Photo © Roxana Bashyrova/Shutterstock
Last week I was told, “There’s a time and place for
everything” when it comes to breastfeeding. It’s not the first time I’ve
ever heard that, and I couldn’t agree more! The time is whenever baby is
hungry, and the place is wherever Mama is.
When we breastfeed, we feed “on demand” or “on cue.” This is an essential
part of the breastfeeding relationship between Mama and baby. It’s how our
bodies know how much milk to make. If you’d like to know more about why we
feed on demand, please see this excellent post from Kellymom on how milk production works.
Babies generally eat anywhere from every forty-five minutes to three hours.
They nurse anywhere from four minutes to forty-five minutes on average. Do
the math and you can see how much of our day we spend breastfeeding! It can
be even more intense during growth spurts or when babies cluster feed. Additionally, babies cannot
wait to eat like you and I can. When their tiny little tummies are empty,
the need is immediate and urgent. And what do our breastfed babies eat? Breastmilk. From the breast. Nothing else.
Sometimes a baby’s feeding pattern is predictable, but not always.
Babies go to the breast for many reasons; hunger is only one of them. It
is not uncommon that a baby overstimulated by all the activity of a grocery
store or airport will cry to breastfeed because he needs the comfort and
closeness of mom to help regulate himself. That is a normal and natural part
of breastfeeding and it is an important part of the baby’s emotional
development. It’s also important for everyone else in the grocery store or
airport who doesn’t want to listen to a screaming baby.
The best thing for a mother to do when she starts to see
signs that her baby wants to breastfeed is nurse her immediately. This will
help promote a good, swift latch with minimal fuss and prevent the baby from
become too upset to nurse properly. If a mother has to spend time searching
for a “private” spot to nurse, or fumbling around in the diaper bag for
something to cover her baby with, she will miss a small window in which her
baby will very easily go to the breast and feed. Incidentally, this is a
good way to breastfeed “modestly for those who are interested, because if you pick
up on hunger cues fast enough, your baby won’t cry to be fed and draw
attention to you and your breasts. I’ve found just quickly unsnapping your
bra, lifting your shirt, and latching the baby on doesn’t really draw a lot
of attention to yourself. And for the most part, people who glance at you
just think you’re holding your baby.
Being able to feed our babies as we go about our daily
routines is also an integral part of the baby’s growth and development.
Imagine if you had to go home or hide away every time you ate. Eating is a
very social aspect of adult life and it’s not any different for babies.
Babies are growing and learning at an incredible rate that will only slow
down as they age. Sequestering them or isolating them while they eat (which
they spend so much of their life doing) is cutting them off from the world
they need to grow and develop. A baby feels very safe and secure when he is
nursing. The stimulus he is receiving from the outside world is not nearly
as threatening or overwhelming when he is breastfeeding. Just like we need
balance, so do our babies and the act of nursing them in public helps
Additionally, if mothers restrict their movements while
breastfeeding (remember, that’s a large portion of their day), baby is also
restricted in their exposure to life, and what life is all about. It’s
important for babies to see what their parents do so they can learn from it.
If Mama sits around at home all day, that’s what the baby will think life is
all about. And that can be pretty shocking when she weans and is suddenly
thrown into the big wide world. If a baby is busy and active with mom,
engaging in the normal activities of everyday life, that is what she will
grow up understanding as normal. It’s extremely important.
I don’t think most people realize, but when they say things
like, “There’s a time and a place for breastfeeding,” they are unfairly
placing severe restrictions on a nursing mother and her baby (and whatever
other children or family she has). We have to be able to get out and live
our lives, and we have to feed our babies. Breastfeeding, like other forms
of feeding, is not something we do at our whim or for fun. We do it because
our babies are hungry, or need to feed. It’s not something that can be
delayed or postponed, or done at our (or anybody else’s) convenience.
So Mamas, get out there and nurse those babies as you shop
for groceries, go to the movies, have dinner with friends, or visit your
family. We know we are just going about our days and that breastfeeding is
an enormous part of our daily activities. You have a right to feed your
baby, just as he has right to eat. You are giving your
baby the best by breastfeeding him and, as the baby’s mother, you
know when your baby needs to eat. You are not doing anything wrong and if
someone has a problem with it, that’s their issue to resolve, not yours. If
someone tells you, “There is a time and place for breastfeeding,” just let
them know you couldn’t agree more!
Christine Ingram works to make breastfeeding an
easier choice for all families by advocating on Twitter as @Wolf_Mommy. She is the mother of
three-year-old Wolf and a baby girl due in July, and has a background in
Anthropology and Healthcare.