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Foundation of Trust

Angie Meara
St Louis, MO, USA
From New Beginnings, Vol. 26 No. 2, 2009, pp. 24-25

Breastfeeding grounded me in a way that nothing else could have done. I'm a high-energy type and, like many, wanted to give my child the best start by breastfeeding. Planning Olive's birth shaped and enriched the mother I would become. I remind the people around me that preparing yourself for birth lays a foundation that will influence the way you raise your child -- at least it did for me.

I think it was healing for my own mother to see me nursing my child, even though it was not recommended to her when I was a baby. Beginning this chapter in my life, my mother and sister took great interest in my choices and what I found valuable in order to reach those decisions.

I started attending La Leche League meetings in University City, Missouri midway through my pregnancy. I found this downright essential, as none of my peers nursed their babies or they were done having children. I knew my midwife would help me get feeding initiated; but I needed long-term support or a network of sorts. When people purchase appliances they invest in maintenance programs and, similarly, I wanted some guarantee of my nursing relationship. LLL provided that.

I opted not to track my nursing sessions, but rather to confirm, from time to time, that we were changing a good number of diapers. I told myself I would not ever be the one to end a feeding until my daughter was about 12 months old. I would simply let her empty the breast and then some until she disengaged on her own. If that meant that I couldn't get up to answer the phone, then that's what I did. I didn't wake up on her first birthday and say, "Yeah, it's time to turn her car seat around and wean." I was more interested in allowing these things to happen in their own good time while listening to her needs and to mine.

I went back to work when my baby was two and a half months old. Our family was in a bit of a pickle and this was our solution. Fortunately, my husband was able to stay home with Olive. She wouldn't accept my milk in any type of bottle until almost six weeks had passed. We weren't aggressive in getting her to take a bottle because I was concerned about nipple confusion. Olive just went without, and nursed only when I was around. To our amazement she wasn't a wreck. She continued to gain weight and didn't fuss. Occasionally, her dad, Sean, would bring her to my workplace for a much needed mommy visit and to nurse. He rallied around, assumed responsibility and did a remarkable job finding his own ways of nurturing her. However, just prior to Thanksgiving Day, she accepted a particular short, stocky bottle that a friend had recommended to me.

At about six months old, we started practicing elimination communication. Tuning into her cues for nursing and her cues for elimination while we were cosleeping was fairly easy. Before words or signing, squirminess was usually an indicator that she needed to eliminate and verbal fussiness was a sign of wanting to nurse.

I experienced a blocked duct once, which was remedied by rest and frequent nursing. I determined that I was trying to do too much. Most of my hang-ups with breastfeeding came early on when I was storing milk in order to go back to work. I was petrified of the automatic pump. I was concerned that my nipples would somehow become damaged if I used dry suction on them. Yet, the milk let down immediately and made the apparatus moist around my skin. I got over my stumbling block thanks to a personal visit from LLL Leader Amanda Ireland.

When Olive was about ten months old, I left my job to stay home. This was also about the time Olive started to show more of an interest in solids. My health care provider, Laurie, could see that I wanted to stop pumping and sensitively shared with me that it was okay to stop and just nurse Olive when I was with her and not to when I wasn't. This was just what I needed -- someone to give me permission to stop pumping. As a result, we stored the bottles, bags, and pump without any distress. Laurie also recommended avoiding starter foods such as cereals and rice and to start instead with root vegetables, then gradually introduce gourds, followed by above ground foods, like peas and fruit. This approach worked nicely and her digestive and sleeping patterns stayed steady, too.

One year came and went with Olive calling nursing "nahnah," then, in the second year, "nahnee." With little interference and gentle modifications in our routine, we nursed less. We changed nursing locations at home a couple of times. When I knew Olive was done, I would ask her if she could find a good stopping point and I'd say, "Relax your mouth and just roll over." Sometimes, if I had a reason for her to stop, it would help to say, for instance, "I need to take a shower, so let's find a good stopping point." I nursed her more often lying on my side to prevent her from waking when I moved. Sometimes moving her would require re-nursing her to sleep. Daddy's holding her and walking around with her wrapped in the "magic" blanket helped. If she woke midway through a nap, then I would go into her room and talk to her softly or sing her lullabies to soothe her back to sleep. Upon waking, offering warm solid food, particularly brown rice, helped avoid another nursing session.

We have not night weaned, but her stretches of sleep keep getting longer and longer. She starts nights in her own bed, sometimes with cuddles from daddy, or nursing with me. When she wakes up in the middle of the night, I nurse her back to sleep in her bed. Sometimes if I suspect she needs to use the potty, I'll hold her and walk into the bathroom. She will either cooperate half asleep or else she will hug me tight or tense up, and this means "I don't need to go." With this routine -- some would identify it as an unnecessary complexity -- she is training us to be tuned in to her needs and, as a result, she is in charge of her body. I think nursing confers this bond and knowledge of your child that allows you to go with the flow and relax when resistance surfaces.

Now my high energy has transmuted into a readiness to stop what I'm doing, refocus my attention on Olive, slow down, and really be there for her. I checked out a book from La Leche League's library called, What Mothers Do -- Especially When It Looks Like Nothing by Naomi Stadlen. I realized that I was trying to operate in the home the way I was functioning at work. So, now, I am "uncareering" myself. Many of the attributes that are effective and admired in a professional career simply don't work at home. These goal-oriented, over-scheduling, "go go," "more more," "faster faster" methodologies don't have the same results at home raising a child.

Olive will soon be two and a half years old. Perhaps she won't be nursing, or maybe she'll be nursing less, but the qualities of this nursing relationship are everlasting in my heart. Ultimately, nursing has carried us through a very tender time during which I want to demonstrate to her a foundation of trust, that she is loved, and the world is good. One might ask, is it possible that mother's milk could have such an impact? I say, yes it can. Breastfeeding starts out as a gift to our child and ends up being an essential element that is delicately woven into the fabric of our everyday lives I'm forever changed for the better, as are the relationships I have with others.

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