for new places is so infectious that it just made all of our dates that much better.  We loved having her tag along!

You don’t have to be totally isolated to have a romantic dinner.  After all, a baby is the most tangible fruit of your physical connection with one another; it makes the love you have for your husband so much more.  Babies are a gift, and they grow up fast!  So don’t try and escape them, spend as much of that precious time with them as you can.  Ten or twenty years from now, when you are having dinner alone, you’ll appreciate having enjoyed your babies while you still could.

What about events where children aren’t welcome?  Often times events where older children aren’t welcome, nursing babies can still attend.  Ask, just to be sure.  If nursing babies are unwelcome (and this may sound harsh) whatever party or event is not worth going to.  I am a very family oriented person and, God willing, we will have children in our home for many many years.  No one should ask that a mother separate herself from her infant – it is cruel and completely unnecessary.

Don’t support anyone who encourages this, and don’t agree to it if someone asks you to do it.  Your baby needs his Mother!  Never leaving him alone assures him that you will always be there.  He won’t grow up with attachment issues or fears of abandonment because those feelings were never planted in him in the first place.  It may sound silly that leaving your baby with a babysitter can leave traumatic scars, but think of it through the mind of your child.

He doesn’t know what a babysitter is, let alone that this person will take care of him.  He doesn’t know if you are ever coming back; you are the only person he knows he can trust.  An hour seems like a lifetime to a baby.  Time does not go by as quickly for him as it does for you.  He will cry for fifteen minutes, and when you don’t return, he assumes you never will.  He doesn’t stop crying because he’s comfortable or soothed; he stopped crying out of desperation – he’s given up hope.

Perhaps in a week or two he will have forgotten all about it, but that doesn’t mean the trauma hasn’t done long term damage.  Infants’ minds are making connections about the world and what you taught him that night was that he can’t always feel safe, that you might leave him and that you won’t always be there to protect him.  Those connections will always be there, perhaps hidden away, but very much real.  There is so much scientific evidence to back up the importance of the first three years of life and what is taught during that time.  These connections make up your child’s worldview in a very instinctual sense.

If you have done this, don’t wallow in guilt.  Just don’t do it anymore.  Always stay with your child when he needs you, especially if he is scared.  Reassure him constantly that you love him and that you will always be there for him.  Give lots of extra love and care, point him to God’s unconditional love and presence,  ask for forgiveness, pray and move on.  God has a way of filling in all those cracks we create as parents.  But that doesn’t mean we should seek to create more.

So… long story short, stay with your baby.  If your gut tells you that going out is a bad idea – it probably is.  I learned this the hard way.  Your mommy sixth-sense is more accurate than you give it credit for.

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

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