Last week I was told “There’s a time and place for everything” when it comes to breastfeeding. It’s not the first time I’ve ever heard that, and I couldn’t agree more! The time is whenever baby is hungry, and the place is wherever Mama is.
When we breastfeed, we feed “on demand” or “on cue“. This is an essential part of the breastfeeding relationship between Mama and baby. It’s how our bodies know how much milk to make. If you’d like to know more about why we feed on demand, please see this excellent post from Kellymom on how milk production works.
Babies generally eat anywhere from every 45 minutes to 3 hours. They nurse anywhere from 4 minutes to 45 minutes on average. Do the math and you can see how much of our day we spend breastfeeding! It can be even more intense during growth spurts or when babies clusterfeed. Additionally, babies cannot wait to eat like you & I can. When their tiny little tummies are empty, the need is immediate and urgent. And what do our breastfed babies eat? Breastmilk. From the breast. Nothing else.
Sometimes a baby’s feeding pattern is predictable, but not always. Babies go to the breast for many reasons, hungry is only one of them. It is not uncommon that a baby overstimulated by all the activity of a grocery store or airport will cry to breastfeed because they need the comfort and closeness of mom to help regulate themselves. That is a normal and natural part of breastfeeding and it is an important part of the baby’s emotional development. It’s also important for everyone else in the grocery store or airport who doesn’t want to listen to a screaming baby.
The best thing for a mother to do when she starts to see signs that her baby wants to breastfeed is nurse her immediately. This will help promote a good, swift latch with minimal fuss and prevent the baby from become too upset to nurse properly. If a mother has to spend time searching for a “private” spot to nurse, or fumbling around in the diaper bag for something to cover her baby with, she will miss a small window in which her baby will very easily go to the breast and feed. Incidentally, this is a good way to breastfeed “modestly” for those that are interested, because if you pick up on hunger cues fast enough, your baby won’t cry to be fed and draw attention to you and your breasts. I’ve found just quickly unsnapping your bra, lifting your shirt and latching the baby on doesn’t really draw a lot of attention to yourself. And for the most part, people who glance at you just think you’re holding your baby.
Being able to feed our babies as we go about our daily routines is also an integral part of the baby’s growth and development. Imagine if you had to go home or hide away every time you eat. Eating is a very social aspect of human life and it’s not any different for babies. Babies are growing and learning at an incredible rate that will only slow down as they age. Sequestering them or isolating them while they eat (which they spend so much of their life doing) is cutting them off from the world they need to grow and develop. A baby feels very safe and secure when they are nursing. The stimulus they are receiving from the outside world is not nearly as threatening or overwhelming when they are breastfeeding. Just like we need balance, so do our babies and the act of nursing them in public helps achieve this.
I don’t think most people realize, but when they say things like, “There’s a time and a place for breastfeeding” they are unfairly placing severe restrictions on a nursing mother and her baby (and whatever other children or family she has). We have to be able to get out and live our lives, and we have to feed our babies. Breastfeeding, like other forms of feeding, is not something we do at our whim or for fun. We do it because our babies are hungry, or need to feed. It’s not something that can be delayed or postponed, or done at our (or anybody else’s) convenience.Additionally, if mothers restrict their movements while breastfeeding (remember, that’s a large portion of their day), baby is also restricted in their exposure to life, and what life is all about. It’s important for babies to see what their parents do so they can learn from it. If mom sits around at home all day, that’s what the baby will think life is all about. Pretty shocking when they wean and are suddenly thrown into the big wide world. If a baby is busy and active with mom, engaging in the normal activities of every day life, that is what they will grow up understanding as normal. It’s extremely important.
So Mamas, get out there and nurse those babies as you shop for groceries, go to the movies, have dinner with friends or visit your family. We know we are just going about our day, breastfeeding is just an enormous part of our daily activities. You have a right to feed your baby, just as they have right to eat. You are giving your baby the best by breastfeeding them and as the baby’s mother YOU know when your baby needs to eat. You are not doing anything wrong and if someone has a problem with it, that’s their issue to resolve, not yours. If someone tells you “There is a time and place for breastfeeding” just let them know you couldn’t agree more!