I was scrolling through Instagram recently, (which if you don’t follow me, my handle is @mymotherhoodtokyo) and I paused to read a post from one of my favorite breastfeeding mamas @littlepeachlondon. She was talking about the benefits of breastfeeding and how breastfeeding was a “mothering tool”. I thought this was just about the most perfect way to describe it!
First off, I am writing this post for anyone who wants to breastfeed, is breastfeeding, or who is thinking about quitting breastfeeding for various reasons. This post is not meant to shame a mother who is not breastfeeding whatsoever. Every persons motherhood journey is different. However, if you are breastfeeding and considering weaning, I would encourage you to read this before doing so because you might just change your mind.
I want to help women see breastfeeding as a tool to improve their mothering rather than a burden weighing them down. In many western countries, it is entirely uncommon for a mother to breastfeed past the first six months. I often wonder why because breastfeeding is, honestly, so convenient and useful and I find breastfeeding to have so many advantages, much more so than it’s disadvantages. And yes, I do think that breastfeeding does have one disadvantage, and that is that as a breastfeeding mother you are the only source of nutrition for your child which can be a heavy responsibility. However, I think if more mothers can adjust their mindset to view breastfeeding as a mothering tool to be utilized, maybe more would persevere against societal expectations to quit after a certain period of time.
“I think if more mothers can adjust their mindset to view breastfeeding as a mothering tool to be utilized, maybe more would persevere against societal expectations to quit after a certain period of time.”
Now, I also want to say that every breastfeeding relationship is different. I can only speak firsthand from personal experience with my own child, but from what I’ve seen from friends and their babies I know that differences arise. Here are the advantages that I see come from breastfeeding and how you can use them to make mothering easier and more enjoyable:
In my experience, breastfeeding calms and soothes baby when nothing else can. Whenever my little one is feeling overstimulated, tired, or maybe he fell and got hurt, breastfeeding can make all of those very big emotions fall away. I get it because how much more comfy can you be than in a quiet place, listening to your mothers heartbeat and drinking some warm cozy milk? For me and my son, nursing is the quickest and simplest way to cure anything that goes wrong in his world.
Breastfeeding remains constant when circumstances change. Maybe one day your baby isn’t feeling well or comes down with a cold. Often times when a baby or toddler is sick, they don’t want to eat solid food but will still nurse. By breastfeeding, you are giving your baby the vital nutrients they need to heal. Breastfeeding becomes your insurance policy that your child is getting the nutrition they need.
The act of nursing is also incredibly comforting to a baby who is teething. When my son got all four upper teeth at once around 9 months, he was nursing around the clock and when he wasn’t nursing he was visibly uncomfortable. I was so thankful I had breastfeeding in my arsenal to help soothe him during those tough couple of weeks while the teeth came in. I also find that nursing is generally much easier for me as a mother than rocking or any other form of soothing. Especially as your baby gets older you will not need to help them latch or adjust their position as much, so you are free to do something else, such as read or catch up on emails, while they are nursing.
Breastfeeding is a way to reconnect after time apart. Many weekends I leave my 14 month old with my husband for a few hours so I can get that much deserved alone time! When I return, I always look forward to nursing my son because it’s a chance for us to reconnect. It almost feels like a way to ensure that our bond hasn’t changed even though I was away for a short time. When he was younger perhaps this time spent nursing was due to hunger, but now that he is eating well I am more convinced that it is a comfort thing. Of course, there are other ways to reconnect with your child after time apart, but nursing feels like a very natural way and convenient way to stabilize my little one’s world.
Breastfeeding is incredibly convenient while traveling. I cannot emphasize this one enough! While traveling internationally and domestically over this past year, I came to realize just how glad I was that I was able to breastfeed! My son actually came down with what we found out later was salmonella during out flight to Hawaii this summer. He had a super high fever throughout our seven hour flight and I basically nursed him the entire time. When we landed, we rushed to the emergency room it was that bad! Thank goodness he was okay, but if I wasn’t able to nurse him constantly and keep him hydrated, who knows what state he would have been in. During our other flights I also was able to nurse him to sleep easily, and he slept well. Lastly, I didn’t have to worry about buying or bringing heavy cans of formula with me on the plane and throughout our travels. Being able to count on my body to provide for my baby in any and all situations while traveling was such a weight off my shoulders, especially since traveling can be stressful even without a baby!
Breastmilk fills in any nutrition gaps your baby might have. Recently, I’ve noticed many mothers asking about “toddler milk” or basically what type of milk they should be giving to their one year olds since they have outgrown infant milk but haven’t stopped wanting or needing milk all together. There are many recommendations depending on who you talk to, and it seems quite a complicated decision for many mothers. Hearing some of my friends talk about it, it made me feel grateful that I am still breastfeeding my toddler. Even though he eats better now, he still avoids most meats and some vegetables depending on how they are cooked. I try to offer many types of foods and ensure he gets a balanced diet, but I can never guarantee he will eat everything I cook. By breastfeeding him, I know he is getting any and all nutritional gaps filled so I don’t feel as stressed when it comes to his eating, Which, in turn, helps him enjoy eating more I think.
Breastfeeding secures and maintains the bond between mother and child. This is not to say that bottle-feeding mothers do not have a strong bond with their child, but I think there is such a feeling of closeness with breastfeeding that is difficult to match. Let me explain what I mean a bit because I don’t want to shame anyone for bottle feeding. I’ve noticed many bottle-feeding mothers celebrating that their baby can finally hold a bottle on their own and feed themselves. This, to me, is a bit problematic. The act of feeding a baby, whether from a breast or the bottle, in my eyes, is just as much an act of securing closeness and maintaining the bond as it is about nutrition. Why then, do I see so many mothers letting their baby hold their own bottle at every feed? Sure it’s convenient for you and releases you from one more responsibility. But I would encourage mothers who bottle feed to think about feeding time, whether with a breast or bottle, as an opportunity to bond with their child versus just a job to be done. Breastfeeding mothers, of course, do not have the option of separating their breast from their body so they will always be there during feeding time. And I don’t think that is a bad thing.
“I would encourage mothers who bottle feed to think about feeding time, whether with a breast or bottle, as an opportunity to bond with their child versus just a job to be done.”
Breastfeeding gives mothers a break! Maybe this seems contrary to popular opinion, but I actually feel very relaxed when I’m nursing. It is the one time during the day that my son isn’t getting into everything and will sit still! While nursing I can finally take time to scroll through Instagram and not feel guilty, or even just zone out for a while. While I was co-sleeping with my son it was also an excuse to nap with him! After the adjustment period in the early days, I think many mothers find breastfeeding to be quite the relaxing experience which isn’t something you often get as a mom!
No matter what stage of breastfeeding you are in, I hope this post reminded you of some of its many advantages. If you are looking for more breastfeeding support in Tokyo, please check out my breastfeeding support page for a list of resources. Happy boobin’ mamas!