Today’s post is written by Cassandra about the ingenious idea of bottlenursing, where she set up a routine that mimics breastfeeding in every non-nutritive aspect and allowed for the bond with her daughter to grow and flourish in the most basic of ways. I did bottlenursing with my daughter for the first 5 months of her life until she finally started nursing. I would let her rest her cheek on my boob so she was getting skin to skin and cradle her in a nursing position.-Stephanie
I met Stephanie almost a year and a half ago when I found her post about how she turned things around with her daughter to begin comfort nursing. We had similar situations where we couldn’t breastfeed following birth, but I was unable to get as far as Stephanie did and eventually gave up the struggle altogether.
From about two weeks old, my daughter had to be bottle fed and the thought of doing so tore me apart for a very long time. I was determined to maintain some semblance of normalcy by nursing her with the bottle on my chest instead of propping it or teaching her to hold it. While it’s not a perfect substitution for breastfeeding, it’s the closest thing we had then and still do.
Even after my daughter could sit up and grasp items, beyond where she could chew food and her digestion developed enough to derive sufficient nutrients from food to survive, we have continued to bottlenurse. You see, there is a difference between nursing and feeding. Babies and toddlers have an inherent desire to suckle because it is normal and natural for children to continue suckling at the breast for many years.
In an article published by Dr. Katherine Dettwyler, she compares natural weaning ages of animals closest to us genetically to demonstrate that, “The minimum predicted age for a natural age of weaning in humans is 2.5 years, with a maximum of 7.0 years.” She uses many different examples of how the age of weaning is calculated, but the gist of it is that humans take a very long time to mature and it is only modern humans who have suddenly decided that nursing should no longer be a part of the beginning stages of maturation.
In modern society, we frequently see children as old as 4 or 5 still sucking on pacifiers and enamored with their thumbs. Sometimes the thumb sucking continues all the way through adolescence and into the adult years. Hardly anyone stops to wonder if maybe the abrupt removal of the most natural aspect of human nature and subsequent shaming and demonizing of it has anything to do with the behavior. Not to mention the pervasive obsession with breasts to begin with.
Far too many people focus on the “breast” part of the equation without thinking much about the result; mother and child closely bonded in physical, emotional and mental wellbeing by the single grea
source of nourishment, comfort and warmth a mother can give outside of the womb.
What does this have to do with bottlenursing? Well, my experience with it clearly demonstrates the difference between nursing and feeding, and why it’s important to allow a child to continue to nurse beyond some designated time frame arbitrarily set by “experts” or social pressures.
I wrote this post when my daughter was only 7 months old, not fully comprehending the effects of my actions. I thought surely being that this was just a bottle and not the boob, she would not be attached to it or to me and would give it up as she started eating more food and drinking from a cup. Just because we had bottlenursed doesn’t mean she will continue to want to nurse like breastfed toddlers, right? It’s a boob thing, not a bottle thing!
Well, turns out the opposite happened. At 20 months old, she is very insistent that I be the one to give her a bottle, going so far as to retrieve the bottle, pry open my hands, shove it into my palm and flop over in my arms, mouth agape. If I am not home, she will usually forego a bottle altogether or take one only rarely from someone else.
You see, she wants to nurse.
She doesn’t want food.
She doesn’t want water.
She doesn’t want just a bottle.
She doesn’t want just to suck.
She doesn’t want just to cuddle.
She wants me to cradle her in my arms and provide for her milk from a nipple.
She wants to breathe in her mama’s scent, feel my warmth, listen to my breath, nuzzle against my skin, taste the familiar milk coming from the familiar texture of the nipple she has had her whole life.
Just because she is over a year old doesn’t mean she has magically grown beyond these desires (obviously). If she is upset, tired, bored, lonely, stressed, or just wants to be with me, she will clearly signal to me that she wants to nurse. Sometimes she only wants a couple sucks, sometimes she wants to stay for a whole hour. She wants it at night, when she wakes up, when she naps, when we get home from errands.
In every way she behaves exactly like a breastfed toddler, because the desire to nurse is hardwired into her like it is for all toddlers, whether it’s with a bottle or a boob. Eventually she will naturally decide to wean from it, just like all other toddlers, because you see, it’s normal to do so. And just how I swaddled my infant baby girl to mimick the womb, easing her transition into life on the outside at her own pace, I continue to give my toddler the comfort of nursing, easing her transition into childhood at her own pace. Breast or not, it is what is best for her.