With my son, I had a heck of a time with nursing. Part of it had to do with me not being mindful of how he was being bottlefed when he was not in my care. His feedings were rigidly scheduled, and he received more in one sitting from the bottle than he would normally get while nursing.
To keep myself motivated, I kept setting targets for how long I would nurse. What started as 3 months, turned to 6 months, and then 12. By the time we hit 9 months the bottles won, and I was left to sort through my conflicting emotions regarding the experience and failure to meet my final target.
When I was pregnant with my daughter, I decided to take a more natural approach. To keep a healthy perspective, I didn’t set any expectations or goals. I decided to simply nurse when appropriate, and for as long as needed.
Now that my daughter is approaching her first birthday, I’m starting to get a bit uneasy as we chart into unknown territory. I have been noticing that my usually confident manner is a bit shaky when people ask about when we are going to stop. Even though I fully intended to nurse beyond a year all along, I have not been able to articulate clearly why I feel convicted to do so. Whenever this happens, I know it is time to arm myself with knowledge.
Fortunately, I purchased The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding for my lending library a while back. I am finding it to be a wonderfully written book that encourages nursing, all while respecting the autonomy of women. The other night when I was contemplating the issue at length, I picked up the book and turned to the chapters dealing with extended nursing and weaning to learn more.
Benefits of extended nursing
A newborn’s demands are in the here and now. When new babies are hungry we feed them right away. The dynamic of the nursing relationship changes as older babies start transitioning into toddlerhood. Despite the lessened need, there are still benefits to continuing the nursing relationship as it remains a powerful mothering tool that makes parenting easier in a lot of ways.
Nursing beyond a year remains a means of nutrition. I have thought on many occasions, that my picky eater of a son would have benefited greatly from extended nursing. It is very reassuring to know that our bodies produce such a complete supplement for our children…and for free! I find it especially important since small babies and toddlers are at a higher risk of colds given their close contact with the floor, and given their tendency to put their hands and other objects in their mouth. Nursing helps to shorten the duration and intensity of a cold in instances where they can not be prevented.
In addition, nursing can be used as a natural pain reliever when a child becomes hurt. It is a general comfort measure for a child who is upset. The hormones and enzymes that are released also help sooth a fussy child to sleep. It is an all around great tool when a need arises.
After reading the chapter on weaning, I realized that my understanding of it was limited. I had been defining weaning more along the lines of a defined stopping point. I had this idea that weaning was a conscious choice; a point in time when mom and baby decide it is time to end the nursing relationship.
I learned that while weaning can be structured like this, it can also occur at nature’s pace. That the weaning process really begins once solids are introduced into the diet, and continues as the baby develops more independence through the next few years of life.
The child gradually learns to use other forms of nurture, such as story time and/or cuddling, in place of nursing. As the child finds other ways to cope, nursing may be put off until a later time more often. Eventually, the nursing relationship tapers off without much thought or effort behind it.
I definitely feel better now that I have a deeper understanding of extended nursing and weaning. In our culture, where nursing is no longer the norm, it is completely understandable why so many doubt the benefits of continuing beyond a year. That is why I personally choose to seek out information sources that are not biased by cultural expectations.
What about you? Were you prepared mentally for venturing beyond a year?