Breastfeeding: Advice from a Recovered Boob Nazi

I am honored to have been able to write the following post for Angelo at Latest in Paleo.  He, his podcast and site are awesome and inspiring – he is one of the best resources for valid, useful, Paleo information – plus, just an all around super guy. Matt and I really leaned on his podcast when starting Paleo.  Thanks for helping us succeed and to realize we are not broken by default!

Breastfeeding Background

To establish credibility, let me first give you my bulletized breastfeeding resume:

  • I have successfully breastfed 3 children, until they self weaned at varying ages, but all over 1 year (youngest is still a nursling at 13 months)
  • I exclusively provided breastmilk as the sole nutrient for my children until they began solids (never used formula)
  • I have been actively involved in LLLi for nearly 6 years; I’ve been asked to be a Leader but have declined and instead served as the Librarian, Welcoming Committee and helped maintain the online group while I continue to be able to tell my personal stories and recommendations as one of the group’s long-standing “gurus”

Does this make me better than you?  No.  Does this mean you’re a failure if you don’t have your own breastfeeding bullets?  No.  Years ago I would’ve answered yes to those questions; I was obsessed with my superiority as a mother for the accomplishment.  But with some years and maturation under my belt, I realized it wasn’t a fair mind set.

What I’ve learned over the nearly 6 years I’ve breastfed our boys is that every breastfeeding relationship is unique and rarely does one not present its own challenges.  I was fortunate enough to be born a stubborn, persistent, control-freak who insists on doing things the way she wants.  Ultimately, that led to my success with breastfeeding our boys.  That doesn’t mean I didn’t fight physical, emotional and social stress.  What it does mean is that I was able to find a support system, a “village”, that helped propel my successes and avoid typical pitfalls common to today’s nursing mother.

I wrote about the importance of finding a support system and giving a breastfeeding a go in our Baby-Led Weaning Series,  but when Angelo Coppola asked for guest bloggers I knew I needed to write on the topic in more detail – in support of the UK’s “missing” National Breastfeeding Awareness Week June 19-26, 2011.*  Since an entire country can’t find a few quid to scrape together for someone to write up something about the topic, I figured the time was just about right.

There are an infinite number of online resources to discover the wonderful benefits of breastfeeding.  I’m going to go out on a limb and say if you’re reading this blog you’re probably already on the side of the fence that’s able to admit breastfeeding is best; so, I won’t do that whole rigga-ma-roll.  Instead, I’d like to talk about my personal experience (yes, n=1 coming straight at you!) in how breastfeeding and eating Paleo has shaped my children to be what they are today.

Telling the Story Backwards: What a Breastfed Baby Grows Up To Be

Oh wait, I forgot a bullet above.  My kid is an award winning Healthy Eater, as deemed by the entire graduating Kindergarten class!

This is Cole.  Cole will be 6 years old in August.  For lunch he requests a tuna or salmon salad with capers, dill and olive oil over fresh garden lettuce.  A side of beef jerky, roasted seaweed, carrots with guacamole and an apple with almond butter often round out lunch and afternoon snack for him.  In the evenings he scarfs down our offal sauce, all manner of seafood (mussels and hot pot with octopus and clams in particular) and most any vegetables we send his way.

Two years ago we were told that our (hippy dippy co-op learn-through-play) preschool might not be a good fit for Cole and he might need to leave because “his body isn’t under control” and he “isn’t able to listen.”  With a history of behaviorally medicated young boys running in my husband’s family, last year our family removed processed foods and introduced a Paleo lifestyle.  RESULT: Cole’s Kindergarten teacher told us if there were one child in the class she’d want to take home with her and spend time with, it’d be Cole.  “He’s so well-behaved and polite, he’s such a wonderful kid, he’s attentive and always striving to succeed, we just love him!”

Cole has always eaten well, we just had misconcenptions about what “healthy” was before being Paleo (typical story: whole grain, low-fat).  When he was our first, people used to say you’re so lucky Cole’s such a good eater. But now that all 3 boys, including Wesley (our 13 month old), will sit at an Indian restaurant and slam a spicy lamb masala as if it were blueberries, we’re now starting to hear (appreciatively) you guys are doing such a good job with these boys, they’re such good eaters!

Our Paleo Baby Breastfeeding Success Story

Although both my older boys transitioned to Paleo well and are now better behaved, more physically fit and overall healthier, Wesley has by far been a much different experience.  As I’m sure you’ve heard from Everyday Paleo and Growing Up Paleo, there are endless stories of babies succeeding straight from the breast to a Paleo diet and Wesley is no exception.

This is Wesley.  Welsey is my “Paleo baby.”  He’s been fortunate enough to have had my Paleo-breastmilk from birth and Paleo foods since he started solids.  Here are the differences that our family have witnessed between BOTH of our older children (who were entirely breastfed, but not Paleo) and Wesley:

  • Wesley began sleeping through the night 4-6 hour stretches at mere weeks old
  • Wesley never had gas
  • Wesley never spit up
  • Wesley never had diaper rash
  • Wesley never had facial rashes after messy meals (sensitive skin was common with our older boys in general)

He’s also not riding the tip of the “90th percentile” weight curve on doctor’s charts.  I used to feel so good about the older boys being so “high” on the charts. I felt like they were getting an “A” at each doctor’s visit. Then, my babies became preschoolers who were asked to go on (essentially) a diet by their doctor, and I realized the 90th percentile line quickly becomes the obese line.

How Breastfeeding is More Than Food

All of the boys love eating our Paleo meals.  They love taking hikes in the woods, jumping on the trampoline (well, Wes wants to – but not yet), and catching bugs and toads until they’re forced inside for books, bath and bed.  They are happy, healthy, active children.  They eat what’s put in front of them and clap if offered fruit after dinner.

Their pallet was molded by the flavors in my breastmilk.  Curries, steaks, eggs, bacon, spinach, avocado and mussels are foods they like eating now because 1) it’s what they’ve always eaten and 2) it provides the opportunity to learn to eat on demand.  Not only does breastmilk offer the most nutrient as well as intellect and immunilogical benefits; but breastfed babies eat when hungry, stop when satiated and follow their own body’s hunger cues to eat again later.

Research indicates that breastfed babies are smarter with a stronger immune system, but they also are less likely to have diabeties, allergies or to be obese.  Just like with nutrition in our real food diet, the real food available in the breast for babies is often offering new research in plentiful ways on how breastfed babies are offered more opportunity to succeed.

How Formula is Just Like Chicken Nuggets

Feeding a baby a bottle of formula is like offering a full plate of McNuggets.  It’s flavorless, too large, addictive and offering inferior nutrition.  Would I give my child McNuggets if they would otherwise die from malnutrition? Absolutely.  Would I give my children McNuggets if I had an uncooked chicken breast in my freezer that I had to thaw, cook and cut up (took more effort)? No.  If I only ever gave my children McNuggest for 6 months straight, could I expect him to then love the idea of spinach and eggs for breakfast the next day?

If you are able to find a way to make breastfeeding work, you’ll end up with a sweet baby whose life you are able to soley sustain, grow and flourish off of your own natural resource.  When those eyes open and lock with yours (like Finian’s did here), as hormones of joy and relaxation spread through your body, as the caloric sharing (you get to lose weight!) of your healthy milk fills the belly of the baby who was moments ago in your own belly – you’ll know.  Breastfeeding isn’t just best, it should be your first and only option until a life is in danger.  Because formula is medicine.  It’s a band-aid, not a solution.

Build a Village, Find Support

If you’re having trouble breastfeeding you’re likely receiving terrible advice from people around you, who themselves did not successfully breastfeed.  It’s hard to think critically when you’re nervous,scared and frantic because the most precious and valuable thing in your life is crying and hungry in front of you.  When nurses offer to take your baby so you can sleep, when strangers tell you how breastfeeding always hurts, or your sister tells you she just tried and tried but couldn’t make it work and you likely have the same nipples – have a plan.  Remember someone you know who faced every adversary known to man (like Amy and Lucy) but continued to breastfeed.  Prepare yourself for how you’d like to solve difficulties you may encounter, your chances of success are as likely as your determination to do so.  The best thing you can do for yourself is to find and build a support system, of resources of whatever kind you need, to help you succeed.

It’s so worth it!

*World Breastfeeding Week will be held August 1-7, 2011

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