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Unexpected Benefits

Carol D.
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 18 No. 4, July-August 2001, p. 129-130

On November 15, 2000, I gave birth to my first child, Kyler Anton. My first pregnancy had ended in a miscarriage a year and a half earlier, so Kyler was a dream come true. I had always known I would breastfeed my babies because of the fine example set for me by the women in my family; my mother nursed me, my maternal grandmother nursed her own eight babies and was also a wet-nurse, and one of my cousins nursed each of her two daughters for close to three years. I am also a licensed clinical nutritionist and believe strongly in the scientific evidence for the many benefits of breastfeeding. Reciting the physiological benefits of breastfeeding to my prenatal clients was second nature to me. Why would I want to feed my own baby anything but mother's milk, which contains antibodies, lactalbumin, the proper essential fatty acids, and easily absorbed vitamins and minerals? This was a no-brainer for me.

Since I was planning to nurse (instead of planning to "try to nurse"), I attended my first La Leche League meeting in Riverhead, New York, USA in the fifth month of my pregnancy. I felt strongly that knowledge is power, and that I would have fewer difficulties when the baby was born if I had correct information on positioning and the practicalities of what to expect. I attended that first meeting armed with my own professional knowledge of the benefits of breastfeeding and also with several preconceived notions of what breastfeeding would mean to my baby and me. First, I thought that breastfeeding was a purely nutritional matter. Also, I had decided in advance that I would nurse my baby for one year, pump in case I wanted to leave my baby with someone, and that people who sleep with their babies are a little weird so I would certainly not do that.

Attending LLL meetings for the latter five months of my pregnancy was among the smartest choices I made regarding my impending role as a mother. Amy and Desiree, my LLL Leaders, gave wonderful presentations which armed me with the information I needed to avoid the common pitfalls which deter some women who really want to breastfeed. I enjoyed blossoming friendships with other pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers, and always looked forward to Desiree's whole-grain cranberry muffins.

With the gentle guidance of my midwife and doula, Kyler latched on immediately after birth and began to drink colostrum. I remember looking at my doula, Cathleen, with tears in my eyes and saying, "I'm doing it! I'm finally breastfeeding." After all those months of attending meetings and discussing breastfeeding in a theoretical sense, I was finally a nursing mother.

I was elated and thought about all the wonderful things my colostrum would do for Kyler's immune system. The hospital was only semi-supportive of my nursing relationship, but the good information I already had from LLL helped me to persevere. I also brought my copy of THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFFEDING to the hospital, as my Leader had recommended. In the first few weeks at home, my Leaders patiently took my phone calls and addressed my concerns, and I am happy to say that Kyler and I made it through the early days with only minimal difficulties. But that's not the end of our story. In a way it's just the beginning. Something else has happened. All those preconceived notions I had about breastfeeding began to change and develop into some very different perceptions of breastfeeding as part of parenting.

Of course the scientist in me still appreciates all the physical benefits of nursing for both Kyler and myself. I feel good knowing that he will be at a decreased risk for the development of many childhood diseases, as well as ear infections and food allergies. I also feel good knowing I am enhancing my postpartum recovery and decreasing my own risk for certain types of cancers. However, I didn't understand the other feelings that would develop in me as I learned to nurse my son. The physical and nutritional aspects of breastfeeding have almost become secondary to me, as I have now experienced the tenderness of this special bond that I alone have with Kyler. I melt as he lovingly glances up at me while he drinks my milk. I am amazed at how my body can not only nourish him, but also soothe and nurture him when he is upset. I don't think anyone can understand this is a part of nursing until she has actually nurtured a child at her breast. I know this concept is lost on those people who continue to pressure me to give Kyler a pacifier. I cannot find the words to explain to them that a plastic nipple cannot replace the beauty and tenderness of these special moments I share with my son. Even my husband, David, can see and appreciate how important breastfeeding is for Kyler's emotional wellbeing. He has watched our baby fuss and cry and then instantly settle down to a peaceful state when I put him to my breast.

My earlier notions of weaning Kyler at one year of age have also changed. I have realized that he will let me know when he is ready to wean. I have learned that there is no reason to stop breastfeeding my son on someone else's rigid schedule, a schedule that may not suit Kyler. If I continue to meet his emotional needs through nursing until he is ready to stop, he will grow up feeling safe and secure in my love, which I hope means he will be a well-adjusted human being later in his life.

As for pumping my milk, I have decided against that too. I certainly believe that there are many valid reasons for a breastfeeding mother to pump, and I fully support the choice and needs of those women. As for me, though, I am fortunate enough to be staying home full-time to raise Kyler, and do not have reason to separate myself from him long enough that the need to pump would arise.

Finally, and perhaps most surprisingly, I have turned into one of those "weirdos" who sleeps with her baby. This just sort of happened to us on the second night after we brought Kyler home from the hospital. We noticed that Kyler would cry inconsolably when he was left alone in the bassinet, but would quiet down and sleep when David brought him into bed with us. I have to give my husband's good fathering instincts total credit for figuring this one out. He has taught me something very special. Kyler was three months old yesterday and has slept with me and nursed unrestrictedly every night since that time. I feel sorry as I listen to other parent's horror stories about sleep deprivation and hungry babies who cry until the bottle is warmed up and then begin to cry again when placed back in their crib. Kyler knows the secure feeling of snuggling with Mommy and can eat instantly when he is hungry. David and I have never endured a screaming baby in the middle of the night, nor have we had to get out of our warm bed to meet his needs. Kyler stirs a little when he is hungry, I roll over and latch him on, and we drift back to sleep as he nurses peacefully. I also keep diapers on my bedstand. Co-sleeping has become so natural to us and we are never sleep-deprived. In fact, my own mother, who is very supportive and nurturing, recently admitted to me that she co-slept with me when I was an infant. She also bought us attractive bedrails to ensure Kyler's nighttime safety.

In conclusion, I would like to add that my changing views about breastfeeding and the other tools of attachment parenting were an evolutionary process. I never once felt that my LLL Leaders were forcing their personal or La Leche League's philosophy on me. In fact, they begin every meeting by saying that we should "take what works for us as individuals and leave the rest behind." I am very grateful to LLLI and to my Riverhead Group Leaders for providing me with a good source of accurate information and the warm companionship and support of moms who feel the way I do about parenting. Oh yes, and I am especially grateful for Desiree's cranberry muffins!

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