My youngest daughter is nearly three years old, but she doesn’t let anyone forget that she is the baby of the family. She loves a good snuggle in my lap, and she gets jealous when I hold other people’s babies. My husband and I have no plans to have another baby, but Abigail once told me she didn’t want us to have another baby because then I would hold the baby instead of her. She made it clear she doesn’t want to share her mama. I thought this meant my heart, not my nipple. Turns out Abigail was thinking about bottle fed babies when saying this to me.
Then one day, she told me she wanted another baby in our house because she would help feed it bottles. She feeds her dolls bottles. She sees babies drinking from bottles in every children’s book we read or television show we watch that features babies. It’s natural she would assume that there are only bottle fed babies.
The thing is, we’re not into bottle fed babies, kind of family. My daughters rarely drank from bottles. They exclusively drank breastmilk, and as a stay-at-home mom, I had little need to purchase an expensive breast pump so they could drink from bottles. I was never away from my daughters for long, so they drank directly from the source.
The hospital gave me a small manual pump when my first daughter, Megan, was born. It was long, hard work to pump two or three ounces, so I only used it a few times when I really needed it. I didn’t need that little pump much anyway because my firstborn was so attached to the breast that she cried when offered a bottle. She would rather face the prospect of starvation than take a bottle.
When Abigail was born, I brought out that manual pump again and left a bottle for her before going out one evening. Unlike her older sister, she eagerly drank from it. Still, it wasn’t easy to pump enough to fill a bottle, and I never did after that.
My oldest daughter knows all about breastfeeding. Megan was almost 4 years old when her sister was born, so she witnessed it all. She used to hijack my Boppy pillow, hike her shirt up, and “feed” her dolls. She called nipples “nimples” and breasts “lungs.”
|Nursing my youngest, with big sister and the cat.|
Until recently, Abigail was clueless about breastfeeding and thought it was all bottle fed babies. I weaned her at 17 months, and she doesn’t remember the experience. She has never watched a sibling nurse. Most of the babies she sees in our church drink from bottles.
Our larger culture has done a thorough job of perpetuating the idea that babyhood is synonymous with bottles. The formula companies obviously are big culprits, but so are children’s book illustrators, toy makers, and television producers. Abigail’s favorite story book has a page in which an older sister feeds her baby sibling a bottle. Baby shower cakes are likely to be decorated with small plastic bottles or bottles made from frosting. The toy aisles in stores are lined with baby dolls packaged with tiny bottles. I’ve heard of moms who are such staunch breastfeeding advocates that they refuse to let their children play with toy bottles with their dolls. While I won’t go that far, I can understand where they’re coming from. There’s also a part of the population that believes breastfeeding is gross and something best done in private and not mentioned in polite company. So children grow up unaware that another option besides the bottle exists.
I’m not ready to go out and buy a breastfeeding doll, but I will be scouring our county library for children’s books that are more breastfeeding friendly. When Abigail talks about wanting to feed babies bottles, I now explain in a G-rated form that there is another way to feed babies. I tell her mommies can feed babies milk from their bodies. I pat my chest and tell her it comes from that part of a mommy’s body. The first time I had this conversation with Abigail, she got mad. She sees no good reason to ever have a younger sibling now that bottles are mostly out of the picture. At least now she can – sort of – explain the concept of nursing. “Babies drink from their mommies’ tummies,” she tells me.
It’s not easy pushing back against something that is so ingrained in our culture. But we’ve made a good start.
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