Nursing the First Year

As we approach Krosby's first birthday I wanted to take some time and write about our nursing journey and what it has meant to me as her mama. I know everyone's story is different, not every mom wants or chooses to breastfeed and some are not able to. But for me it is something that has been extremely special and meaningful and that I feel has such big payoff!

As with all things motherhood, varying thoughts and opinions on the subject abound but here are some of the reasons I chose to not only start but stick with it.

{I want to give a disclaimer of sorts ahead of time. :> If you didn't or couldn't b-feed for any number of reasons, let's still be friends! I don't think you're a bad or weird person. I think you're a GREAT mama. You did what you felt was best for you and your baby. I don't want to spend an entire blog post couching each statement with "but it's ok if you didn't!" These are my reasons, my story and my hope is to perhaps educate, inspire, and/or simply relate the part that it has played in our lives. We're individuals with unique life experiences! If my story or opinions are different than yours, it's OK.}

1. It felt natural. Breastfeeding is part of God's design! Biologically, our bodies are designed to nurse babies and wouldn't you know it, when the baby is born you body goes to work to prepare sustenance for this new little life. Amazing sustenance that is specially formulated to be the right proportion of immune-boosting nutrients, the perfect temperature and a comfort for their sudden exposure to the outside world.

2. It's less work, eventually. Breastfeeding is not easy, until it is. It's hard at first! There are many challenges, especially as a first time mama that make you want to give up. Soreness, trouble latching, baby falling asleep, just getting the hang of it, mastitis, clogged ducts. But - if you can work through those issues one by one and have an awesome support team behind you, it really does get easier! And once you both have the hang of it, it. is. a. breeze. You can work on your phone while feeding your kid. Or better yet, doze off! There's no worrying about bottles to pack, how many you need, will we run out, etc. As long as mom is there, you're good! 

3. The health benefits are huge. For baby and mama. Babies have less colds and viruses at such a tiny stage in life and also a reduced risk of developing chronic conditions later in life. It reduces the risk of SIDS. For mama, it can mean stronger bones, a huge calorie burn (helping your body return to it's pre-pregnancy size sooner - this is true for some women, not all) and lowers the risk for certain cancers. 

4. You save money. Breastfeeding is FREE!!! And all the budget-loving daddys said "Amen." The cost of formula over the first year can add up to anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000, depending on brand. 

5. It's a great way to lower stress and fend off postpartum depression.

"Motherhood, and specifically breastfeeding - the most central physiological act of mothering during infancy, changes you because it literally alters your brain - structurally, functionally, and in many ways, irreversibly."

While nursing, oxytocin levels increase, which is the hormone responsible for breast milk and is the same chemical released in the brain when a person falls in love. Breastfeeding mamas were seen to release less stress hormones in certain situations.

"The nursing response of the oxytoxin circuits is reinforced by the feeling of pleasure created by bursts of dopamine - the pleasure and reward chemical. Dopamine is jacked up in the mother’s brain by estrogen and oxytocin. The mother’s blood pressure drops, she feels peaceful and relaxed, and she basks in waves of oxytocin-inspired loving feelings for her baby. This neurological mechanism explains one of the ways that breastfeeding reduces the risk of a mom developing postpartum depression"

This is a big deal to me as I did suffer with postpartum depression very badly after my first daughter was born. At the time, I knew nothing about MTHFR, or that I needed to change up my diet and supplements. I feel very confident that nursing has helped make me a calmer, happier mama in light of all the struggles and challenges that first year brings. 

**********

I do remember one day specifically wanting to quit. Krosby was projectile spitting up a LOT and I was over it. And it had only been a few days! I didn't know why it was happening, I was tired (I'm sure) and beyond frustrated. I scanned the formula aisles. Holy crap! That much for one container? I knew in my heart I wanted to keep going. And she stopped spitting up. I needed to change the way I was feeding her for a time, and it worked magically. We did some slight block feeding and that did the trick. It is so super important to have a support system in place and to know WHY you are wanting to breastfeed in the first place. It might seem inconsequential at the time, but during those first early months and as long as you wish to continue, the health and bonding benefits are HUGE! Nursing positively affects a baby's gut health which will play a part in his or her future health many years down the road. 

An antibody found in milk, SIgA, helps set up a healthy intestinal tract environment so that the baby is better equipped to handle environmental problems later on.

“We now recognize more and more that factors in breast milk influence the gut microbiota, which in turn sets up the immune system to have fewer chronic illnesses later in life...” 

These are just some of reasons breastfeeding has become such a priority to me. I dealt with mastitis early on {where I felt like I had the flu / woke up and thought I was dying!} as well as several clogged ducts. For me, I think those both happened as a result of trying to do too much too soon. It hasn't always been fun and without hassle being the sole provider of Krosby's nutrition but as the months have gone on, I wouldn't trade it for the world. I was less worried this time around about schedules and "has it been three hours yet?" I did more on-demand feeding which set me up with an amazing supply and reassured her when she was upset. Even now I can calm her down extremely fast if she is fighting sleep or we're in the midst of teething woes. 

She has not been sick once, other than a tiny cold that required no doctor's visit and we've had zero ear infections. Karlyn began getting ear infections right after we weaned around seven months. That has definitely been one difference this time around that I've observed. Breastfeeding is a commitment, no way around it but I am happy - oh SO happy - to say we are closing in on one year of successful nursing. I don't have a weaning date in mind but will follow her lead as she continues eating more food at meal times. Every baby is different - some wean sooner, some later. And with Winter upon us, I'm in no hurry to shut off such amazing immune support for her little body. The value of breast milk does not diminish with age; rather it becomes more nutritionally concentrated. Super cool!

I'm thankful for our journey to date and know that in the grand scheme, a year is such a short time in her life and in mine. I will always look back on this time with fondness and gratitude for the chance to care for my sweet girl in this way. Motherhood is a gift - though not always easy - and will stretch and challenge us in a number of ways. Feeding our babies, no matter how we choose to do it, is part of mothering and should fill us with thankfulness that we get to play a part.

 

Sources:

http://www.fitpregnancy.com/baby/breastfeeding/20-breastfeeding-benefits-mom-baby

http://www.babycenter.com/0_5-things-you-didnt-know-about-breastfeeding_10357141.bc

http://www.thealphaparent.com/2014/06/how-breastfeeding-changes-your-brain.html

http://phenomena.nationalgeographic.com/2014/02/03/how-breast-milk-engineers-a-babys-gut-and-gut-microbes/