I Am a Human Pacifier – And I’m Okay with That
Before having a baby, I never thought of my breasts as having any use for my child beyond milk. The day I gave birth I realized that they were one of the greatest early parenting tools I had. The baby is upset. Offer the breast. The baby can’t sleep. Offer the breast. The baby is sick or hurting. Offer the breast. My husband always joked that my response to every fussy baby moment was “I’ll just give her a hit off the boob”. Little did I know, this personal choice was going to elicit a lot of judgment.
I breastfed my child to calm her, whether she was hungry or not, a practice commonly referred to as comfort feeding. Along with this, I also fed her on-demand with no schedule and kept her physically close to me almost 24/7. I wore my baby pretty much all day in a sling, so she had easy access to breastfeed whenever she wanted. At night she slept in a bassinet right next to my bed.
Once I learned how to breastfeed, comfort feeding gave me a burst of confidence as a new mom. I didn’t know how to clean projectile poop off the wall, remove boogers from a congested baby, or clip those super tiny fingernails, but I at least knew how to quickly calm my baby.
Because I comfort fed, I was my child’s safe place in those early months – which meant it was hard for me to ever leave her. I lost pretty much all physical independence. While it can be insanely challenging to have another human strapped to you all the time suckling 12+ times a day, it felt easier than trying to calm her without giving her that consistent access to the breast. This is why I chose this route. It kept both her and me calmer and happier.
What surprised me was how others were not okay with it and felt it was their duty to let me know. I quickly learned that there is a westernized taboo around comfort feeding and that some people were uncomfortable with the idea that I would allow my daughter to “use me as a pacifier”. Friends encouraged me to leave my baby more frequently and for longer periods, they suggested I let her find ways to self-soothe, and avoid becoming too attached. I was told it wasn’t healthy for us to be this physically tied to each other. They assumed I was losing myself. It made me question if I was doing the right thing – for myself and my child.
Being tied physically to my baby and comfort feeding did not mean losing myself. Before my baby, I worked a nonprofit job I loved, enjoyed cooking, traveled frequently, had movie date nights with my husband, and went for walks and hikes. After having a baby, I still did all of those things. I did not just give up those parts of my day that made me happy. I simply did it all with a cute suckling baby strapped to me (although admittedly I traveled a lot less and was fortunate to transition into working from home).
While challenging at times, I never felt like I was sacrificing or being a martyr mom to comfort feed. I still took time for myself in small spurts and relished my one-hour trip to the grocery store alone, complete with a great podcast in the car and a latte.
The more I researched the benefits of comfort feeding, I learned that it helps to decrease my baby’s heart rate, calm her, and relax her, as well as me (I’ll take all the breastfeeding oxytocin hormone boosts I can get). Also, babies are physiologically geared to constant holding and frequent suckling. In many other cultures, comfort feeding is the norm. And generally, their babies cry a lot less (sign me up for that).
So, we carried on. I love the analogy that breastfeeding is about more than just getting a meal, but rather it is an entire dining experience that includes eating, connection, and socialization.
Comfort feeding for me did not lead to an overly attached baby that never learned to self-soothe. After those first few weeks, my daughter naturally grew in independence, began exploring the world outside of the sling, and found other ways to calm herself when she was upset. Her time spent at the breast naturally declined.
I am grateful I was able to nourish my child through breastfeeding, not only nutritionally, but also emotionally and physically. These days, I miss her wanting me around every second of every day since now she is all about doing It herself and finding her independence. I practically have to beg for a hug.
The criticism I received about comfort feeding was my first lesson in choosing my own path and doing what felt right for me and my baby. I did what was best for us and stopped defending my choices. Be confident in how you parent. Know that the “mom-shamers” are voicing what worked for them, but ultimately you know what is best for you and your child.