Virgin Mary breastfeeding Jesus

Virgin Mary breastfeeding Jesus
Nursing Madonna (wikimedia commons)

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Do Small Things with Great Love

Sometimes being a stay at home mother of a nursing baby or toddler can feel wonderful and rewarding.  On other days, you might wonder if what you are doing matters.  Yes, it does!

As you know, breast milk is helping to build your child's physical body.  Breastfeeding on demand and being sensitive to your baby's needs is contributing to his emotional health and helping him learn to trust.  In terms of spirituality, breastfeeding can be thought of as part of Saint Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body.  The breastfeeding relationship is beautifully described in this way in Sheila Kippley's book, Breastfeeding and Catholic Motherhood, and in Andrea's personal reflection entitled Feed My Sheep. Also, the book, Parenting with Grace discusses breastfeeding in this context.

When Mother Teresa said, "Do small things with great love," I truly believe she was thinking of mothers and other ministers of ordinary life.  You do not need to be on the mission field in another country to be Christ to others and to make a difference.  Even St. Therese of Lisieux did her "mission" work from her convent and now she is considered a great Doctor of the Church.  Striving to respond as lovingly as possible to your family, friends and neighbors is one way nursing mothers "do small things with great love." By nursing your baby and preparing meals and snacks for your toddler, you are feeding the hungry and giving drink to the thirsty, two of the Corporal Works of Mercy.  When you get up in the middle of the night to care for a sick child, you are visiting the sick.  By forgiving your children and husband when they hurt your feelings, you are practicing the Spiritual Work of Mercy that says to forgive offenses willingly.  Also, being gentle with yourself when you make mistakes is following the second part of the Great Commandment: love your neighbor as YOURSELF.  By praying with and for your children, you are praying for the living and dead which is a Spiritual Work of Mercy.  As you can see, family life is filled to the brew with ways to "do small things with great love" and ways to live out the Gospel.

But what about the atrocities occurring around the world this day?  What can mothers do?  By breastfeeding and raising your child(ren) in a loving Catholic home, you are responding to the violence in the world in your own unique way in this season of your life.  You are growing compassionate and faith-filled children who will one day be adults out in the world.  You, as a mom, matter and are changing the world "one diaper at a time!"


Thursday, August 7, 2014

When Breastfeeding Doesn't Go As Planned

When a woman loses a baby, there is understandably a time of grief that can last weeks, months or even years.  However, there is a less talked about type of sadness or grief that a woman might experience - when breastfeeding doesn't go as planned.  Although most women are able to breastfeed, there are a few women who cannot seem to bring in a full milk supply, have strong reactions during a nursing session such as in Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex, or who have to take medications or undergo chemotherapy when they had planned to be breastfeeding.  As with all those who have lost children, my heart also goes out to you who are unable to breastfeed exclusively or at all.

Just the other day after hearing that a woman I know will probably not be able to breastfeed exclusively, I felt a wave of empathy for her and became teary eyed.  Although I am sure she is thrilled to have a beautiful baby, I would imagine that she feels sad, wonders why she cannot seem to produce more milk for her nursling, and is mourning the loss of a dream.  Breastfeeding my own children has been such a major part of my life for so many years now.  It so special, and I want all women to have the experience of holding their little baby's hand while nursing or seeing the joy in a toddler's face when they catch a glimpse of their "nursies."

If you are unable to nurse exclusively, remember that every drop of breast milk you give to your sweet baby is liquid gold and will benefit him! Your baby is blessed to have you as his mother - that is something I find myself saying to nursing moms that I help and it is so true!  Hold your baby in your arms while you feed him.  Savor the times during the day when you do nurse him.  Formula is like medicine; there are even some lactation consultants that suggest it be kept with the medicines on the maternity ward.  Just like sometimes you need an antibiotic for a bacterial infection, formula is for those times when extra nursing sessions, pumping, possibly consuming herbal supplements and foods like oatmeal, and breast compressions do not increase your supply at all or enough.  What a blessing it is to live at a time when we have access to this type of "medicine" so your baby can thrive.  Remember that even if you are only able to provide just a small percentage of your baby's milk needs through breastfeeding, you are still a breastfeeding mom and you are doing a great job!

To those who desire to breastfeed but are unable to or for those for whom breastfeeding is contraindicated...this is another situation where "medicine" is in order, just more of it.  Just like a type 1 diabetic who can no longer produce any insulin on her own needs to take regular shots or use an insulin pump, your baby requires the live saving medicine called formula.  Be gentle with yourself!  Hold your baby in a nursing position while feeding him.  Be sensitive to his needs and snuggle him often.  You are doing your best and God knows what is your heart - wanting the best for your child!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

World Breastfeeding Week - A Rarely Mentioned Benefit of Breastfeeding

It is World Breastfeeding Week and the many wonderful people who promote and support breastfeeding are discussing all the numerous physical and emotional benefits of breastfeeding. However you might not hear too much about the spiritual benefits of breastfeeding. What are they? In the book, Getting Started with Breastfeeding: For Catholic Mothers, it says this:

"As Catholics, we believe that there is more to life than just our physical existence.  Just as breastfeeding has many great physical benefits for the baby and mother, it also provides wonderful spiritual benefits as well.  Mothering your baby at the breast helps your baby experience the unconditional love of Jesus in a very tangible way.  You are your baby's first glimpse of God.  When you nurse him int he middle of the night, you are showing your baby that God will always take care of him.  When you respond to his cries and put him to your breast, you are not only nourishing him physically but sharing God's comfort.

There are spiritual benefits for you, too.  God gives you special graces through the sacrament of Holy Matrimony and through your vocation of motherhood (whether it be by birth or adoption) to follow God's will in this time of your life.  Just as on some days you might not get a long shower or enough sleep, on other days God will want you to put up your feet, sip a glass of cold water, and enjoy some quiet time in His presence while nursing your sweet baby."

Here are some links related to the spiritual benefits of breastfeeding:

Nursing Mothers' Reflections on the Beatitudes

Scriptural Mothering

Feed My Sheep