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Breastfeeding and Parenting

This section is for questions not answered in the breastfeeding section of the online manual. Following the style of the manual, I generally refer to babies as masculine to avoid the "her or his" terminology.

Everyone who writes about parenting does so from a particular perspective, and that includes us. We encourage the eco-breastfeeding lifestyle, and we answer questions from that perspective. We are quite aware that some parents have chosen a different form of babycare, but we want to support those who have chosen the more natural way to care for a baby. We believe that God designed the breasts to provide both nourishment and nurturing for the baby. He has a plan for baby care and baby spacing.

There is very little support in our society for the eco-breastfeeding parents. We know this because we get calls from mothers and husbands about how lonely they feel with this type of parenting. We likewise felt this loneliness. We felt right in what we were doing, but we knew of no one else who cared for their baby the way we did. We know how much parents desire support in this type of parenting from their church, their family and friends, and from society.

Q: How does a mother know when to nurse her baby?
R: Babies will often signal their need to nurse by smacking their lips, sticking out their tongues, sucking on their hands or fingers, or turning their heads (rooting). Fussing is also a sign. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states that mothers should offer the breast "whenever the infant shows signs of hunger such as increased alertness, physical activity, mouthing, or rooting." Further the AAP adds: "Crying is a late indicator of hunger." (Pediatrics, Feb. 2005).

Q: Is it normal for a baby to cry? Some say a baby normally cries two to three hours a day.
R: I have frequently read in magazines and newspapers that crying for one to three hours a day is normal for babies. Authors who write such things might say it differently if the crying baby was in the next apartment!

Crying, during the lives of our five breastfed children, was rare. Babies cry for good reason-to call attention to something that needs a response. Failure to respond to a baby's cry can increase the levels of stress hormones in the baby's brain in an unhealthy way. In societies where traditional breastfeeding is common, crying babies are an exception. A bishop told me, "My five years in the Peruvian Andes taught me basically [that] children were spaced by three to four years, and they were ever so well behaved in Church as toddlers. No crying or screaming." -SK

Q: I have been told that I should not rock my child to sleep because if the child awakes later during the night, he will need me to rock him to sleep again. Is that true?
R: In my experience this was not true. I rocked our first child to sleep in my rocking chair for about three years. Eventually she went to sleep on her own without my rocking her to sleep. I don't ever remember her waking up during the night and needing me to rock her back to sleep again. I breastfed this child for only ten months; thus this "rocking" time during those early years was a special time for us.

Society today urges mothers to promote early independence, especially in matters of sleep. In fact, babies have strong dependency needs that, when fully met, go away easily in time. Rocking a child to sleep increases the calming hormones in the child's brain and is beneficial. There is no need for mothers to be afraid to help their children fall asleep as long as the child needs it. Time spent in the rocking chair with a little one nursing is a very important time for both mother and baby. -SK

Q: I have been told to put my baby down at a certain time in the evening, pat the baby, and then leave the room. The reason given is that the baby needs to learn to self-soothe himself to sleep or to go to sleep on his own. The supposed experts say this is important so the infant learns to be independent. Is this true?
R: I have never seen any research to support this. Why would a baby need to be independent at a stage when practically all their needs are met by the mother? The baby is almost completely dependent upon the mother. This advice does not seem to be age-appropriate. Again, this advice stems from a society in which the wants and desires of the parents override the legitimate dependency needs of the baby. Babies need help calming themselves, and the sweetness of the milk, the comfort of the suckling, and the security of the mother's presence all help the child learn that going to sleep is a positive experience.

Remember, breastfeeding is just as important for the baby during the night as it is during the day. Babies thrive on mother's presence 24/7. The breastfeeding during the night is important for the baby's continued nourishment, the baby's emotional satisfaction of being close to his mother, and the continued maintenance of natural infertility associated with this practice.

With nursing mothers, nighttime parenting is so much easier. Mothers who nurse their babies during the night while resting or sleeping are usually well rested in the morning. Night-nursing is one thing most nursing mothers learn to do well in their sleep. -SK

Q: I have been told not to let the baby nurse to sleep at the breast. The reason given is that the baby will never learn to go to sleep without nursing. Is this true?
R: No. In my opinion, this is improper advice to give to any breastfeeding mother. Why? Breastfeeding is the easiest way to put a baby to sleep, and, in my opinion, this benefit should never be discouraged. Breastfed babies who fall asleep at the breast eventually learn to sleep on their own after the breastfeeding ceases.

Oftentimes parents are told that if the baby wakes at night, the baby should self-soothe himself back to sleep. This advice is quite inappropriate for the breastfeeding mother. In fact, she would not want to go all night without nursing because the nursing during the night helps to keep her milk supply ample. In addition, she avoids having engorged breasts from having gone a long time without nursing. Keeping the baby with the mother eliminates many breastfeeding problems.

Breastfeeding is the best answer for a baby who wakes during the night. With breastfeeding and co-sharing sleep during the night, the baby easily falls back to sleep. Moms are better rested, babies are happier, gain weight well, and cry less; and dads are usually happy not to have to get up during the night for the baby. -SK

Q: Is sleeping with my baby during the night healthy?
R: Yes, IF you are a sober, non-smoking breastfeeding mother sleeping with your baby on a safe surface and your husband is also sober and a non-smoker. For safe-bedsharing guidelines, go to Links. The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement on SIDS in October 2005, but unfortunately their policy recommended against bedsharing. Breastfeeding advocacy organizations have heavily criticized that recommendation. To review statements by some of these organizations about the AAP anti-bedsharing recommendations, see Links.

I find helpful the analysis of Dr. Margaret Ribble who states that the mother helps her baby to breathe.

It happens that the baby's first response to her touch is respiratory. From being held, fondled, allowed to suck freely and frequently, the child receives reflex stimulation, which primes his breathing mechanisms into action and which enables the whole respiratory process to become organized under the control of his own nervous system.
There is an ancient belief, still current, that babies who sleep with their mothers are in danger of suffocation. This bit of folklore is for the most part a reversal of truth. Since the contact is a protection rather than a peril to the infant, he sleeps more safely in the first weeks at his mother's side than in the stimulus-free seclusion of a modern nursery. (The Rights of Infants,1965; p.18)

Thus I often tell parents that the mother can act as a "pacemaker" for her baby's breathing during the night. -SK

Q: I finished reading a popular breastfeeding book published in 2005. The impression given is that a baby in his first month might average 8 feedings a day and then eventually go to six feedings a day. What is your view on this?
R: Dr. Bill Taylor, when doing research on ecological breastfeeding and the return of fertility, accepted into his study only those mothers who were nursing at least nine times during the 24-hour day. In his opinion those mothers who nursed only 6 or 8 times a day were not doing eco-breastfeeding. For years I have taught that if mothers are down to 6 or 7 feedings a day, their fertility or menstruation has probably returned or if it hasn't, it soon will.

Dr. William Sears was asked on a breastfeeding video, "How can a mother nurse successfully?" His answer was simple: "Frequently, frequently, frequently." In other words, for a mother to be successful with nursing, she must nurse frequently. The same can be said for the breastfeeding mother who is interested in extended breastfeeding infertility. She must nurse "frequently, frequently, frequently." This is the basis of God's plan. This is the basis of the Seven Standards. I would never encourage a mother to set a goal of nursing her baby only six or eight times a day. Your baby is your guide.

The beauty of eco-breastfeeding is that the frequent nursing day and night keeps the mother's supply of milk ample for her baby and even for twin babies. -SK

Q: I was told in the hospital that I should never be a pacifier for my baby. What is your view on this?
R: One of the benefits of breastfeeding is that you can pacify your infant or older baby at the breast. This is part of God's plan. You do not need pacifiers. We used a pacifier all the time with our first baby before we knew better, but with the last four babies we didn't have a pacifier in the house and never missed it. Babies who are pacified at the breast on and off during the day and night and who are allowed to suckle and meet most of their emotional needs at the breast usually do not develop the habit of sucking their fingers or of sucking on a blanket or other object. Some babies definitely have stronger sucking needs than others, but if a baby does suck his fingers, he will usually drop this habit if the breastfeeding continues to be frequent and unrestricted. Our third baby sucked two fingers at times even with frequent, unrestricted nursing. We ignored this habit of hers, and she eventually dropped it and continued to breastfeed.

Pacifiers often shorten individual breastfeeding sessions, and they also shorten the duration of overall breastfeeding. One advantage of avoiding pacifier use is that you can read the baby's feeding cues much earlier. Also, you get to enjoy the baby's cute little smiles, facial expressions and baby sounds when nothing is in his mouth. Breastfed babies are thus free to experiment with sounds and speech without the impediment of a pacifier. -SK

Q: I am told that if I eco-breastfeed my baby, I will be nursing all the time. Is that true?
R: Dr. Bill Taylor studied those mothers who aimed to go a long time between feedings (not conducive to natural infertility) and those mothers who had short intervals between feedings (conducive to natural infertility). The amount of time spent nursing a baby was almost equivalent in both groups.

Mothers who nurse frequently tend to nurse for shorter sessions and have shorter intervals between the breastfeeding sessions. The nursing sessions might be longer when the baby is sleepy or needs pacification. This kind of nursing is associated with extended breastfeeding infertility. I've counseled many breastfeeding mothers over the years and cannot remember anyone complaining about how often they nursed.

If a baby is sick or needs comfort for some reason, the best person to provide this comfort is his mother, and often this comfort takes place on her person as she does her activities. Slings are popular with breastfeeding mothers. They allow the mother freedom to have both arms free, and oftentimes no one knows the baby is nursing when in the sling. See "Babywearing - 101" by Gretchen Pimentel. This article promotes the many benefits of babywearing. -SK

Q: I feel uncomfortable nursing my baby at church. What is the best way to nurse in church?
R: I used a long wool shawl in the winter and a light-weight cotton shawl in the summer to provide privacy when I was nursing my baby in church. The shawls also aided in the carrying of my baby. You can also be seated in the middle of your family or at the end of the pew with your husband on your other side. There are clothes and two-piece outfits that make nursing easier and modest, and some mothers nurse modestly with the use of a baby sling. Breastfeeding mothers cannot drop out of church attendance for one or more years because church attendees might feel uncomfortable about breastfeeding that occurs at church. See "Breastfeeding in Church" by Michaela Prentis for more insight on this issue. -SK

Q: How do I find support for eco-breastfeeding in my church or in my community?
R: The first step would be to ask. Call your parish office. Ask the secretary or the pastor. Rarely, however, will they know what you're talking about. So check next with La Leche League. Is there a local LLL chapter? Do the LLL leaders support eco-breastfeeding? A new organization, the Catholic Nursing Mothers League, has been founded to develop eco-breastfeeding support in parishes and larger communities. Check their website, www.catholicbreastfeeding.org. There may be a group near you.

If there is no support for eco-breastfeeding in the community, a mother might consider starting a group for her church or for her community. Such a group could have as its primary goal to offer support to mothers on a spiritual or practical level so that the mothers will nurse for at least one year, or even two years or more. Such members can meet at their church, at coffee-gathering spots, or public libraries. Members can also give talks to students, to those involved in the various church ministries, and even to government and community representatives so that more persons are informed and learn why "babies are at risk if their mothers do not breastfeed," the new message of the U. S. government.

Pregnant and breastfeeding mothers can find support and correct information from the various breastfeeding websites offered at Links. But nothing beats the mother-to-mother support found in local neighborhood groups started by moms who have or are successfully breastfeeding. Personal support from the husband and other mothers is important in continuing with the breastfeeding. Too many mothers quit in those first few weeks after childbirth due to breastfeeding difficulties. Mothers need encouragement and proper support to overcome any difficulties.