Breast Feeding—A Mother’s Loving “Sacrifice”
MY HUSBAND and I had decisions to make. We were having our first baby! But this impending birth raised a number of issues that needed settling. Would we try “natural” childbirth? Would my husband be in the delivery room with me? Which hospital would we choose? On and on the list of decisions went.
One decision in particular, however, has brought me much joy—the decision to breast-feed my baby. Now you may be interested in how and why we made our decision—and why I’m so glad we did.
First, I read several books on the subject and talked with many of my friends who were nursing or had nursed their children. I learned that most doctors and pediatricians agree that mother’s milk is a superior way of feeding not only from a nutritional standpoint but from an emotional standpoint as well. I studied the changes a woman’s body goes through during pregnancy. My husband and I even attended childbirth classes together.
My “homework” helped me get a more realistic picture of what nursing a child would be like; that it is a big job. It is a part of childrearing that a wife cannot share even with the most compassionate husband! Nevertheless, my husband and I talked it over and we decided that I would exclusively breast-feed our child.
I’ll never forget what it was like having our first baby. The pains of labor over, the doctor presented to me a new person—a daughter! I examined every little finger and toe before the nurse took her to clean her up. To be honest, I was a bit anxious about that first feeding. I had heard that some babies really are not all that interested in the first feeding and even fall asleep on the mother.
This was not the case with our daughter, however. I was quite surprised at how strong her sucking instinct was. I experienced a bit of pain. But I got used to it and found that feeding on “demand,” rather than adhering to a time schedule, prevented my breasts from becoming engorged, which can be a problem for new mothers.
It takes a few days after the baby’s birth before the breasts give milk. But that is no problem for the infant, since he gets his nourishment from the yellowish liquid called colostrum the body produces in the meantime. As the book Nursing Your Baby says, the colostrum “plays a particularly vital role in protecting the infant against disease. Colostrum contains disease antibodies, and particularly viral disease antibodies, which have now been found to be utilized by human babies and to protect them against specific diseases throughout the first six months of life, whether or not breast feeding is continued after the first few days.”
Knowing this is a needed encouragement to you when you’re nursing because, quite frankly, at times I found myself almost dreading the next feeding. My doctor advised me to apply pure lanolin between feedings. I personally found it best just to “grin and bear it” until my body got used to it. Fortunately I never experienced bleeding, though some women do. And fair-skinned women usually have a more difficult time adjusting, since often their skin is a bit more tender. It takes determination for such ones to stick with their feeding job.
You also have to get used to the way the body continually replaces the milk the baby takes out. The first time my daughter slept for an extended time, I was in such pain that I had to get up and squeeze some milk out myself. But usually within the first four to six weeks, baby and mother get adjusted to one another and it’s “smooth flowing” from then on.
I must confess that at times I almost succumbed to the temptation to bottle-feed my baby. A newborn needs to be fed virtually around the clock. That meant no letup for me. And when you have to wake up for a middle-of-the-night feeding, you sometimes wish you could let someone else have a turn at feeding the baby. But I had made up my mind that I would not supplement my milk with a prepared formula. So I found it best not even to have the baby formula in the house.
Of course, well-meaning observers at times offer unsolicited “help” by saying: “Maybe your milk is too weak” or “How do you know she’s getting enough, since you can’t tell how much she is drinking?” Or even, “Maybe your milk is too rich.” However, as long as the baby is gaining sufficient weight and is responding normally, and the mother herself is in good health and is on a proper and balanced diet, she can be confident her milk is quite the perfect food for her child.
Our First Separation
My first trip out of the house after having the baby was to the grocery store. When I returned I found Daddy and baby waiting for me at the window, both very upset! Although I had squeezed sufficient milk for emergency use, I hadn’t planned on the whole bottle being spilled. Neither did Daddy. I quickly decided that during the first six months, or at least until she could eat solid foods, I would not be separated from my baby for longer than a few hours.
Nevertheless, taking your infant in public has its own problems. Often baby decides to eat before you expect her to, which of course puts you in an awkward position. Some mothers are quite discreet about nursing their babies so as to avoid offending others. Some infants, however, seem to resent being covered while being nursed. Mother may have to resign herself to sitting alone in a rest room until her baby is satisfied.
Worth the Sacrifice
Obviously, the decision to breast-feed your child is a serious one. Quite a sacrifice is involved. For me, however, the advantages outweighed the disadvantages. I remember, for example, a friend of mine who got stuck in a traffic jam. She’ll never forget how helpless she felt sitting in the car, unable to feed her screaming baby. Her baby, you see, was used to a bottle. How she wishes she had breast-fed her child! Of course, in some cases artificial feeding may be advisable, especially if the mother has a serious illness or is addicted to drugs.
Breast-feeding has other advantages. You never have to worry about running out of milk. The more baby needs, the more milk is produced as the weeks pass. There are no bottles to sterilize. (I wonder how many parents have accidentally broken or dropped that last bottle of formula at 2 a.m. and literally cried over spilled milk.) Nor do you have to worry about changing formulas to meet the needs of your growing baby. You can be confident that baby is getting proper nourishment as long as you maintain a well-balanced diet and drink plenty of fluids.
However, I feel the biggest advantage is the way it contributes to a close relationship with your child. The constant touching, attention and affection between mother and child is just irreplaceable.
But I don’t think I could have done it without the loving cooperation and encouragement of my husband. Some husbands seem to resent the nonstop attention a mother gives her newborn. And having a baby definitely restricts your activities. Some restaurants, for example, make it clear that children are not welcome. So a husband who impatiently asks, “When are you going to wean the baby?” can be very discouraging to his wife. But when he helps out by, for example, bringing the baby to his wife to feed, or helps to change the diapers, he endears himself to his wife.
I therefore look back on my experience with pleasure. For me, the joys and wonderful memories of breast-feeding my baby far outweigh any of the sacrifices.—Contributed.