At our final antenatal class (topic breastfeeding) I boldly asserted that if a child is able to articulate the request to breastfeed, then he’s too old to have one.
I think about that with an increasing sense of private cringe these days, as my 18-month old demands her ‘milk’ several times a day.
I look back and realise just how ill-informed I was, and how much my attitude was informed by entirely-without-basis beliefs- stereotypes and generalisations shaped by nothing more substantial than society’s whims. Ironically, back in antenatal days, I cringed equally at the thought of women breastfeeding their older children, as if I had a right to be offended by a choice I mistakenly believed was one that would negatively impact on a child’s development- producing a clingy, difficult toddler.
So a further ironic turn is that I have become, not only proud breastfeeding-mum-to-toddler, but a passionate advocate of short and long-term breastfeeding.
It’s possible the depth of my commitment to breastfeeding my baby was lurking subconsciously until she actually arrived. I’m also aware that everyone doesn’t have the easy feeding relationship that I and my little one established pretty early on.
But that’s not to say the path was easy! I had my fair share of pain and sorrow and desperate cabbage-leaves-down-bra moments. (My retrospective tip to minimise these moments is to start using PURELAN before you even have a notion that your nipples may eventually hurt.)
Our tenacity paid off, but I believe the journey was made easier still because I did not express my milk. Feeding difficulties will only be exacerbated the less your baby has the opportunity to feed and the less skin-to-skin contact she has.
Yes, it’s a nice idea that Dad might take a turn at a bleary-eyed 3am feed, but giving baby a bottle instead of the breast just denies her another opportunity to establish great feeding.
Dads have their own ways of bonding with their babies, but I don’t believe bottle-feeding is one of those ways.
I appreciate I was in a position to make a choice to exclusively breastfeed my baby for the first 6 months of her life (and beyond), and this is not possible for some. But if you can be available to your baby in this way, I believe the benefits reach even further than incredible immunity. The attachment established gives her an innate sense of security and a solid foundation from which to develop her confidence and unique personality.
My top tips to establish great breastfeeding:
– Concentrate on baby’s latch in the beginning.
– Try not to stress, babies are naturally programmed to feed and will get the hang of it given the opportunity.
– Give your baby every opportunity to breastfeed to establish a good feeding relationship.
– Breastfeed with skin-to-skin contact when possible, especially if baby is distressed.
– Vary your breastfeeding holds to assist with effective feeding.
– If possible, resist using a bottle or a dummy at least until effective feeding is established (probably by about 2-3 months of age.)
– Have baby’s dad help in other ways, like changing nappies, bathing, playing and helping baby to sleep. Skin-to-skin contact is a great way for fathers to bond also.
My recommended reading:
– Baby-led Breastfeeding by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett
– Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering by Sarah Buckley, M.D
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