Saturday, July 7, 2012
Confessions of a Part-Time Ecological Breastfeeder
Have you heard of Ecological Breastfeeding?
I sure hadn’t. I had read in several baby books about the delay of fertility, that I might expect, but according to my doctor, shouldn't rely on, if I was going to exclusively breast feed my baby for the first 6 months. Nearing the 3 month postpartum mark and my impending return to work, I wanted to get serious about exploring Family Planning options.
Google brought me to NFP International where I discovered the “Seven Standards” of Ecological Breastfeeding in Sheila Kippley’s book, Natural Family Planning – The Complete Approach. Here they are:
1. Breastfeed exclusively for the first six months of life; don't offer your baby other liquids and solids, not even water.
2. Pacify or comfort your baby at your breasts.
3. Don't use bottles and don't use pacifiers.
4. Sleep with your baby for night feedings.
5. Sleep with your baby for a daily-nap feeding.
6. Nurse frequenty day and night and avoid schedules.
7. Avoid any practice that restricts nursing or separates you from your baby.
Huh? Was this a little too much? I immediately felt an immense wave of sadness overcome me. I think I even started to cry a little. Because, I thought I could never do this. Not that I wouldn’t love to… but… well, it just seemed to fly in the face of every cultural norm that I knew. Nobody I know parents like this. Doctors and Family and Well Meaning Friends just … don’t DO things like this and say it shouldn’t be done even if it could be done. At least in my circles! I know I had to return to work in a few weeks. Circumstances dictated that I would have to put my child in day care and be separated from my baby for at least 10 hours a day, Monday through Friday. Certainly not the ideal, but it was the life we had created up to this point and I couldn't quickly change that. I dried my eyes, and resolved to exclusively breast feed at home and pump at work and cross my fingers and hope the 6 months of breastfeeding infertility would stick, despite the lengthy separation and the pumping.
But a seed was planted with this powerful, new found knowledge… and I couldn’t shake it. It opened my eyes and opened my heart to a new attitude about mothering. It began to give me confidence and encouragement. During my maternity leave, it was easy to follow these standards, but what about after resuming work? Maybe, just maybe, I could apply some of these principles to my life, even as a Full-Time-Working-Outside-The-Home Mother. Was this crazy? I felt there was something beneficial I could take away from the Seven Standards and apply to my own parenting style, beyond my maternity leave, in the ways that I was able to. It ended up being a fantastic journey.
Nursing went well this time –my 2nd time around. It didn’t happen quite like this with my 1st child. I had a terribly difficult time with establishing and maintaining our short-lived nursing relationship and there was a lot of emotional and physical pain. During that time I was hardly sure of myself. I would have to go to a separate room and nurse alone if others were around. But now I was learning how to feel comfortable nursing discretely in a crowded room full of people, or at a restaurant, or in front of my In-Laws, or during Mass. Before I lived by a schedule – even my daughter’s pediatrician told me to do this! Every 2 hours was expected. If she cried before the 2 hour mark, we would rock her, put her in the vibrating baby chair, or use a a pacifier… Whatever it took, besides the breast. But not this time! Now I let my baby nurse when I was home from work, whenever, and as often as she wanted. No restrictions! Sometimes she would sleep for an hour or two, and that was fine. But more often than not, she would want to nurse every 15 minutes, and that became fine too. We just continued on our business. I would often have to sit down for a few minutes or creatively figure out how to get things done with one hand, while I cradled the baby while she comforted herself at the breast. And we all adapted. A Baby Bjorn and a sling helped a lot while doing chores. So did my supportive husband who helped me out a lot around the house. The nursing sessions were quick and so easy and provided so much comfort. It worked very well for us. It really helped to take the sting out of being away from my little one all day long to come home from work and nurse unconditionally without worrying about schedules, having to cry it out, or denying what was so easy and so natural for both of us to do.
Before returning to work, I initally had major fears about day care and how this was going to all play out. Would it be unfair to treat my baby to constant holding, unrestricted nursing, attachment-style parenting while with me, but deny her this while dropping her off at day care in the morning? Was this cruel? Could she handle the culture shock? Will she be crying all day for me? It was breaking my heart. Well, let's just say, after 2 rounds of implementing these eco-breastfeeding standards while at home (or at least the ones that I was able to), and maintaining a demanding full time career, that it turned out that it actually was do-able for our family. It is amazing how my children have handled it. They definately know that I am not there during the day, so they aren't going to get to nurse unconditionally. I leave 3-4 bottles of expressed milk each day that I have pumped the day before during my work day and that has always been enough. All of my children have cried very little during day care, probably because of all the activity and distractions. My daughter is usually sleeping peacefully when I drop her off, so I leave her in her infant seat to nap (so I don't wake her), and she is usually smiling during the afternoon pick up. Amazing! They have always adapted and have learned what to expect in these two very different worlds. And yes, they know when I walk in the door after work and they immediately want me to hold and nurse them. It is always a blissful reunion.
In addition to the unrestrained nursing called out for in the Seven Standards, the other major paradigm shift was my new attitude about co-sleeping. With baby #1 I had read “Twelve Hours’ Sleep by Twelve Weeks Old: A Step-by-Step plan for Baby Sleep Success” in a desperate attempt to resume my sanity with a colicky 3 month old. I was a walking zombie, miserable, and trying to combat postpartum depression. On the occasions when I would accidentally fall asleep in bed while nursing her in the side-laying position, I would guiltily wake up and try and place her back in her crib without waking her and promise not to be so careless again. After all, co-sleeping is dangerous! Her pediatrician kept checking at each appointment to make sure that she was sleeping in her own crib. After reading about ecological breastfeeding, and learning that yes, there are many mothers in the world, including the United States and not just third world countries, who happily and effectively parent this way, I knew I wanted to give this a shot. The fact that I could actually get a good night’s sleep was extremely appealing. The chance that it could delay my fertility was definitely an added bonus. Despite my husband’s initial protests, I brought my 2nd infant into our family bed. (I followed the safe sleep recommendations for co-sleeping found on Dr. Sears’ website – a great resource.) In another wonderful way, parenting was becoming easier and easier. Co-workers and acquaintances would ask, “So, how is the baby? YOU can’t be getting any sleep, now can you?” However, I could honesty look them in the eye and answer them with a smile, “Actually, we are both sleeping REALLY well!”. It was my own special little secret and it was making everything so incredibly easy. Gone were the days of having to sneak into the baby’s room during the middle of the night to make sure she was still breathing. No longer did I have to get out of bed for a 2 am feeding half asleep. With co-sleeping, we both slept all through the night without having to get out of bed (except for the occasional diaper change). The nursing was so natural, I usually didn't remember doing it or know how much it happened during the night. All I know is that, unlike last time, there was no engorgement, no resentment, and no fatigue. I was a happier person. When my husband and I wanted some “alone time”, I would nurse the baby into a deep sleep and lay her in the crib, where she would sleep for an hour or two, and bring her back into bed with me later, when she woke up. Every night we slept well together, and why, oh why, hadn't I done this with my first child? Unfortunately I was conditioned to think there was something inherently bad about co-sleeping. How very wrong I was... this was a million times BETTER for so many reasons!
We joyfully continued this existence for the next 16 months! It had been over 2 years since I had a period! I was actually happy when my cycle finally returned because I had forgotton what it was like. Hormone free, pill free, and device free, this time around, it felt good knowing that my body was doing exactly what it was made to do. I was ready to try again at this point and the next month, I became pregnant. I enjoyed an amazing time bonding with my newborn and 16 months of infertility because I was able to embrace the ideologies of ecological breastfeeding, even while working full time! I truly beleive that co-sleeping made this possible. My last 2 children are 2 years and 1 month apart. Now, I know I may be one of the lucky ones, and that these methods while effective, can't offer every working mom the same guarantee. However, my experience has been so positive that I wanted to share my story. The many benefits I received were not only physical, but spiritual as well. The Ecological Breastfeeding Standards taught me that it was "OK" for me to nurse my baby the way I wanted to and worry less about how I was "supposed" to do things, even though I wasn't doing it strictly by the book. I'd like to say "Thank you" to Sheila Kippley, for making your information readily available on the internet. I am forever grateful. I am now enjoying unrestricted nursing (when I am not at work) and co-sleeping with my 3rd baby. If it is in God's plan that I am to be a mother again, I would so much love to naturally space my babies 2 years apart once more. I will let you know how it all works out!