We all know the fantastic benefits of breast milk: healthy fats, lower ear infection rates, higher IQs, the list goes on and on. Breast milk is nature's free food, perfectly catered to each breastfed child, and the perfect nutrition for the first year and beyond.
But breastfeeding is more than just nutrition; it can be a parenting style in and of itself. Breast milk is not just a food, it is a comfort, a bedtime snack, the cure for all owies. More and more families are mothering at the breast, and finding their breastfeeding relationship to be more than just a food source.
La Leche League speaks of “mothering at the breast” many times in the book, The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding (a must-read for all those pregnant and nursing!). When baby cries, his mother can solve almost every problem by nursing. The skin-to-skin contact alone can soothe a wailing child, but the goodness that flows from Mom is the best pacifier in the world. Women who mother at the breast usually don't give pacifiers, but instead offer to nurse at every whimper and cry, which forms the strongest bond between Mom and baby, and gives way to the most effective form of parenting: knowing exactly what your baby needs at all times, and what each sound made means.
The strong parent-child bond that blossoms from mothering at the breast, by following baby's cues and Mom's instincts, is one that will carry into the teen years and beyond. Even at 3.5 years old, I can tell that my son and I have a connection that only breastfeeding could have created.
The parenting style labeled “AP” has many of its roots in mothering at the breast. Birth bonding includes that important skin-to-skin contact and the very first introduction to the breast, baby-wearing keeps baby close at all times for quick access to nursing during the day, and the belief in baby's cries tells baby that you're always going to respond to them. Often, part of exclusive breastfeeding is bedding close to baby, making it easier to nurse at night. Keeping baby in bed with the parents or in a crib in the same room tells baby that their cries will continue to be answered even at night, which, in turn, creates an independence that cannot be met by any other parenting style.
Breastfeeding is more than just a food source, it's a way of life for those first years. Every child deserves to be breastfed, and by giving baby that food and comfort, you are giving a lifetime of memories, strong independence, and a healthy lifestyle.