Sunday 8 December 2019

Breastfed until she was three, now she's a confident teen

Baffled at the reaction to the 'Time' cover photo, Antonia Leslie found that attachment parenting worked a treat

When the cover of Time magazine featured a woman breastfeeding a three-year-old boy, I found it funny that people were astounded a mother would offer her own breast milk to a toddler in the place of the milk of another mammal -- a cow. Somehow they saw it as wrong that the breast should be perceived solely as a milk-providing device, and not a sexual image for grown men. They also seemed to think that this new attachment parenting technique (which isn't new at all) would make the child feel it was the centre of the universe and become spoilt. Well, I know attachment parenting as I practised it with my own daughter

Thirteen years ago, while pregnant, and reading every book under the sun on baby nurturing, a friend sent me a book called The Vital Touch, by anthropologist and psychologist Sharon Heller. Sharon had studied human development for years and concluded that, while we can't have our babies strapped to us 24/7 in this modern world, feeling constantly safe and loved as a baby close to a carer's body means the child's nervous system doesn't get used to producing stress hormones. By letting the baby sleep when it is tired and not when some book of routine says it should, and eat when hungry, the younger adult will learn not to over-eat, to sleep when tired, basically to self-regulate.

I slept with my child from day one; we never bought her a cot. I breastfed her on demand until she was three-and-a-half. I only stopped when she had to go to her father for a week and my milk dried up. OK, aged three-and-a-half she was mostly breastfed on waking in the morning and to sleep at night. During the day she had beakers of formula and bottles. But she always comfort suckled to sleep on my later empty breast up until aged five or so.

She never wanted a soother as a baby -- believe me I tried giving them to her many times, but they were chucked away in disgust. At six months old I got her to take her first bottle during the day when I was rushing round and didn't have the time to breastfeed so I pushed the pram and she took the bottle no problem.

I also didn't have a set bedtime for her. No endless hours of trying to get a baby "down" and rushing in the middle of the night for feeds and to soothe crying. No issue around sleep time at all, just pleasant long slumbers in my arms on the sofa, and later in my bed. I remember a small tugging on my nipple around 4am or 5am as she found the breast herself as she slept beside it. I slept long peaceful nights and lay in in the mornings with a happy, fed, sleeping baby in my arms or beside me. I couldn't understand why anyone would go to all the bother of getting up to make bottles, or even getting baby in another room to breastfeed in the middle of the night. Apart from the first two months of colic there were no interrupted nights spent listening out for baby crying down the hall. So much avoidable hassle.

My friends' mothers were dubious. You will have a clingy pampered child later on, they warned. Not so, said Sharon Heller. The child who is carried around close to mom's body and who sleeps beside mom, will, on her own initiative, decide to climb down from mom's lap and discover separation at her own pace. My daughter did precisely that. On her own initiative she climbed down and crawled away, coming back for reassurance if she felt she needed it.

When I wasn't always close at hand, another adult with whom she was familiar would substitute. As a result, my daughter was an outgoing trusting baby and toddler. Aged four and five she was the first among her peers to want to go and sleep somewhere else away from mommy.

Even now she is great with new people and I wish she would come home more. As an infant she was very noticeably more independent then her peers in kindergarten and later in school, something many of her teachers commented on.

I have heard concern expressed about Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) or the parent rolling over on an infant sharing a bed. Statistics show more babies die of SIDS alone in cots then in bed with their moms. Babies attune to their mom's breathing patterns and the mom's body naturally regulates baby's body temperature. And, no, you don't "roll on" your child in your sleep. I kept my daughter on the outside of the bed, level with my neck or breast and loads of pillows on the floor in case she rolled out. She never did.

Instinctively, even in my sleep, I knew where she was all the time.

You may well ask about what Borat would call seeexy time ... with dad. Well, it spiced up the love life. Sneaking away, climbing over a sleeping baby to make passionate love on the sofa or living room floor, then sneaking back into the bedroom and climbing into bed without waking her up. It felt naughty and forbidden. Not mundane and routine.

I'd never dream of trying to impose my thinking on others. Most parents, through trial and error, find a method that suits them. And I think common sense prevails. I'm just saying it really worked for me.

And even after all those years of breastfeeding, I still enjoy grown men admiring my breasts as objects of desire, at the appropriate time and place. So no worries there either.

Sunday Independent

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