The following guest post comes to us via Cynthia.
Breastfeeding is the most natural, rewarding, challenging, frustrating, amazing, and empowering thing I have ever done. While I was in my second trimester of pregnancy, I was starting to make all kinds of decisions about how I wanted to care for my baby, including diapers, daycare, pediatrician, and breastfeeding. After doing the research and talking to other women about breastfeeding, I decided it was the best decision for me. There are amazing benefits.
I was referred to a lactation consultant. I called this woman my fairy milk mother.
In fact, there are so many great benefits the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has a health initiative around breastfeeding and recommends that babies be breastfed through 6 months of age. A breastfed baby gets a nutritional superfood (to use a popular phrase) that is so dense with beneficial vitamins, minerals, and fats that the list of ingredients is long enough to fill several sheets of paper (women’s bodies are pretty spectacular).
Breast milk is powerful stuff, too. Studies show that breast milk will boost the immune system of the baby and benefit the mother’s health as well, in addition to reducing her chance of breast cancer. Additionally, breastfeeding reduces the rate of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) and future obesity for infants as they go into childhood and adulthood. Oh, and breastfeeding helps a mom shed her pregnancy pounds quicker — bonus!
Breastfeeding also provides the opportunity to bond with a baby in a close and personal way (the AAP makes note of this benefit too). My favorite times were when I could sit with my son on my lap and just relax. I didn’t do anything else but touch his soft baby skin, look at his toes and fingers, store in my memory the chubby cheeks, little nose, and rosebud lips, and lovingly stroked his back and legs. Thinking about it now, the sweet scent of my little one comes back to me. There is never another moment like when a child is an infant. Soon they will be crawling, walking, and then running. And that close time does wonders for a baby, providing reassurance, confidence, and a closeness that lasts beyond infancy.
All of these wonderful benefits are not always easy to come by. There is a reason so many women start breastfeeding, but don’t continue. Breastfeeding is natural; women all over the world have fed their babies for generations with breast milk. In fact, in some countries where poverty and hunger are prevalent, children are breastfed well into their toddlerhood because mothers want to ensure their children have a consistent source of nutrition. Natural does not equal easy.
My breastfeeding journey had its ups and downs. The first day I was home, my son was having issues latching on, after he had done it so easily at the hospital. I found out that my milk had come in and my nipples were so hard, it was making it difficult for my son to suck. This was all discovered after 24 hours of frustration and fear; I called the pediatrician for help and I was referred to a lactation consultant. I called this woman my fairy milk mother. Once I consulted with her, we were doing well with breastfeeding. And I called her often when I had questions or needed help.
With breastfeeding, a baby’s changing appetite is constant; just when I thought I had it all figured out, something new would pop up. I also worked full-time, so after eight weeks of maternity leave, I was in the office, pumping milk at my desk every two to three hours (the time was scheduled on my calendar like any other meeting). At first, using a breast pump was the strangest thing I had ever done. Living near dairies as a child, I could relate to the cows that were milked every day. But then it became just a part of my routine and I felt wonderful knowing that I was feeding my little guy, who was happy and healthy.
I breastfed my son until he was 2 years old. It was much longer than I expected. I had a goal of nursing until he was 1, because the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends it. But nursing gave him a comfort first thing when I got home from work, a connection to Mom after not seeing me all day, and at bedtime. Breastfeeding kiddos get used to the dreamy relaxation of falling asleep next to their mother’s warm soft skin with a full belly. Sounds heavenly to me.
Did we supplement with formula? Yes, when he was still hungry and I couldn’t provide more for him, formula was there when we needed it. Is breastfeeding for everyone? No. Every woman has different nipples and breasts; some may want to breastfeed, but their nipples just won’t allow them to. I had a friend who pumped and provided that milk to her son in a bottle for this reason. And some women may have a job or other situation that just doesn’t make it possible to pump during the day so that they can keep up their milk supply when they are away from their baby.
I think, with a lactation consultant and in consultation with a pediatrician, a woman can find the right solution for her and her baby if she really wants to breastfeed. But choosing to provide a baby formula is no less noble. Babies are still getting nutrition and support for a healthy life ahead. No matter what a baby is fed, it is the closeness, the touch, the whispers of affection and love that truly are important in creating a bond between baby and parent.