Friday 15 June 2012

Sixth-month Milestone

We have finally reached the 6-month milestone.  Of all the milestones, this one is big for me.  Not because baby Ally can sit upright unassisted for awhile or that she rolls over on both directions, but because she has started to wean or eat solids.  That means only one thing for me - my exclusive breastfeeding days are over.

6-month old Baby Ally

Although breast milk continues to be her primary nourishment (this is still what they need the most), I still go sentimental over it.  I felt the same way or worse with my firstborn.  My husband could not figure out why I was crying when we introduced bottle-feeding (my expressed milk) after our latch was established.  Even when baby Ava was non-complaining, it was difficult watching her latch to a silicone pseudo-nipple.  I was only appeased in knowing that at least she could bond with her Daddy too.

I think we all know by now that breast milk is best for babies.  It is complete in nutrition and more.  To this day, scientists continue to uncover benefits after benefits (this would warrant an article of its own).  For now, I would like to share some of my favorites:

It bonds mother and a newborn like nothing else.

It is one of those rare moments in life that you will only truly know when you experience it.  When I nursed my firstborn for the first time, it was very surreal and profound at the same time.   I remember thinking to myself “such a miracle to hold this tiny life being in my arms and I still cannot believe that Daddy and I made her”, followed by a heartened grin as she opened her tiny mouth and started to nurse, with her rosy cheeks inflating and deflating like a goldfish.

For baby Ally, it was truly amazing to witness her self-latched when she was brought to my chest for our skin-to-skin.  She was very alert (owing to natural birth) and we held gazes for the longest time.  Words will always fail to describe those poignant moments.  All I can say, whatever pain I may have experienced in giving drug-free birth and from engorged breasts and clogged ducts, the bond we have shared more than made up for it.

One of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite authors of birth books:

A newborn baby has only three demands. They are: warmth in the arms of its mother, food from her breasts, and security in the knowledge of her presence. Breastfeeding satisfies all three. ~Grantly Dick-Read

It is mother’s best band-aid

When we see our baby sick or in pain, we yearn to trade places with them and take whatever discomfort away.  When a 3-day old baby Ally had to go for multiple jabs to ascertain jaundice level in her blood, I was at her side with a nursing cover over my open shirt, waiting to breastfeed.  Her squeals of pain instantly dissolved once she found that nipple in her mouth.  Same goes for Ava, well up to 15 months (when my doctor advised me to stop for health reasons, after getting pregnant with our second), nothing comforted and healed her fever or colds like nursing does.

This is why I find breastfeeding so valuable.  I don’t feel helpless, knowing I can offer some help and find comfort that each drop of my milk is alive with millions of tiny white blood cells.  It goes throughout the baby’s intestines ingesting and destroying harmful bacteria.  What’s more, a mom’s milk contains immunoglobulins - infection-fighting proteins that circulate, like natural antibiotics, throughout the body and destroy germs as well.  It’s no wonder that breast milk is revered as white blood in ancient times.

It is for these reasons that they hardly get sick in the first place.  Both Ava and Ally did not get sick even once when they were exclusively breastfed for 6 months.  When they get feverish after a vaccine shot, I breastfeed them more than usual and temperature goes back to normal after a day.  Speaking of vaccines, breastfeeding is actually giving them immunization every day.  It is a custom-made infection repellant that fights off germs.  When a germ enters a mother’s body, she produces antibodies to that germ.  This new army of infection fighters then enters the baby via mom’s milk.  This dynamic process of milk immunization constantly adapts to the every-changing germs in the environment, protecting both mother and baby.

It calms them anytime, anywhere.

My husband always complains it’s more difficult for him to soothe a crying baby since he does not possess my breast power. 

Ok.  I confess.  I breastfeed to soothe - if only I could not pacify my baby after a few minutes (after checking if her diaper needed some changing or entertaining a possible lack of stimulation, etc.).  I know this concerns some moms thinking they might spoil the baby and create a clingy and dependent child.  I remember a colleague of mine said she never nurse her wailing baby at night because it’s only comfort feeding.  But according to my parenting manual, when the baby cries miserably and nursing does the trick, why not?!

In fact, a lot of old cultures do exactly just that.  I have read so many amazing stories of African and Mongolian moms for example, how they wrap newborns like a cocoon to replicate a mother’s womb and sling them everywhere with them.  The first 3 months is supposedly the 4th trimester - a transition stage earthbound.  The baby needs and craves the mother.  Any sound heard from the baby will be straight away unbundled and nursed. I can just imagine how content the baby must be.

Attachment parenting, which my husband and I practice, also believes that responding to cries and breastfeeding on cues allow babies to develop secure attachment with their mothers.  A child goes through a stage of healthy dependence in order to become securely independent later. 

It relaxes me every time.

Mothers with young kids are always sleep-deprived.  What makes it worse for me is that I am an insomniac.  Even when I am physically fatigued, my mind remains very active - incessantly thinking, imagining and planning.  Breastfeeding comes as an unexpected blessing.  I finally found a safe sleeping pill or a natural tranquilizer.  Breast milk contains a natural-sleep-inducing protein that puts not only my baby to sleep, but the hormones induced by sucking mellow me down too. 

It acts as a timer for very busy, multi-tasking moms whose errands and lists of things to do are never-ending.  When baby Ally needs to nurse, I have no choice but to stop and take a break.  And because she nurses for a very long time, it relaxes me and puts me to blissful slumber.  Nothing can get better than that.

Or perhaps there is...

It keeps me in shape.

Aside from keeping my girls healthy, this is probably the next best thing.  I just love food!  It’s my favorite pastime and nothing keeps guilt away than knowing that the extra munch goes to my baby.  Oh!  Did I mention that it prevents osteoporosis, breast, uterine and ovarian cancer too?!

Breastfeeding is indeed best for both babies and mommies.  Beyond that, Jennifer Garner captures it well when she said “"All I ever heard was everyone bitch about it, nobody ever said, 'You are not going to believe how emotional this is.' 

Our happy and healthy girls

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