Virgin Mary breastfeeding Jesus

Virgin Mary breastfeeding Jesus
Nursing Madonna (wikimedia commons)

Sunday, April 23, 2017

How Motherhood and Breastfeeding Helped Me Achieve a Healthy Weight

When I first entered college, I developed some unhealthy eating habits.  I gained quite a bit of weight and did not listen to my body's signals about what to eat and when to stop eating.  Then I married my husband, and we wanted to start a family.  I ate better and exercised regularly.  I lost 25 pounds and was still overweight, but I was definitely at a healthier weight for pregnancy and childbirth.

I breastfed my first son and kept up my better eating habits.  I took almost daily walks with my husband and son, and my pregnancy weight came off during that first year postpartum.  We then moved to another state, and soon conceived our second son.  We only had one car at that time, so I walked a lot just to get to the grocery store, park, library and other places.  While breastfeeding my second son, I easily lost my pre-pregnancy weight and then some.  I tried to listen to my body's hunger signals.  I even wrote a response to a question about healthful eating and exercising after baby in the "Staying Home" column in LLL's New Beginnings magazine.

Fast forward to today.  I birthed and breastfed a total of five children.  As a busy mom, I am in constant motion, so that counts as a little bit I exercise.  My eating habits are not perfect, but I do try to feed my family and myself as well as I can.  I limit the amount of added sugar I and my children have.   I eat more fruits and vegetables each day than previously.  I incorporate enough whole grain breads and pancakes into my family's diet that my kids seem to prefer them.  I try to model good eating habits.  I exercise about three times per week - pretty steadily.  At first, I did the Walk Away the Pounds DVDs mainly, because I am not very good at some of the complicated dance moves found in many exercise DVDs.  Then I decided to start running.  When I started, 2 minutes of running felt like torture.  However, I stayed with it, and it did get much easier as time went on.  Now I actually enjoy running.

I really believe having children and breastfeeding all those years helped me become healthier than I have ever been!

Here are a few of my favorite nutrition books:

Eat Well, Lose Weight, While Breastfeeding

Fertility, Cycles and Nutrition

The Family Nutrition Book

Here is a link from Kellymom about nutrition while breastfeeding:

Mother's Diet Archives

A Sample Beginner's Running Plan:

Walk Run Off the Pounds

Lastly, here is an excerpt from Getting Started with Breastfeeding: For Catholic Mothers:

      Nutrition for Nursing Moms
       It is important to eat healthfully while breastfeeding, but a perfect diet is not required for an ample milk supply.  What should you eat while nursing?  According to Dr. William Sears, your daily food plan should include all the healthy foods you normally eat from the five basic food groups, just in greater quantity.  Try to choose nutrient-dense selections.  Also drink to thirst (The Baby Book, Revised and Updated Edition 2013, p.159).  
      Are there any foods you need to avoid while nursing?  Unless you, the mother, have dietary restrictions or you discover that your baby is sensitive or allergic to a particular food, there are no foods you need to avoid.  Pregnant women are counseled to avoid certain foods due to increased risk of food-borne illnesses, but these restrictions do not apply to breastfeeding mothers.  The only exception I found was that of fish high in mercury.  However, both canned light tuna (not albacore) and Pacific wild salmon are two types of fish that can be eaten without restriction.
      According to The Baby Book, Revised and Updated Edition 2013 (p.167), it is best to limit alcoholic consumption to that once-in-a-while, special occasion drink.  If you do decide to have an alcoholic drink, nurse your baby first and then have your glass of wine or beer; that way the alcohol will peak in your bloodstream before your next nursing session, and your baby will get very little, if any, alcohol through your breast milk. The concentration of alcohol is greatest in your milk about 60-90 minutes after you drink it (with food), and then quickly decreases.  Therefore, waiting 2-3 hours until the next nursing session will help ensure your breast milk has as little alcohol as possible (The Baby Book, Revised and Updated Edition 2013, p.167).
      What effect does exercise have on breast milk?  Exercise is a great way to slim down after birth, relieve stress and add to your general health and well-being.  If you exercise strenuously and then nurse your baby soon afterwards, your milk may have a slightly different taste due to lactic acid build up in your milk.  Your baby may or may not notice the taste difference, but it is perfectly fine for baby to drink.  One option to avoid the altered taste is to nurse baby first and then exercise.  Moderate exercise should not affect the taste of your breast milk.

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.