First, as breastfeeding can be a hot topic for mothers, I feel the need to explain that this post is simply about something that I have experienced personally, and not meant to be taken as a judgement on those who have different experiences. Breastfeeding has come relatively easily to me and my girls; in fact, other than a case of mastitis that cleared up on its own and the initial stinging pain during those first few days of newborn latching, I have had no difficulties at all. Who knows how I would have dealt with latching problems, nursing strikes, or low milk production. Would I have pumped day and night to establish or maintain a milk supply when I was already exhausted, or stripped my baby down at each feeding to help her stay awake long enough to eat sufficiently? The truth is, I don’t know. Luckily, I never had to find out.
So, here are the things I love about breastfeeding:
1. Those first few months when they are exclusively breastfed – never again will I have such a portable, ready-to-eat meal that requires no containers, no prep, and no clean-up (unless you count the spit up afterwards…)
2. The way nursing acts as a magical cure-all, for everything from hiccups to cuts and bruises, stuffy noses to tantrums.
3. The way they look up at you with those big baby greys while they’re eating and you feel the overwhelming power of motherly love.
4. Older women smiling down at us while nursing, making comments like ‘Wow. That’s so beautiful,’ and you suddenly realize that, in the grand scheme of life, moments like these are so fleeting. Someday this beautiful baby will be grown, and I’ll be the older woman commenting with nostalgia to another mother nursing her infant, making her feel proud and connected, like she is a part of some ancient order of women.
5. The way they try to talk to you with their mouth full.
6. Not having to get up in the middle of the night to feed the baby; just roll over or lift her out of the bassinette and sleep while she eats.
7. When they stop nursing to look up at you and smile, and everything negative that has happened before that moment just melts away in their smile.
8. The comfort of knowing that, when they are sick with a fever and not eating anything else, they are still getting some nutrients and the antibodies they need to get better.
9. The confidence of knowing that, no matter what your situation, whether you are single or married, live in an apartment or in a mansion, you are giving your baby the best possible start in life.
10. It’s incredibly cost-effective!
OK, breastfeeding is beautiful, but it does not always go smoothly. Here are the things about breastfeeding I could live without:
1. Leaky nipples.
2. Blocked ducts and mastitis.
3. Breast pumps (although these can be a lifesaver, they are so not comfortable to use).
4. The searing pain in the first few days when the baby is learning to latch on.
5. When the little one gets distracted at the same moment as the milk lets down; she turns her head and you watch as a stream of milk hits the man sitting on the bench beside you at the mall.
6. Waking up in the morning after the baby has (finally) slept through the night, with breasts so full they feel like they are about to explode.
7. The snot deposits left over after a feeding when the baby has a cold.
9. Not being able to consume more than a glass or two of wine at a party because the pump and dump is just not worth it the next day.
10. The fact that, no matter how many times you have already woken up to feed the baby, it still has to be you because you are the only one that can make the food.
11. The looks of condescension you get when breastfeeding a toddler.
Yes, I am one of those mothers who have breastfed past a year. I continued to nurse my toddler after I had returned to work full-time, through a pregnancy, and I nursed her at the same time that I nursed her baby sister. In fact, my three year old is still nursing, although not very often and not usually in public. I really wish that those people who give me funny looks would say something, so that I could respond with this:
Children naturally wean between the ages of 2.5 to 7 years of age. In fact, the average age of weaning worldwide is 4.2 years old.
Studies have shown that toddlers who breastfeed are sick less often and less severely than their non-breastfeeding peers. The World Health Organization estimates that continued breastfeeding for children under age 5 would reduce the rate of child mortality by up to 10%.
Children who breastfeed exclusively for the first six months of life and continue to breastfeed for one year or more suffer from fewer allergies and lower their risk of asthma.
The length of time a child breastfeeds is correlated to cognitive achievement. Basically, the longer your child is breastfed, the smarter they will be.
Studies have also shown that children who were allowed to self wean were more well adjusted socially, more confident, and took healthier risks when they were older.
Women who breastfeed for two years or more significantly lower their risk of ovarian, uterine, endometrial, and breast cancers, protect themselves against osteoporosis, reduce their risk of rheumatoid arthritis and can even reduce their insulin requirements if they are diabetic. Plus, breastfeeding women tend to lose weight faster.
But don’t just take my word for it – check out these sites for more information:
Kellymom.com – a well referenced list of all the benefits of continued breastfeeding for both mother and child, collated by someone with a few credentials after her name.
Jack Newman, MD, FRCPC – a well-known breastfeeding advocate and paediatrician, Jack Newman founded the first hospital based breastfeeding clinic in Canada. You can find more information about him and read other articles he’s written here.
La Leche League – originally formed by a group of seven mothers, La Leche League is now an international organization that, among other things, provides local support groups for nursing women.