Thursday, January 21, 2010

It's Not Really about the Milk

While reading the latest New Beginnings magazine, I came across a story submitted by a mother who was writing about nursing her twins through infancy and toddlerhood. She spoke of how she didn't nurse her first child in the same way or for as long, and she quoted a bit from this Diane Wiessinger article: It's Not Really about the Milk.

"You won't 'get it' at first. At first it's all about technique, and position, and time, and swallowing, and soreness, and feeling as if your whole world has narrowed to Feeding The Baby. Those of us who have enjoyed nursing our children are on the other side of a great emotional gulf from you. We can't explain it, we can only try to help you across the bridge, to where you can see for yourself. If you stay caught up in this as a feeding method, you may never get all the way across the bridge. But oh, the view from the other side!"

This article actually comes as close to explaining it as I have come across, even though the author herself claims that we can't explain it.

"I wish I could convey to you the simple, thought-less, vast, delicious pleasure of nursing my children. Once I "got it," I didn't "feed" them, didn't worry about intervals, didn't hold back."

This is certainly hard to see when you are nursing your first-born child and don't have the gift of hindsight in advance! Many women today struggle with breastfeeding in the early days - sore nipples, worry about weight gain, and more. Personally, I had to struggle through sore nipples with my first and also digestive issues that were quite concerning to me (although they didn't have any detrimental effects, it was still worrisome to me at the time). In the beginning, it does just feel like going through some sort of routine, but less so to me once I knew where to look for support and encouragement - namely, La Leche League and many of the publications that they list on their bibliography. Checking out a book from our group's library each month was an incredible source of strength for me. I learned through experience and encouragement from these sources that breastfeeding is not about a scientific process, it is not about measuring input and counting ounces... it is about the relationship.

"Breastfeeding is a newborn's first relationship, designed to continue throughout a child's early years. As a culture, we tell ourselves - without evidence - that the absence of this fundamental human relationship has no longterm implications for mother or child or family or society."

This really spoke to me - a great way to explain it. It is a relationship - a primary, biological relationship. Therefore, when somebody disputes the nursing of a toddler, it can be helpful to explain that it is also about the relationship. Sure, a toddler no longer "needs" breastmilk nutritionally (although they do continue to receive nutritional benefits from it), but it is about more than just the milk. This article does a great job of communicating my thoughts about nursing my own children: even if it were proven that formula actually was equivalent to breastmilk, or even if they found some additive to put in formula to generate "smarter" children or some such (which is not likely to happen, but hypothetically speaking here), I would still breastfeed, because the act of nursing, with it being the biological norm and having all the relationship-building benefits (the skin-to-skin contact, the ability to nurse as comfort, the hormonal state of the lactating mother), is the key for me.

The whole article is extremely short... a three minute read, maybe. Well worth those few minutes, I think!

Ooh, and this one is good, too!


Kris said...

This is SO true!! I'm not sure if we're "done" with our family yet or not - only God knows that part. But the one thing that would push me over the edge towards having another one would be the ability to nurse one more baby! I loved it so much - I wish everyone could have that. By far my favorite part about mothering a baby!

Anonymous said...

Hi, Erin. I've never commented before, but I really want to thank you for this series. I was started to feel weird for still nursing my 16-month-old. But, I hated the idea of weaning her anytime soon. Your posts are putting it in perspective. I am doing the right thing by continuing to nurse her. Oh, and co-sleeping, etc. I think your approach to parenting is so natural and instinctual, as it should be. Otherwise, who would really be able to parent?