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Nursing Your Baby is One of the Best Things You Can Do

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My 2 year old nursling

I’m 5 months pregnant here. Matthew is actually sucking his thumb because my milk has already dried up. But he still loved snuggling with mommy, touching my eyelashes. :-) He began nursing again regularly once his baby brother was born and my milk came back in.

It was 1970, I was 9 years old and my mother married my stepfather. A year later their first child was born. One thing I will never forget is seeing the look of love and pure adoration on my baby sister’s face as she peered up at my mother, her little mouth attached to my mother’s breast.  Sometimes she would pull off and break out in this huge milky grin looking right at my mom.  I knew that I wanted to experience that when I had my own children.

My mother nursed me but did so on a very rigid schedule. She tells me how she would sit in her room and cry and cry while I laid in my crib screaming.  The doctor told her that she must only nurse me for ten minutes on each side and then every four hours.  He said that I must be allowed to cry to strengthen my lungs.  As a young mother attending La Leche League I learned about foremilk and hindmilk, and that lungs did not need to be strengthened by crying.  It is likely I rarely had hindmilk due to the way I was nursed.  My mother weaned me at six months, onto powdered skimmed milk because regular milk caused me to projectile vomit.  I think I probably spent the first year of my life starving.

When I was 22 months old my baby sister was born.  My father told my mom she could not nurse their newest child.  Mom was ten pounds overweight and my father wanted her to drop those pounds as soon as possible.  I learned in La Leche League that nursing mothers need a few extra pounds – nature has provided that weight for a reason.  And since nursing uses extra calories, moms quite often naturally lose those extra pounds.

My mom nursed all of her children, except for my one sister.  And it just so happens my mom has always had a terrible time with resentment towards my sister.  Mom used to go to prayer meetings and ask for special prayer, so that she could love her daughter and not feel so resentful toward her.  My sister and I were determined to nurse our children, for we did not want to risk not bonding as it appeared happened with our mother.   I was scared out of my wits to have a second child!  I was so scared I would not love my second born child.  My mom has six children.  She is close to five of them, but the one she clashes with and has resentment towards, she did not nurse.  Of all the children she should have nursed, it certainly should have been my sister, I believe she would have been able to overcome the feelings of resentment.

When my first child was born in 1986, my plan was to nurse him for at least six months, because that’s what my mother had done.  Matthew and I had a rough time of it immediately after he was born.  First of all, because he had Down Syndrome he had low muscle tone, and he was a very sleepy baby.  I feel fortunate that the hospital encouraged me to keep him in the hospital bed with me  and they were very pro-breastfeeding.   Matthew was 24 hours old before I was able to successfully nurse him with the aid of the hospital’s lactation consultant.

I had to return to work when Matthew was nine weeks old, and I thought my heart would break.  I was so glad I was nursing him, so that we had that special closeness.  We would have a nursing session just before I left for work, and the minute I walked in the door at the end of the day.  His father was the stay at home dad.

My job was not too encouraging when it came to nursing.  Both of my supervisors kept telling me to feed cereal to my infant to “fill him up”.  They told me my milk would dry up around four months of age because that is when their milk dried up.  Later attending LLL I learned that two things happen around the time a baby reaches four months of age: baby has a growth spurt and the breasts finally get in the groove of making milk.  I learned the baby has to spend a good deal of time at the breast to increase supply.  It can be frightening to a new mom to have empty sagging breasts with a baby that only wants to nurse, nurse, nurse and nurse some more!  Without the proper information, one might think the baby is starving. But the baby is only doing what he or she has been programmed to do.  Nurse, nurse and nurse some more to build up the milk supply!

When I first went back to work I pumped at lunch time.  Sadly the only place for me to express my milk was in a restroom stall.  And for the icing on the cake, I only had half an hour lunch so I had to express my milk and eat lunch sitting on a toilet.  “Good times,” as Matt would say. As it turns out, Matthew refused to drink from a bottle and eventually I stopped gathering milk for him at noon.  Matthew made his own schedule.  Thank goodness we practiced the family bed!  He nursed most of each night, and thankfully I slept through most of the night.  I basically turned from one side to the next, latching him from one breast the other throughout the night.  On weekends we had marathon nursing sessions and by Monday lunch I was painfully engorged.  But eventually my body settled into the routine.

We didn’t learn that Matthew had Down Syndrome until he was three months old which was a terrible shock.  It felt like the world went black for about three days.  We were told it was in a sense as if our baby had died.  But I’ll never forget the wonderful woman who told me that Matthew would always be more normal than not.  I hung onto that for dear life.

We took Matthew for therapy at Easter Seals from the time he was about six months old, and our speech therapist was very happy that I was nursing.  She encouraged me to nurse Matthew for as long as I could. She said it was “hands down, THE BEST speech therapy that a child could have” because of the mechanics involved for the tongue and mouth in breastfeeding.

My bosses were wrong.  My baby thrived on my breast milk alone (until he was 13 months old).  And I was a well rested mama, even though my baby nursed only at night. I had two coworkers with young babies who were nodding off at their computer terminals because they were bottle feeding and of course that meant several night feedings.  I was so thankful that I was nursing my baby.

I didn’t think much about my diet.  I felt I was eating healthy since I didn’t eat a lot of candy and soda, plus I cooked a lot of meals from scratch.  But sad to say, my diet was definitely Standard American at the time with plenty of sugar, white flour, pasta and margarine, etc.

We were on a tight budget and I didn’t make a ton of money, I was only 23 years old with no college education or degree, I barely had a GED. As I mentioned earlier, my husband stayed at home with our child.  We could not have afforded formula of any kind, store bought or homemade.

I found a La Leche League group that met in the evening for working moms.  I learned so much about the wonderful benefits of nursing my child.  Not only did I have that wonderful closeness, but my breastmilk was protecting my child.  One of the things I learned that blew my mind was that the breast manufactures antibodies to anything the child has been exposed to, and I still find myself in awe at the miraculous business of breastfeeding.

When Matthew was 2 and a half years old, his little brother was born.  I had of course learned about tandem nursing and planned to nurse my toddler and my newborn.

Matthew nursed one time at the hospital while I was in the labor and my not so nice labor nurse complained that he was drinking up all the colostrum.  I knew that was not true, and thankfully my doctor at the time agreed, and set the nurse straight.

I can tell you one thing, there were no engorgement problems the second time around because my toddler was a very happy little boy to discover there was plenty of mommy milk again.  I went on to tandem nurse for the next 2.5 years and Matthew weaned when he was around 5 years old.

Fast forward to 2003.  We bought our first milking goat.  In the process of learning about dairy goats, milking, and the wonders of raw milk, I learned about the Weston A. Price Foundation.   It took me some time to get a copy of Nourishing Traditions because I had done the low fat diet in my early 30s and was completely against any kind of diet.  “Diet” to me meant restriction, and restriction meant deprivation and cravings.  When I finally got around to reading Nourishing Traditions, I was surprised to find that the book and WAPF did not seem to promote breastfeeding as strongly as I would have thought.  I knew how important breast milk was for baby humans, and I was acutely aware of the importance for facial development and for speech therapy.

Here is a snippet from the article I linked to earlier from Katy who writes at Aligned and Well where she describes how it works:

The milking baby has to use the muscles in the tongue to create and maintain a U shape, cradling the nipple. {For those of you think you genetically cannot U, read this (click).} Then the tongue has to do a crazy amount of work (as in W=F x d) that changes based on where their tongue is on the nipple, but never decreasing to the point of losing a muscular vacuum. Which is why you need calculus to model the forces of breast feeding. It’s hugely complicated. And FYI, so it eating. I mean, eating is easy. But the muscular forces involved in getting food to your mouth, chewing it and then swallowing are numerous. Which is why they have you get a Master’s Degree to do oral/swallow/speech therapy (or any physical therapy). It’s not as simple as a month-long (or a year-long) course makes it appear.

Bottle nipples differ (mechanically speaking) from human nipples in that you don’t milk them, you suck on them. And the synthetic nipple does not deform as the breastfeeding nipple does, nor does an artificial nipple adapt to the growing mouth of the growing child. Meaning, the baby’s mouth sets the geometry of the breast’s nipple, and not the other way around.

During the years that we had our goats I was approached by a woman who wanted to purchase our goat’s milk for the purpose of making baby formula ala Weston A. Price Foundation.  I was surprised to learn that this mama had been weighing her baby before and after each nursing session and was convinced she was not making enough milk and so she wanted to make her own homemade formula with part of that recipe being our raw goat’s milk.

I can’t help but wonder if she had had more support, would she have been able to nurse her child with only her breastmilk?

I believe that nursing one’s baby is extremely important, even vitally important to the healthy development of one’s child. Breastfeeding comes easy to some mothers, while for others it is more difficult.  Even if your diet is not perfect, I believe the child still benefits hugely.  There are components to breast milk that can never be recreated with an artificial or homemade formula.  I realize that there are situations where a mother absolutely cannot nurse her child, but I think if there are too many easy solutions available it is easier to not take the time, or put in the effort.  For example, we learned in La Leche League that moms who had hospital births should refuse the samples of formula to avoid temptation.  In the cases where a woman truly cannot nurse her child, I think the best solution is as Dr. Natasha suggests, to find human breast milk.  But I truly think these cases are far and few between, and education is vitally important.   There are problems that can be addressed and fixed, like tongue tie or lip tie (a condition common to those with MTHFR genetic mutations), improper latching, thrush, just to name a few.  Or maybe you have low supply but something as simple as drinking more water would increase your supply.  Nutrition certainly factors in as well, some new mothers are obsessed with losing those last pounds of “baby fat” not realizing it is normal and will eventually resolve itself.  Believe it or not I learned a whole other side to “breastfeeding” when we had our goats.  Little things as I mentioned above like not drinking enough water affecting supply.  Our goats thought rain was poison and would stay in the barn all day long if it was raining. It never failed the next day everyone’s milk production was down, even though we’d placed water in the barn for them.

Since learning about GAPS, I am even more convinced of the importance of breastfeeding.  If the mother (and the father) have gut dysbiosis (each generation seems to have worse gut dysbiosis than the last), the child will have gut dysbiosis.  There are many cases of children becoming autistic soon after being weaned and this is because the mother’s milk was providing protection to the child against his abnormal gut flora.  There are telltale signs of gut dysbiosis, click here to learn the conditions which stem from it listed at Dr. Natasha’s blog.

I’ll end with a quote from Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride from her New Baby page at her website:

I cannot emphasize strongly enough, how important it is to breastfeed your baby! Particularly in those first few days, when colostrum is produced.

If you cannot do it yourself, try to find a wet nurse or a breast milk donor: a good place to start looking for one is in your maternity ward before giving birth (if you arrived to the hospital in a planned fashion) or straight after giving birth. In order to insure good supply of breast milk for your baby, it is practical to look for 2-4 wet nurses or breast milk donors. Look for healthy women who live not too far away from you. Even in the case of formula feeding supplementing your baby’s diet with some breast milk (even occasional) will do wonders for your baby’s development and overall health. No commercial formula will ever get close to the quality of breast milk!

If you are looking for support in nursing your baby, please contact La Leche League International.  They are a wonderful organization who can help you be successful at nursing your baby.  I learned so much from my La Leche League group and will be forever grateful to the wonderful women who were there to teach me and support me to be the best mother I could be for my children.  I believe I learned to parent my own inner child at the same time.  Thanks for reading!

This post is included at the Breastfeeding Support Blog Party.  Visit Hybrid Rasta Mama’s site to read more powerful posts in support of breastfeeding.

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