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There is so much going on in the simple act of breastfeeding!

Breastfeeding is more than merely getting milk in a baby’s stomach. There is closeness, relationship, comfort, and growth and development going on! For instance, it properly develops the oral cavity and bilateral vision (there is a purpose in having “two sides”!)!

Nursing is often viewed in this country like giving a dose of some medicine – you take it for a designated time period and you’re done. “Do your one year of breastfeeding and you’re done.” But being people, it’s more than just getting milliliters of milk in a stomach – breastfeeding is a relationship between mother and baby as well as getting him fed. There is joy – see your baby’s face while nursing! He is in the “environment of mom” in those times.

Breastfeeding is like an external “umbilical cord:” the baby continues his growth and development solely from the mother’s body. Additionally, we see the all-sufficiency of breastmilk to meet the needs of the growing child, comparable to the umbilical flow. Except that it requires your cooperation.

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Think of breastfeeding as an extension of pregnancy. Breastmilk is food, yes, but more. The analogy is more like it’s blood – not to be gross about it, but we don’t think we need additives to make our blood complete, for instance. The umbilical flow provided all that the baby needed, we were not anxious about that. So with breastfeeding – it provides all that he needs, through your body! There is no need to approach breastfeeding with a defined end-point. Why do we need a timeframe for nursing? If we see it as a relationship, not just food or medicine, we will understand this act of nurturing better. It’s not just nursing – it’s nurturing a child in many ways. It’s simply just the normal way to feed a baby – what we were built to do!

The way to breastfeed a baby is quite simply “Baby-led.” Baby led in frequency, baby-led in duration, and baby-led in overall duration. The simple phrase at the end of the AAP Policy Statement on Breastfeeding is often not quoted with the rest of the recommendation: “Exclusive breastfeeding for at least 6 months, and continue breastfeeding for at least one year or longer as long as mother and baby desire.” “At least” means minimum. Do you just want the “minimum”? Think about the breastfeeding period like this: how long do you plan to use diapers? What does that make you think about? The baby’s needs and developmental readiness. This is exactly how to think of the breastfeeding relationship – there will be a time that baby will be ready to move on. It is not forever, nor is it like infant nursing – the needs and patterns change over time with the baby’s growing independence – so enjoy it – it is but a season that will pass so quickly like everything in life – even like life itself! But it affects the child for the duration of his life!

Here’s a quote: “Nursing is the biological norm for mothers and babies. It is a relationship that links the baby’s immune system to the mother’s, provides the baby with stimulation and connection while providing the mother with stress reducing hormones. It even feeds the baby.” – “Alice Roddy” italicized. Breastfeeding is not merely nutritional: it multitasks just like mothers do! It is nutritional, immunological, and promotes growth and development. And many of its components perform each of these three functions as well! (Lactoferrin for instance: a nutritional protein, it also binds iron so bad bacteria and fungus can’t get it, it also mobilizes the infant’s own iron stores for use!). The act of breastfeeding is itself also multitasking: it feeds the baby, yes, but also provides comfort, pain relief, disease protection and is preventative of SIDS. It promotes relationship and communication.

Think of what a meal is for us – not just to shovel food into our stomachs, right? We are also communing with one another – think about how most “dates” are going out to dinner together. Tell me there is more going on than just nutrition!

So is a meal between people: we converse, get to know one another, become closer, comfort one another, etc. A human is a mind, body and spirit. More than a stomach! It is more than getting a substance into a stomach – it does so much more than mere feeding and means so much more to the child as well. We rarely think of this from the child’s perspective. There is a fallacy to evolutionary thinking that just wants to make us into solely physical beings, mere animals. No, neither we nor this whole incredible process could ever be the result of blind random chance and chaos! There is a design! I will tell you something interesting: there are only two substances in nature whose sole purpose is food: Milk and honey. What do you think that tells us about their design and purpose? They are meant for food!

~Marie-Celine Farver RN BSN IBCLC RLC 2013 ©
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