Virgin Mary breastfeeding Jesus

Virgin Mary breastfeeding Jesus
Nursing Madonna (wikimedia commons)

Sunday, March 19, 2017

A Mom's Experience Ecologically Breastfeeding and Tandem Nursing by Andrea Nease

My middle child is getting close to weaning. There are some days he only nurses once now. I'm guessing he will wean sometime this summer. I've been nursing consecutively since my oldest was born almost eight years ago. At the height of it all, I was nursing two children and pregnant with our third. The weirdest part of my middle child weaning is my body will only be supporting one child directly with nourishment from my body for the first time in roughly six years.

Each time I conceived and was still nursing another child, the thought of weaning came to mind. I couldn't possibly know what the future held. Would I regret it if I didn't wean? Would it be too much? Am I really going to be able to handle it? Still, it never felt right to forcibly wean. So I stuck with it, and it all worked out for us.

When I had two nurslings, it helped so much being able to simultaneously meet both kids' emotional needs. There was no competition. It helped soothe upset toddlers. During tantrums, I often had to calm them down before I could reason with them (as much as you can reason with little ones). Nothing calmed them down more quickly than nursing. I could explain the situation, correct them, and pray with them in the silence nursing provided us. The noise reduction also helped me keep my sanity, even if nursing was a physical drain for me. 

By the time my third child was born my oldest had weaned. However, he still needed a good amount of physical touch and affection throughout the day. I noticed as he grew older he would act out negatively to get that physical touch if his needs weren't being met. I often had to find ways to nurse two kids and cuddle him at the same time. Imagine nursing a baby in cradle position, nursing a toddler on the other side with his head in my lap and his feet going toward my back on the side, and a kindergartner curving around the baby's side toward the back to cuddle. Other times, it was like Mommy's Musical Lap as I was stuck in the same spot and children rotated in and out. It was difficult and unpleasant at times, but worth it. I saw how much comfort and trust it instilled in all of them. When a need is met it goes away, and that has proved true for us. Whenever we tried to rush our kids, it always backfired. If we were patient and persevered, good fruit came. 

I can't help to think if I had weaned my oldest early to prevent tandem nursing, it only would have made my job harder. His emotional needs would not just disappear, and it would be even harder to satisfy them without the tool he really needed. Unless I had just neglected the needs until he gave up trying to come to me to meet them, it wouldn't have lightened my load at all. I can't imagine chasing and entertaining a toddler and having to prepare more food and snacks for a non-nursing child would be less challenging than being able to sit and rest nursing children.

However, I want to take a moment to address the difficult times. I was fortunate that my youngest child, our daughter, was a good sleeper. Not sure if it's anecdotal, but I noticed my girl slept through growth spurts and my boys woke up to eat more during growth spurts through the night. Therefore, for me, my most difficult time was after I had DS2. I had two children waking to feed at night, and the oldest actually woke up more than the baby. It was tough. We had really bad nights. There were times I let my husband take our oldest because I felt I couldn't go on. Sometimes I got angry and yelled at the situation. I felt horrible about it later. Even if my husband took our oldest downstairs, he would cry and cry. My maternal instinct couldn't ignore it, no matter how hard I tried. Even if I couldn't hear anymore, my heart knew. I couldn't sleep until my child felt safe. It didn't do me any good if I wasn't sleeping anyway, so I nursed him. Then we all went peacefully back to sleep. 

Now, I have often heard people say that if the mother is no longer enjoying nursing then it's better for the child to be weaned than to have an unhappy mother. In my experience, this was not true. Even in my worst, shameful moments, my child still wanted me.  When I had lost my temper and yelled, they still wanted to be with me. When I was crying and upset, they still wanted me. If my imperfect moments were so traumatizing, they wouldn't have continued to come to me or seek me out- they would have been perfectly content with Dad because he wasn't yelling or upset. But they weren't. Even when I cringed through nursing aversion with gritted teeth and a grimace, they happily nursed. I was a wreck, but forcibly weaning would have made them a wreck, too. Besides, I don't know a single mother, nursing or not, who is always happy. There are always temptations no matter your state in life. If you want to never show unhappiness around your child you'd have to adopt your child out or you're already a saint!

We are human and imperfect. We are all called to be saints and work towards perfection. I realized I couldn't throw in the towel. I had to persevere, as Scripture tells us to do. Yes, we have bad days. Bad nights. Bad moments. Maybe bad weeks or months. But we also have bad moments with our jobs, our marriage, and other things. We don't quit our jobs or separate from our husbands just because we sinned or made a mistake or are no longer a happy employee or wife. We ask for forgiveness. We ask for more grace. We try again. 

The other thing I noticed was how even if temporarily it seemed best or convenient to refuse to nurse, there was still a consequence. Especially as my toddlers grew, it became easier to say "Just a minute....wait to nurse until I'm done loading the dishwasher". This was fine many times. But other times, I would secretly hope they would forget and then I'd be off the hook. Sometimes, they did forget. The result was usually a melt down within an hour. Compare it to being hungry. Sometimes, we don't want to stop to eat because we are busy working. We put it off. It works for awhile, and then we start snapping at people eventually because we are "hungry". Or, it's time for us to go to bed but our work is not done. Our body is forced awake and we get a second wind. It's hard to fall asleep after that so we are up even later, then feel terrible the next morning. There is always a consequence. I feel if I had prematurely weaned my kids, we probably would have gotten through, but the emotional damage would have reared its head at some point. The trust and security would have been damaged on some level, even if not completely. 

It may not seem like our children can really grasp it when they are three or two or younger. But as your nursling grows, they build on a foundation. Seeing you fail in your weakness, asking for forgiveness, and reconciling sets a huge stage for them to understand better the Sacrament of Reconciliation and God's mercy, and our unconditional love for them. It's easy to love God when it's easy, but it is through our trials, like Job, we prove our love. I want to love my children with the same mentality. I want to meet their needs when it is easy, but also when it is difficult. If I mess up, it keeps me humble and models humility for my child when I come back and say "I'm sorry. Please forgive me. What can I do to make this right?" 

If a child is not emotionally mature enough to wean on their own, it's also logical to assume they won't  have the capacity to fully understand any reasoning we give them for weaning. The message may be lost or misinterpreted. When it's natural for a child to have the need to nurse but are not allowed, they may internally feel as if there is something wrong with their desires. Weaning could send the wrong message that the child is hurting the parent. When I continue nursing despite my failing moments, I send the message of my accountability and responsibility to grow in virtue. They still may be too young to comprehend that, but all of these lessons can be passed down to my children later in life. When they want to get into a certain college or get a certain job but are meeting adversities, I can tell them about my roughest struggles and how I stuck with it and God helped me through. 

I won't say I believe it's always the prudent choice in every situation, but for me I am happy with my decision to stick it out. Sometimes, when I was completely exhausted, I thought about Jesus telling the apostles "So you men could not keep watch for one hour?" I learned I can push myself much farther than I thought I ever could by the grace of God.

Written by Andrea Nease

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Nurturing the Marriage Relationship in the Ecological Breastfeeding Family

      There are a lot of authors that suggest overnight and weekend getaways as necessary for a healthy marriage.  If you practice ecological breastfeeding, however, these trips are not always advisable.  When your youngest child weans, maybe a trip like this will be a possibility.  What to do in the meantime?  My husband and I have a weekly two hour date night.  If I have a nursling or a clingy toddler, she comes with us.  Otherwise the youngest stays home with her brothers (our oldest two sons are teenagers).  Before our oldest was a teenager, we had a regular babysitter for date night.  If you do not have a teenage son or daughter or you cannot afford a sitter, consider trading babysitting with a friend.  Another idea is to have a date night at home by putting on a family DVD for the kids and sharing a special meal with your sweetie at the kitchen table.
      In our family we have a bedtime for the oldest kids.  This way my husband and I have quiet time together in the evening.  Our nursing baby is welcome to join us.  Once our second child came along, we realized that even if the baby stays up with us, it is still quieter and more conducive to couple time than when all the kids are up.  I know some moms who do not have bedtimes.  They most likely set aside other times for special couple time, possibly after dad gets home from work.  As your children get older, you can let them know that for the first 20 minutes after dad gets home, they need to play or read quietly so that the two of you have some time to reconnect after a busy day.
      There are other little ways you and your husband can stay connected while raising children.  You can talk on the phone during the day, exchange text messages or emails and have lunch together if your husband is able to come home from work.  You may consider asking friends what works for them or subscribing to inspirational blogs for more ideas.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

St. Zelie

Zelie Martin by in identified photographer
Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

I recently read the book "The Mother of the Little Flower" by Celine Martin. I had read somewhere that St. Zelie Martin did not nurse her children. This left me curious what her life as a mother was like, especially being an example by raising saints and becoming one herself. I wanted to share some excerpts from the book about her nursing relationship of her children and the illness she died from. 

On page 73-74 it reads:

"What mother felt and complained of was that she could not, herself, nurse any but her first three children. She had to give the others out to be nursed, often at a distance in the country, necessitating very fatiguing journeys for her to visit the children. 

When Therese was born, mother felt an inexpressible joy. Before her birth, she admitted having heard her singing with herself. But soon after her birth, the baby fell ill, and once so seriously that she refused even to take the mother's breast. Mamma watched over her night and day, endeavoring to feed her baby by other means which the doctor ordered."

On page 90 it reads:

"As to myself, I was only eight years old when my mother, at my request, showed me the sore; I have always kept an unforgettable memory of it. All the upper part of the right side of her breast as far as the shoulder and the base of the neck was bright red with inflammation, while darker red streaks ran through it, up and down." 

With other descriptions given in the book (such as fever, painful swelling, discharge, etc) it seriously made me wonder if she may have had a breast infection such as mastitis which spread. A quick online search revealed "Non Lactational Mastitis", which can occur in women who are not longer nursing. Although, the books does make note of some injury with a table as a child, and also mentions cancer.

From the description of the property in the back of the book, it sounds like she worked on the same property as she lived. One could naturally assume this left her very accessible to the children who were living at home. A recurring theme in the book is how St. Zelie was completely selfless by always putting her family first and patiently enduring trials. There are many tidbits that are very relatable to the daily life of mothers. 

The book is a quick read and encouraging for mothers who are striving to raise saintly children. There is also a companion book on St. Therese's father, St. Louis Martin. 

Written by Andrea Nease

Saturday, January 28, 2017

How the Catholic Nursing Mothers League Supports Breastfeeding Moms

Are you new to the Catholic Nursing Mothers League or are you just not sure what we offer for nursing moms?  Let me share how our ministry can support and encourage you!

ONLINE: We have a growing online presence.  Our website contains posts and links on breastfeeding management info, spiritual posts and links, mothers' stories, podcasts, a small e-book lending library, and a whole lot more.  We have a yahoo group that has 144 members and is a little quiet (but also a nice alternative to Facebook if you are not a Facebook fan), a Facebook group with 875 members, and a Facebook page.

IN-PERSON: Currently there are 15 registered in person CNML groups around the country.  We are always happy to add more groups to the list as we want our ministry to touch Catholic mothers in every parish!  If you feel called to lead a CNML group in your parish or town, send me an email at catholicbreastfeeding(at)yahoo(dot)com, and I can help you get started.  CNML has a leader's handbook that makes it super easy!

GOODIES: CNML provides lots of goodies to inform and encourage nursing moms.  If any of the following items will help support you in your faith and as a nursing mother, please drop me an email at catholicbreastfeeding(at)yahoo(dot)com and I will gladly send it out to you.


Prayer shawls for nursing moms

Our Lady of La Leche medals and prayer cards

One decade rosaries

Rosary bracelets (these are new - I am pretty excited about them)

Pope Francis/Nursing Madonna cards to hand out to moms you meet who need breastfeeding encouragement (these are also new)

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Three Special Christmas Season Feast Days for Nursing Mamas

Christmas, the Feast of the Holy Family, and the Feast of Mary, Mother of God are all special feast days that celebrate the gift of Jesus, yes, but also motherhood and family life. Christmas welcomes Jesus as a baby into our world. The Feast of the Holy Family celebrates the ordinariness and holiness of the Holy Family.  The Feast of Mary, Mother of God celebrates the honor we give to Mary, as Mother of our Savior.

I was pregnant during the Christmases of 1998, 2001, 2004, 2007 and 2011.  Each of those Christmases and other ones, too, I listened to the song, "Breath of Heaven" sung by Amy Grant and cried, of course!  Many times I was in the throes of morning sickness or feeling anxious about the upcoming birth.  Other times I felt joyful while thinking about my unborn baby.  I think Mary felt some of those emotions, too, during her pregnancy with Jesus.  Then many more Christmases I nursed a baby or toddler - during the night, on Christmas morning as my older children opened their gifts, and in between cooking dinner.  Mary most likely nursed Jesus well into toddlerhood, too, in the midst of her everyday life.  Can you imagine nursing the Son Of God?  What must that have been like?

I especially enjoy the Feast of the Holy Family, because my family is so important to me, and because I am a member of the Holy Family Institute.  Jesus, Mary and Joseph inspire me to try to be more patient and more emotionally present to my family, to play more with my kids, and to just be myself - the person God created me to be.  The Holy Family experienced difficult times - fear, needing to flee to a strange country, town gossip - just like we do, but they trusted God would take care of them even when they were afraid.  They lived ordinary lives.  Mary breastfed baby Jesus, helped him learn to walk and talk, taught him to pray and most likely home educated him, because there were no local schools at that time (an inspiring fact for you homeschoolers!).  Mary also snuggled Jesus close, kissed and hugged him, and probably sang him to sleep. All the same things we do with our kids!

Mary was a gentle mother to Jesus and desires to lead us to her Son through our vocation of motherhood.  I feel my relationship with Jesus and breastfeeding my children taught me gentleness.  It is difficult to stay angry with your toddler while he is nursing to sleep in your arms!  All those years waking up multiple times per night to nurse a baby really teach you gentleness, too.  If you are nursing your first baby, just know that as your baby gets older and if you have other children in the future, your love, patience and gentleness will grow.  Ask Mary to help you be the mother Jesus wants you to be.         

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Christmas meditation

"Going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him" (Matthew 2:11)
Mary, Joseph, and Jesus shared a special closeness with each other.  Research has shown that those first few years of life lay the foundation for the child's worldview and even their relationship with their parents.  Breastfeeding can definitely help with that and it also encourages the mom and baby to stay in close proximity to each other.  All those times of nursing are continually being added to your baby's emotional tank.  Is it time for another deposit?
An idea for living out your faith:
Visit a new mother or possibly a nursing home resident that may be feeling lonely and isolatedBring your baby along.  Everyone loves a cooing, smiley baby!

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Breastfeeding and Church Tradition

     It may pleasantly surprise you that the Catholic Church has a long-standing tradition in support of breastfeeding.  The Church, first of all, follows natural law.  What could be more natural and in tune with God’s plan for humans than feeding your baby the milk your own body produces?  Ecological breastfeeding, too, follows natural law.  You follow your baby’s needs for milk and comfort using the body God gave you as a gift.  You are then a gift to your child.  The infertility that results is nature’s design and another gift to you.
      As I write this, there is a heated debate taking place on a popular Catholic internet site.  They are discussing whether or not breastfeeding can be done in a selfish manner due to its natural benefit of infertility.  My personal opinion is “no.”  You can’t force your baby to nurse if he doesn’t want to.  Even if you wake him in the middle of the night to nurse in the hopes of extending your own natural infertility, he will only nurse if he needs it.  On a personal note, I have bedshared with all my children, and they woke naturally one to several times per night until around age two without any help from me.  Also, in the over ten years I have been involved with supporting nursing mothers, no one has mentioned that they wake their baby to nurse during the night (except for maybe a sleepy newborn baby in the first week of life)!  On the contrary, moms usually accept this phase of life and all it entails or try different techniques to get their babies to sleep through the night.  Then there is also the situation of many women who would love to have another baby but are unable to conceive because they are breastfeeding. 
      In terms of support from popes and bishops, Pope Gregory the Great, Pope Benedict XIV, Pope Pius XII, and (Saint) Pope John Paul II all showed support of breastfeeding.  The two latter popes publicly spoke to mothers about its importance (Breastfeeding and Catholic Motherhood, p. 32-34).  The current pope, Pope Francis, has been especially supportive of breastfeeding moms.  On Holy Thursday, he washed the feet of twelve pregnant and nursing moms - one mom was actively nursing her baby during the actual washing of feet!  On another occasion, he encouraged mothers to nurse their hungry babies during a baptism ceremony in the Sistine Chapel.  At least two bishops also advocated for breastfeeding - Bishop James T. McHugh and Alfonso Cardinal Lopez Trujillo.  (Breastfeeding and Catholic Motherhood, p.36-37).  As you can see, the Magisterium wholeheartedly supports nursing moms and babies.      
      Several priests actively promote breastfeeding in their own unique ways.  Father Virtue wrote a chapter on breastfeeding in his doctoral dissertation, Mother and Infant.  Father Timothy Sauppe created a Madonna chapel and developed a rosary of five mysteries in honor of Mary’s breastfeeding relationship with Jesus which was granted an imprimatur (Breastfeeding and Catholic Motherhood, p. 38-40).  I am sure there are countless other Church leaders who are doing a wonderful job supporting nursing mothers.
      Christian artwork often portrays Mary breastfeeding Jesus, sometimes with her breast exposed.  Scripture mentions breastfeeding no less than 12 times, and weaning is often mentioned as taking place at the end of the second or third year of life.
      The Catholic Church honors two souls in heaven as patron saints of breastfeeding.  St. Giles is one of the official patron saints of breastfeeding mothers.  He was a hermit in Southern France in the late 600s - early 700s who reportedly sustained himself for several years only on the milk of a hind.  His feast day is September 1.  In addition, the diocese of St. Augustine, FL celebrates the feast of Our Lady of La Leche on Oct. 11.  Our Lady of La Leche is the patron saint of nursing mothers and women who want to become pregnant.  There is a shrine in the city of St. Augustine dedicated to Mary in this role.  Breastfeeding is so important, it has two patron saints, including the Blessed Mother!
(excerpt from book, Getting Started with Breastfeeding: For Catholic Mothers by Gina Peterson)

NFP International has some great links to what different popes have said about breastfeeding.

Also, here is a link to a story about Pope Francis encouraging mothers to nurse their babies in the Sistine Chapel.