The Effect of Breastfeeding on Parenting

breastfeedingcafecarnivalWelcome to The Breastfeeding Cafe Carnival!

This post was written as part of the Breastfeeding Cafe’s Carnival. For more info on the Breastfeeding Cafe, go to For more info on the Carnival or if you want to participate, contact Claire at clindstrom2 {at} gmail {dot} com. Today’s post is about how breastfeeding has changed the way you parent. Please read the other blogs in today’s carnival listed below and check back for more posts July 18th-31st!

ImageI started on a blank slate…and I mean blank for generations! Neither my mother nor my grandmother breastfed for longer than a few weeks. I had never seen a woman breast feed and had only heard a tid-bit hear and there from the few women I knew that were breastfeeding. Being the little researcher and biologist I was, I read ravenously about the topic while incubating our first child. I focused on all of the problems that could occur, how to fix them, and of course all of the benefits that could stem from such a relationship. The biggest reason I was so dedicated to the idea was simply that it was natural and the way our bodies had evolved to feed our children. Why give them anything else? So despite my family history, having never seen the act and having a million little voices in our culture saying, “you may not produce enough milk”, I tackled this beast head on!

Image 9I suppose I introduce this topic in this way because historically, people tend to parent as their parents did before them. Even if their intentions are to defy the norm, they lean heavily on the known rather than the unknown. Breastfeeding was a leap of faith for my husband and I, in that regard. We had no idea how it would affect the way we reared our son or how all of our other decisions would ultimately be dictated by our observations from this relationship.

Image 7America is a wash of cribs, fitted sheets, American Pediatric recommendations and culturally sure that independence stems from creating isolation as early as possible. A healthy, early breastfeeding relationship is, in part, established by nighttime feedings. A sleep deprived mom and dad that support breastfeeding quickly find that most nurslings sleep best within arms reach of mommy. As a brand new mother, raised in the southeast, I had predominantly seen babies placed in cribs and usually in a separate room from the parents with a monitor of some sort. Being a biologist, that method always seemed strange to me. No other species did this and from what I had read, a good portion of humans throughout history did not either. But I had a crib sitting around just in case. The first thing breastfeeding dictated in our parenting was co-sleeping with our child. That crib literally collected dust and cat hair. We all slept better and our child established the difference between night and day, in part, because of the hormone signals I sent him through breastfeeding. Honestly, we all slept better for many more reasons than that. I have read a lot of research on the breastfeeding/co-sleeping dynamics of the mother-child dyad and their results only re-enforced my own experience. My husband and I learned early on, from these nighttime interactions, that biologically we had instincts pre-laid with our child that we could trust. I can soundly say breastfeeding established our trust in our instincts and lead to a more responsive relationship with our child, from the very beginning.

Image 4Once our boy was born, it dawned upon me how much I was holding this little baby. Speaking of trusting instincts, it just seemed obvious to me that a newborn needed to be very close to their caretaker as much as possible. Constant breastfeeding made sure I stayed close, but in-between, he actually slept best when on my body. Nursing a newborn all day leaves a lot of time for reading, when I wasn’t passed out with him! I learned a lot about how extra-utero our human infants are when they first come into the world. I also learned a lot about how other cultures accommodated this high need for touch. Many did it through “wearing” their baby in some way. I had been given a Moby wrap prior to his birth, and although I was very interested in using it, I could not, for the life of me, figure out how to manipulate 5 feet of fabric effectively without throwing a hissy fit. Don’t worry, I figured it out! A little patience and some you tube videos gave me all the practice I needed to start using that wrap and my husband and I have not looked back since!

Image 5I do attribute each of these techniques, parental lifestyle choices, call it what you will, to breastfeeding. Before I continue, let me remind you that my husband and I both were raised in households where cribs were a norm and breastfeeding in my family was non-existent. So I can say that the co-sleeping, baby-wearing business likely evolved, in our case, from the unique introduction of breastfeeding and not some other component. But I digress…

Nursing became a parenting tool in and of itself. We used it to sooth our child to sleep and to calm him when he was distraught physically or emotionally. As effective as it was, it relied heavily on me. Nursing to sleep and nursing to keep him asleep was especially tiring at times when he was a little baby. At night there was (and still is) mamma and only mamma. Breastfeeding lead to baby soothing and comfort leaning heavily, almost entirely, upon my shoulders until he was close to a year old. So I suppose if there were a taxing side to the breastfeeding relationship upon parenting, this seemed it. In the grand scheme of things, this was a brief moment in time. Now that he is older, we would never do it differently. Our little one found unique ways to fall asleep and calm down with others, soon enough, all by him self. We never had to teach him or let him cry. Of course I still nurse him to sleep and love it!

Image 1The final major influence breastfeeding had upon our parenting was our switch to cloth diapers. Cloth diapering was, again, a new and un-experienced concept for my husband and I. Disposable diapers were all we saw. As the trash bags filled up and more and more lotion had to be slathered on to our precious baby’s rear end, we began to seriously contemplate other options. Breastfeeding was so clean, natural and economical. Surely there had to a similar option for babies going potty!! I spent months researching cloth diapers. It was like an experiment in my lab!! So I chose a system and pulled the trigger. It was, again, a fantastic decision for our family and a unique one that in part stemmed from our breastfeeding relationship with our child.

Our boy is now 18 months old, still breastfeeding, co-sleeping, well on his way to potty trained and the joy of our lives. The microenvironment of this family has strongly been developed by and evolved from breastfeeding. We could not imagine life with out it. At the same time, it has most definitely been hard work and dedication to maintain such a relationship and to follow all of the methods we have chosen because of it.

Image (1)Ada lives in North Carolina and is a doctoral student in the Biology Department at the University of North Carolina Charlotte. If she isn’t in a lab, she is hanging out with her boys and her fuzzy ones. To appreciate the study of life is to appreciate all living things and the diverse ways in which they grow and thrive!

Here are more posts by the Breastfeeding Cafe Carnival participants! Check back because more will be added throughout the day.

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