I think I will turn this post into one in the "Why Do I" series that I promised to write. We visited the Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche in St. Augustine on the Friday afternoon the day before we left the beach. It was a rainy afternoon, and so hitting the pool or beach one last time was out. So we braved the rain to come here. Above is the statue in the tiny chapel there, showing Mary nursing the infant Jesus.
Of note before I move into the Why Do I part... Caroline was so excited in the gift shop here. She kept saying things like, "Look, a statue of St. Anne!" and "It's a painting of the Last Supper!" Not stuff she typically sees in a store! We couldn't resist buying a few books and medals.
So, as we were finishing up in the gift shop, Cecilia began to ask for "nuh-nuhs." I told her we'd nurse once we got to the chapel, which was through the rain about a hundred yards or so from the gift shop. What a perfect place to nurse!!
So, why do I mother my children through breastfeeding?
The short answer: Because I don't know how else I would do it! That, and I am lazy. ;P
As presented in the statue of Our Lady of La Leche, breastfeeding is so much more than a mechanical act of putting food into a baby. It is about bonding between a mother and her child. It is this first relationship where the child learns about love, unconditional love. It is a source of food, yes, but also a source of warmth, a source of comfort. The baby is provided with skin-to-skin contact with his mother while nursing, which has many benefits which I will not go into here.
So, what do I mean when I say "mothering through breastfeeding"?
This phrase means that I view breastfeeding as so much more than just feeding. Nursing a baby naturally provides him with more than food. It is a God-given means of caring for an infant. Hungry baby? Nurse him. Crying baby? Nurse him. Sleepy baby? Nurse him (and he'll probably fall asleep). To me, it is about believing that my body was made to fully care for this little one.
Babies are born pretty helpless when compared to most other mammals. They can't even walk for about a year after they are born... think about horses and cows, whose offspring walk soon after birth. Human babies are designed to be in-arms, which also happens to be close to the breast.
Contrast this type of breastfeeding (on-demand, for comfort, for bonding) with "cultural breastfeeding" - as merely a source of food. The infant is left with an unsatisfied sucking urge (he recieves comfort from sucking). In cultural breastfeeding, the non-nutritive sucking need is often filled with a pacifier, perhaps along with other measures in attempts to provide comfort, such as a swing or bouncy seat. Not that these items are inherently bad, but they can be overused (especially for complacent babies who don't protest being in them for long periods) in place of the mother and her breasts. Babies don't want or need all these gadgets - they want to be in their mothers' arms and at her breast, because that is how they were naturally created to be.
When thinking of the Virgin Mary nursing the infant Jesus, one does not picture a baby with a pacifier. One does not picture a baby being carried in a "baby bucket" carseat. Instead, one sees a portrait of natural mothering in Mary's perfect nurturing of baby Jesus, who, as the times dictated, was probably nursed until he was about three years old. Another aspect of maothering through breastfeeding - there is no set weaning date, no rush to get the child weaned from the breast, because to do so would be to give up a very powerful mothering tool! Breastfeeding can soothe a hurt or upset child, provide comfort during teething, give stability during times of stress in the child's life, calm a tantrum, and put a cranky and tired toddler to sleep... and it is portable and always ready! That's what I mean when I made the "lazy" comment above - tongue-in-cheek, of course. It is not about being lazy - it is about doing what is natural and God-given, but it also happens to be simplistic overall... no need to overthink every situation because nursing can so often be the solution.
But, you may ask, won't this spoil the child?
This seems to be the major objection that our culture has to mothering through breastfeeding - that it will create a spoiled and clingy child. Interestingly, this is not a concern at all in cultures where breastfeeding on-demand and for comfort is the norm. The early years are a time for the child to learn about love and trust. He learns that his mother is there for him, as a comforter as well as a nutrient-provider. It is based upon this first relationship, the biologically-intended relationship with his mother, that a child learns about unconditional love and receives a strong foundation from which he can gradually learn to become independent. He knows he can depend on the security of his mother's love and thus learns to form other loving relationships as he grows and matures. It may take longer than what our society deems as the "appropriate" age for a child to become "independent" from his mother, but it will happen. It is this natural mothering that enables the child to confidently go out on his own, when he reaches that point.
A term that was coined by Sheila Kippley, founder of the Couple to Couple League along with her husband John, is ecological breastfeeding. This term refers to the type of natural mothering through breastfeeding and how it affects the return of a mother's fertility. God designed us to have natural periods of infertility, and the time following the birth of a child is one of these times, so that we would not be having a baby every year. Makes sense - built-in times so that the woman's body can recover, so the baby gets to be the baby for more than just ten or so months. But - this natural infertile time happens with on-demand, mothering-through-breastfeeding types of nursing and not so much with cultural breastfeeding. Although each woman's body can vary and there are probably other environmental factors affecting each person's fertility as well, for the most part, following the norms of ecological breastfeeding are what keep a woman's body in that infertile post-partum stage for longer than it would if she was not breastfeeding or was breastfeeding on more of a schedule.
The standards or "rules" (I prefer not to think of them that way) of ecological breastfeeding are:
* nursing on-demand around the clock
* all sucking needs met at breast (no pacifiers or bottles)
* no supplemental formula, water, juice, or early solid foods ("early" means before about 6 months of age)
* pacifying the baby at the breast
* sleeping with the baby for night-feedings
* mother-baby togetherness (mother does not leave baby)
It is ecological breastfeeding that first got me interested in mothering through breastfeeding, in natural childbirth, in La Leche League... everything. So, it began with reading this book which was recommended through the Natural Family Planning home study course we were using in an effort to avoid artificial birth control and follow the teachings of the Catholic Church. Natural Family Planning really did change my life... to the point that it showed me this wonderful way of mothering my small children!
click the photo to be able to read the words
A few links related to mothering through breastfeeding, including one I just discovered today:
Breastfeeding in the land of Genghis Khan
Mom describes ecological breastfeeding/link to Sheila Kippley's books
Standards of Eco-Breastfeeding