Breastfeeding and Bonding

There are lots of studies about how breastfeeding helps mothers and babies bond with each other.  What I’m not sure about is how much people have looked at how breastfeeding can help mothers bond with each other.  For me, breastfeeding my son is a fundamental part of the parenting experience (so far — I’m sure at some point it will switch over to being all about something else).  In a lot of ways, it’s my answer to most of the problems we run into.  Jesse fell down and hit his head?  Nurse him!  If that calms him down, that’s good in and of itself, and it also tells me that he’s not THAT hurt, so I don’t have to worry too much (I subscribe to the “toddlers are made of rubber and short for a reason” school of thought about falls, so we tend to not worry if he falls from his own height or lower).   Ran out of cheerios and string cheese while out and about?  He can just nurse more.  Won’t nap because the surroundings are too exciting?  Jesse is usually willing to nurse in lieu of napping if the nap just isn’t working.

Because breastfeeding is such a critical part of my parenting experience, a lot of the bonding I have done with other mothers is on this topic.  It’s the kind of shared experience that I just couldn’t fathom before it because part of my reality, as much as I tried to read up ahead of time.

Last week, we ended up at a U.S. Naval Academy Officers’ Christian Fellowship (OCF) cookout.  My in-laws have gotten very involved in OCF since moving to Maryland.  It makes a lot of sense for them — My father-in-law was in the Coast Guard for a long time, they’re both devout Christians, my mother-in-law writes Christian books… clearly these are their people :)  I was a little nervous, when we were on our way over.  Bunch of people I’ve never met, many of whom are college students, all of whom connect with each other over something I don’t share (religion — I’m Jewish).  Add to all that that we’d be showing up late — something I *hate* doing, even for something as informal as a cookout.

Jesse was a little fussy when we got there, so James grabbed the Boba from the car and I started nursing him in the carrier, when out of the corner of my eye, I saw another mom with a baby in a carrier!  New mom friends — I’ve had practice at that game!  We ended up having a great time chatting about motherhood, breastfeeding, life, everything.  It all started off when we started talking about breastfeeding, and doing so in a carrier, in public, wherever…. it was a great bonding moment, and I felt much more at ease, knowing there was someone I could talk to about the things that are most important in my life (and hers) right now.

Dads, Babywearing, and Silver Linings

Dads Can (& Should!) Wear Babies, Too | The Stir.

The basic premise of the above-linked post is pretty straightforward and uncontroversial.  Basically, it’s that dads should bond with their babies, and babywearing is a good way to do that.  Sadly, lots of dads seem to think that babywearing is “unmanly” or some other nonsense.

I feel lucky that my husband is an enthusiastic babywearer and he is all about daddy-baby bonding.  From the get-go, James has been just as hands-on as I have:  those first few weeks, when it felt like I was nursing constantly, James changed 95% of all the diapers (he had to teach on Mondays, but was home otherwise), in the middle of the night, he went and got Jesse and brought him to our bed to nurse, and then brought him back again, he made sure I had food to eat so I could concentrate on feeding the baby.  I turned to James for advice on all things baby, because he had way more experience going into this than I did, since his younger brother is ten years younger than he is, and he helped a lot when Daniel was little.

When I got pregnant, James was in the end-stages of a PhD program.  His dissertation defense was a month and a half before Jesse was born, and his thesis revisions were turned in the week before I went back to work after maternity leave.  The plan had originally been for him to finish up a couple of months earlier, but bed rest derailed those plans — instead of powering through his thesis revisions and pounding the pavement looking for jobs, he spent a lot of time keeping me company, keeping me hydrated (despite the ever-increasing amount of water I was supposed to imbibe — he definitely had his work cut out for him!) and taking care of all of the household chores.  It was a lot of work, and his job search got understandably delayed.

During the summer I was pregnant, we looked at bunch of different daycares, got on waiting lists, and hoped that we a) would need a spot (because that would need James would have a job) and b) one of our top two choices would have a spot for us.  We got incredibly lucky, and our top choice offered us a spot a month into my maternity leave, but there was no job on the horizon for James.  We had no choice but to decline the spot.

At the time, I was kind of annoyed that we’d gone to all the site visits, filled out applications, etc.  It felt like we wasted our time and the daycare’s time.  Fast forward nine months.  James still doesn’t have a job (so turning down the daycare spot was definitely the right move!) but James and Jesse have had nine months to spend together.  When James was out of town for a job interview a couple of weeks ago, it was obvious that Jesse really missed him, and the look of delight when he saw him come home was priceless.  They have their own silly games, James understands Jesse in a way nobody else could, and it’s just been a wonderful silver lining to his unemployment.  They’ve bonded in a way that I don’t think they would have been able to if James were working out of the house full-time.  Of course, it’s still possible for working dads to bond with their kids, but this week I’ve been thinking about how very special it has been for them to get to spend all this extra time together.

In the summer, we both decided that wearing the baby was just too warm, but now that the air has a chill in it, we’re both back to wearing Jesse more often, and James does that just as much as I do.  He may not have my need to “carrier-hop” and collect a bunch of different baby carriers, but he did get a woven wrap for his birthday, and I know that wrap will get a lot of use in the years to come as he holds our son close.

NIP: Tools of the trade — Baby Carriers

One of the things I love about breastfeeding is that it is pretty light in the gear department.  Mostly, I’ve already got what I need built in, although I do have an electric pump for when I’m at work, but when I’m with my son, there isn’t really much gear I need. One of the things I hope to teach Jesse as he gets older (and, at 11 months, I’m starting to now) is the difference between a need and a want.  I think the NIP gear I describe below definitely falls into the latter category, although it is very, very, useful.

NIP at Sergei's Bar Mitzvah

NIP at my cousin's Bar Mitzvah.

A Baby Carrier
My life totally changed when I learned how to nurse in a carrier.  I was all about the baby wearing right from the start, especially once winter really set in and a stroller wasn’t very practical on city streets, but I kept trying and failing to nurse in a carrier.  It made it much more difficult to nurse on the go, because I had to gauge how much time was left in a bus ride or train ride (to make sure I had time to get the carrier off, nurse, and get Jesse back in securely), or find some place to sit down.  Most of the instructions I found online (and in my Moby instruction book) suggested shifting the baby into a cradle hold to nurse, which involved loosening the carrier and, well, shifting the baby, which I found to be a huge pain.

My husband, who fed Jesse bottles of expressed milk while I was at work, took to carrying him in a pouch sling, with a bottle propped against his chest as a way to get some hands-free time.  Jesse just sat up straight and held the bottle, with help from friction, and ate.  I was totally jealous that I couldn’t feed him so easily in a carrier, until one day, I saw a friend nursing her daughter in her Ergo at a Boston Babywearers meeting.  Baby R was sitting up, and my friend had just moved her breast to bring it up to R’s mouth level — there was no shifting, and very minor loosening!  It was like a lightbulb went off in my head, and when she showed me how she did it, my life changed.  I could now nurse while walking down the street, while running for a bus, when there wasn’t a place to sit.

I definitely learned a very valuable lesson that day:  there are multiple ways to nurse in a carrier, and what works best for you will vary depending on how much of the work your baby can do (older babies need less help getting set up and staying latched) and how your body is shaped.  Another friend, whose breasts are shaped differently, said she could never nurse her babe sitting up like I do, but finds a cradle hold in a carrier to be what’s easiest for her.

Now, I do have a bit of a carrier addiction — in our house, we currently have a Moby (stretchy wrap), ring sling, two pouch slings (one sized for me, one for my husband), a mei tai, a Beco Gemini, a Boba, and a Vatanai woven wrap (my husband’s favorite).  As I said before, this is by no means a necessity. You can definitely nurse in public successfully, and discreetly, without a carrier, but boy oh boy does a carrier make it easier.  As far as I’m concerned, this is one of my favorite parts about baby wearing!!