Food for Thought

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Last week was World Breastfeeding Week, a week designed to improve breastfeeding rates internationally through education.

Did you know that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that breastfeeding continue for at least 12 months (exclusively for the first 6 months), and thereafter for as long as mother and baby desire?  Or that the World Health Organization recommends continued breastfeeding up to 2 years of age or beyond?   Despite these recommendations, and all of the proven health benefits, the Centers for Disease Control found in 2006 that only 13.6% of infants were exclusively breastfed through 6 months of age and only  22.7% were still breastfeeding at a year.

Nora and I were lucky to have had immediate skin to skin contact when she was born

and some good nursing in the hospital, to establish a healthy milk supply relatively quickly.

We had our share of bumps along the way, but by the time I returned to work (much too soon) when she was 8 weeks old, we had a good thing going.  Luckily, she had no problems going between mama and the bottle and I was able to make pumping work, so she could have breast milk while I worked.

As we near her first birthday, one of the exciting things for me is the milestone it means with regards to nursing.  When I got pregnant, I first said that my goal was to nurse her for 6 months; as I learned more about the benefits of breastfeeding, it changed into a goal of one year.  Now, just three weeks from Nora’s first birthday, I am so proud to be meeting that goal, to have brought her through her first year of life without a drop of formula.

And now I am setting a new goal: nursing until she is ready to wean.

As we have started the adventure of introducing foods, I’ve been reminded just how important breast milk still is to her diet.  With breast milk, there’s no worry about an allergic reaction.  When her weight gain slowed this past month (which, by the way – for worried family members – is par for the course with a newly mobile baby), it wasn’t more food the nurse recommended, but more time at the breast.

It’s been interesting for me to see how quickly I was faced with questions about her nursing.  As early as Christmas,

when Nora was barely three months old,

I was already being asked how long I planned to nurse her. As she’s been nearing a year in age, I’ve noticed another uptick in the frequency of the questions.  This time around, I’m much more comfortable in answering with the truth:

I love that my kid knows what to do when I hand her a whole piece of fruit.But, I also love the magic of mothering through nursing.

I love her eyes staring up at mine,

that she likes to reach for my mouth

and play with her toes.  And the sweet smell of her cuddled up close to me.

I love how it is something only I can do for her.

I love that it’s the beginning of an amazing mother-daughter relationship.Even if Nora is going on a year, nearly walking and talking, and – yes, able to ask for it – I love nursing and I love that she’s going to decide when to stop, not some artificial time line superimposed by social awkwardness.

I love nursing, and I wish the same for every future mama.  That’s some food for thought.

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9 responses

  1. Mary Krembs Avatar
    Mary Krembs

    I’m so psyched for you! Keep going as long as it works for you and for her. My first weaned her self at 15 months, my second got a little encouragement from me (I didn’t offer if she didn’t ask) at the same age. My youngest however is 2 years, nine months old this weekend and she shows no signs of stopping. All the things you mention above are so true, the looks, the closeness. Many cultures breast feed much longer than we do and they don’t have “issues”. Keep true to yourself Amber, you are amazing!

    1. Thanks, Mary! It’s so great to get encouragement from other mamas who understand just how wonderful – and not weird – it is. 🙂

  2. John Hinds Avatar
    John Hinds

    Good job. But you really don’t need the WHO to validate what is so natural and healthy. Nora is the only validation needed beyond yourself I think.

    1. I wasn’t using the WHO to validate anything, John. I referenced those recommendations because what might be common knowledge to you and me, I have found not be as widely known, and I think it’s important that others know about them.

  3. newlywed Avatar

    Just as a random FYI, and I have no desire to step into any heated nursing debates, but when I was studying for my master’s in child development, I learned that part of the reason that the WHO recommends nursing for 2 years is because it reduces the mother’s chances of becoming pregnant again in countries where women do not have access to other forms of birth control.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Larissa; I hadn’t heard that. My understanding is that breastfeeding is only (somewhat) effective as birth control when it is done exclusively – I.e. once food has been introduced at 6 months it’s no longer considered an effective method of preventing pregnancy. And is shady at best before then – I have a friend who’s about to have her second son 13 months after the birth of her first. 🙂 Perhaps they recommend it as birth control because of cultural stigma against intercourse with a lactating woman, rather than it’s effectiveness in preventing ovulation? I’d be really interested in any references you have on that. All I could find on the WHO website is that breastfeeding is able to provide 1/3 the needed amount of nutrition between 12 and 24 months.

  4. two things: 1. they also recomend it b/c formula has to be made with water, which is often contaminated.

    2. this made me cry a little. I really miss nursing aria. we stoped b/c I got on the nuvaring and my milk supply went from pumping 8-10 ounces in an hour to less than 2. stupid birth control. I plan to go longer with the next one. keep it up!

    1. Oh, that stinks! 🙁 I got an IUD and luckily haven’t seen any difference (plus, it’s the easiest birth control ever); next time round you should think about that.

  5. Doing “Mop” — Au Coeur

    […] By Nora’s first birthday, the newness of the “milk” sign had worn off and she only used it when she really wanted to nurse.  She was exploring more and more food and loving it  – some days she only nursed three or four times, but she ate and ate and ate.  She had teeth as early as four months and had a mouthful by a year, so she was able to eat almost anything I ate.  But at a year, Nora was still so much a baby.  She wasn’t yet walking (though it didn’t take long) and she was a teeny-tiny little thing.  She couldn’t nap without nursing and definitely couldn’t wake up without nursing.  Things were going so well and I couldn’t see any reason to change things, so I changed my expectations instead.  At a year, I decided to nurse her until she was ready to stop. […]

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