Breastfeeding: It’s not just about the food

Babies don’t nurse just for food. This often comes as a surprise to parents, but babies go to the breast for many reasons. They’re hungry, thirsty, tired, hurt, overstimulated, bored, lonely, in the mood for cuddles, etc. All are equally valid reasons to nurse. Believing that babies only nurse because they are hungry can lead to problems if parents try to hold off feedings because “he can’t be hungry he just ate!”. I’m sure most of us have heard someone say “Don’t let your baby use you as a pacifier!”. My response to this is “I’m not pacifying, I’m mothering!” Pacifiers were invented to allow babies to satisfy their sucking needs when mom is not available, not the other way around. Mothers are not meant to nurse their babies only when a pacifier isn’t available!

Rather than becoming “spoiled” as is commonly believed, research shows that babies who are held and nursed frequently, actually go on to be very outgoing and adventurous children. Babies’ first relationships set the tone for all future relationships in life. By responding to our babies’ needs quickly, consistently and with love, we teach our children that the world is a safe and wonderful place. This gives them the courage to go out and explore because they know that they have a safe and loving place to return to.

Breastfeeding is a relationship that is about much more than just food. The whole experience of being close to mom, having skin-to-skin contact, smelling mom’s familiar scent, hearing her voice and seeing her face, receiving the comfort of warm milk, and the biologically specific components of human milk, all work together to provide the necessary environment for healthy growth and development of your baby.

I have heard people say that comfort nursing is bad because it teaches children to associate food with comfort, but breastfed babies aren’t thinking “I need comfort, so I need to eat”. They are thinking (or probably more accurately, feeling) “something’s not right, I need Mom”. Any milk they get while nursing is an added benefit, but what baby really wants and needs is the comfort and security of being close to mom. Research is showing us that babies who are not breastfed are more likely to be obese, and one theory as to why this is, is that breastfed babies have control over how much milk they take in, and they learn to eat only until they are full. For babies who are not being fed at the breast, someone else has control over the feeding, and bottle fed babies often end up taking in more milk than they really need/want. It is theorized that the overeating that bottle fed babies often experience can set the baby up for overeating later in life as well. There are also hormones present in breastmilk that help to control hunger and  metabolism. These hormones are absent in infant formula.

Breastfeeding is the ultimate mothering tool. You can’t go wrong putting your baby back to breast even if he did eat only an hour ago. Your baby may not be looking for food, but rather the comfort and security that comes with breastfeeding. You’re not being a pacifier, and you’re not creating any bad habits, you’re responding to your baby’s needs. The only time that frequent nursing may be cause for concern is if your baby is not gaining weight appropriately, isn’t having lots of wet and dirty diapers, or consistently seems unsatisfied right after coming off the breast. If this is the case, it would be a good idea to follow up with an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant to determine if something else is going on.


  1. “Rather than becoming “spoiled” as is commonly believed, research shows that babies who are held and nursed frequently, actually go on to be very outgoing and adventurous children.”

    Please cite a source for this statement. Which research? Specifically which studies or reports?

  2. Great article. However, My 10 week old will start going to the babysitter mon-friday when I go back to work. I’m afraid that without my breast there to “pacify” her she will not sleep, or calm for the sitter. Any suggestions?

  3. Reading posts like these make me cry, because I want to breastfeed my 3 month old so badly but she absolutely refuses. Women who have breastfeeding babies are so incredibly lucky.

    • Brittany says:

      Dont beat yourself up momma. Sometimes you just cant help it and you are doing the best you can for your little.

  4. I agree with most of this article, but don’t just assume that if you feed on demand your baby will automatically grow to be outgoing. I breastfed both of my children on demand, and both of my children are very shy, and reserved. They are now 4 1/2 and 2 and neither of them will leave my side wherever we go!

  5. As a loving and research fanatic of a newborn who’s partner is a certified nutritionist, this had become a topic of conversation. I was very happy to read this and be wrong about certain myths passed on from family members about “lap colic” and the like. Most of the points in this article we and agreed on and practiced , but the words of our families still ringing in our ears did give me pause. I intend to forward this article to the folks who have been preaching this to me and feel good about the decisions we have made and thank my partner very much for sending this to me. It just further confirms the notion that she is brilliant and I Listen to her for a good reason!

  6. Beautifully said! Like others have said, I have done things so differently with my second child, and wished I had this knowledge with my first. I used to get so upset when my baby wanted to nurse frequently, because he wasn’t “supposed” to. With my second I’ve had so much less anxiety, and he has been much happier, when I nurse on demand.

  7. I absolutely adore this post. This is something I try so hard to tell my friends. I remember with my first daughter, I would say, “But she can’t be hungry yet!” A hospital nurse had lectured me about letting her use me as a pacifier and because of that lecture, I resisted putting her to the breast as often as she needed. I caused myself and my baby so much unnecessary struggle. Then I found KellyMom and a whole new world opened for me! It was incredible how much easier it was to parent once I surrendered and began putting her to the breast whenever.

    With my second baby, I started from the beginning nursing her whenever she needs or wants or even if she doesn’t! I offer constantly. If she says “no thanks” I let her be, but she’s always got total access to the boobies when we’re together. She is so much more confident and outgoing! And I think part of it is because she knows I’ll be there immediately if she needs me to.

  8. Hi There! I am a new birth and postpartum doula. I LOVE LOVE LOVE this article. I’m not sure on etiquette for things like this but I would love to put this blog onto the blog component of my website …. with full credit and a linkback to you …. is this something that is ok with you or would you rather that I didn’t do that??

    Thanks for considering!

  9. ~charmain~ says:

    i’m loving your site… just reiterations of things i already know/feel yet have to hear constant opposition from the proverbial “people” around me… i’m a full time working wife and mother of 2… son – 5yrs and daughter – 8mos. i wasn’t able to breastfeed my son past 2 months… looking back i think it was due to too many pressures with having my first child and returning to work. But i put it in my mind that i was going to “try” to breastfeed my DD and not worry if it “doesn’t work out”. WELL! what a rewarding experience this has been for me! still breastfeeding her and pumping while at work (NEVER had to supplement formula!), she’s just starting “self-fed weaning”… and is happy and healthy as could be! i enjoy reading your blogs to help me remember to keep doing everything i’m doing because i’m letting my instincts lead me, not society… THANK YOU!!!

  10. melissa says:

    just came across this. love it. as mother who has had chronic milk issues, I definitely use my breasts more as a pacifier more than anything else. I love the close feeling, I am a human pacifier, and when my lil man is ready, i’ll stop being one. Until then I’ll keep nurturing my baby as much as he wants it. The way I figure out something’s really wrong is when boob doesn’t cut it.
    Thanks for writing this (:

  11. Wonderful post! Thank you!

  12. So many people forget that mothers breasts came first… everything else is trying to copy the real thing.

  13. Just came across your blog the other day, thanks to a link from Chiquita Baby. My son is now 16 mos old and still breastfeeding. No one ever told me to limit my breastfeeding and, hence, I just did what came naturally, meaning my baby nursed whenever he wanted it. I never adhered to a 3-4 hour feeding schedule which was promoted by nurses, posters, etc. How can we get rid of this regimented BFing concept?? I think it provides a conflicting message to too many moms whose instincts are trying to tell them otherwise! We need to tell moms to listen to their babies, and listen to their instincts so that BFing can be the wonderful, nuturing experience it should be 🙂

  14. A wonderful post that should be widely read! I love your point that ‘Breastfeeding is the ultimate mothering tool.’ Yes I agree – don’t know what I’d do without it!!

    Also when you say ‘You can’t go wrong putting your baby back to breast even if he did eat only an hour ago.’ it’s so true. Actually I remember the days when my baby would be back on within 10 minutes sometimes – it was her ultimate comfort.

    Breastfeeding is blessed-feeding!

  15. Fleur (Nurtured Child) says:

    Thank you all for your comments. It’s wonderful to hear about mothers who are trusting their hearts and instincts despite what society tells us!

  16. This is a great post about the joys and positive impact of breastfeeding (it benefits both baby and mom!). It is a wonderful bonding experience for sure. Thanks for sharing this information!

  17. Wonderful post! As a mom who is still nursing her toddler on demand, whether for food, comfort, to sleep, for cuddles or for whatever reason he needs it, I completely agree with you.

    There are many days people question me and why I am “still” nursing and I remind them that it is our relationship and my little man and I will decide when it will end.

    Thank you.

  18. I always correct people when they say things like, “He’s using you as a pacifier.” It’s so funny how people think pacifiers are ok… but using the breast as a pacifier is not- the boob is the original pacifier! Just because we can give our things to replace us does not mean we SHOULD…

  19. Thank you for posting this – I wish I could have this in French so I could give it to virtually everyone I meet including my doctor!
    Today I was told that DD who is 8months old should only be Bfing x 2 a day!!!! I almost died! Who’s breast is it anyway??!
    DD is so happy and healthy – I owe all of this to breastfeeding yet everyone around seems intent on telling me how she should be on a bottle like other babies!!!!!
    Fortunately there are people like you who keep me upbeat and motivated!
    Thank you!

  20. Thank you for writing about this 😉 I’m breastfeeding my baby, now 8months, frequently. Everytime he’s cranky, fussy or sleepy, I always offer the breast. Some people questioned my actions, and like you said, told me to stop making myself a human pacifier! I totally disagree and I feel I’m the one who knows and responsible for my baby’s needs.
    Very empowering post! *hugs*


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by greta wischmann and others. greta wischmann said: RT @NurturedChild: I'm not pacifying, I'm mothering: #breastfeeding #bfing #bfcafe #bfchat […]

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