How did something so natural become so complicated? We give birth, our bodies produce breastmilk, and our babies grow and thrive while nursing at our breast. The process hasn’t changed since the beginning of time. But something seems to have happened. Mothers are less confident and more anxious. Could we be on information-overload? Are we using our “thinking brains” and actually over-analyzing breastfeeding? Where have all the breastfeeding problems come from? Is it us, our babies, our birthing practices, our support system? Have we made breastfeeding complicated instead of simplifying this natural, life-sustaining way of feeding and nurturing babies?
Most likely birth practices and our approach to supporting mothers through the early weeks postpartum plays a role in breastfeeding but somehow or another we have managed to undermine a mother’s confidence in her ability to breastfeed. We bombard mothers with information, electronically and otherwise, and we forget that nature intended her to be the expert on her own baby. Could it be that we are telling mothers, perhaps inadvertently, that breastfeeding is very hard and not likely to work without a lot of effort and knowledge on the mother’s part?
There seems to be a common thread that runs through mother’s groups and it centres on two themes. “I don’t think I have enough milk” and “breastfeeding takes a lot of time – my baby is always at my breast”. And yet one naturally takes care of the other. Perhaps it would be most helpful to new mothers to look at breastfeeding from the realistic perspective of the breast being the way that babies settle into the world outside the womb. The breast is their place of contentment. Like the womb, it is the most natural environment for the new baby. Babies are physically attached to their mothers through breastfeeding for a very good reason. Breastfeeding is a system well-designed by nature to work – babies breastfeed a lot, without time constraints, and are most content when close to mother’s breasts leading to a good milk supply.
What many mothers need most is confidence in their ability to breastfeed. They need to be encouraged to observe their babies, to get to know them, to immerse themselves in the mother-baby relationship trusting that they have the innate ability to know when to offer the breast. Their instincts will lead them to keep baby close. Imagine if a mother did not have a bassinet, a monitor to hear her baby, a clock to know the time? She would be keeping her baby against her body and she would be offering the breast whenever baby cued; baby would be nursing as long as he wanted to, mother unaware of the timing of the last feed. She would be holding and rocking her baby against her body, with no other gadgets available to take her place. Her body and brain would constantly be receiving this message, “There is a baby who needs milk. Make plenty of milk.”
Of course there is a place for lactation experts. There are sometimes problems that need special attention. A breastfeeding professional knows how to help get things back on track. But what if the philosophy of the expert was to first empower the mother to learn about her baby? To trust her instincts? A wise lactation professional once shared the following advice in regards to helping mothers who were anxious about how often to feed and how much milk they were producing, and it has continued to be offered to new mothers who are confused and unsure…”Imagine you are alone with your baby on a deserted island without a way to keep track of time. Just you and your baby. Without gadgets and advice. What will you do?”
A mother knows. Deep down she knows. When the outside voices quiet, and a mother holds her baby close, she knows. Her instincts are strong. Her desire to protect, nourish and comfort her baby is innate.
Trust the mother to know her baby. Trust the baby to guide the mother.
Breastfeeding truly is a system designed to work.