Breastfeeding as a Parenting Tool
I’m sure you’ve heard it before. There are so many benefits to breastfeeding! From health benefits for baby and mom, to optimal nutrition, to cancer risk reduction, breastfeeding is pretty amazing. It also helps babies’ brains develop better, and it’s convenient.
Those are all great reasons to breastfeed. There’s another great reason, which is often overlooked, and that’s the way that breastfeeding is an excellent parenting tool. It actually makes day-to-day life easier for moms and families in several different ways!
- Nursing bonds moms to their babies.
Not only does nursing help mom and baby bond together, but it specifically bonds the mom to the baby. It causes chemical reactions in the body and hormonal changes which help mom feel a deeper connection and affection for her baby. This is probably one of the reasons why breastfeeding reduces the risk of postpartum depression. This strengthened bond is also so important to surviving those difficult fussy days and nights with interrupted sleep—it’s easier to handle those challenges when there is a rock-solid bond between mother and baby.
- Nursing is a natural pacifier.
In my experience, most crying can be calmed with the offer to nurse. Babies cry to express their needs, and nursing fulfills multiple needs at the same time—nourishment, comfort, closeness, security, physical touch, social interaction, and more. While it can be tiring to nurse as frequently as baby requests, it helps to shift perspective and realize that this high-need time in a baby’s life is very short and fleeting. It will pass—which is both a blessing and bittersweet.
- Nursing offers complete nutrition, and is a natural multivitamin.
One of the best benefits of breastfeeding is that it provides perfect nutrition for babies, and breastmilk even naturally changes composition as baby grows to meet his or her changing nutritional needs. Babies thrive on breastmilk, and can continue to nurse exclusively for a year or more with no nutritional deficits—so introducing solid food can be free of pressure or stress. Any food added to the diet is a bonus to the healthy foundation of breastmilk, until baby starts eating more solids than milk, and eventually weans, at his or her own pace. For toddlers who nurse to supplement their diet rather than provide the bulk of it, breastmilk turns into a sort of multivitamin, providing important nutrients and filling in the gaps from his or her regular eating habits. In other words, meeting nutritional needs is much less stressful for parents when breastmilk is involved.
- Nursing is a natural immunization.
Another incredible benefit of nursing is that breastmilk contains antibodies to help babies fight infections. When mom is exposed to all of the same germs as her baby, her body will begin making antibodies for those germs, which will then be transferred to baby in the breastmilk. This is why breastfed babies get sick less and can fight illnesses more effectively. Breastmilk provides extra protection for babies’ immune systems!
- Nursing supports sleep for mom and baby.
Nursing is, for many babies, a very effective way to induce sleep. Putting a baby down for a nap or bedtime can be a breeze when baby is nursed to sleep, and gently transferred to bed. (It doesn’t work for all babies, but it’s worth a try—or several dozen tries!) Even taking a mental break with a baby sleeping on your chest can be beneficial for moms.
Nursing at night, if also co-sleeping, is an easy way to get more sleep with a baby who wakes frequently. Mom can roll over and nurse baby back to sleep without disrupting her own sleep very seriously; as opposed to a bottle-fed baby or a baby in their own crib, who would require mom or dad to get up, go to them, prepare a bottle, feed them, lull them back to sleep, return them to their crib, and finally go back to bed. Night nursing is more convenient than bottle feeding, and it doesn’t involve any form of “cry it out” sleep training. For many parents, that makes it the optimal choice.
There truly are a vast number of benefits to breastfeeding, and it is incredibly useful parenting tool. It’s not always easy, especially in the beginning, but for mothers who are able to and choose to breastfeed, it may become one of the most cherished aspects of early parenting. And the attachment it encourages will continue to have benefits throughout a child’s early years.
Expectant parents can learn more about the benefits of breastfeeding, and how to get off to the best start with nursing a new baby, in any Better Birthing childbirth preparation course.