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He tends his flock like a shepherd. He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young. Isaiah 40:11
By the time my children were born in the 1980's, our culture had been through the back to the earth movements of the 1960's and 70's. The La Leche League, among other influences, had slowly induced the culture to consider mother's milk as healthy again. Nursing was common. So many of us in the mid to late baby boom were having children, and we all had a lot of interest in the welfare of babies and interests. Younger doctors were coming into medicine, and they were more open to things like natural childbirth and nursing. I may have had an unusually good experience, but I felt very supported in nursing my children.
Today, there is even more support for nursing mothers. There are more lactation specialists around today. There are clinics for nursing mothers. There are newer breast pumps and other developments.
I think all of the new nursing help is wonderful. What I do see, however, is many young mothers struggling to have the "perfect nursing experience". That seems to work itself out in two ways. I know young mothers who really wanted to nurse, but who hit a little problem and gave up too easily. They assumed that a glitch meant that nursing just wouldn't work for them and their babies. I also know young mothers who have had true medical or other barriers to nursing and who struggled for a long time with depression or even guilt for not being able to nurse. I suppose that my peers and I experienced some of the same struggles, but I'm now looking at it from the vantage point of having grown children.
In light of that, I'd love for new mothers to consider the following five things:
1) Whether or not you can nurse your baby is not the measure of whether you are a good mother or not. Yes, nursing is not only a wonderful experience, but it has great benefits for you and for your child. If you can't nurse for any reason or if you choose not to nurse, you may feel some pangs. It doesn't have to be the end of the world, though. Mothering is made up of many aspects, of which nursing is just one. If you must bottle feed, you can still give your baby great nurturing.
2) Relax! I know that can be easier said than done, especially if you have fifteen different friends offering fifteen different theories about nursing baby. However, nursing is a natural process that works best if you can stay calm about it. Learning to peacefully trust the Lord with your nursing experience is good training for trusting Him throughout mothering! Ask the people in your life for help in creating a peaceful environment for you and baby if you need to.
3) Nursing and parenting experts are great, but be wary of following any one theory too slavishly. We are fortunate to live in a time when so much parenting advice is available. However, we can needlessly fret ourselves by trying to fit our mothering into a theory rather than enjoying a relationship with our baby. We can also take on unnecessary baggage if we compare ourselves unduly to another mother or to an ideal from a book. Let the Bible be your ultimate standard. Lean on God, a few trusted friends who have done well in mothering, and common sense. Let any other parenting tools be your servants and not your masters.
4) There probably is a happy medium between nursing totally on demand and rigidly scheduling a young infant. So many parenting theories divide out over this issue, and you may feel pulled between one or the other. Work out what is best for you and for your baby (and your husband!) and stay flexible as baby grows from birth to weaning.
5) Don't neglect God or your husband while you are nursing. While you are nursing, your infant will be a big focus. You won't get as many other things done as you might in other seasons of life, and that is ok. However, you will do well to make daily investments in your relationship to God and in your marriage. Even small investments will help you stay grounded and happy.