|Nursing mothers often worry about circumstances that
might require them to leave their baby, and wonder how best to meet
their baby's emotional and nutritional needs should such a situation
arise. Many mothers assume that the best preparation for this
possibility is to teach their baby to take a bottle, so there will be
an alternative to nursing if it is ever needed.
However, a bottle is not a solution that I can recommend. One
problem is the possibility of "nipple confusion". Many
babies will suck only from breast or bottle, one or the other - but
not both. One reason for this is that the sucking method is
surprisingly quite different. A baby who is breastfeeding successfully
can become confused by an alternative that requires a different
method. Learning to suck from a bottle could then interfere with his
ability to nurse properly from the breast. Since there are so many
benefits of breastfeeding, both physical and emotional, for baby and
mother, anything that might interfere with this extremely beneficial
relationship should be avoided if at all possible.
|Your baby is communicating with you
Babies have exceptional survival instincts. While a baby's
resistance to bottles may be frustrating for parents, such resistance
is in fact the baby's way of communicating his instinctual need to be
with his mother as much as possible. Even bottles filled with breast
milk cannot satisfy a baby's emotional need for the mother's presence.
For the early months and years, it is essential that a baby has full
opportunity to bond first with his mother. Only then can he
successfully move on to closely-bonded relationships with his father,
and then with others.
|A baby has no sense of time and no
way of knowing that an absent mother will ever return, yet he
understands intuitively that her presence is essential.
|Breastfeeding, beyond all of its many physical benefits,
has the built-in bonus of requiring the mother's close presence. A
baby has no sense of time and no way of knowing that an absent mother
will ever return, yet he understands intuitively that her presence is
essential. Thus, a mother's absence can be quite terrifying for a
baby. For this reason, it is important to keep such absences to the
barest minimum, in both length and frequency.
If you simply must leave
If it is absolutely essential to leave your baby, try to be away as
short a time as possible, and to schedule things carefully, so that
you are gone between feedings or during naps, rather than during a
time when she is apt to be awake and hungry.
If a separation is absolutely unavoidable during a time when she is
hungry, perhaps she will accept expressed breast milk from a spoon. By
about 9 - 12 months of age, babies can learn to drink from a cup.
However, I offer these suggestions not as a routine solution but only
as a last resort in a rare, emergency situation. It would be far
better to avoid separations as much as possible and to carefully
schedule the rare departures that cannot be avoided. In fact I urge
mothers to make every effort to avoid such departures altogether if
possible. Not only do alternate feeding methods interfere with the
baby's ability to nurse, but more significantly, all separations can
potentially interfere to some degree with a baby's developing sense of
trust and security. The more completely a child's need for dependence
is met in the earliest years, the more independent the child will
become later on (see Dr. James Kimmel's short book, Whatever
Happened to Mother?).
Babies not allowed? Ask!
I would also like to stress an important practical consideration
that is often overlooked. Parents often assume that a baby will not be
welcome or appropriate in certain situations, but they may be
pleasantly surprised if they simply ask to bring the baby along. Many
parents have had the frustrating discovery of going to a special event
without their baby or child, only to find that other parents have
brought their children along.
If you must attend a function where babies or toddlers are not
allowed, ask that your baby be brought to you for nursing breaks.
Requests like this can help others become more aware of the critical
importance of breastfeeding and bonding. Even if your request is
denied, it can help to educate others, and in this way contribute to
the process of social change. In many countries, babies and children
are far more welcome in "adult" settings than in North
America. It is time to request and advocate for change in this area.
Your own anxieties
It is not only the baby who finds separation difficult!
Breastfeeding mothers quite naturally find that they also become
uneasy when separated from their baby:
You won't want to leave your baby any more than you have to
because babies need their mothers. It's a need that is as basic and
intense as his need for food. "That's all well and good,"
you may be thinking, "but what about me? I have needs
too." Of course a mother has needs, and sometimes other
responsibilities and obligations cause a mother to be away from her
baby more than she wants to be. But you may be surprised to find how
strong the bond is that develops between you and your baby. A mother
often finds that when she does leave her baby for that long-awaited
"night out," she worries so much about how the baby is
getting along that she doesn't really enjoy the occasion!
It is my hope that all parents will weigh potential separations
with great care, taking into account their child's needs; after all,
they are unable to speak for themselves and are dependent on us for
their care and protection. Infancy and childhood go by with incredible
speed; there will be time later for parents to pursue personal
activities. Mothers who avoid separations for as long as possible reap
countless benefits later. And it is much easier to reach one's
personal goals when not distracted and worried about a child's health
The older the child, the better he will be able to manage
separation, but all children benefit by having their mother available,
both physically and emotionally, as much as possible. One of the most
important advantages of breastfeeding is that the mother is present.
This is Nature's plan for keeping mother and child close, providing
the connection and reassurance the child needs so profoundly.