“Breastfeeding is an instinctual and natural act, but it is also an art that is learned day by day.”--La Leche League Becoming pregnant, giving birth, and breastfeeding a baby can be defining moments in a woman’s life. Breastfeeding as an art form is illustrated through the intricate dance of communication between a baby and his mother as they forge an unbreakable bond of trust and love.
For many women, breastfeeding offers a way to continue providing the best nutrition for her baby and also offers a unique opportunity to bond with her new baby. As the baby breastfeeds, the mother’s body is flooded with oxytocin, the “love” hormone that promotes bonding and well-being. This amazing feeling, combined with the perfect distance from the baby at the breast to mom’s eye level, allows for unforgettable interactions between mom and baby numerous times per day.
Although we often think of the nutritional aspects of breastfeeding a baby, breastfeeding is about much more than food. Breastfeeding not only provides nourishment, it also provides comfort for infants and toddlers as they learn about the world around them. The act of breastfeeding is calming to a frantic, teething baby, and anchoring to a toddler who yearns to be independent, while still needing the dependability of his mother. Dr. Louise Kaplan, Director of the Mother-Infant Research Nursery of New York University, states, “From the infant’s point of view, there are no boundaries between himself and mother. They are one. The child must negotiate the move from oneness with his mother into separateness and a sense of individuality. Maintaining the early mother-baby relationship is extremely important to the successful completion of this journey.” Breastfeeding perfectly demonstrates this statement—a baby can only exist as one with his mother since she is the one to feed, comfort, and care for him. As he grows, breastfeeding allows a toddler to venture out into his world as a separate being, but then have the opportunity to reconnect with his mother and be reassured that he is still safe and loved.
A mother also experiences physical and emotional benefits throughout the breastfeeding relationship. There are numerous health benefits, including less risk of pre-menopausal breast and ovarian cancer, less risk of developing type II diabetes, and many times, an enhanced ability to lose weight while breastfeeding. In addition, she will experience the satisfaction of knowing that her body has the amazing ability to produce exactly what her baby needs not only to survive, but to thrive. “Countless women have regained trust in their bodies through nursing their children, even if they were not sure at first that they could do it. It is an act of female power and I think of it as feminism in its purest form,“ says Dr. Christiane Northrup.
Day by day, moment by moment, as a mother breastfeeds, she strengthens her relationship with her baby and deepens her belief in the nurturing, life-giving ability of her body. In addition, breastfeeding teaches our children—from day one—the power of responsive, caring relationships between two people. In our current society, it is imperative that we raise socially and emotionally responsive individuals who will change our world in ways we can only imagine.
Becky Franzen holds an MA in Health and Wellness with a focus on lactation and is an IBCLC in private practice at Statera Integrated Health and Wellness.
By Becky Franzen, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant