The emotional benefits of breastfeeding are often overlooked in favour of the nutritional benefits.
Unfortunately, in our culture, artificially feeding infants is the norm. And therefore, breastfeeding is also seen as just another option; another way of getting milk into a baby. This is quite a dangerous outlook to have.
The fact is, nursing is so much more than just filling a baby’s tummy. From the very start, your baby’s prerogative is to nurse. They know instinctively how to latch on and suckle from the very first moments of life (providing that the delivery did not leave mum and baby drugged, separated or traumatised — although even this often isn’t enough to stop a baby from nursing). In a few short hours, your baby will leave their warm, safe home within you and emerge to a completely different world. Babies are acutely aware of their surroundings, and of the emotions and sensations they are being exposed to. Their entire bodies are filled with emotion so strong that they feel it physically.
Nursing, for your baby, is a way of feeling connected to you. They have spent their entire lives within you, and nursing helps to bridge the gap between being a part of another human and eventually becoming independent from you. This need for connection does not go away as the child grows; in fact, it gets stronger. Their emotions become more complicated. Nursing helps to regulate these emotions and calm those intense little people, and indeed will become one of the most important tools in your mothering toolbox.
And what about your emotional health? Having a baby can be quite a culture shock. You go from being free and easy, to having a very small person relying on you for their every need. It can be hard. Nursing your baby really does help you to bond. The bonding issue is somewhat of a bone of contention between nursing mothers and formula feeding mothers; after all, we all adore our children, right? It is impossible to raise the same child twice, and just as every child is different, our relationships with them differ. So no, there is no way of telling whether children that have nursed have a stronger bond with their parents than those who haven’t. Those feelings are within you, and only you can make the judgement as to how bonded you are with your little one. However, if your baby is breastfed, they will probably end up spending more time with you as a result which will definitely end up in creating a stronger bond.
Nursing a baby is teaching them how to love. It is nurture as well as nutrition. Those precious moments you spend nursing your baby will be forever in your memories; those cosy nights in the half-light that you spent lying with your beautiful little angel, completely connected. Just you, your baby and the night. These moments are what shape our relationships with our children, and what shapes our children into the people they will grow up to be.