Making Life Easier
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 25, No. 3, 2008, pp. 24-25
When I had the first of my four children, I was determined to breastfeed. And I did. It was wonderful, beautiful, and it ended all too soon. My daughter was just three months old when I returned to work and breastfeeding came to a premature end.
Exactly three years later, her baby sister was born. She suffered some injuries at birth. Those problems made me even more determined to breastfeed her, and for much longer than I had her sister. What I did not realize at the time, but can appreciate with hindsight, is how much easier life was as a result of that determination. While her older sister was a gentle and easygoing child, my new baby was demanding and unsettled. Breastfeeding offered me the only means to comfort her when she became distraught, and without the stress and hassle of having to sterilize and make up bottles, I had more time than I would otherwise have had to make sure that her older sister did not suffer any neglect.
I still had to return to work and when I did my baby came to prefer the bottles she was given at the nursery and refused to breastfeed. It became clear how much breastfeeding had helped maintain the status quo. Having to work and yet still having to get up to make a bottle at night was exhausting and I went through a really bad patch. I felt so overwhelmed that I could barely function. Had I been able to continue breastfeeding I'm sure my nights would have been far less disturbed.
Just 22 months later my third daughter arrived. I had a five-year-old, a toddler, and a new baby. For a while I doubted my ability to cope, but breastfeeding was still of paramount importance. It had become second nature to me to breastfeed. There was no way I was going to complicate my life with a sterilizer, bottles, and assorted feeding paraphernalia. I had two babies in diapers and a busy, intelligent, and interesting schoolchild. Add to the hard work by bottle-feeding? No way! I think that this period represented one of the most chaotic of my life. I took a new full-time job when my third daughter was nine months old -- even though I had never intended to go back to work -- and, like her sister, she came to prefer bottles. Breastfeeding ended when she was 10 months old. I was heartbroken and experienced a sharp increase in my stress levels when the convenience of breastfeeding, its soothing capabilities, and the protection it offers against illness were gone. Trying to juggle the two older girls, a demanding job as a teacher, and a baby who came down with every illness the world in general had to offer (and, therefore, could not always go to day care) was not easy. I'm not sure, even now, how it was actually possible. But somehow we scraped by.
As the youngest daughter grew up, I found myself longing to do it all once more. Told by my doctors that it was unlikely at best, I continued to hope and pray, and then found myself pregnant for the fourth time. But I got rather more than I bargained for. Desperately ill, and with psychological issues regarding my second birth still unresolved, I suffered devastating depression. I was in a very bad way, but the one thing I held fast to was that I was going to breastfeed my baby.
There were two things that I needed. I needed to feel that special closeness with my baby, and I needed to keep my life as simple as possible after he arrived. By now, I knew that only breastfeeding was going to work for us. And I held on to that throughout everything, researching the effect on human milk of the drugs I needed to take and building my determination to breastfeed no matter what.
My son's birth was slightly complicated by shoulder dystocia and, though I felt wonderful and triumphant, I was a little shocked and bewildered. Then, when he was weighed, it turned out that he was a whopping 12 pounds, two ounces!
Well, everyone had something to say about that. No one believed that such a big baby could be sustained by human milk alone, but, of course, he was. He and I share a marvelous bond and he is still breastfeeding at 23 months of age. With his three elder sisters also to contend with, there was no way I was taking the chance that he would come to prefer bottles so I never gave them to him. He is unbelievably healthy, has followed his growth pattern off the charts, eats a variety of foods, and has quite adult tastes.
Breastfeeding a baby when you have older children to occupy you can only make things easier for you. Breastfeeding was simpler and quicker, so I had more time for the other children, whether there was one or whether there were three. Breastfeeding keeps a baby healthy, boosting his or her immunity against the illnesses that older children inevitably contract and bring home for you all to share. That can only be an immense boon to any tired mother.
Breastfeeding bonds you closely to your child, and when there are others to consider, that time for generating a close bond with your youngest can go by the board. It's true that a first child has its parents fitting around her, whereas subsequent children tend to have to fit in with the existing family. So many times I have nursed my son on the sofa with one of my daughters next to me, getting my help with her homework or reading while he fed. Breastfeeding makes for easier nights, especially if you combine it with co-sleeping, which means you can cope better with the demands of your family because you are not so exhausted. Breastfeeding gets your child accustomed to a variety of flavors (as the flavor of the things you eat comes through in your milk) and that means that weaning is far less traumatic for the mother of many, who has little space in her life for complications in the form of fussy eaters.
Oh, and the best thing of all? If you breastfeed, you never get to a stage where a baby can hold the bottle himself. You just have to sit down!
Adapted with permission from www.breastfeedingsupport.co.uk.