Saturday, December 11, 2010

Three Amazing Gifts

What gifts has breastfeeding given you or your family? This is the topic for the December Carnival of Breastfeeding. I’ve really had to think about this one a lot before writing about it. I think it has been a little bit different with each child I have breastfed.

Breastfeeding my first child gave me the gift of teaching me how to be a mother. I quickly developed a close relationship with my baby by figuring out his subtle cues that he was ready to nurse.
Through this process I learned how to mother. I learned that nursing is not just about feeding. I think this is the biggest difference between breastfeeding and bottle feeding. I’ve heard it said before that “Bottle feeding is a feeding method, but breastfeeding is a relationship”. I don’t think that is always true for every mother who breastfeeds, for some it is just a feeding method. They develop a relationship in other ways, just like mothers who bottle feed also develop a relationship with their baby. I’ve heard it described as the difference between “breastfeeding” and “nursing”. When you are breastfeeding you are “feeding” your child. When you are “nursing” you are mothering your child at your breast. As a breastfeeding mom I could keep all of my focus on my baby. I never had to take my focus away to prepare a bottle, I could bring baby right to my breast. All I needed to do was nurse and mother my baby at the breast, and as an added benefit, that took care of him being fed as well! Breastfeeding my first child gave me that gift, the gift of showing me how to mother my child.

Shortly after the birth of my second child I became seriously ill. This made breastfeeding very challenging at times. For me, breastfeeding was never an option, in was how I was going to care for my baby. There was never the possibility that breastfeeding wouldn’t work, or that bottle feeding was an alternative. Especially after nursing my first baby. I had just learned how to mother my child at the breast. If I didn’t breastfeed then I’d have to learn all over again, a different way to mother!

Fortunately, breastfeeding was well established by the time I became ill. It turned out to be a real blessing, a gift. Nursing allowed me the ability to care for my baby even on days when I couldn’t get out of bed. If I had been bottle feeding, it would have been very easy to turn the care of my baby over to someone else. Think of the countless hours of skin to skin contact and holding between mother and baby that would have been lost if someone took over care of the baby so that I could “rest and get well”. Breastfeeding my second baby gave me the gift of staying close to my baby, and allowing me to still be a mother when I could do little else.

My third baby was adopted. I did not get to have the joy and physical connection of feeling her grow and move inside me. I didn’t have the opportunity to give birth to her, to see her come into the world and hold her warm little body. I did not know I was going to be her mommy, and meet her, until she was 17 days old. I didn’t need to breastfeed her in order to feed her. She had done well her first 17 days in the NICU on bottles of formula. With the children I gave birth to, breastfeeding was easier than formula feeding. No bottles or formula to prepare or wash. Just lift shirt and insert baby. Nighttime feedings with a full supply of milk were a breeze, I never even had to get out of bed! Now I was in a situation where I had a baby, and it was going to be more work to breastfeed. I didn’t have a milk supply, I still needed to use formula (along with some donor breastmilk). Breastfeeding this baby meant at breast supplementers, pumping, and taking a prescription medication to induce, and hopefully bring in, a milk supply. It would have been easy to bottle feed this baby.

However, the first time I put this baby to my breast, at 18 days old, weighing 4 lbs 0 ounces, I was given a gift. I laid back on some pillows on my bed. I took off my shirt, and stripped her down to only her diaper and laid her on my chest. She immediately threw herself down and latched on to my right breast. Her body completely relaxed. I felt her say, “This is my Mommy. I am so glad to be home.” She is still nursing at 17 months old. The physical and emotional bond that has formed between us is amazing. What an awesome gift!