|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
|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
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 and welfare.
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.