Friday, 18 July 2014

Breastfeeding vs. Nursing

I always knew I wanted to breastfeed. When we were in the adoption process I researched how to nurse an adopted baby through induced lactation and wearing a supplemental nursing system.I wanted to breastfeed because I knew there were many benefits, not just for the baby, but also for the mother and the environment. Before Paloma was born, I had never really thought about the difference between nursing and breastfeeding. Now that I spend what feels like half of my waking hours with a baby attached to my boob, I think about nursing all the time. It is equally as challenging as it is rewarding and I'm surprised by how much I love it.

Breastfeeding is about more than feeding your baby, as I discovered when I went to a local mom and baby group. The way the class works is that all the Moms sit with their babies around the edge of the room on big blue gym mats. Each Mom takes their turn talking about their challenges and successes that week. Paloma was 3 weeks old when we went and we were still really struggling with my oversupply at that time which is what I talked about when it was my turn. The last woman to speak had a baby girl the same age as Paloma but had the opposite challenge than us. She didn't produce enough breastmilk to exclusively breastfeed her baby and had been supplementing with formula since her baby was born. She said she could pump for an hour and only get 15ml. She was choked up when she was telling us how much it bothers her that her body isn't providing enough milk for her baby to thrive and how she always thought she would breastfeed her children and never expected to have this challenge. Then the woman who facilitates the group (the same woman who taught our prenatal classes) said "Just because you can't exclusively breastfeed your baby doesn't mean you can't nurse her." And she went on to talk about how nursing is about so much more than feeding your baby. (Which is why both the American Academy of Family Physicians and the American Academy of Pediatrics have policy statements on breastfeeding that include assisting or encouraging adoptive mothers to induce lactation for adoptive nursing.)

So much of parenting is about instinct and doing what feels natural to you. Despite the challenges we had with nursing in the beginning, Paloma and I have figured out how to nurse quite well and both of us really enjoy it. My instinct is to offer her the breast whenever she cries which is also what my midwife told me to do. If she doesn't want it she doesn't take it (but she usually wants it!) We use a pacifier when I'm not able to nurse her (usually when she's in the carseat) but I prefer to not substitute the pacifier for comfort nursing. A pacifier is a man-made replica of a nipple after all, so why not give her the real thing? I nurse her if she's fussy because it instantly calms her down - I can see her relax all her muscles and sometimes she even lets out a little sigh of relief. If she's been passed around too much with visitors, she cries to come back to me and feel the comfort of being in her Mom's arms. I love how she stares up at me when she's nursing and most of all I love being able to satisfy her in the most natural way possible.

Andino not only supports me 100% in the way I nurse Paloma, he wants me to. If he's holding her or someone else is holding her and she starts to cry he will bring her to me and say "she wants the boob!" but despite how confident we both feel in our choice to parent her this way, I still feel very insecure when people question how often she nurses. "She can't be hungry yet!" "She's constantly feeding!" etc. Andino and my Mom keep telling me to be confident and not let these little comments bother me, but sometimes I fixate on them. Even though I know what we are doing is completely normal and natural I hate to feel judged by others. It's not like our frequent nursing prevents us from getting out and doing things; we go for walks and visits all the time! Yesterday we visited my office for an hour and a half where I nursed her once for about 10 minutes, then we walked around the Farmers market for an hour or so. We always get out and do things to enjoy the day and the beautiful summer weather. I don't let the fact that I nurse my baby on demand prevent me from being social. If my baby gets hungry when I'm out, I feed her. Mothers nursing their babies in public has been happening forever and it seems like only recently it's become something to talk about. Just look at all these beautiful images:

My boss told me that back home (in Burundi) she nursed her babies anywhere, even in church! I saw mothers nursing their babies all day long when I was in Mozambique. My midwife actually gave me a disapproving look at one of our first visits to her office when my baby was crying and I didn't nurse her. She said "sometimes babies just want to nurse for comfort, it doesn't matter if she's hungry or not." and from that day on, that's what I've done. I know Paloma is going to grow up so fast and in the blink of an eye she won't need me anymore (at least not in the same way she does now). I am going to nurse her for as long as it makes both of us happy. 

I always considered myself a confident person. It's funny how motherhood has brought out my insecure side in a way. There were so many times in my past where I've done things that others disapproved of (for example, introducing Andino to my parents when I already had a ring on my finger, only 2 months after we officially started dating) and I had no problem at all standing up for what I knew was right. But with mothering, as soon as I get even a whiff of disapproval I get defensive. It's something I am working on and I already feel myself getting stronger and more confident. I think it's normal for new Mom's to feel this way and maybe this learning process is all part of becoming a strong, independent woman. 


  1. It's funny. You say that it's brought out your insecure side but I hear a very confident well adjusted woman/mother come through in your words. Thank you for sharing this! I find your words to be ones that I will hold onto.

  2. I think we feels insecurities as new mothers because it's the most important thing we will ever do in life, taking care of our precious little ones. I admire you for doing what you know to be best for you and Paloma. I've actually never thought of breast feeding vs. nursing. before, but I LOVE this perspective! I never even knew women could nurse an adopted baby through induced lactation. That's amazing!

  3. Great post habibi! You'll get used to people's annoying comments. No one knows your baby better than you! As long as baby is happy, who can say anything?! I did the same with Z and I like to think she is turning out fine :)

  4. I agree with the post above. You don't come across as insecure at all. You may not have everything figured out but you're doing a darn good job. ;)

  5. You go girl! Our modern society is the one who has it all wrong. Nursing on demand is a foreign concept to those who put scheduling their own priorities over what their babies want or need at the moment...just another side effect of the way our world has changed. You are doing the right thing by offering your breast EVERY time, whether it be for nourishment or comfort. People will always have different parenting styles, and to each his/her own, but I say if you have the milk and can, do it as much as possible!

  6. I also find it so beautiful to breastfeed, we had a difficult start because I too had a lot of milk (I still have 2 drawers of the freezer full with milk), and she did not know how to latch properly, suck or swallow at the beginning, it took all her energy. But with a lot of support we got there and I am so happy for it.

    I also breastfeed on demand, with the only "rule" advised by our pediatrician, of no feedings more often than every 2 hrs, because she was colicky, it was too much for her little stomach, and also to let time in between for my breasts to produce some more milk.

    I find it so interesting that you feel nursing has brought out insecurities in you, as with me, it has happened the opposite. It's like this "I need to feed my baby right now and I don't give a da*** what you may think of it" feeling that I have. So I don't care where I am and who sees us. (Of course I do use a cover, or a tank top under dresses / tshirts in such a way that you don't see anything, but I have done it all over the place, in restaurants, churches, parks, museums....). I was kind of expecting nasty remarks or looks, and I am ready to retort, but as ready as I thought I needed to be to "defend" me and my baby, it hasn't been needed, at all. On the contrary I have found that people are very nice are understanding, sometimes even congratulatory. I had a couple of times waitresses bring me huge glasses of water because: "I've been there, I know how it is":

    I am so glad you are enjoying your nursing relationship. Do not let anyone put you down or make you feel inadequate, stick to your gut feeling. And you are so right, it is about so much more than "only" nutrition.

  7. Oh I'm so glad nursing is going well for you despite the rocky start. I've got tons of milk frozen in my deep freeze too, I plan to use it to mix with solids when she starts those.

    I nurse Paloma about every 2 hours during the day too. That's usually when she starts getting hungry.

    I don't feel insecure about the nursing in public aspect of it, but the part where people question if I'm doing the right thing. Even that is getting better though...

    You always leave such nice, thoughtful comments! Thank you so much!! xo

  8. I have thought about the distinction between breastfeeding and nursing quite often. Because my girls never were able to latch properly, I ended up pumping exclusively and feeding them breast milk with a bottle. I never knew how to answer when people asked if I was breastfeeding (and don't even get me started on how inappropriate I think it is for strangers to ask this question). I finally realized that I was breastfeeding, just not nursing. I've come to terms with how it all worked out, but sometimes reading something like this about how amazing it is for you makes me a little sad I wasn't able to nurse my babies. Don't worry about what other people think. I try to tune all that noise out and do what I feel is best. I have to say I have been very lucky and no one has really made judge-y comments to my face. I also try not to judge others and how they parent, but I'm human and I catch myself doing it. It's a constant learning process.

  9. Great post! I have to admit, I never really thought about the distinction between breastfeeding and nursing - I kind of thought they were interchangeable, but I see there is a difference. I feel such a sense of accomplishment feeding Molly, especially when she gazes up at me like I'm the most awesome person in the world, or when she hugs my boob (we call it the "nin," and I even sing her a little song about it from time to time). I just got a Maya wrap so I could start feeding her while I was walking around and doing stuff (like grocery shopping) and I thought I'd use the tail part to throw over and cover her, but so far it's hot and uncomfortable, so I've just been kind of letting it hang out no matter where we are. It is easy to be self-conscious, but at the same time I feel very protective and perhaps a bit self-righteous, maybe even daring someone to make a comment! So far, no one has. Know that if I saw you out and about, I'd definitely give you a high five (mentally, at least). Feed/nurse that baby, mama! You're doing awesome.

  10. I feed E every two hours (on demand, but it ends up being about every 2 hours) when we're together, and if she's upset or tired I always offer the boob. I do use a pacifier too at times-- sometimes she'll deny the boob but want the pacifier. I think because she has a strong need to comfort suck but doesn't want the milk.
    Anyway, I've had a few people say I nurse her too often, and they make a lot of jokes about it because she's quite the chunker! She's healthy and happy though, and I'm going to continue doing what I think is best for us. I agree with the others who say you sound confident-- you are Paloma's only mother and the only one nursing/feeding her, so always do what feels right to you!


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