Breastfeeding -- I don't need to tell you the benefits, do I? Well I do, because I just learned of a few more positive tidbits about nursing. And you know what? I think this info is great for formula-feeding moms, too.
No reason bottle-fed babies can’t get the same social benefits; it just takes a little awareness of what’s going on. If you adjust how you think about feeding your baby -- not just giving sustenance, but participating in a two-person team sport -- you can boost your early bonding experience.
Basically, breastfeeding is an early form of conversation. We’re the only mammal whose infants have to be reminded to keep eating – everyone else goes to work and gets 'er done. Ever see kittens nurse? They climb all over each other in a huge competition for the nipples. Then, when they latch on, they knead and punch to get more milk out. Contrast that to my babes -- a couple minutes of “zomg STARVING” suckling, followed immediately by distraction (“wuzzat?"), batting at the polka dots on the nursing-cover, drifting off for a momentary snooze.
When I nudge them and they either keep sucking or pop off the boob, that’s a form of pre-verbal conversation. "Ya still hungry?" "Wha? Oh yeah! Nom." So when your babe looks up at you, when you stroke her little cheek, when she pops off and gives you that milky grin, think of it as a little mother-daughter or mother-son chat.
It’s also an early form of play, taking turns, and dancing -- a pas-de-deux where neither of you quite leads.
So what’s the takeaway? The tiniest babies only do a few things -- eat, sleep, cry. Later, there’s cooing, staring, and kicking, but eating is a major pastime, and the moment when you’re interacting the most. So don’t just think of it as eating; think of it as connection-building, cue-taking, a give-and-take. And even if you’re doing it via a bottle (and this goes for dads, too), don’t take that time for granted -- it’s your first little pathway into your little one’s heart.
Do you see feeding as a conversation? A dance? A game? Or would you prefer your babe didn’t play with his food?
Image via Raphael Goetter/Flickr