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 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!
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