Knowing it's alright to nurse for comfort makes breastfeeding easier
“Don’t let your baby use you for a pacifier.” “He’s only nursing for comfort; he’s not really hungry.”
If you’re a breastfeeding mother, you’ve probably heard comments like this.
Certainly Jolene Friesen-Stoesz has. She’s the mother of Jacob, now two years old, who was a frequent nurser. As she’s learned more about breastfeeding, the comments bothered her less: “You can’t really tease apart a baby’s need for food and need for comfort. They’re both important aspects of breastfeeding.”
In fact, breastfeeding turns out to be an impressive form of comfort. Lactation consultant Fleur Bickford of Ottawa says that a 2009 study published in the journal Pediatrics showed that breastfeeding was more effective than any other intervention (being held, sucking on a pacifier, oral glucose solution or formula feeding) in reducing a baby’s pain after a heel prick, as measured by several factors including the amount of crying and the baby’s heart rate. “Babies go to the breast for many reasons — they’re hungry or thirsty, they’re tired, they’re scared or hurt, they’re feeling overwhelmed. All of these are equally valid reasons for a baby to nurse,” says Bickford.
Friesen-Stoesz feels breastfeeding is made more difficult when we put arbitrary limits on it: “Comments like ‘he’s only nursing for comfort’ are based on ideas about schedules and how often a baby should nurse that just aren’t valid.” That’s especially true in the early weeks, says Bickford, when milk production is being established and frequent feedings are important to signal the mother’s body to produce enough milk.
But wait — what about overfeeding? We hear so much about the need to prevent children from becoming overweight: Won’t feeding the baby every time he wants comfort lead to overeating? No, says Bickford. “The research shows that babies who are not breastfed are the ones who are more likely to be obese, and one theory about this is that breastfed babies are in control over how much milk they take in.”