Ecological Breastfeeding Part 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 typically 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 potentially 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 been 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!