Sunday, December 09, 2007

52 Weeks Down - Week 30 - Nurse - and Encouraging Nursing

This may seem like one of those things that applies mostly to a specialized audience - but not really. That is, breastfeeding itself is something done only by women, and only at a particular time of life. But the culture has an enormous role in enabling nursing, and it is hard to overstate the value of breastfeeding - for the health of children, the health of mothers and for food security in general. The fact that America has one of the lowest rates of breastfeeding initiation in the world is part and parcel of industrial culture, and our deep lack of support for breastfeeding and family life.

Why nurse? Well, first there's the money. A year of formula feeding costs upwards of $1000 if you buy the cheapest formula, and several thousand if your child is one of the many that requires special formulas because they cannot easily digest cows milk proteins. Then, there's the energy investment - formula is manufactured industrially, shipped, must be refrigerated, and requires a host of accoutrements. Breastfeeding, if you are with the baby, requires breasts. You don't even need to buy special shirts or bras - just pull things up if you don't want to make the investment (although actually I think nursing bras are a good investment - but I've met those who don't).

Then there's the health benefits, which are, of course, economic as well as medical. Better health means less cost, less time lost to illness, a greater degree of personal happiness. Studies suggest that breastfed babies have lower rates of obesity, diabetes, lymphoma, asthma, allergies , SIDS and high cholesterol. Medical researchers are finding that what we eat in the first two years has an enormous role to play in future health. For mothers who breastfeed, the benefits are similarly great - lowered rates of breast and ovarian cancer, fewer fractures and less osteoporosis later on.

There are women who cannot nurse, and for them, formula, goat's milk or donated breastmilk are better choices. There will always be adoptive mothers, and women who could have nursed but didn't because of a society that makes it extremely difficult. This is not an attempt to make anyone feel bad - but it is an attempt to point out that breastfeeding is the environmentally sound choice, the economically wise one, and it requires the support not just of nursing mothers, but their families and friends, who have enormous power to support and encourage breastfeeding mothers.

The simple fact is that breastfeeding initiation rates in other countries indicate that a majority of women who believe they "can't" nurse can - that is, most nations have successful breastfeeding initiation rates over 90%. The US's numbers are only 66%. But the real trouble is revealed at longer intervals - because "initiation" in the US means you nurse 1 day in the hospital. But, of course, as all breastfeeding Moms know, getting started with nursing takes weeks, sometimes months, not a day. At six months, only 19% of all American infants are being nursed. Six months is the *absolute minimum* that is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

That means a slight majority of American women are attempting breastfeeding, and most are discarding it by the end of the first month. In part that's because maternity leaves are too short and workplace support for nursing mothers minimal, especially among working class people. In part that's because of the enormous power of formula companies to give out free samples, advertise and tell parents that formula is practically the same as breastmilk. It is due to the rising C-section rates that make it physically difficult for women to nurse.

But women also fail to nurse because of lack of support from friends, family and community, from a misplaced fear that people don't want to see them nursing (a majority of Americans believe women should be allowed to nurse anytime, any place), and because they believe it is "too hard" for them. And when you tell people something is disgusting, or too hard or bad long enough, they tend to believe it. I know well educated women who gave up nursing because the baby nursed "too often" not realizing that nursing is often nearly constant early on, and that women need to have time nurse their new babies. I know women who had the time who couldn't handle the physical pain from poor positioning or cracked nipples, and received no support, and lots of encouragement to stop. Fathers and brothers, husbands and friends - we all have enormous power to enable breastfeeding. We can stop buy and take the older kids or do a load of laundry for a new Mom so she can nurse. We can pass a woman nursing a baby in a public place and tell her how much we like to see that. We can encourage our local community centers, churches, synagogues, gyms and other public facilities to provide comfortable, comforting places for women to nurse. We can demand that our workplaces be supportive of nursing women - these are things everyone can do. We can say to people who comment negatively on nursing, or on older children nursing "Oh, I think it is great."

I've been nursing now for almost eight consecutive years. It wasn't always easy - it hurt at first, and Eli nursed near-constantly. I was fortunate that I was able to nurse him because Eli couldn't take a bottle - he never learned how to latch on to one. So for the first months of his life, I had to be with him all the time. Fortunately, Brandeis University where I was a teacher and graduate student was enormously supportive of my bringing him to campus, and later, of my pumping milk for my second child. Fortunately, I had family and friends who could help me. Otherwise, I would never have made it.

I nursed Eli until he was three, tandem nursing with new baby Simon. Simon weaned a few weeks before little brother Isaiah was born, Isaiah weaned at 3 (worldwide, the average age of weaning is 4), and Asher, at 2, is winding down, nursing only for the occasional nap. Still, I'm in no hurry to stop - as much as there's a part of me that would like to have my body back to myself, there's another part that is aware that nursing women are valuable to society as a whole.

One of the things I'm acutely aware of in a lower energy world with more and more climate change induced disasters is how essential nursing can be. Think about the infants in the superdome, dehydrated because they couldn't find formula - as difficult as it would be to nurse under those circumstances, at least the baby would have something. Think about what may happen if an energy crisis precipitates food supply problems, and women cannot get formula. Nursing women aren't just doing the best thing for their own health and their child's, but for their communities - nursing women are a resource that may someday enable the survival of an infant in a crisis. Because milk supplies can be built - a woman nursing one baby can go to nursing two. A woman with a toddler can supplementally nurse someone's infant. A woman who has been nursing can re-lactate. In hard times, a nursing woman is a gift to the future - a gift that may ensure the future for some child.

Sharon

48 comments:

BoysMom said...

What did you do in order to nurse during pregnancy? My oldest self-weaned by the end of the first trimester with my second. He acted like it didn't taste good anymore.
At least he was past one. They've all nursed at least that long. Once they get really mobile, nursing seems to loose their interest. #2 was about eighteen months. #3 is at fourteen months and counting, but he's going to be in trouble if he doesn't give up the midnight nursing soon. (A downside of co-sleeping.)

Marnie said...

Hi boysmom,

I understand the difficulty of the midnight feedings and cosleeping. My 3 and 1/2 year daughter stopped her 2am feeding about 6 months ago and is just starting to self-wean (just a 5am feed now). The lack of sleep does a number on you, but I encourage you to stick with it. I'm amazed at the amount of stuff that people expect sleep-deprived mothers to do. How well would anybody else function at their profession if they were woken up every night for a fair amount of time? (I hope you have lots of "hey I'm a tired Mom" help during the day!) But the toddler nursing can be especially helpful during the typical bouts of sickness that toddlers get, and during immunizations (if you do so). Everybody asks "how are you handling weaning?" with that worried look on their face, and the nice thing is, I'm not and I don't have to. Just like your little ones, she just stopped asking! It's not always been easy, but the benefits at the end are lovely.

Hang in there!

Richard said...

I had not really thought about post-peak oil implications of breast feeding, only the health and economic benefits. Thanks for the post.

I think it was from a lactation consultant who told me and DW that the number one predictor of successful breastfeeding (I assume in the U.S.) is support from the husband. I gave her DW that support, and she nursed #1 for 2 years and the twins for a year while working long hours as a physician and getting 6-8 weeks maternity leave.

Guys - Sharon is absolutely right. Everyone has an important role to play.

Robyn M. said...

Thank you for this post, Sharon. I had amazing support from my husband for nursing both of our boys, and I know that made the difference for us, and I nursed both of them until they were two. While we lived in the south, the saddest thing kept happening. While I was nursing in public, women would stop and say something like the following, "Oh, you're nursing--that's wonderful! I tried to nurse, but... (fill in the blank)." Most of the reasons for failure were transparently lack of good support and good information; I was always so saddened to see this.

Another reason to breastfeed: they're finding that children who were breastfed tend to have a broader palate for flavors than children who were formula-fed. Flavors do make it through into the milk (in some capacity), so the theory is that breastfed children are exposed to more flavors from the beginning, rather than the monotonous identical flavor with every feeding. This helps make them more accepting of new flavors in their diets when they begin solid foods. Neat, eh?

katuah said...

Sharon - great post. And so tragically correct, that mothers don't get the support they deserve. When our daughter was born (a C-section, as you mention), the lactation consultant at the hospital was worse than useless. With the pediatrician freaking out about our baby's weight loss, and no one in the family who knew anything about breastfeeding, we were being pressured hard to put her on formula. I admire my partner for her utter determination - even though she never was able to get our daughter to understand the "latch on," she used an electric breast pump for over nine months, putting the breast milk into bottles. Our little one even learned to associate that rhythmic drone of the pump with sleeping time. Certainly, many of the comforting aspects of the nursing bond were lessened, but the benefits are so obvious. Our daughter has a kickin' immune system now, and has never shown any signs of food allergies at all.

In addition to your excellent suggestions, I'd like to add - find and spread information on nursing support groups, like LaLeche League. We didn't find them until way way too late to change our situation, and I'm sure others are in the same boat. There's help available, but too often people have no idea where to look.

Anonymous said...

My grandmother was born a twin, and her mother couldn't nurse them both. My grandmother survived because another nursing mother was able to feed her too.

Breastfeeding is nothing short of miraculous, and should be considered one of God's gifts to us.

Anonymous said...

Kudos to you Sharon!

(Say she who is 40 with no children, and who is amazed at eight years of continuous breast feeding. Wow).

Anna Marie

Rosa said...

One thing I think we can work on is the message that it doesn't have to be all or nothing. Once you have established breastfeeding, most babies will switch back and forth easily (though like Sharon's son some won't ever learn to use or like a bottle). If you've been breastfeeding long enough you have a *lot* of flexibiity (though it might hurt).

Under heavy pressure from my partner, and our pediatrician suggesting that our toddler might not be eating enough because he so obviously preferred breastmilk to other foods, I weaned my son at 23 months.

Two months later we were traveling and having a bad day and he would not sleep. After a couple hours of fighting with each other i finally asked him, "Do you want to nurse?" He looked truly pitiful and said "Yes." And I could. After TWO MONTHS. It took another month or two before I stopped feeling twinges off and on during the day.

Because most of the literature is aimed at mothers of newborns, I think a lot of women get the impression that if you want to breastfeed you will always be tied to a specific schedule and any deviation from it or supplementing means losing the ability to continue breastfeeding.

On the other hand, because it's so acceptable to *not* breastfeed, it's easy for employers to not give moms the support they need early in the process, so lots of women never get established enough that they can easily use a pump or have an irregular feeding schedule. A two or four-week maternity leave is just insufficient for most people.

BoysMom said...

Marnie, I have a five and a three year old as well as the baby. Tired Mom help? I wish! I have perpetual motion boys. My husband works full-time and we have a small business on the side, which is like another full-time job for him. The only 'help' I get is little boys with more desire than coordination 'washing' the dishes, but not actually getting them clean, while spilling two sinkfuls of water on the floor.

I won't make Baby wean, but I may make him sleep in the crib. He's too little to sleep with his brothers and could potentially fall out of their bed anyway. It's just cold at night to be alone in bed. I'd rather wait until spring, but gosh am I tired!

Nursing, besides being good for all the other things folks have mentioned, is also supposed to give an IQ boost. I wonder why our media reports it that way, though. Shouldn't it be the other way around? Formula feeding harms the immune system, drops the child's IQ, causes pickier eaters, etc.?

Leila said...

Nursing other people's kids - where did I read about an Israeli guy who was out with his dad in Israel, met up with an Arab man who embraced his father warmly; turns out that before '48, the families had lived next door to each other in a mixed neighborhood and the Arab man's mother had nursed the Jewish man as a baby, because his mother didn't have enough milk. So the Arab man considered the Jewish man his milk brother - no matter what happened in '48 and later.

Well since I can't remember the details, this story is only legend, but I have heard more than once from Palestinians about such close relations with their Jewish neighbors pre-48, including a woman I know whose children were all delivered by a Jewish midwife in Haifa in the 30s and 40s.

In my Lebanese family, my oldest cousin is a few months younger than my youngest uncle; my grandmother nursed her firstborn grandson in tandem with her lastborn son, because the mother (my aunt) did not have the milk for her baby. In those days there was no formula. So my uncle and my cousin call each other milk brothers and are particularly close. I am sure this happens in every traditional culture.

bornfamous said...

Sharon, you reminded me of the final scene of Grapes of Wrath, where a man was starving and there was no food to give him, so a young mother was persuaded to nurse him. I read it in high school and was shocked.

Anonymous said...

I had a wonderful nursing experience with my two, although the younger one, my daughter, weaned herself off very early - shortly after seven months. That was sad for me, but I do believe the child sets the pace. I was able to pump at work, fortunately, so she got my milk for longer than she actually nursed. Interestingly, when she was about 3-4 years she began "pretend nursing" from me for a time.

Susan in Ontario

P.S. I know this is anecdotal, but my son, who was breast-fed for well over a year, is the pickiest eater I've ever encountered! And I'm a lover of curries and all sorts of ethnic cuisines. I just don't get it....

Liz said...

Thank you for addressing this issue, Sharon, it's such an important one. I'm tandem feeding my nearly-3yo and my newborn. I find it very sad that my toddler is one of only 1% of Australian children still feeding at 2 years or older.

Anonymous said...

I think nursing children is great and that society has no business discouraging it or putting hindrances in women's way. But I do think that many if not most nursing mothers would feel uncomfortable or even frightened if a passing male stranger "tells her how much he likes seeing her doing that".

Maybe you meant for that sort of comment to come from women only?

Megan said...

Thank you so much for this post! My almost 2 year old son is nursing right now as I'm writing this. I've always found it interesting that people talk about the health benefits babies get from breastfeeding. But that is framing it from a formula point of view- formula is the baseline, and human milk has these extra benefits. Of course, human milk is the norm for humans and you can turn it around and say that formula is damaging the health of these babies- making them sick. Does that mean no babies should be given formula? Of course not, it's better than nothing.

Sarahaha said...

This is a really important topic, one that I often discuss with my friends and husband, as I truly fear for the future. Breastfeeding used to be common, women, men, and children saw it everywhere, every day as a part of normal life. It was not sexualised or considered obscene, and as such, girls grew up knowing how to breastfeed, and there were dozens of women around them who could give them support and advice, and in some cases, be a wet nurse for them if all else failed.
I believe this is how it will be in the future, but things will have to drastically change. I'm currently nursing a one year old, and can't imagine doing it any other way. Saving money, saving time, saving stress and in return getting the best cuddles, a healthy happy and smart baby, and time out for myself to just be a mum.
I live in Dubai, and the subject is often discussed about whether or not it is ok to nurse in public, and I say 'sure, why not!'. I'm a woman who covers, and I've nursed my son anywhere and everywhere.
There is no sense in giving birth to a baby, having your body produce 'human milk', but choosing instead to give your baby modified cow's milk. Human milk for humans, simple as that.

BoysMom said...

Annony,
I think it mostly depends on how the man phrases it.
"It's wonderful to see a mother nursing her baby, too few women do these days."
Is a much better choice of phrasing that "Hey, I like seeing you do that."
FWIW, with my first, I got a comment from a gentleman old enough to be my grandfather along the lines of my first example. It didn't bother me at all. Of course, in public, I cover up, so it's not like anyone sees anything.
I haven't been nursing for eight years, like Sharon, more like four, but with short breaks between boys. In the areas I've lived nobody makes negative comments about nursing, and no one has asked me to go nurse in the bathroom or some such. But in these areas modesty while nursing is very important: people would get offended by seeing a bare breast. Rocky Mountain Northwest, you could call the general region.

jewishfarmer said...

Boysmom, I didn't do anything particularly to nurse during pregnancy - I think sometimes the taste of the milk does change, and some kids don't like it and wean. I was lucky - none of mine seemed to mind. By the end of the pregnancy there wasn't very much milk, either, but they didn't seem to care.

We always moved them into cribs by around 1 year - I'm not a good co-sleeper - I never sleep well at all when I'm nursing, so I kicked them out. I had a friend who started offering a baby bottle with water at night only, and made a "no nursing until" rule, but I never did that.

Richard, thanks for pointing up the essential role of husbands in specific - you are right, spousal support is huge. I was lucky to have it, and I don't think it even registered on me how difficult it could be without it until I saw another friend experience a nursing-ambivalent partner.

Katuah, I'm awed by your partner's courage - I don't think I could have done that! I could never pump very well, so I was lucky that our son had a good latch early.

Rosa, that's a good point too. I think sometimes the early days of parenting seem to new mothers like they will go on forever, and it helps to offer some perspective - nursing every 3 hours doesn't mean you'll have to do that for the rest of your life.

Boysmom and Megan, I'm not sure but I thought that the IQ boost (which may be true) might also be attributable to the fact that better educated women are more likely to nurse. But yes, the construction of it is part of the problem - we should be observing how formula hurts children. That's an excellent point!

Bornfamous, I forgot about that scene! Thanks for reminding me.

Anonymous, I don't know - I've had a number of men compliment me on nursing, and never found it weird. I've particularly been pleased when older men stop and tell me that they are happy to see a woman nursing a baby, or that their wives or daughters nursed their kids or grandkids. Maybe I'm weird, though. Other opinions on this one?

Sharon

BoysMom said...

Susan,
Maybe it's an age thing: I read somewhere recently that toddlers have an instinctive aversion to eating new things (unlike babies, who eat anything, food or not) because it has a survival benefit for the child, who would have been historicly less supervised than a baby.

Rosa said...

You know, the time gap when breastfeeding was really discouraged was actually pretty short - I'm not sure my grandmother even had formula as an option when she had her babies, and La Leche League reached rural Iowa between when I was born in '74 and my little brother in '78.

There are still bad doctors out there (like the one who told my stepsister to stop nursing because her babies had jaundice) and the occasional dumb boobophobe, but it seems like this is one issue that is actually getting better all the time.

Crunchy said...

I am nursing my 6 month old and he also does not like taking a bottle. It is very rare that we give them to him, but if he is alone with Dad sometimes he gets them. I know one afternoon with my MIL he boycotted for 4 hours (he still usually nurses at least every 3 hours if not more frequently). When did everyone start adding other types of food, I'm not going to wean, just add. And what food did you start with?

Housefairy said...

This was very well writeen, and congratulations on the tandem nursing and the 8 years of being a wonderfully important person to your children and to society, as you so correctly put it. It am pregnant with our fifth baby and have been nursing continuously since 1997! It doesnt seem like a big deal to me now, but I know that it is. Thank you for reminding me.

I have had my share of unsupportive freinds and family, especially with the first baby, but once they all realized that this was what we were gonna do, then they went from freaked out, to accepting, to supportive.

I, too, have had great sadness when hearing the reapeted and repeated stories of moms who "didnt have enough milk", etc and then especially the ones who refused to even try with subsequent babaies, probably out of fear of all that perceived "failure". Figure in the traumatic surgical births, and you got it right, many women are up against so much difficulty right off the bat--let alone any real difficulties that can be had with the most supportive and peaceful environments.

It is hard and it is important. It is lowly and homely and simple and that is why it seems to have no value whatsoever in this money grubbing plastic society that values "independance" and "autonomy" over relationships and human needs. And why we must put nursing women at the forefront of our priorities, socially, politically and otherwise.

Great blog!

Anonymous said...

Blessings to all you courageous nursing moms. It's not easy when society offers minimal support. In 15 or 20 years you'll remember your nursing years with joy and gratefulness.

Nursing is the natural and harmonious thing to do, and it benefits yourselves, your children, humanity and the environment.

I nursed my sons a total of 5 years and many times referred to the book "The Womanly Art of Breatfeeding" by La Leche League. I highly recommended it. The homeopathic remedy Phytolacca Decandra was helpful when as a new nursing mom I suffered a mild breast infection from engorgement. It worked like magic!

Keep up the awesome work and enjoy co-sleeping. They grow up too fast!

~Vegan/Leaving So. FL

Anonymous said...

boysmom, thanks for mentioning the 'instinctive aversion' and 'survival benefit' pairing. I've never come across that idea and it makes good sense. Unfortunately my guy is 12. I think with him there's a texture component and he's generally diffident about textures, smells, etc. I secretly wonder about how he's going to handle sex ;-)

Another thing I want to mention is that I frequently tell my kids about when they were nursed. I think it's important that it's part of the stories they have about their early years, especially as nursing isn't something we encounter every day.

Susan in Ontario

Liz said...

Sharon, I welcome favourable comments from anyone, just because it's so uncommon. I always make a point of smiling at mothers I see nursing their kids, and the bigger the kid the more likely I am to comment just because it's so vanishingly rare! My toddler only really nurses before naps and bedtime so I don't feed her in public any more, but I love seeing mothers who aren't freaked out by public reactions to feeding a gigantic toddler.

I wouldn't say that breastfeeding is becoming more acceptable when online spaces like MySpace, LiveJournal and most recently You-Tube have banned images and film of nursing babies on their site :-(

Liz in Australia

Patty said...

I nursed my daughter until she was two, and my twins until they were fourteen months (they got interested in other things and stopped on their own).

When I was in the hospital with my daughter, a nurse tried to tell me I was going to kill her from nursing because her blood sugar went down (it was still normal, but it went down some, oh noez). I gave her an ounce of formula (just to shut the nurse up) which she promptly spit out, her blood sugar went back up after she nursed some more and all was well. Stupid nurse.

I ALWAYS covered up, I hate when people have to be exhibitionists, it really gives nursing a bad name. I've nursed in church, at basketball games, in movie theaters, and no one was the wiser. I needed help when the twins were small and couldn't latch on without help, but I didn't go out when they were that little much anyways, and when I did my husband helped me.

My kids are 16 and 12 now, very healthy, and extremely smart. You have to really want to nurse these days but it's definitely worth it.

emily said...

I don't have kids, but would like too sooner or later, so I'm wondering:
How does a husband give his support? Do you mean that he does other things for you while you're nursing? Does he somehow have a hands-on, how-can-we-make-the-baby-latch-on approach? Or just recognizing that your time is governed (certainly at the beginning) by something other than what you might normally like to do together during that half-hour?

Anonymous said...

I think housefairy is right about traumatic surgical births putting off women from nursing, and for some like me, from having kids at all. The stories of my mom's two horrific C-sections with awful scarring, and my grandmother's pregnancy--which resulted in my aunt being retarded due to lack of oxygen during birth--completely destroyed any of my nascent maternal instinct. I just never could get past the idea of getting cut open or risking death to have a baby. Childbirth ain't for sissies!

An interesting discussion, Sharon. Thank you.

Anna Marie

Rosa said...

I think emotional support is the most important. My boyfriend was really supportive early on, which made it easier to take as our son got older and his dad got super anxious about the amount he was eating.(It was really difficult for him not being able to measure the amount of breastmilk Mica was taking in - for a while he was going to buy a baby scale so we could measure him pre- and post-feeding - our pediatrician called it a "medical device to treat parental anxiety". It was pretty much because of that anxiety that I weaned when I did.

But there are a lot of practical things. One is allowing for the time it takes to nurse. We took a lot of long car trips and two nursing breaks add an hour of time to a trip. If you also pump, there's time for that and cleaning bottles & pump equipment. There's distracting older kids so mom & baby can nurse undisturbed. For guys who don't usually do housework there's picking up some of that slack, though we split housework pretty evenly so that didn't really apply to me. Not complaining about the cost of nursing bras. Oh, standing up for the decision to nurse instead of wilting under pressure - i've seen dads do that when people make negative comments about nursing (or having babies at all, actually) -- "Well, you know, she wanted to."

Just in general buying into the idea like a grownup coparent, instead of acting like it's some bizarre female whim.

But I think it's important for women to support each other, too - not everyone is going to do things just like you. Some women have kids who won't eat with their heads covered. Some women are going to have babies who can't latch on and be feeding them a bottle (you can't tell from looking whether it's breastmilk or formula.) Some women try to stick to a schedule and will have a hungry baby they are not feeding yet. Some of us have weird scrawny babies who nurse every hour and a half for a year. Some people's kids self-wean at 8 months in favor of solid food. There's no "Good Mommy" prize for making all of us moms look good.

jewishfarmer said...

Emily, Rosa covered a lot of it, but a lot of husband support of breastfeeding is just recognizing that when you've had a baby and are nursing, at first, that's the whole project for you - less so with subsequent kids, I think, but especially with the first. There's a period where learning to nurse is all you can do, and sometimes then you need your husband sitting there with the book showing you different latch positions and reassuring you it is ok. Sometimes it is a matter of being willing to pick up a lot of slack because you have to sit there and nurse. Sometimes it is willing to say to the discouraging people "I'm really proud of her." Sometimes it is just willing to listen to you complain. It really depends on the husband and whether you have trouble or not, but for me, the most important spousal thing was just being in on the project.

Rosa, you are right about support - my first son was *NOT* into being covered - as soon as he could he'd try and remove anything even remotely near my face. I used to joke that every single person on earth has now seen by boobs ;-). And I'm no fan of Stalinist breastfeeding advocates - one of the funnier things I've ever seen was a couple came in to tour the local birthing center when I did, they were clearly a "yours, mine and ours" two woman couple. And the non-pregnant partner referred to when she had her babies while the lactation consultant was there. The lactation consultant asked if she'd nursed, and she said, no, she hadn't been able to. The lactation consultant started off on a rant about how everyone can breastfeed, and how anyone who tells you different is crazy, and the non-pregnant partner very calmly interrupted her and said, "When I had my kids, I was a man - I hadn't transitioned yet. So I didn't nurse them." I've never laughed so hard.

Of coures, according to the La Leche league, given "sufficient stimulation" 10% of all men can lactate. I bring that up fairly often, although we've never explored what "sufficient stimulation" might be - so perhaps husbandly support from a *really* supportive husband would be doing a full half of the nursing ;-).

Sharon

BoysMom said...

Crunchy,
We always have the baby sit on our laps at the table once he can. When he starts trying to swipe the food from our plates, then we let him have a bit (assuming we're eating something baby-safe). When he gets really interested in trying to eat, then we move him to the high chair.
We don't do babyfood, just finely chopped whatever we're eating. We used to do cheerios, but we don't buy those anymore. We don't feed the baby unless we're having something like yogurt or applesauce that he can't do for himself. (Self-feeding also keeps him entertained while we're eating.)
Support: emotional and not complaining when the floor hasn't been swept, the dishes haven't been washed, and the food's burned. Helping with those if at all possible.

Anonymous said...

While I'm impressed with those of you with the wherewithall to breastfeed for more than a year, choosing to breastfeed or use formula is not always a choice. With my daughter, I attempted for three weeks to breastfeed, and saw three different lactation consultants before we gave up. Contacts with the la leche league in my area were never returned. The nurses at the hospital were horrible to me because my daughter wouldn't latch and her blood sugar levels dropped.
I was devastated and felt I had let her down as a mother.
There is a third option no one typically discusses, and that is full-time pumping. Yes, it is a tremendous amount of work (6 times a day for me for a year), but it was worth it knowing my child would have a lower risk of diabetes, a serious problem in our family.
Interestingly, I got grief from both sides of our family about our decision. I don't know if it was wierd to them, or simply made them uncomfortable on a weekend visit to have me "hooked up," even though I was covered while watching a show or whatever. Ultimately, I felt Like I had to hide in my own house.
Someday, we might actually as a society remember that this is a system that worked for centuries. I don't think we're there yet.

Megan said...

Anony, I've met other moms who pump full time, and I think it's one of the most selfless things you can do for your child. I pumped twice a day for over a year when I was at work and pumping is basically really boring and annoying. It's even more isolating than nursing, and cuddling with plastic is no fun. It's terrible that you couldn't connect with LLL or a good nurse or really experienced mom, because when I had trouble at the beginning (three months of trouble!) that made all the difference.

Brian M. said...

I agree with the earlier comments on how a husband can support nursing but I have a couple to add.

I've chatted with a number of first time dads on some of this material. Dads frequently experience jealously of a first baby. No one is really prepared for a new kid, and few really understand the time and commitment involved. If the mother is going to nurse, then that is almost all they can do for the first few weeks. Here is this amazingly intimate act, and now your wonderful SO has time and intimacy only for the new baby. Here is the beginning of a bond, that will ultimately be greater than the mother's bond with you, or the babies bond with you. You will forever be 2nd place to both of the people you love most. And of course you're probably stressed, sleep-deprived and not at your most rational.

So naturally you're jealous of the baby that it gets all this time and attention and love from the mother, and jealous of the mother, that she can provide for the child in a way that you never can, and can establish a bond with it that you never can.

With many new fathers, this turns into a little seed of resentment or competition or something. Besides, previously the breasts were a primarily sexual object, and in a sense private and now they are a food object and public. Some men express the sentiment that breastfeeding is a sexual turn off. I suspect it is, for some, but that part of what is really going on is a turf war. The man want breasts to be the way they were, sexual, and thus to be covered in public. The baby want breasts to be food and the new normal.

I've seen fathers that were trying to be supportive of breastfeeding undermine it in little covert ways, because they were emotionally conflicted about it, and secretly be relieved when it ended. Maybe it will be in the form of sexual anxiety. Or compulsive before and after weighing. Or other relationship issues. Or some other manifestation. I'll bet that the mothers picked up on some of that, and that it was part of the story.

In our case, my wife pumped breastmilk some, and I at least got to bottle feed our eldest occasionally (and she got to sleep for a stretch), and I found this to be helpful to adjusting. Even if you don't pump full time, I advocate at least some pumping, so that both partners can be involved. But hey it may not work for everyone. Women usually grapple with the emotional changes of pregnancy and afterwards, the loss of privacy, the new normal, etc. But every new dad ALSO needs to process a lot of emotional issues, and many don't even realize they need to or have a venue to do so, and these DO impact breastfeeding success.

Anyway that is my take

-Brian M.

Rebecca said...

Thanks - it was nice to read this as I'm nursing my sick, clingy 1-year-old who hasn't wanted to eat solid food all week.

8 years. Wow.

Anonymous said...

I'm 20 years old and still in college and am not thinking about having kids soon. But nevertheless, being the oldest in my generation of my family and seeing 8 of my cousins/siblings being born has got me thinking about being a mother from time to time. I have always thought that breastfeeding was the best option and one that I would take. After reading this post and everyones' comments, I am even more convinced. Thanks for all the information.

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Kyoki said...

Wow, lots of spam down here.

So, I want to add about the "partner support" line- it's not just being aware of how much you can and can't do, and reining in their jealousy of the new baby. It's realizing that since you've begun nursing, you've had someone touching you ALL THE TIME and you've had to sit/lie down ALL THE TIME and you ache and NO, you don't want to cuddle, and you're completely 'touched out' because you are at the beck and call of your new little adorable, much loved tyrant.