The Case For Breastfeeding

I stumbled across an article online yesterday that really troubled me and forced me to rethink my assumptions about mothering.  The article is entitled “The Case Against Breastfeeding” written by Hanna Rosin and published in the April 2009 edition of The Atlantic.  From the get-go what must be stated is that not only have I chosen to breastfeed both Micah and Eli, but I am still nursing both of my sons.  This is information that I usually don’t volunteer readily, and honestly, tandem nursing was something I stumbled into, rather than confidently ran towards.

To begin with:  I chose to breastfeed Micah because I felt it was the natural thing to do.  My mother nursed me and my brother and always spoke highly of the experience.  She loved the bonding aspects of nursing and always shared that she marveled at “God’s perfect plan for mothers and babies” in the example of breastfeeding.  She even spoke of enjoying the experience of her milk letting down because of the deep connection she felt with her babies and how it put her in tune with their needs.  Sure I had heard/read of the other purported advantages of breastfeeding– the antibodies passed on, the perfect fat content, etc…, the ease and convenience of nursing, the “free” factor, and others.  But it was always the argument that nursing helped in the process of mother/child bonding that felt strongest to me.

I enjoyed nursing Micah the first 7 months of his life while I was priveledged enough to be home with him.  But when I returned to work full time, the experience certainly shifted as I found myself needing to pump at work everyday– and all the added stresses and inconveniences that came along with expressing milk in order to keep up with nursing.   Micah nursed a lot at night because he never really was fond of drinking expressed milk from bottle or cup.  No other nipples for that little one!   He was a committed nursling, and I was mostly glad that I could offer him what he seemed to want most of all- time with me at the breast.  Even if it meant I experienced less sleep and needed to spend every lunch of every week day isolated in a bathroom with a machine attached to my breasts for a half hour.  I had a good bond with my son, and nursing seemed to be a huge part of that.

I thought that I would certainly nurse Micah for a full year– if he wanted– and then I would take it month by month.  At the one year mark, we introduced cow’s milk into Micah’s diet and he liked it.  I didn’t feel sad, or shunned, as some women report.  I was happy he was taking in some other nutrients and hoped with this introduction and all the solid foods we were giving him as well that he would slowly start to wean himself from the breast.  But this was not the case.  He was, as mentioned before, a committed nursling.  He learned very quickly how to communicate to difference between cow’s milk and what he began calling “ma milk”.  Nursing was clearly his greatest joy.

By Micah’s first birthday, though, I was pregnant with Eli.  I knew enough to know that I could nurse through pregnancy.  But in my ideal world, I wanted to continue nursing Micah for a few months more, and then have him self-weaned a few months before Eli was born.  Micah still seemed too young to stop nursing all together, but at 16 months this seemed more reasonable.  I began doing a lot of reading about pregnancy and nursing.  Most children wean themselves when their moms become pregnant for a variety of reasons– the milk tastes different, the milk supply decreases, etc.  But once again, Micah was committed.  I tried all the subtle ways of leading Micah to a breast-free life, but none of them worked with him.  At this point, I needed to choose whether or not I would be committed to what is called “child-led weaning” or I would lead/force the process for him.  (Read:  simply refuse to nurse him until the habit is broken.)  It was painfully obvious which path I would choose.  I simply couldn’t find good reason in my heart to force my son to give up what gave him the most pleasure, and comfort, in his life.  Even if it meant that life was more complicated, and literally painful, for me.

Nursing was painful because at about the third month of pregnancy my milk supply dried up.  Micah continued to nurse but was not getting any milk- a term I quickly learned was called “dry nursing”.  While I was wondering why Micah wouldn’t give it up, especially since he wasn’t receiving any sustenance from it, a friend shared with me that she far preferred the term “nursing” over “breastfeeding” because as she said “There is so much more going on than simply feeding.”  Comfort is being given, love is being shared, heartbeats are being heard, skin is being touched.  Nursing was, and is, the great bond between us.  Micah still loved that, and needed that.  My physical discomfort, and continued lack of sleep, seemed less significant when weighed against what I knew Micah was receiving.

And so I stumbled into the world of tandem nursing.  Micah was 19 months at the time of Eli’s birth and was used to a system of nursing that entailed me using a timer to limit the amount of time he spent actually pulling on my dry breasts.  He was happy with one-minute sessions of nursing.  I called them “Micah’s way of checking in and connecting with mama”.  He probably nursed like this 10-15 times a day– which meant 10-15 minutes a day total.  But obviously, at Eli’s birth, milk returned.  And I was deeply concerned about making sure my newborn baby had ALL he needed first, considering that Micah’s nutritional needs were being met by other sources.   I read what I could about tandem nursing, but still felt so unsure, especially considering I didn’t personally know any other woman who did such a thing.  But I still felt as if I was following my heart.  It seemed like the right choice to be making.

And to fast forward a bit– here we are 6 months later.  Eli is about to begin eating solid foods. He enjoys nursing, but I can already tell he has a different relationship with me and nursing than Micah does.  Micah is still nursing, though I couldn’t contain him to one-minute intervals anymore after my milk returned, and in abundance.  He still LOVES “ma milk”.  He is still as committed as ever.  We passed his two year birthday, and I marveled that I was nursing a toddler.  I never would have imagined that I would be doing so, and I still marvel that I continue to do so without a clear game plan for the termination of this relationship.   I have never seen myself as a committed breastfeeding fascist.  But if anyone else looked in they would probably assume I was because of the amount of time, energy, physical blah blah

it’s not about the milk.  it’s a relationship.

i need it for my salvation.  i need to set aside my needs and priorities and place my children’s needs before mine.  it makes me less selfish.  it allows me to love my children in their individual needs.

Posted in general | Leave a comment

Jumping Back In

I have been wanting to return to my blog for some time now.  There has been much that has taken place since my last posts– most significantly the birth of my son Eli.  Furthermore, Eli is now just beyond six months, and Micah celebrated his second birthday!  I cannot believe how quickly the two boys are growing right before my very eyes.   I may be changing the look/format of my blog in the near future.  I’m interested in jumping back in with writing and photos, but need to find a “time-realistic” way to do so.  I am hopeful for what I will be able to process and share here.

Posted in general | Leave a comment

Starting Over

It has been such a while since I have written for this little blog of mine.  Much has transpired.  Perhaps I can recap as quickly as possible:

Micah had his first birthday, and a few weeks prior to his celebration, Brooke and I happily discovered we were pregnant and expecting our second child!

I finished my second semester teaching at Bellarmine and decided, in light of second pregnancy and other factors, to leave my teaching position there in the upcoming school year and to remain home with Micah and baby #2.

I am now in week 30 of this pregnancy, and Brooke and I know we are having another little boy whom we have already named Eli.

I am hopeful to continue this experiment of mine in writing and reflection on motherhood.  I suppose I naively thought that being a full-time stay-at-home mom would allow me time for such writing (and cooking and cleaning and staying connected with friends and scrapbooking and other things stay-at-home moms do…), but of course, not without careful planning.   But with this post, I jump back into this and hope to post at least weekly until Eli arrives– then we’ll see.

Posted in Family | Leave a comment

Thanksgiving and Food, part II

I have also had to think much about food recently as Micah has been eating solids for the last few months. This raised so many questions about what types of food should be introduced to this pure, new life. What does one eat that is good? I have chosen to breastfeed Micah for this reason– to provide him with the best food source for him, for as long as seems right.
Feeding Micah Beets!
I feel good about breastfeeding for the health reasons (for baby and mama), but there are many additional reasons why this has been, and continues to be, a good choice. I can hardly put into words the comfort and peace and joy that Micah receives from breastfeeding. It is obviously so much more than just food that he is receiving. What else I suppose I am only guessing at… but he does LOVE being so close to me. I know he can hear my heart beat (and perhaps feel even more closely the love that pours through me for him) and there has been an incredible bond forged between us during the countless hours of nursing that have transpired over the past 9+ months.

I marvel that my body produces food for Micah that grows and nourishes him. It was a wonder during pregnancy, and continues to be a wonder now through nursing. I don’t claim to understand even one bit of the biology behind it all, but from a spiritual perspective, pregnancy and breastfeeding seems to mirror so much of the Catholic understanding of Eucharist.

“This is my body given up for you. This is my blood given up for you.”

What a gift when one literally gives their body and blood to bring life to another! Mothers model Christ in this way. So, the gift of receiving the body and blood of Jesus has informed my perspective on bearing and nursing Micah, but bearing and nursing Micah has in turn informed my perspective of the Eucharist.

I watch my son put everything into his mouth. Granted, he is, and will be, in the “oral fixation” developmental stage for some time– but I also witness that the objects that Micah seems to love the most he wants in his mouth. He wants to, it seems, eat up the joy of the object. This is very true with Brooke and I. He constantly puts his mouth on us– we call them kisses, but really he’s just experiencing us through his mouth. And, this too, makes me think of Eucharist. God allows us to experience God through our mouths. The Eucharistic perspective, and the baby’s perspective is, “Taste and see that the Lord (or anything else) is good.”

Posted in Faith, Micah | Leave a comment

Thanksgiving and Food, part I

Micah’s first Thanksgiving was probably just like any other day for him. He spent time playing with family and took some good naps and ate a few delicious meals of mommy’s milk, squash, beets, watermelon and saltine crackers. (No turkey and stuffing yet for the little one!) I think it is beautifully simple that each and every day for Micah is a day of joy, peace, wonder, excitement, love, trust and contentment. In this stage of his life, he mirrors all that is good and pure and innocent about human life. I give thanks for this foundation of love and security for him, for I know that the fear and sadness and disappointments of life will enter in all too quickly. Yet with this Love, he’ll be able to handle that, and in the big picture, overcome.

My Thanksgiving Thoughts: At times I have felt a little troubled by the fact that Thanksgiving as a holiday revolves so much around food, and the so-called traditional Turkey-day meal that for many people constitutes a day of gluttonous overeating. But for the last few years I have been thinking much about food and the role that food does, and should, play in our lives. My thoughts have all been refined as Brooke and I have been asking hard questions about food production and distribution in the global sense, and asking questions about our own food shopping and consumption in the personal sense. My thoughts are far from completed, but one thing I do know for sure is this: All of our food comes from the earth and sea, and ultimately comes from our Creator God who has given us the incredible bounty of earth, tree, ocean and stream.

It seems to me that throughout history, all people who lived with a connection to land and sea (which was essentially all people)- knew deep within themselves that they were dependent upon the creation itself for the most basic needs of life– namely food and water. And for the vast majority of these people, that dependence was inextricably linked to a dependence upon some greater god that gave the harvest, and gave the animals, and gave the source of water. I know that it is a historically recent phenomena for the majority of people in the Western world to have lost this connection, and to quite frankly, not know deep within ourselves where our food comes from, and therefore, who and what to be thankful for. When I ask my students to think about where their food comes from, they answer “Costco” and “the fridge” and “McDonalds” or slightly better, “my mom” or maybe even “a farm.” Continue reading

Posted in Faith, Family, Justice | 1 Comment

The Must-Have

Before Micah was born different moms and dads had offered advice on the various tricks of the trade of parenting– especially concerning the different products and gizmos that each one swore by as a baby “must-have.” These baby must-haves usually served the awesome purpose of buying a parent a little to a lot of time away from their baby (or maybe I should say, not holding their baby.) The crucial time needed for simple things like going to the bathroom or eating something, or the luxury of time needed for doing a load of laundry or washing some dishes.Micah, slightly disgruntled, in his car seat

The first “I swear by this product” was the vibrating bouncy seat. Moms would insist their babies would LOVE the vibrations and stay in their chairs for up to an hour at an time. Then, other parents talked up the magic of the carseat (perhaps for the same reason as the vibrating chairs) and state that their babies would simply fall asleep if taken for a little ride. And there was the almighty baby gym. This was another “My baby LOVES to play in the gym for hours at a time” kind of product. Then there was the “Jonny Jump Up.” Another product that seemingly all babies wanted to bounce in for hours at a time. And there were smaller gadgets too. Little toys with the proverbial bells and whistles. Toys that would hook the little one and keep him or her occupied for long stretches of time.

None of these products have had any such effect on Micah. Continue reading

Posted in Micah | Leave a comment

The Original Catholic Mama

I have hesitated to write any posts about Mary– even though she is often on the forefront of my mind these days. Though a cradle Catholic, I must say my knowledge and devotion to the Blessed Mother has been minimal at best. Yet last year during pregnancy, and even more now during the first months ofCatholic Mamas! Micah’s life, I find myself reflecting a lot on Mary as Mother. I hope to be able to write more about these musings as time goes on, but today I wanted to share a little about Marian apparitions.

When Brooke and I returned from Italy we flew through Washington D.C. While there, we took a little day trip to visit the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Even after spending so much time walking the grand corridors of churches and cathedrals throughout Italy, and gazing at awesome works of religious art, this church in D.C. stood out as exceptionally beautiful. I was incredibly moved by the numerous side chapels and altars– all of which are devoted to Mary and telling her story and recounting the several places she has appeared. Some of these places I was familiar with– Our Lady of Guadalupe, Our Lady of Fatima, Our Lady of Medjugorie, Our Lady of Lourdes. But there were so many that were unknown to me– obscure little places such as La Vang, Vietnam, Siluva, Lithuania, Vailankanni,India, and others. Continue reading

Posted in Church, Faith, Mary | Leave a comment