Tag Archives: breastfeeding relationship

Who is a Breastfeeding Mother?

Humans like to make categories. Maybe it feels comfortable or scientific. So when we ask ourselves, who among us is a breastfeeding mother, who should we include? This is World Breastfeeding Week, so it seems like a good time to answer this question.

Many moms would agree that every drop of breastmilk is precious. So I would suggest that a mother who gave her baby at least one single drop of breastmilk is a breastfeeding mother. If we do that, then all the women who tried to breastfeed and felt as though they failed, succeeded. They are all breastfeeding mothers. We should honor them this World Breastfeeding Week. Give them a smile or a hug! Luckily, this includes me because I like hugs.

What Nursing Means to Me

Tomorrow is the first day of August and the beginning of World Breastfeeding Week. I was just thinking about what nursing my son meant to me. Before my son was born I planned to nurse him. My mother had nursed me and I knew a lot about the benefits of breastfeeding, not just to my son, but to me. I felt that I had carried my breasts around all my life and I wanted to get some good use out of them. My attitude was that nursing would be a chore, but a chore I was willing to do, like changing diapers.

What I found was that nursing was an interaction between my son and me. This is why in La Leche League we call a mother with a baby a nursing “dyad”. We started off with some difficulties in nursing, but once we had overcome them, we both enjoyed nursing.

Before you have children, people tell you things will be different with your own child. That’s the way nursing was. It wasn’t an endless painful austerity. It wasn’t painful. It was joyful. You get to snuggle your own baby and nurse him into drowsy, happy sleepiness. Then perhaps, you can take a nap together. It is a blissful time in a mother’s life. It is a magical time. That is the experience I am trying to help other mothers have. A joyful time with their own beautiful baby.

Child-Led Weaning

It is now only two days until World Breastfeeding Week begins, and I’m examining the topic of child-led weaning. Dr. Sears discussed the idea of attachment parenting. If you force a child to wean from something before they are ready, he says, the child will transfer that unfulfilled need to the next thing they use for soothing. For example, a child who has been weaned from nursing before he is ready, might become attached to a security blanket instead.

With my own nursing relationship, I decided to allow my son to lead his weaning. Before I gave birth, my plan was to nurse him for one year. After he was born I started to revise my thinking. When my son was a year old, nursing was still his very favorite thing to do. He was still my baby and it seemed natural to continue our nursing relationship.

What many pregnant first-time mothers don’t realize is that a toddler eats most of his diet as solid foods and nurses far less often than a newborn does. I say I nursed my son for three and a half years, but by the end we were nursing only once a day, at bedtime, to help him sleep. That’s what weaning is about. Nursing slows in frequency bit by bit. Not only is baby-led slow weaning easier for the baby, it is also easier for the mom.

Nursing mothers get used to the soothing effects of prolactin and oxytocin which are released during nursing. These hormones help moms relax. If a mom weans too abruptly, the sudden change in hormone levels can lead to postpartum depression. Baby-led weaning is a gentle weaning for both mother and child. Being a mother means watching your baby grow and mature and make strides toward independence. Each of these changes is a kind of weaning. It’s great to see your child grow independent—but it’s nice for mom if the changes are gradual, so she can get used to how big and independent her baby has become!

Family and Breastfeeding

World Breastfeeding Week is the first week of August. Getting ready to celebrate, I have been thinking about how my family had affected my breastfeeding relationship. Also how breastfeeding has affected my family. As a doula I have seen how family relationships play a big part in not only helping breastfeeding to succeed but also how long breastfeeding lasts. Keep in mind that research has shown the longer a woman breastfeeds the more health benefits she receives. It is also true that breastfeeding continues to have health and other benefits for the baby. So the longer breastfeeding lasts, the better.

My family’s support was very important to my breastfeeding success. My mother breastfed me and was very supportive of my nursing her grandson. My mother-in-law had formula fed her babies but more recently she had been convinced of the health benefits of breastfeeding and she was very supportive. I also had the support of my doula friends and other friends who had breastfed. Essentially, even though this country isn’t a breastfeeding culture, I had a small enclave of breastfeeding culture to sustain me.

As I have written earlier, I had difficulties with breastfeeding in the beginning. My husband and my family’s support was crucial. When I had things to work out, their support meant they understood why I was working hard to overcome my difficulties.

I have seen mothers struggle with overcoming some breastfeeding difficulties only for their families to tell them not to bother, formula is enough. My family never wavered in their support and I appreciated their support so much.

As for how breastfeeding has affected my family, I am a La Leche League Leader and I am working on becoming a lactation consultant. My family has had to support my helping other moms. My son will grow up appreciating the importance of nursing. He will support his wife’s breastfeeding when I have grandchildren.

Breastmilk by Bottle

Mary Cassat's mother and child

Breastfeeding is not just about the human milk. Human milk is best for human babies, it is true. But breastfeeding is also part of your relationship with your baby. This relationship is about attachment of mother and child. It is also about learning your baby’s cues and your baby learning to trust that his needs are answered. This give and take is the start of your mothering experience.

The good news is that women who have difficulties making a full milk supply, can still have this breastfeeding relationship. They can still nurse their baby at the breast with a supplementer. Adopting mothers can also do this.

Some breastfeeding moms who return to work use bottles of breastmilk which they pump for their babies. It is a good way to continue giving your milk while you have to be away at work. When you get home, nursing your baby is a great way to reconnect.

There is another thing moms are doing, which makes much less sense. Some moms feel that nursing a baby is icky and so they pump their milk out to give to their baby in a bottle. They know that the milk is important for their baby’s health but they don’t want to be tied down to their baby.

There are several reasons I don’t think this is the best solution. First, instead of bonding and forming the attachment of nursing, these mothers distance themselves on purpose. Second, it is much more difficult to pump your milk and maintain an adequate supply, especially over the long term. Even though pumps are continually getting better, your baby is much more efficient at getting milk from your breast. Also, pumps can’t stimulate your breast to make as full a supply as your baby can.

So pumping out your milk to keep your breast out of your baby’s mouth takes much more work and has fewer rewards. It is also strange. As a cultural phenomena I think it says we are still stuck on breasts being sexual objects rather than nurturing ones. My hope is that our society will get over that and that we will become a breastfeeding culture once again.