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 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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