This post was written for World Breastfeeding Week 2010. To read the post I wrote for WBW 2011, click here.
This past Saturday, I was privileged to be a part of a WBW program put on at a local hospital. I was one of half a dozen women who spoke about our breastfeeding experiences and other issues surrounding feeding our little ones. They asked me to speak for 10 minutes. My original draft took 35 minutes to read on my trial run! What I’ve pasted below is the longer and more organized version of what I ended up sharing. I was asked specifically to share about co-sleeping, extended breastfeeding, and nutrition:
Let me begin by saying that I have been SO blessed by nursing my two little ones. It goes without saying that nursing is a blessing for babies, but some of you may be surprised to hear me say that I have been blessed by my time nursing. It’s a little surprising to me too honestly. I, like many women, was a little afraid that pregnancy, childbirth, and nursing would be all sacrifice and no reward. I’m so pleased to report that that’s not true!
While I was pregnant with my now 2 ½ year old, my husband and I had some newly married friends over for dinner one night. I love to do in-depth research on subjects that interest me and I always have a dozen or so non-fiction titles checked out from the library and they are always in some place easy to get to from a seating area. As we chatted in the living room before dinner my current stack of non-fictions caught the husbands eye. As his eyes got very large and he stopped being able to focus on whatever we were discussing, I realized that the titles were all about childbirth and nursing. Among them was LLL’s Womanly Art of Breastfeeding,* and one of my favorites – a book called So That’s What They’re For!!* In an astonished voice he looked at me and asked, “How much is there to KNOW about breastfeeding?? Is it that complicated??!” They are now the proud parents of a great little boy, by the way, so I didn’t scare them too badly!
There is a lot to know! With all of the research I did, you might assume that nursing was a cinche for me. I knew all about the common struggles mommies and their babies have as they’re adjusting, and I felt prepared to deal with them, but I won’t lie – there were aspects of nursing in those first few weeks that were surprisingly difficult. Aidan nursed very well in the hospital and the first day or two we were home. However, when my colostrum was replaced by milk and my breasts were suddenly full to bursting, he went on strike. I was so uncomfortable that I had no choice but to call for help. Women who were up to that point just acquaintances were instantly intimate companions and confidants. More than one of those moms physically helped move me and baby into a position that worked for us. I was abundantly blessed in those first weeks to learn that women can and are willing to support each other in beautiful ways.
Blessings of that kind have only continued as time has passed. I started attending the breastfeeding support group here at Centerpoint when my son was 6 months old – not for advice necessarily, but to meet other moms, weigh my little guy, and let him interact with other babies. Words can’t describe how wonderful it has been to get to know the women and children from that group. They have become some of my closest friends and Aidan and Cora will reap a lifetime of blessings from the friendships they’ve made even at their young ages. It’s priceless to be able to nurse freely and openly with friends and to know that there are a dozen or more people a phone call away if a question ever arises.
Among the other blessings breastfeeding has brought our family are the ease with which we’re able to travel b/c there’s no extra baby feeding equipment to bring, the money we’ve saved on not buying formula or bottles, the awareness it has brought about good nutrition, the post-pardum weight I’ve easily been able to lose twice now, and the sleep struggles we’ve been able to avoid.
I’ll hit a couple of those more specifically now, and feel free to ask me for more detail on anything later. First, nutrition. Learning about the health benefits of breastfeeding for baby - like a stronger immune system, better digestion, better weight regulation throughout all of life, strong emotional attachment, and better brain function – made us stop and think about how we will continue to nurture our children’s bodies after they no longer need breastmilk. My husband has always been thin, but has dealt with various small and stubborn problems with his digestion and tendency to get sinus infections. His mom also passed away very young of breast cancer. I have struggled with weight my whole life and have never felt strong or healthy. I didn’t have much experience cooking when we got married, and my exposure to healthy foods was pretty limited. We knew we needed to make a plan for change, and pregnancy and breastfeeding was a huge catalyst. It has been a process, and I learn more every day, but we feel very good about the food choices we make now and have reaped the benefit of good health for our whole family. We’ve thus far been able to avoid antibiotics for anyone for more than three years, and I’m 5 pounds away from my lightest adult weight at only 5 months post pardum. I would not have the same motivation if I didn’t know that my children’s good nutrition hinges on my own.
And now for sleep… If I only had a dollar for every time I’ve been asked, “is your baby sleeping through the night yet?” (laugh) I’m not sure why we still ask each other that question. I won’t lie and say that either of my children sleep ALL THE WAY THROUGH the night, but you can trust me when I say that practically speaking, they may as well. Our family has chosen to co-sleep. The way it currently looks in our family is that we have two beds pushed together, (a queen and a twin) for extra room, and our little girl sleeps with us the whole night, and our son starts out in his bed and climbs into the bed pushed up to ours at some point in the wee hours.
It took us a while to figure out what worked best for us in the beginning with our first. We put him in bassinet next to us for the first week back from the hospital, but he wanted to nurse so often that I was just exhauasted. As soon as we made the decision to co-sleep, we all became new people. No one could believe that I was doing so well on sleep with a newborn. He still woke up on the hour or every two hours to nurse, but he only needed to touch base and nurse for a few minutes before he settled into sleep again. Not having to get out of bed meant that I fell asleep much easier, too. When Cora arrived, we knew we wanted to co-sleep from day one and it’s been wonderful. We wouldn’t have been able to enjoy co-sleeping if we had to get out of bed to prepare a bottle.
I’ve been talking about Aidan nursing in the past tense, but I should clarify. I am technically tandem-nursing, which is nursing two children at a time. It was my goal to nurse him for at least a year, but preferably two because that is what the World Health Organization advises. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises at least 6 months of exclusive breast feeding, but recommends a year with supplementation of solid foods. Unfortunately, according to the CDC, only 43% of infants in America in 2006 were still nursing at 6 months and only 13.6% were exclusively breastfed without any formula supplementation. 22.7% of babies were being nursed at a year.
Before Cora was born, Aidan was down to nursing only at bedtime. For the first few months he only asked to nurse once a week or so when he was feeling tired or emotional and I tried to accommodate him even if it wasn’t bedtime. Recently he’s been going through a developmental growth spurt and had a period of a couple of weeks that he asked every day. Now we’re back to him not having asked for over a week. At this point our plan is to go with the flow and continue to let him nurse when he asks. We will re-evaluate when we (Lord willing) become pregnant with our next baby if he hasn’t completely weaned himself by then.
Nursing has had such an impact on me and my family, and has been so beneficial for us that I can hardly stop myself from encouraging everyone I can to make the choice to nurse. My heart aches for mommies who have a difficult time nursing, or are unable to at all, and it rejoices with my mommy friends who have overcome mind-blowing obstacles to give their baby their life-sustaining breastmilk. I daydream about becoming a lactation consultant and hope to start that process soon, and I look forward to our future children and the time I will spend feeding and caring for them. I’m even thinking already about my grandchildren and about how I can encourage our children to continue this legacy. The other day while looking through old photographs for a baby picture of me to compare Cora to, I came across a set of photos my dad took of my mother nursing me. I’m sure I’ve seen them at some point before, but this time, with 2 ½ years of breastfeeding behind me, seeing those photos caused gratitude to just swell up within me and bring tears to my eyes. I look completely contented and secure cradled in my mother’s arms, snuggled warmly in against her breast. I’ve seen the same look on the faces of my precious little ones and am so very thankful that I can give back some of that love that I received so long ago. I hope you get to experience the same.
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