Friday, June 22, 2012

Beyond the Breastmilk

A recent controversial article on breastfeeding and this excellent repartie have put the focus firmly on breastmilk's nutritional value. There is no reference to how breastfeeding shapes the mother-baby relationship and the impact that lack of breastfeeding must have on the development of this relationship.

I have this friend, whose life these past three years has been shaken, in such a sad way. She has touched many of those around her.

My friend has lost a child.

She then went on to have a healthy baby, who she could not breastfeed. Instead, she bottlenurses: she cradles her child against her breast and feeds him her expressed breastmilk or cow's milk with a bottle.

This is a woman who breastfed each of her other living children up to 4 years.

She is acutely aware of what she is missing out on by not breastfeeding: the touch, the attuning, the reflex, the comfort (both ways), the instinct, the connection.

She admits to making a conscious effort to be physically close to her child, to replicate what would have otherwise been "automatic". She has found babywearing and co-sleeping particularly helpful.

An emphasis on the mechanical aspect of breastfeeding and the milk's nutritional aspect can overshadow its other crucial aspect: the infant-mother relationship.

I have no pretension of putting it any better than those who have looked at this topic extensively. So, here is an excerpt of  Ashley Montagu: A Brief Synopsis  of his Contributions to Healthy Human Nurturing, an essay by Dr. Mizin Kawasaki. The following paragraph eloquently says it all.

The mechanical aspect of breastfeeding sometimes overshadows the art of nursing and may undermine the human element behind breastfeeding: the mother-infant relationship.
With respect to breastfeeding, nursing mothers are not merely repositories of milk but the providers of the warmth, love, responsiveness, and touching that enable infants to learn to love as they are loved.
What makes us human is the relationship of mutually beneficial love that exists between individuals, and nothing exemplifies this better than a loving, breastfeeding mother-infant dyad.