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Getting Out Sans Baby: Is It Just a Matter of Milk?



By Jan Hunt

It can be worrisome for loving parents to think that their baby may be in a situation in which an important need such as hunger cannot be satisfied. Many nursing mothers assume that the answer to this dilemma is to teach the 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 “nipple confusion”. Many babies will suck only from breast or bottle, one or the other. One reason for this is that the sucking method is surprisingly quite different. A baby who is breastfeeding successfully can become confused by something that requires a different sucking method.

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But I would not recommend teaching a baby how to drink from a bottle even if it were easy to do so. If he were to successfully learn to suck from a bottle nipple (or a pacifier), this could interfere with his ability to nurse properly. Since there are literally hundreds of benefits of breastfeeding, both physical and emotional for both baby and mother, anything at all that might interfere with this extremely beneficial relationship should be avoided.

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 legitimate 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 she have full opportunity to bond first with her mother. Only then can she successfully move on to bonded relationships with her father, and later with other persons.

Breastfeeding, beyond all of its many physical benefits, has the added 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 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 absences to the barest minimum (in both length of time and number of times).

If you simply must leave
If it is absolutely essential to leave your baby, try to be gone 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 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 reluctantly and definitely 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.

Babies not allowed? Try asking!
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 ask to bring the baby along. Many parents have had the frustrating discovery of going to a function 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. The following is excerpted from The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding (La Leche League, New York: Penguin Books, 1991):

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!

The older the child, the better he will be able to manage separation. All young children benefit by having their mother available, both physically and emotionally, as much as possible. One of the many benefits of extended breastfeeding is that a nursing mother cannot be gone for more than a few hours. This is part of Nature’s plan for keeping the mother close by during the years that the child needs this connection so intensely.

The better this need is met in the earliest years, the more independent the child will become later on. For more on this subject, I recommend Dr. Kimmel’s short book, Whatever Happened to Mother?

It is my hope that all parents weigh potential separations carefully, taking into account the children’s needs; after all, they can’t speak for themselves and are dependent on adults for their care. Infancy and childhood pass by unbelievably fast, and there will be time later for parents to pursue other things. Mothers who avoid separations for as long as possible reap many benefits later. It is much easier to reach one’s goals when not distracted and worried about a child’s health and welfare!

Reprinted with permission by Jan Hunt, The Natural Child Project.

Jan Hunt, M.Sc., is a parenting counselor, director of the Natural Child Project and editorial assistant for the Canadian journal Empathic Parenting. She is an advisor to Attachment Parenting International, Child-Friendly Initiative and Northwest Attachment Parenting. A parenting columnist and writer for many years, she is the author of The Natural Child: Parenting from the Heart. Jan and her 22-year-old son (who homeschooled from the beginning with a learner-directed approach) live in central Oregon. You can see Jan’s work at The Natural Child Project.

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