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Ecological Breastfeeding: Part V

This is my last official post in the Ecological Breastfeeding Series, although I will finish it all up with a Q&A Session. Start at Part I if you haven't read the rest of the series yet.

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 separate 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

Ecological Breastfeeding

Evangeline 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.

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