Okay… time for the final chapter (for now) of my reasons for breastfeeding. Really, the list is extensive, and I could go on and on and on. But I have tried to narrow it down to the few reasons already discussed as well as the ones I am about to share. These last three, I feel, will be the hardest to put into words, even though I feel very strongly about them. Have you ever felt that way? Like you just can’t seem to form the sentences to communicate what you’re thinking (particularly when it’s a controversial subject and you don’t want to offend anyone)? Well, I’m going to do my best. So here it goes!
Breastfeeding makes weaning easier and sets the baby up for successful, healthy eating habits. Now when I say “weaning” I all not referring to ceasing to feed from the breast (though, that is the eventual outcome). I am referring to introducing solid food. The definition of weaning is “to accustom to something other than mother’s milk,” which is what I am referring to here. So that might sound a little strange… breastfeeding (mother’s milk) can help accustom the baby to something other than mother’s milk? Yes! Let me explain.
Firstly, breastfeeding and bottle feeding do not use the same muscles or movements (which is why some babies have issues with nipple confusion). The muscles a baby uses when breastfeeding are the same muscles that are later used for chewing. So by breastfeeding, baby is learning how to use and strengthen those muscles that will later be crucial in breaking down food for swallowing. Bottle-fed babies don’t get this opportunity.
Secondly, breastfed babies get to experience a variety of flavors from the breastmilk, whereas formula tastes the same every. single. time. Talk about boring! Studies have shown that the flavor of breastmilk changes based on what the mother eats. I don’t quite understand how this works (nor am I willing to taste my own milk to find out! Lol), but it has been shown that because of this, breastfed babies are less picky eaters than formula-fed babies. I don’t know about you, but picky eaters kind of irritate me a little bit. A friend and I were discussing that just this morning. Who wants to cater their entire family menu around what this child likes or that child hates? Nobody needs that added stress. If you’re like me, meal planning is hard enough as it is without all that drama! (There are other great ways to help your children be less picky when weaning, but I’ll share that in a future post.)
And lastly, breastfed babies are at a much lower risk for obesity. Why? And what does that have to do with weaning? Because breastfed babies natural eat what they need and no more. You cannot force a breastfed baby to eat (trust me!). He has natural portion control built in (we will discuss how to help this continue into the solid food stage in a later post). When babies are fed formula, it’s easy to coerce a child into eating more because “I made this formula for you, and it’s expensive, so you’re going to eat it!” Understandably so. Formula is expensive, and you wouldn’t want to waste it. But this habit of coaxing the child into finishing a bottle is actually training him to overeat and setting him up for poor eating habits later.
So easier weaning is one more reason I choose to breastfeed. I could go into more detail about that, but for sake of length, I’ll keep it to those 3 things.
Now let’s answer the question of “Why ‘extended’ breastfeeding (breastfeeding after the introduction of solids, usually for at least 2 years)?” The WHO recommends breastfeeding for “up to 2 years of age or beyond” with supplementary foods being added only after 6 months of age. Breastmilk still contains all nutrients that the baby needs and in the proper amounts for optimal development past 6 months. That first year, any solids should be an introduction to how to eat. The baby’s digestive system is not developed enough to receive full nutrition from solid food. Besides that, women who breastfeed (exclusively for at least 6 months, and continued after the introduction of solids) have a significantly lower risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer (as high as 91%!). The longer you nurse, the lower your risk. Perhaps because the breasts are doing what they were created to do?! Hmmm…? So extended breastfeeding is best for both you and your child.
The last reason I want to share is that it’s the way God designed us to feed our young children. You will find that this is my reasoning behind many of my “controversial” parenting decisions. I firmly believe that if God, the all- knowing creator of the universe, designed or instituted something a specific way, then that way must be best. I don’t care how much research or claims the AAP puts out there, I will always fall back on God’s design over their opinions. That being said, God clearly created the human body to bear children and feed them at the breast. You cannot argue against that fact. Our culture has made the breast into a sexual object and nothing more. While that is part of their purpose (just ask king Solomon in his correspondence with his wife-Song of Solomon), it is definitely not the sole purpose or they wouldn’t produce milk to begin with. Besides that, just watch a newborn on its mother’s chest. That baby will instinctively search out the breast for food. Nobody has to bribe him or sit him down and said, “Hey kid, you need to eat from this.” It’s the way God made him. Infant formula didn’t even exist until 1867, and didn’t become accepted or popular until the 1950s. That’s almost 6000 years of exclusively breastfed babies. How can anyone argue that it’s not the natural method of feeding? In a quick topical search, I found the Bible specifically mentions breastfeeding 11 times. One time, God even threatened “dry breasts” as a curse for not hearken to His Word (Hosea 9:14). So breastfeeding is the way God created us to feed our children. As mentioned in the previous post, He has created the breasts to produce the most nutrient-dense, incredibly-complex substance a baby could ever need to grow and develop in those early years. Why, if at all possible, would you want to give your child anything less?
Please don’t think I have no pity on those of you who have nursing difficulties. As I said before, I will share my story later. I understand your pain (physical and emotional). But before you decide whether or not to breastfeed and for how long, please look at the information here and do your own research. Ask yourself who’s best interest you are thinking of when you make the decision…your’s or your baby’s? I’ve heard a lot of “reasons”for not breastfeeding or for stopping early (at the VERY LEAST less than a year). Most of the time it is for the mother’s comfort and ease, not for the baby’s health and well being. Unfortunately, this is all too common in America. It’s “unpopular” to be seen breastfeeding at all, much less once the baby starts to eat solids. That’s a shame! Let’s educate our country and normalize breastfeeding again.
Again, my purpose in sharing all of this information is to help you become informed of the facts and to cause you to think. As you can tell, I feel very passionate about this, and I want the best for both my children and yours. However, as I said before, your parenting choices are your choices. Do what is best for your family in the situation you are in. There are always extenuating circumstances that are not covered here, and you have to make the best choice based on those circumstances. I’m not here to judge, and I will never confront anyone about their choice. I just want to stir your thoughts.
So why did you choose to breastfeed? How did you choose when to stop? Let me know in the comments.