Guest Author - Nicki Heskin
A common concern of new nursing moms is whether their babies are nursing because they are hungry or "just comfort nursing." Formula-feeding moms and those who are not familiar with breastfeeding will cluck at a nursing mom and shake their heads if a nursing mother rushes their crying baby to the breast. Nursing moms are hit with such comments as, "You know that baby isn't hungry yet…she just nursed an hour ago."
But this is one more way that nursing is so very different than formula. Nursing, by its very nature, is comforting. All nursing is comfort nursing. Whether nursing is needed nutritionally is not, in my opinion, something that a new mom should worry about. If a successfully nursing baby really, really doesn't want or need to nurse, they will turn away from the breast or decline to latch on (please differentiate this from babies and mothers who are having nursing challenges and still need assistance or time to nurse easily or successfully). If the baby nurses…they "need to nurse."
Breastmilk, a perfect food for babies, digests more completely, easily and therefore quickly than formula, so it is not at all strange that breastfeeding babies nurse more often than their formula-fed counterparts. Plus, let's face it, from a baby's perspective, breastfeeding rocks! Guaranteed time with mommy, warmth, skin-to-skin contact, suckling satisfaction, full tummy, cuddled and tucked away in mommy's arms…what's not to love about that sort of comfort? So while a baby may not cry out wistfully for a cold bottle nipple full of reconstituted powdered nutrition given by any old person with a free hand unless their tummy truly is empty, a baby suddenly out in the world will call for nursing both for nutrition and that wonderful comfort.
It's also important to recognize that a baby who needs nursing more often that every two to three hours is completely normal. Some babies nurse much more frequently due to many possible factors and most babies "cluster feed" at certain times of the day when they may seem to be nursing non-stop. See my related articles in the links at the end of this page.
There is absolutely no reason not to nurse a small infant whenever they seem to want it or need it, within the limits of your own sanity. That's not to say that you are damaging your child if you finish your shower and actually dry off and get dressed while they wait (impatiently) with another loving adult, or if need be, in a safe spot. That's not to say that you have to hop to and pull out a breast every time they whimper. You find a balance for these things. But you are *not* spoiling your baby by comfort nursing. You are *not* irreparably yoking yourself to this baby at his every whim.
By nursing your infant on cue, you are doing all the right things for your milk supply and your baby's development, confidence and attachment. After about 8 months of age, comfort nursing is still totally appropriate, but becomes more complicated as a baby's "needs" and "wants" begin to sometimes diverge. For more information on comfort nursing with older babies and toddlers see my related article in the links at the end of this article.
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