By Ali Weatherford

Is there a difference between nursing and breastfeeding? Why is breastfeeding so often also referred to as “nursing”?

It’s actually hard to find much information about this, but I’ll attempt to share what I found and how I interpret it. The term “nurse” originates from the Latin word nutire, which means “to suckle”. The word was first used to describe a wet-nurse! That is a person who feeds a baby from the breast, often for other people who can’t or choose not to feed their own babies.

Only much later did the term “nurse” start being used to describe a person who cares for the sick or injured.

So, nursing is actually a very appropriate word to use to describe breastfeeding. It’s also a term that is preferred by some people because it’s more gender neutral.

I personally like to use the term “nursing” to describe the feeding of babies because when combined with the more modern use of the word, it sort of encompasses EVERYTHING that can be between a parent and child. When you’re breastfeeding, it describes that very literally. But it also feels like it’s describing the special care you give your baby during a feeding. You are nursing your baby, which means that you are providing nutrition, but you are also providing nurturing and loving care.

Why Does This Matter? Bonding

When we nurse our babies, it includes food, but it is also important for bonding and closeness. You have an opportunity to be very mindful and give your baby your entire focus for that time.

As busy parents, we don’t get to do this very often, and I would argue that it’s a very important piece of parenting. You can breastfeed your baby, offering the most excellent nutrition, but still fall short in the bonding department. If you’re watching TV, or scrolling on your phone while feeding your baby, it’s a missed opportunity.

If you’re bottle feeding, the same goes! You can bottle feed in a better or worse way. There are some tricks to bottle feeding in a way that is best for your baby, and that takes some attention. When you’re bottle feeding, you can also enjoy skin-to-skin closeness, eye contact, and a very mindful connection with your baby.

It’s very important not to prop up a bottle using a mechanical device or let your baby hold the bottle and drink milk unsupervised. There are actually some dangers to doing this, but more than that, it’s about missing the opportunity for that meaningful connection time.

Health and Safety

I also think that “nursing” is important for added safety. When you are feeding your baby mindfully, you’ll notice subtle changes in your baby’s behavior and general health. I ALWAYS noticed that my babies were developing a fever during a feeding. They would touch my breast with their little hands, and I would notice immediately that their palms felt hotter than usual. It was never wrong.

You might notice that they are eating more slowly or reluctantly. You may notice a rash that wasn’t there before, or that they just seem weaker or more tired or fussy than usual. You might notice some nasal or sinus congestion while they’re trying to keep their mouth around a nipple for feeding, because they’ll have to let go to get a breath through their mouth. When you are giving your baby that kind of special focus and “nursing”, you might be able to catch a problem and get it solved before it becomes a bigger problem.

Your Memories

Especially with my second and last baby, I got to the point where I knew breastfeeding wasn’t going to last much longer. He was getting big and less gentle. He was eating plenty of solid food, and was able to run around so well that he didn’t like to be still for very long! I started to get frustrated and restless, so I saw that the end was near. That made me feel grateful and especially emotional each time we did sit down or lie down to breastfeed. I took pictures, stared at his sweet face, and grieved the loss of these special moments.

Feeding kids at a table is just not the same! Babies need milk for such a short and temporary period. Enjoy the time that you can hold and feed and “nurse” your children, because soon they will be running.

Our articles are not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

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