Nursing is nursing, whether your baby is drowning in milk, or just lightly sucking.
It’s nursing, whether your child does it because he wants a meal, an appetizer, a snack, or dessert.
It’s nursing, whether your child is hungry, starving, thirsty, tired, or just wants to connect.
All of it “counts.”
When we say that those flutter sucks at the end of a nursing session are “just pacifying,” we forget that a mother may have another “letdown” late in a feeding, and the baby may get more milk.
When we say that it’s “just for comfort” when a baby wants to nurse “again” after nursing a few minutes ago, we forget that babies go through growth spurts and often want to nurse very often to increase a mother’s milk supply.
And when we say the middle of the night nursing is just “for soothing” after a certain age, we discount the constant caloric needs of older babies and toddlers – and that it is as normal for children to seek comfort as it is for them to seek food.
Most of all, we make mothers feel that this kind of nursing shouldn’t go on because it doesn’t “count” as real feeding. Making some sort of distinction between “actual nursing” and “comfort nursing” can be really confusing for moms, and discounts the fact that babies come to the breast for many reasons, all of them valid. Even more than that, if mothers don’t let their babies “comfort nurse,” they are at risk for low supply and early weaning.
There is a psychological and spiritual value for mothers in providing comfort at the breast. There is no such thing as a “human pacifier.” The breast was the original way that human babies and toddlers satisfied their inborn, biological need to suck, and there is no reason to justify why you have chosen to let your child do this instead of (and sometimes in conjunction with) bottles and pacifiers.
But even beyond that, “comfort feeding” and “snacking” are actually really important for establishing and maintaining your milk supply!
While some moms can do an “every 2-3 hour” feeding schedule and produce a plentiful milk supply, it is equally common for mothers to need to nurse more frequently than that to maintain a full milk supply (especially in the early months). The most important factor in establishing and maintaining a milk supply is the frequency that a mother nurses (along with the effectiveness of the baby’s sucking). So very frequent nursing in those early months (sometimes hourly or more!) is normal and useful for milk supply.
Some mothers expect to sit down for 20-30 minutes, breastfeed, and then not have to feed their babies again for 2-3 hours. The thing is that sometimes a baby will only want to nurse for 5-10 minutes (an appetizer, perhaps). Then an hour later, will want to nurse for another few minutes (a snack?). And then a little while later, that baby might nurse for a good 20 minutes (a meal!) and finally conk out asleep. That same baby might wake-up soon after for dessert!
Really, the idea of a nursing “schedule” can sort of get thrown out the window with babies. Yes, patterns do develop, and they can be helpful in planning your life. But even when patterns develop, they change (hello, crazy growth spurts). If you try not to analyze or control things too much, and just go with it, you’ll find nursing much easier.
So let your baby pacify, snack, comfort. Don’t question why your baby needs to nurse “again.” Remember that each time your baby nurses, you are feeding your baby, maintaining your milk supply, and showering your baby with love and safety – all at once. Good job, mama!