Friday, January 16, 2015
Have your Milk and Cookies too (Prolonged Breastfeeding From a Biblical Perspective)
I've been wanting to write about this for a while because I think it's something worth talking about. I wanted to write a nice, informative post with lots of references and a bibliography....but my time is so limited as it is, that I decided to forget that idea otherwise I'd probably never get this done at all. Instead, I thought I'd just write like I usually do, from my heart.
I've noticed over the years that in certain conservative Christian circles continued breastfeeding after a year or so is some what looked down on. Now, I was raised by independent thinking parents and I married an independent thinking guy so I'm not usually too worried about what others are thinking. Plus, until the last year and a half, my entire parenting career has been on the free thinking west coast. Right outside Portland. Now in the Midwest, things are a bit different. People think differently here, and as my baby grew to a year and a half, two years, I definitely got some comments and looks while nursing her. After pondering this, I decided that I wasn't going to be ashamed to do what I believe is best for my baby and my body. I wasn't going to hide in the car to nurse my two year old to sleep. Why should I?
So while hearing, "How old is she now?" and "You're still nursing her?!", several times over in places where I couldn't really get into a discussion about the benefits and history of prolonged nursing, I thought all the reasons out in my head! Then a while ago, a young mom with her first baby told me that other women have been saying things to her to make her feel like she really should ween baby because he's a year now, even though she didn't feel like that was the right thing for them. That's why I wanted to write this. To remind older moms like myself to be careful what we say to our younger sisters in the faith and to encourage the moms who are still trying to figure out what they think.
I want to share with you a little of what I've learned and experienced in this area. When our third baby, our first son, was born, I threw a lot of conventional wisdom to the wind and truly began mothering from my heart and with my God given maternal instincts. I didn't try to get him to sleep through the night, I took him to bed with us and nursed him on demand, day and night. I tried, especially in the early months to keep him in my arms and, literally, as close to my heart as much as I possibly could. I started to notice the many, many Bible verses that spoke of the breast, not only or even most importantly, as a means of nourishment, but also as a place of nurturing. I realized that it was good to put my baby to the breast for food, comfort, and security! That it was perfectly good and fine to nurse him even when he wasn't hungry. I have since enjoyed nursing all of my babies with the same heart.
The science behind nursing is so amazing! God is truly a wonderful creator! If you are a mom and have not studied this, I strongly recommend that you do! The benefits to our own physical bodies as well as our emotional health is something worth thanking the Lord for. I'm not going to write too much about that here but I will mention the hormones prolactin and oxytocin. They are known as "the love hormones" and are released during breastfeeding. They cause us to relax, bond with our babies, and also provide protection against many different types of cancers, among other things. Oxytocin is also released by both men and women during orgasm. See how beautifully and intricately God has created the family unit? I just love to think of that!
How as a young husband and wife, so in love and happy, God was already stirring up these hormones, binding us together every time we made love, so that when little Isabelle was born, we were bound together as one in body, soul and spirit. Ready to take up the great task that God had given us of helping to shape a living soul. (And it also shows us how unnatural it is to engage in sex outside of the marriage relationship and sheds light on why the consequences are so emotionally damaging .)
And I will also include this food for thought, quoted from Nancy Campbell's book The Power of Motherhood, which is as the title suggests, is a powerfully inspiring look at motherhood from God's perspective.
"Reported in the Science News, October 1992, by Kathy Facelmann, "Malcolm C. from the Southern California School of Medicine, Los Angeles, blames the epidemic rates of breast and other female cancers on a fact of modern life: The average American woman starts menstruating at age twelve and typically gives birth to one or two infants. Pike estimates she will ovulate a whooping 450 times in her lifetime. By contrast, a woman who lived two hundred years ago would have started menstruating at age seventeen and would have delivered and breastfed an average of eight babies. Thus our foremothers ovulated fewer than 150 times during their lives. Pike argues that pregnancy and lactation provide a crucial resting period for the ovaries, the female sex glands that produce not only eggs, but also several powerful hormones including estrogen and progesterone. Each month, a woman's body readies itself for pregnancy... ..In years past, woman went through this cycle less often because they were more often pregnant or breastfeeding." (page 30)
Even when our babies are older and able to get all the nutrients they need from food and a sippy cup, breast milk is still very good for them. It is basically drinking perfectly flavored, perfectly mixed mineral water. It still helps boost their immature immune system, and it was created by God, so of course it is much better than any multi-vitamin could ever be! When a little one has a tummy flu, breast milk is often the only thing their stomach can handle. I've often been thankful that my "big baby" is still nursing when we have sickness in the house. You don't have to worry about them getting dehydrated or try to get them to eat before they're ready.
I've also read some very interesting studies about the correlation between the envelopment of teethe and the stomachs ability to absorb and break down food. Indicating that babies are not ready for solid foods as soon as many moms have been led to believe.
I have seen in my toddlers, as well as others, that those who are allowed to ween naturally and have their mother available to them longer are less whiny, sickly, and insecure. I might also mention that while the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that infants be breastfed for AT LEAST the first year of life OR as long as mom and baby desire, the World Health Organization and the UNICEF both recommend that babies be breastfed for AT LEAST the first two years of life.
My Grandma Martha told me a story many times as a way of encouragement, when she noticed that my baby was still "mama's girl" or "mama's boy" as she would say. She said she remembered the last time she nursed very clearly because she bit her mom and would not let go and "there were no more nurseys for Martha after that" she would say. She said she must have been at least three to remember it so clearly.
If you study Jewish history, you will see that although they did not have birthday celebrations, they had a weening celebration, usually between the ages of three and, ready for this?- five! Historians believe that both Moses and Samuel would have been between four and five years old when "they were weened" and went to live away from their mothers. And, yes, weened actually meant weened from the breast!
Many and most cultures around the world breastfeed their babies at least two or three times as long as the modern American mother! I know that everyone is different, every mom is unique, every baby is unique, what works for one family may not work for another. But before you go giving "modern, western, worldly" advice about when a baby should be weened, please remember that the Bible, history and nature are all on the other side of the issue.
Oh, and I must not forget to address one more topic! That is amenorrhea, or the absence of menstruation during breastfeeding. Here again, everyone is so different but a few things stand true. If you are not nursing your baby on demand day and night for comfort as well as food you will ovulate sooner. I have never had a period before my baby was a year old and usually not until they were 15 to 18 months old. Some woman sadly seem to think that this is the only reason that we choose to nurse our babies into toddlerhood. Some women do not ovulate at all while breastfeeding. But, you know what? That is the way God created their body to work and it is very good! If your body works this way it is because God knew you would need more time to physically and emotionally (hormonally) heal from giving birth. Be glad and rejoice in His will for your family. Don't ever let anyone make you feel guilty for the way God has created you! You can still nurse your baby for as long as you'd like. Remember that if there are other women who seem judgmental or critical of your mothering, carry them with grace, knowing it shows a lack of understanding on their part.
Some of the best advice I received as a young wife was to try to be around women who had the qualities that I would like to possess myself. The people we spend our time with have a powerful impact on our lives!
So go and be blessed, fellow mamas! Knowing that the God who created us will give us the grace and wisdom to raise up and nurture these little ones He bestows upon us.
Here's one more quote from Nancy Campbell's book. "In Isaiah 66:10-13 God talks about Jerusalem and likens her to a nursing mother. When we read this passage we see God's understanding of a nursing mother. We read no mention of food. What do we see?
"That ye may suck, and be satisfied with the breasts of her consolations: that ye may milk out, and be delighted with the abundance of her glory. For thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, and the Gentiles like a flowing stream: then shall ye suck, ye shall be born upon her sides, and be dandled upon her knees. As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you, and you shall be comforted in Jerusalem."
Did you notice the words- "satisfy, console, delight, comfort?" We see here nursing is not an alternate way to feed a baby. No, it is total mothering to meet every need of the child. So the breast is used , not just to satisfy hunger, but also to satisfy, delight, console and comfort." (Page 27)
Those early, formative years go by so fast! Milk them for all they're worth! Just think, those first few years lay the whole foundation of their lives!
A Mother's Influence
I took a piece of plastic clay
and idly fashioned it one day,
And as my fingers pressed it still,
It moved and yielded to my will.
I came again when days were passed;
The bit of clay was hard at last,
the form I gave it still it bore,
But I could change that form no more!
I took a piece of living clay
And touched it gently day by day,
And molded with my power and art
A young child's soft and yielding heart.
I came again when years were gone;
It was a man I looked upon:
That early impress still he wore,
And I could change that form no more!