Nursing Patterns Reveal Babies' Personalities
Lisa Sanders was anxious when her infant son tended to vomit after she breastfed him. "Little did I know it was his 'mannish' eating habits," says the mother of two. "He still gobbles everything."
By contrast, his older sister was a steady, more focused nurser, and this difference in styles shows in their personalities today, Sanders says.
Nursing patterns are as individual as babies themselves, and part of the way parents learn about their child, says lactation consultant Vicki Nizin.
Nurturing individual styles
Tina Pavich says her first daughter savored every morsel, but baby No. 2 was "no stops, just gulp, gulp, gulp like clockwork every 4 hours." Her third daughter was "a 'suck and stopper.' After a few sips, she would happily look around, then she would latch back on when she was ready."
A child's nature often shows in her nursing patterns. "Alyssa, the dainty eater, is today a very girly girl, petite and sensitive," Pavich describes. "Andra, the guzzler, tackles life head on, full of life and energy. Alivia, the take-it-or-leave-it eater, still does things at her own pace today."
"I naively expected both of my children to nurse the same way," says Angie Best-Boss. For her oldest, "nursing was about sustenance and nothing more. She nursed only to get full as quickly as she could so she could go play."
Her younger daughter nurses for comfort. "She refuses bottles, even of expressed milk, and all forms of baby food. She likes to nurse when she's tired or upset, and I am the human pacifier," Best-Boss says.
Focusing on business, or not
Young, sleepy infants sometimes worry their mothers, who may also feel anxious about breastfeeding, Nizin says. But nursing behaviors grow and change rapidly at different stages of development, just as babies do. For the first few weeks of life, some babies may need a little help staying awake long enough to empty both breasts, she explains. Lactation consultants often recommend massage or a similar tactic to keep young babies awake, and a diaper change between feedings at each breast can help.
By 3 months, many babies are nursing every time their eyes pop open and growing much more active at the breast, Nizin says. With their increased awareness, they may also pull off the breast with every noise. Breastfeeding babies sometimes become too distracted by their surroundings to nurse properly, she notes. When this happens, mothers may need to find a quiet place to help nursing babies settle in.
While young infants tend to focus more on getting the satisfaction and nourishment the breast provides, older children are more likely to blend nursing with social interaction. "Both of my kids liked to caress my face as they nursed," Sanders says.
At every age and stage, babies often seek "comfort nursing," the nurturance of warmth, cuddling and suckling, and they may need more solitude to do it.
As mothers get to know their babies, children's nursing patterns will make more sense, Nizin says. "They should feel confident that experience — and the individuality of their nursing baby — are their best teachers."
Phyllis Edgerly Ring frequently writes about family, culture and spirituality. A collection of her columns, Life at First Sight: Finding the Divine in the Details, was published in 2009. More information about her work is at www.phyllisring.com.