Today 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.
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.
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.