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Should you breastfeed this time around?
by Dr. Susan Bartell

A couple of days ago I was standing in line at the supermarket when I overheard two women near me talking. One of them was pregnant and the other had an infant seat in her shopping cart. The pregnant woman was telling the other one that she had breastfed her first child for several months and really enjoyed it. She continued, however, that she did not plan to breastfeed this new baby because she was afraid that it would make her two-and-a-half year old son jealous. The second woman seemed to concur that this was probably a good decision because it would be hard enough for the first child to adjust to the new baby.

Whether or not to breastfeed is a very personal decision and one with which many mothers struggle. This can be true whether it is your first or fourth pregnancy. There are many factors, which influence the decision, ranging from each child's ability to nurse adequately, to the mother's need to return to work and many other reasons in between. Amongst these reasons is a concern I have heard expressed by many mothers, that nursing the second baby will be far too complicated and stressful for themselves and also difficult for their first child to handle. Hopefully, by the time you have finished reading this, you will realize that although it IS more complicated the next time around, the rewards for everyone far outweigh the difficulties.

Your decision to breastfeed should not be dictated by whether your older child will adjust to it. After all, you chose to have another baby knowing that at first it might be a difficult adjustment for your child. If you choose not to breastfeed it should be because you don't want to. If your decision is made to accommodate your older child, you may later resent your child for having caused you to miss out on something that was important to you. Also, if you thought it was important enough for your first child to get the nutritional and emotional benefits associated with breastfeeding, why shouldn't your next child get them as well?

You might not realize it, but having your older child see you breastfeed the new baby can actually be beneficial to your relationship with your child. Let me illustrate with another story told to me by the mother of nearly three-year-old, Katie and ten-month-old, Megan. Since the baby was born, Katie had not paid much attention to her mother nursing Megan. Then one day, she asked "mommy, did you feed me like that?" "Of course I did" her mother replied. "You are just as special to me as Megan, so when you were a baby I wanted you to have my special milk too." Katie of course, was delighted with the response. She became thrilled with stories her mother told her about how she had been nursed. In fact, for over a year afterwards (even after Megan had stopped nursing) she still loved hearing her mother tell her how she had held her, nursed her and rocked her when she was a tiny baby. Like all children, Katie craved the love and attention of her mother. However, as parents we don't need to take away nurturing from a younger child to give our older child what they need. We can show our children in many different ways how much we love them and that we have enough love for all the children in the family. More importantly, by nursing the baby and talking openly about it, we teach our older child that everyone gets the kind of love and nurturing that he or she needs at the time that they need it.

If you did not breastfeed your first child, but want to try with your next one, by all means do so. You should not feel guilty about giving the second child something you did not give the first one because as we just said, each child gets enough love and the type of love that he or she needs. The reasons that caused you not to breastfeed the first time were valid at that time. Our lives and feelings change and we adjust accordingly. Our children benefit from our love whether it's demonstrated through breastfeeding or bottle-feeding. Of course you may be wondering what you should tell your first child if she asks whether she was nursed. Although your first reaction may be guilt and a desire to tell her she was nursed, this is definitely not necessary. You need to remember that children respond to what we tell them and the manner in which we say it. Bottle feeding a child does not equal loving less. You can tell your child that you loved giving her a bottle while she snuggled in your lap. You can tell her that you were able to watch her, smile at her and sing to her while she drank from a bottle. You can say how proud you were when she started to hold the bottle herself. It is also important to remind her that being bottle-fed meant that other important people got to feed her as well (like dad and grandparents) and that they really enjoyed this. The main point is that you communicate your love towards your child in which ever manner you choose to feed him.

From a practical point of view, breastfeeding a second child is certainly more complicated because you have many more demands placed on you and are usually even more exhausted than you were the first time around. However, if it is something that you feel strongly about, here are some tips to make it run a bit more smoothly:

  • Plan ahead--that means prepare a snack and drink for your older child and keep it right next to you while you nurse. Have the TV remote handy, or another activity that won't require your active participation (e.g. crayons, easy puzzles, books etc).
  • Enlist your older child's "help" if he or she is interested. For example, they can unhook your nursing bra, and hold the baby's head. This will give the child a feeling of being included, rather than shut out of the nursing.
  • Encourage your older child to ask you questions and then try answer them as openly as possible.
  • Sometimes older children want to lie in your lap in the nursing position just to see how it feels although they have no real interest in nursing. Encourage this and make them feel special about being close to you in this way. Keep in mind that if your older child was weaned recently this may not be a good idea because it will send a mixed message to them.
  • Enlist the help of your partner, or other family and friends who may be there, to pay attention to your older child while you are nursing.
  • Wean your older child at least 2-3 months before the baby is born (longer, if she is over 2 years old) to give her enough time to adjust to the loss of nursing before seeing the new baby beginning to nurse.

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