In celebration of World Breastfeeding Week I'm writing a post for all the mothers out there who cannot or (or choose) not to breastfeed.
I'm writing this because my heart goes out to you. You are constantly reminded of the benefits of breastfeeding from studies and opinions that tell you "breast is best" and that "if you try hard enough, it will work."
I have many friends and acquaintances that were only able to breastfeed their babies for a short time, or not at all. I also have friends that were not able to actually breastfeed their babies, but they pumped and fed their baby breastmilk via bottle.
I've spoken to many of these women and have felt so much heartache for them because of what they go through. If their own disappointment weren't enough, they are bombarded with disapproval at their inability to breastfeed by family, friends, and even strangers.
We all know breastmilk is amazing and there is no shortage on research studies to prove it, so I'm not going to go into detail about breastmilk. However, I am going to talk about the actual act of breastfeeding.
I'm not a doctor, lactation consultant, or child psychologist. I have take a few classes on infant and child development, but that is all. The suggestions below are simply that: suggestions.
Breastfeeding contains two parts: the milk and the act of feeding. You can feed your baby breastmilk, but not actually breastfeed. Breastmilk is nutrition that nourishes the physical part of the baby. But breastfeeding nourishes the mental, emotional, and psychological aspects of the baby's development.
During my time at BYU I was able to hear many experiences from professors and students that interned/worked at orphanages in Romania. The babies in those orphanages were given adequate physical nourishment, but they were deprived of mental, emotional, and psychological nourishment in the form of holding, rocking, touch, and communication. As a result, they were severely delayed in development, especially in the area of personal-social.
In her book Bright From The Start, Jill Stamm makes the bold and intriguing opinion that breastmilk only accounts for a portion of the benefits of breastfeeding. She states that way in which we must breastfeed (baby lies on his/her side close to mother and within 18 inches of mother's face) nourishes the growing brain and fosters healthy personal-social development. She also believes that because we must breastfeed on both breasts, both sides of the baby's brain are strengthened and developed. The left eye, arm, hand and foot are all used when the baby is lying on his right side, and vice versa. She says this could account for the cognitive abilities of breastfed children. Both sides of the brain are properly strengthened.
The act of breastfeeding also consists of skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby. I once wrote a research paper on the benefits of skin-to-skin contact for premature infants and it was astounding at what a difference it made! Babies who were given skin-to-skin contact with their mother gained more weight, had a steady heartbeat, ate more, and did better overall as compared to premies who did not receive skin-to-skin contact.
If you are breastfeeding your baby you are forced to drop what you're doing (maybe not immediately, but eventually), focus on the baby, and spend one-on-one time with him/her. This act alone strengthens your relationship and gives you the opportunity to bond with him/her.
So, what does this mean for mothers that cannot breastfeed? EVERYTHING! You can do all the things I mentioned above whether you breastfeed or bottle feed!
You can mimic the act of breastfeeding by:
- Switch the sides you bottle feed - right side for one feeding, left side for the next.
- Give your baby some skin-to-skin contact during feeding (bare chests is optimal because they can hear your heartbeat). Massage is another great way to get some extra bonding and skin-to-skin contact in your daily routine.
- Hold your baby at most feedings. I know this may be hard because you're busy and your older infant can hold the bottle on their own, but that 10-15 minutes of one-on-one time does amazing things for your baby's development.
- Communicate, touch, and focus on your baby during feeding.
I don't have sound research to back up these suggestions, but honestly, there hasn't been a lot of research on the benefits of the technical aspects of breastfeeding. Most of it is about the nutritional aspect.
Who knows? Maybe future research will find that a portion of the benefits from breastfeeding was actually the way in which it was conducted, and not just breastmilk.
I hope this has helped in some way, and given you some tools to make the best of your situation, no matter what it is.