Most moms and babies, if given time, good info, and tons of support, can overcome breastfeeding obstacles they might encounter in the first few weeks. In very rare cases, breastfeeding doesn’t work out despite a mom’s best efforts (reasons may include a medical condition for either mom or baby, or a baby who refuses the breast and can’t be wooed back). Still other mothers choose not to breastfeed for various reasons — and these reasons are often complicated, multi-layered, and truly not anyone’s business to judge.
When I encounter a mother who can’t breastfeed or has to wean in an untimely manner, I always tell her that breastfeeding, for me, is about love more than anything else, and that she will find her way to express and exchange this love with her baby.
I was thinking about this a little more. What do I mean by this — what does breastfeeding teach me about loving my children?
I realized — it’s all about touch. Each time they come to me to nurse, they smell me, hear my heart beat, hear my voice vibrating, touch my hair.
Each time I feed them, I am simultaneously nurturing them. Almost all nursing mothers have had that moment when a fussy baby latches on and lets out a big sigh of relief — not just to be eating, but also to be soothed.
Each time I nurse my babies, I am required to be in close physical contact with them, holding them, skin against skin. There is no option of feeding them in a baby seat, car seat, etc.
Anyone who nurses beyond the first few months learns that breastfeeding is much more than simply nourishment. You, your body, your breasts — all become a place of comfort and solace for your child. Instead of looking for a blanket, a pacifier, a toy, your child comes to YOU. Your child learns that people are where to find comfort, not things. Even if your child uses a comfort object eventually, this lesson of finding comfort in the arms of a caregiver runs deep.
So for the mother who can’t nurse, let your body be the place of comfort.
Bottle feed your baby in your arms, against your skin, even against your breasts. If you choose to use a pacifier, hold your baby while she sucks on it. Teach him to come to you when he needs to be soothed. Get a sling, a wrap. Walk with your baby. Sleep with your baby, at least sometimes. Go with your instincts. Do your best. Find a group of like-minded moms. Shut out the naysayers.
Hold your baby. Hold your baby. You can’t hold her too much. I promise.