On support and breastfeeding

by API Blog on May 8, 2008

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Lily nap-nursing as a newbornToday my daughter, Lily, is two years old. I’ve been feeling under the weather, so I took an opportunity to rest by napping with her this afternoon. As we snuggled up in my bed, her head tucked into its favorite position between my arm and my breast, I thought about the day of her birth. Lily is a child who knows what she wants and is not afraid to ask for it (it has been suggested that she is the spitting image of her mother in that respect). So minutes after her birth, I put her to my breast, she latched on, and, with the exception of a few trips to the bathroom and the occasional snuggle from Dad or the grandparents, she remained that way until we left the hospital just over a day later. Nurses who were not even assigned to our care popped in to see if it was true that she was on some sort of nursing marathon. I laughed, assured them that it was OK, and nursed on. We have spent much of the last two years this way, and I will be the first to admit that there have been many times when I was ready for a break.

I was reminded this week both why I have continued to nurse for as long as I have and how I managed to do so.

Why?

As if all the World Health Organization (WHO) breastfeeding recommendations, proof of health benefits of breastfeeding, and the obvious joy Lily experiences while nursing were not enough, this month the Foundation for the Study of Infant Death concluded that breastfeeding also reduces the chance of SIDS (or, as the British call it, cot death). And researchers in Canada and Belarus also finished a comprehensive study, for the first time controlling for education and socio-economic factors by dividing mothers in Belarus into two groups: one in which mothers were encouraged to breastfeed by their care providers and one in which no additional encouragement was offered. The results showed that breastfed children are smarter, and perform better in school than their formula-fed counterparts.

How?

Although the difference in IQ points and academic performance were the main thrust of the story, I was struck by another of the study’s conclusions related to the role of care providers in encouraging breastfeeding:

Those in the breast-feeding encouragement group were, on average, breast-fed longer than the others and were less likely to have been given f*rmula in a bottle.

At 3 months, 73 percent of the babies in the breast-feeding encouragement group were breast-fed, compared to 60 percent of the other group. At 6 months, it was 50 percent versus 36 percent.

In addition, the group given encouragement was far more likely to give their children only breast milk. The rate was seven times higher, for example, at 3 months.

If simply encouraging breastfeeding has such a huge and measurable impact on the success of breastfeeding, why do doctors still continue to pass out free f*rmula at prenatal and well-baby visits? Why are there so few hospitals with the WHO’s Baby Friendly designation, or with trained lactation consultants on staff? Why do so many store owners, airline stewardesses, and other members of the public ask breastfeeding mothers to leave, stop nursing, or cover up?

Why am I so lucky to live in a place where I am surrounded by other women nursing toddlers? This is the real answer to how I’ve managed to breastfeed my daughter for two years: support from other breastfeeding mothers.

Yes, my supply was so immense after Lily’s birth that she literally choked on my let-down. But I had someone there to tell me that it wouldn’t last forever (and it didn’t). Yes, Lily rubbed her tender gums on my nipples when she first started teething, the discomfort of which, especially at night when I was trying to sleep, was agonizing. But again, someone was there to commiserate and to offer advice and support. Lily has had periods of twiddling, pinching, poor latch, and marathon-nursing. But I have been able to find all the support I needed from my local API support group, various online groups and forums, and blogs like this one. It has helped me not only survive the past two years, but enjoy them in a way that would not have been possible if I had gone it alone.

- Julie

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APtly Said, Formerly API Speaks launched in April of 2008 as part of Attachment Parenting International's larger effort to offer interactive content through their newly-redesigned web site: http://www.attachmentparenting.org. All contributors to APtly Said, as with so many of API's staff, are volunteers who donate their time and energy to promote Attachment Parenting world wide.


{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Justine May 9, 2008 at 6:06 am

My newest little one (Mathilda, 8 weeks old tomorrow!) was a three day marathon nurser after her birth, as well. Many of most cherished parenting memories are of nursing my babies.

I do still despise the awkward looks people will give me in public while I am openly– yet discreetly– nursing. I don’t use special covers or hide what I am doing, but i certainly do not let it all hang out, either.

Yet, people still seem to be a freaked out by seeing a tiny peek of my cleavage when a baby is in the vicinity even though they seem to ignore the covers of all the check-out rags with half dressed models on them! It really is a shame when displays of public sexuality are more acceptable then public dispalys of healthy parenting.

Thanks for sharing your nursing experiences, Julie

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Sonja May 9, 2008 at 10:52 am

Both of my children were born in hospitals, and my second child had to go back to the hospital when he was 2 days old and stay for two nights. This gave me an opportunity to observe a way in which breastfeeding is undermined in hospitals that I rarely see written about: the pervasive assumption that the baby would be eating on a fixed schedule. Whenever the nurses happened by and I wasn’t currently nursing the baby, they would ask when the last feeding had been — and were astounded when the answer was always along the lines of “15 minutes ago.” I think if I’d had less confidence in the rightness of nursing on demand, I would have felt pressured into conforming to some kind of every 2-to-3-hours schedule.

I will say that on the pediatric ward, no one blinked an eye that I slept in a chair with him on top of me, instead of leaving him to sleep in his crib. If anyone gave me a hard time about the safety of the situation, I planned to point out to them that since his heart rate and breathing were being monitored, there was no danger of suffocation, but this didn’t turn out to be necessary. Now if only they’d provided a bed for the mother as well as the baby…

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Green Mamma May 10, 2008 at 6:59 pm

The more that I listen to other women and families describe their experiences with breastfeeding, I realize that breastfeeding successfully has much to do with how much support a new mother is given by her partner, family, friends, and extended community (like parenting groups, hospitals, etc.). I have heard many stories of women who stopped nursing because of one hardship or another. I am beginning to believe that more mothers would continue with breastfeeding their child into the toddler years if the greater communities largely understood and supported breastfeeding. I nurse wherever I go; I hope that mothers and fathers as well as potential parents will see me with my 16 month old when I am nursing her. Perhaps simply by seeing the natural and wonderful act of feeding one’s child will help those unacquainted with breastfeeding to accept it as a beautiful and necessary part of parenting.

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Scylla May 14, 2008 at 2:53 pm

Support is so important. I intend on nursing until Otter weans himself, which given his absolute love of breast-milk, may be when he is 40.

The benefits of breastfeeding outweigh the negatives by so much. Like you, I have been gnawed on, bitten, marathoned, and more, but I still get such a sense of relief when I hear him gulping down my milk.

I feel so incredibly successful when he pulls off, tummy full, and gives me that adorable milk drunk baby look. I am happy to know he gets everything he needs, foodwise, from me.

I am proud to nurse. I will do so where-ever I need to, and I pity the person who tries to stop me. Most states have passed legislation stating that women have the right to breastfeed anywhere they have a right to be, and I have been known to trot the statutes out when urged to move by others.

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Josephine February 24, 2010 at 6:34 am

My two breastfed dughters Chantal and Charlene have given me the reason to support other mothers to breastfeed. We have all enjoyed the benefits of breastfeeding and now sharing it with other babies. Thanks to API for the news letter that Iam able to read and gain understanding on a couple of parenting isues even whwen Iam not a member. Coming from a country where there are no parenting experts and support groups, Iam grateful for you.

Cheers,

Josephine

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