Primal Mothering In A Modern World, Chapter 5
|"It isn't that American women are physically different or deficient.
They either don't know it can be done so they don't try, or they are
in an environment which is unsupportive, even hostile, and they become discouraged early." Dana Raphael, The Tender Gift
Human nutrition via the breast is a huge part of the bonding process. Warm, sweet milk accompanied by warm, soft skin and tender eye contact is a fine recipe for feeling connected to one another.
In a culture where bottle-feeding is the norm, aspiring primal mothers must seek out both education and support. Even though nursing our young is a primal act, part of the process to pass down biological information involves an observation of the experience to which the species is formatted.
La Leche League International is a breastfeeding support organization that educates mothers on the dynamics of breastfeeding and offers ongoing support through family-oriented meetings, literature, telephone consultation, and international conferences. Because of this organization, a helpful breastfeeding mother is never more than a phone call away, night or day. Whether discussing simple breastfeeding techniques, tandem nursing, or even learning to breastfeed an adopted baby, the answers can be found through this valuable group of dedicated lactating women.
When you think about it, no subject on mothering could be more important than breastfeeding. We're talking about the fountain of life, the natural flow of a perfect food that meets the overall needs of our young. From birth right up until the day they bite into a banana and beyond, our babies are assured of everything their little growing bodies need. But, without support from other successful breastfeeding women, we are left exposed and vulnerable to all the breastfeeding-failure horror stories so many women experience, not to mention the formula industry's multi-billion dollar marketing scheme to get our babies latched onto their meal instead of ours.
In the book Unassisted Childbirth, Laura Kaplan Shanley discusses the sad consequence of her initial breastfeeding experience. Her firstborn was not latching on properly, thus was not able to activate Laura's milk supply to the extent that "hind milk", the heavier and more nutritious milk that comes toward the end of each feeding would come in. When visited by a social worker just five days after the home birth of her son, rather than informing Laura her baby needed to be taking in more of her nipple for proper sucking and better milk let-down, she instead jotted down a note on her pad of paper, then left. She returned several hours later accompanied by a physician and three policemen, informing Laura they were taking her baby because, according to the social worker, the baby was too thin and needed to be in a hospital for examining.
It took five horrifying days and nights to get her newborn back into her arms, a nightmare that could have easily been avoided had the social worker chosen to respect the mother/infant bond enough to educate Laura at the moment the problem was apparent. Once the correct nursing process was brought to Laura's attention it was simple to re-position the baby so he was taking in the entire nipple and sucking properly. Like Jonathan Livingston Seagull would say, "It always works when you know what you're doing."
I have been breastfeeding for nearly twelve years now, and I owe my success to my initial commitment in primal mothering, along with female support and personal affirmations. In the beginning I attended monthly La Leche League meetings in my community and developed life-long friendships with the members. I also grabbed hold of the empowering tool known as creative visualization. I taped a beautiful picture of a woman nursing her newborn to my mirror where it reminded me daily of the breastfeeding "reality". I envisioned myself meeting all the nutritional needs of my upcoming child. Contrary to the advice from many around me, I did not buy bottles just in case my milk wouldn't come in. I scruffed up my nipples with a coarse wash-cloth at shower times to prepare myself for the discomfort that recipents of horror stories insisted I would know. I even shopped the thrift stores for a post-natal wardrobe that would allow easy-access nursing in all
Given the fact my first birthing experience was a medical nightmare, were it not for all my prenatal efforts at creating a successful breastfeeding relationship I know I would have left the hospital with formula in hand and failure in my heart. Between the breastfeeding ignorance of hospital staff and the formula industry's free-flowing disbursement of their wares, (for the specific purpose of getting us, as consumers, hooked on their brand), a mother in the hopes of breastfeeding hardly stands a chance.
Most of the women I talked to who were unsuccessful in their breastfeeding attempts were of the generation when hospitals adhered strictly to four-hour feeding schedules, separating newborns from their mothers upon birth, and bottle-feeding them in the nursery between visits to the mother.
This separation between mother and baby would set the tone for breastfeeding failure. The distress from crying for their mothers and feeling starved on all levels brought these babies to exhaustion, while the stress felt by their mothers, who wondered what was wrong with this picture inhibited the let-down reflex; thus the doctor's diagnosis that this woman was simply incapable of producing milk.
A newborn is hungry and/or in need of oral gratification for the purposes of security much more often than every four hours, and the hunger pains of an infant are far more intense than those experienced by adults; a physical discomfort that further contributes to the distress that leads to exhaustion. Sucking on a human nipple requires greater physical effort than does sucking on an artificial nipple, so these exhausted and traumatized babies were placated with bottles of sugar water and other horrid concoctions and, therefore, were vulnerable to "nipple confusion" when finally put to their mother's breast.
When these confused little beginners at life finally made it to their mother's breast and sucked with the same ease which brought immediate results from the artificial nipple back at the nursery, nothing would come forth. They gave up and began to cry again. Such a stressful response to nursing then caused their mother to feel inadequate. An added problem to this scenario was the fact that whatever medication was given to their mother during labor and at the time of birth also affected the newborn's initial breastfeeding attempts. With these factors at play, the typical result was a diagnosis of breastfeeding failure and a future of bottle-feeding and formula.
Baby-led breastfeeding, sometimes referred to as on-demand nursing, is the recipe for primal mothering. We intuitively know when our babies are hungry and they intuitively root when they feel hunger, as well as at times when they need reassurance. Why would the female human be the only animal incapable of reading the hunger needs of her young? These last few generations of feeding schedules have contributed greatly to the epidemic eating disorders of our time. Between the crime of being separated from their mother matrix upon birth and the neglect of being denied food when they are hungry in their first hours and days of life (even longer for those babies whose mothers held steady to the doctor's strict feeding plan) is it any surprise we now host the largest eating disordered population anywhere in the world?
As I've shown in the example of a mother who is trying to nurse in the inhospitable conditions of a hospital, stress is generally the major factor involved with any type of breastfeeding complication. I remember my first and only experience with what La Leche League refers to as a nursing strike. My air-conditioner had broken down on a 115 degree Oklahoma summer day, final exams were the following morning, I had a paper due by the next day, and I ended up having to stay at a motel for the night so as to beat the heat, type up my paper, and finish studying. with all the stress my milk wasn't flowing as usual, and little Sarah Lee was getting frustrated, refusing to keep trying since she couldn't get anywhere in the first place.
It was such a helpless feeling for both of us. I paced the floor all night, holding my hungry, crying baby. I finally made a late-night call to one of my La Leche League friends. She assured me Sarah Lee would not starve to death in the course of a night, and that my "let down" was probably being affected by all the stress I was feeling at the time. I gave up on any ideas of getting sleep that night. Instead, I put her in the sling and walked back and forth while reading my notes and then typed standing up, swaying back and forth as she slept blissfully against me. Come morning, with academic responsibilities behind me, my milk flow resumed and little nurser Sarah Lee made up for lost time.
Modern daily life has enough stress to contend with. We certainly don't need the added strain of societal non-support, but it's a reality that demands our attention. We must prepare ourselves for social pressure. Personal fears about breastfeeding, a partner's embarrassment or insecurity, our family's disapproval, friend's discomfort when with us as we nurse our young, or the professionals and their expert ignorance...at every turn we are faced with advocates for compromise. Like the first time I nursed in public.
My then-husband and I went to a college basketball game. As I settled onto the bench, four-day-old Sarah Lee began to root. I automatically lifted my shirt. Immediately my unsupportive spouse turned red from embarrassment and whispered to me, "You're not going to do that HERE!" Just as I was preparing to defend my newborn against his attack a campus policeman came over and asked me to "Please refrain from nursing in this public place." I looked them both square in the eyes and, as if looks could kill, they each backed down and left me alone to feed my hungry newborn.
I am seriously repulsed by men who are not suppportive of breastfeeding. Many of these non-supporters condone "closet cases", but they are highly offended when exposed to this natural act in a public place. I once saw a television show where one of the male characters, repulsed by the sight of a mother nursing in a hospital waiting room turned to his friend and said, "Oh, how disgusting! Does she have to do that here?"
That's not funny. That's sick. That's a blatant attack on the innate rights of our children! I'm especially sensitive to this subject of male response to breastfeeding because I spent ten years of my life as a topless dancer paying my rent with the money tossed to me by men who were enthralled by the sight of bare breasts.
The human female breast has been stolen from its rightful recipients and turned into a sexual object. The American mammary glands are literally owned by a breastfeeding-starved adult society comprised of an unsupportive public, a multi-billion-dollar pornography empire, and experts on subliminal marketing. It's not just Playboy capitalizing on this cultural hunger. Even women respond sexually to the "public relations" display of breasts. Just try to find an issue of Cosmopolitan WITHOUT the tantalizing effects of cleavage!
There is a particular perversion that occurs in societies where breastfeeding is no longer the norm. Somehow, the absence of sensual feedings that were biologically expected early on register as a sexual hunger later in life. It's a breast-starved population. Pornography is the prolific weed that inevitably grows in a garden of bottle-fed seedlings.
In our culture, where sexuality and shame are so closely linked, there's a double whammy that makes public breastfeeding even more difficult. As you would have guessed, the basketball game wasn't my last encounter with social resistance to public nursing. In college, male students complained about Sarah Lee nursing while I was in class. In town, restaurant workers glared with disdain as I fed my baby while I tried to enjoy their luncheon special. No better example of the displaced breast could be had than my experience at a nudist community when Sarah Lee was just a toddler. Early one morning, while dangling my legs in the swimming pool, Sarah Lee sat in my lap and quietly began to nurse. Later that day the manager took me aside to say that some of his important clientele (all male) had complained about the breastfeeding incident, and for me to refrain from nursing by the pool. By nightfall we were miles down the road, setting our sights on a more
It is true that much of the social disapproval I have endured could have been alleviated by the imoplementation of a nursing shawl. However, as a primal mother and social reformer, there can be no room in my life for embarrassment, or for acquiescing to social norms. There is no strength in compromise. Not only does an attempt to hide the act of breastfeeding (euphemistacally called discreet nursing) exacerbate the already prevalent attitude of shame, but it also denies our babies the wonderful eye contact between mother and child that makes nursing so special. If anything, a shawl strengthens the shame factor, teaching other women - especially girls who are heading into womanhood - that feeding one's baby is an eye-sore in society.
That which is observed on a regular basis is considered normal, which is EXACTLY why social exposure to breastfeeding is so vitally important - despite the glares and other disapproving stares. Public nursing will ultimately create a nursing public. As primal mothers we can't afford to be controlled or silenced by societal disapproval. The bonding process depends on our militant determination to give our children what they need, while we as women exercise our right and responsibility to play an active role in society at large. We cannot bow to this "don't feed your baby in front of me" mentality. I have learned to worry less about whether others are uncomfortable with my public nursing lifestyle, and worry more about being able to comfortably nurse wherever I go. For me, this means wearing a wardrobe that allows for easy access. I have become best friends with the likes of skirts, pareos, shorts, tube tops, halter tops, tank tops, bathing suit
tops, and short blouses. At any given moment, no matter what the situation, my children can crawl into my lap and nurse.
Another important consideration is the fact that children are born with the desire to play with their food. From the time they are infants, our non-nursing nipple at any given feeding becomes a play-toy. Primal mothers all over the planet have solved this potentially irritating tendency by wearing brightly colored beads around their neck. This delightful diversion entertains the busy little hands of their nurslings. Our COZY CRADLE baby sling has a looped ribbon with bright beads securely attached so babies can play with them while nursing.
Slings are wonderful. With our baby right in front of us and so close to our milk supply, we don't have to stop everything we're doing to nourish our young. Once, upon entering a crowded Alcoholics Anonymous meeting an Indian elder sarcastically shouted to me, "Hey! You're supposed to have your papoose on the back, like they do on my reservation. How come you got that baby in the front?" To his public embarrassment and my primal mothering satisfaction I eloquently replied, "Because my tits are in the front!"
In this day and age, we need a sense of humor to go along with the courage necesssary to raise our young straight from the heart. You just never known when yet another "expert" is going to leap out at you.
What little social tolerance there is for breastfeeding quickly dissipates as our infants grow older, especially if that developing infant is a male. It is a sad fact that mothers tend to wean their sons much sooner than their daughters. It's a combination of the "You're a big boy now" bullshit and a heavy-duty case of pressure from other family members that kicks our boy babies out of the mothering nest prematurely. My, I wonder if there is any correlation between this breastfeeding fact and the reality that pornography's clientele is primarily male.
Nature would not intend for one gender to be nursed long than another. ALL children need the breast for as long as it takes to reach satiation in his first and vitally important stage of their overall development. Primal mothers honor child-led weaning. It is not uncommon for a child who is old enough to read and write to need occasional nursing and additional nurturing.
My receptivity to this need in my children has brought me face to face with the Child Protective Services. Neighbors complained that I was still nursing Sarah Lee who was then seven years old. Evidently I had mentioned something about it in one of my friendly conversations at the pool-side. A primal mother has the tendency to talk openly about who she is and how she lives her life.
My behavior was being classified as sexual abuse. You've probably heard of various court cases across the country where nursing mothers of older babies and young children are being brought to trial for the same reason. I asked the two CPS officers if they were aware of the fact that the average duration of breastfeeding worldwide is four years, a statistic that includes nations like ours where we hardly register a duration of six weeks and only amongst a small fraction of children. Therefore, when removing from the statistics industrialized nations who have departed from primal mothering practices, the average duration extends to the first seven years of life. They left enlightened, after having closed the case, and offered to tell my neighbors to mind their own business.
I had a dream soon after Sarah Lee's birth where I was told she needed to nurse for at least seven years. At the time I had no frame of reference to properly integrate this intuitive message. My La Leche League meetings exposed me to babies as old as two years nursing, but that's as far as my mind could fathom. Then I ran across a magazine where I found a picture showing an eight-year-old boy stopping briefly to nurse at his mother's breast while she was busy managing her fruit stand at a local farmer's market in South Africa. I immediately thought back to my dream and realized I was being given confirmation. I asked a few Cherokee elders in my community about their childhood experiences with nursing. Several of them recalled either they themselves or some of their childhood friends to have been nursing occasionally at ages upward of nine and ten.
Weaning is a process that is best accomplished when taking into consideration the emotional needs of our young. And, believe me, nobody else will take those needs into consideration if you don't. The medical profession promotes weaning and the use of a cup long before our children are even one year old. When Sarah Lee was just nine months out of the womb a pediatrician berated me for the fact that my child's diet remained exclusively mother's milk. He went on to say that I was being both irresponsible and unrealistic, that this was not a third world country and it was my duty to take advantage of all the nutritional advancements America had to offer. Ironic that he was originally from the Orient. People catch on fast to the dysfunctional ways of American society.
We can potentially put the lives of our babies at stake when we choose not to nurse, or to wean early. What if there was no formula outlet and you had to rely on your milk supply for hours, days, or weeks on end? Though this scenario may sound far-fetched in our abundant consumerist society, let me give you a couple of examples where breast was not only best but, the only option.
When Sarah Lee was two months old Oklahoma was hit by a devastating twenty-four hour storm and the approach of a tornado. Huddled in the dark and damp tornado shelter for many long hours - with no way of knowing if stores or other formula-dispensing places would be left standing - my infant nursed peacefully. There was virtually no threat to her milk supply. As long as I survived, she would thrive. Seven years later, two-month-old Jasmine at my breast, Hurricane Iniki swept over our tiny Hawaiian island like no hurricane ever had. Whole communities were gathered in public buildings to await the final verdict of this massive storm's rage. Bottle-fed babies cried all through the night and into the morning because their mothers no longer had access to water with which to mix the formula. Only one infant, in a building housing dozens, slept blissfully through that natural catastophe - little nurser, Jasmine Kokee Halfmoon.
When the hurricane had finally passed and we all set our eyes on what was left of our community, bottle-feeding mothers were faced with the facts. No running water, no way to reach stores that were so badly damaged they were not able to open to the devastated public, starving infants, and empty bottles. These desperate mothers held their screaming babies while watching the skies for military helicopters that were heading our way to drop cases of infant formula.
As much as I wanted to, I could not help those infant victims of hunger. Their relationship to a bottle had clouded over the instinctive memory of a human nipple. They would have literally starved to death before figuring out how to get milk from me. It's scary to see how tenuous is our relationship to primal intellect. We use it or we lose it. What isn't embraced early on appears to be lost for a later time.
We play a potentially deadly game when avoiding the path of primal mothering. How sick, when society is more accepting of the screaming hunger of its newborns than it is of a mother satisfying that newborn's hunger.
Anyone who has ever had a taste of human milk knows the delightfully sweet treat that flows for the sake of humanity. Human milk is composed of water, lactose (sugar), fats (cream), and proteins. The first milk, those few days after our baby is born is called colostrum. It's a slightly thicker fluid that contains 10% protein, which drops to 2% after only eight days. There is also a high concentration of antibodies immediately after birth that declines rapidly after the first two or three days. Nature inundates the systems of our newborns with exactly what they need to be healthy, and formula industries cannot emulate this vital stage of human feeding.
Sometimes a breastfeeding mother will ask me how she can tell if her baby is getting enough to eat. The proof is in the diaper. Six or more soaked diapers in a twenty-four hour period is ample proof that baby is nursing properly and milk flow is responding to the sucking. For those of you not using the elimination timing method whereby you can see exactly how much your baby is peeing, I highly recommend cloth diapers so you can determine your baby's urinary output. Disposable, plastic diapers absorb the urine in such a way that it is difficult to discern when and how much your baby has eliminated.
Occasionally a newborn will sleep for a very long period of time, not awaken to nurse, thereby hosting a dry diaper. Not to be alarmed. As long as a baby is receiving lots of physical loving attention, expecially the kind of attention that is derived from being held in a sling, you don't need to worry about their lengthy slumber and missed feedings. They will wake up when they get hungry enough. As I said before, their hunger pains are strong signals for survival.
As far as bowel movements are concerned, because human milk is so fine-tuned to meet the overall needs of our young, there is little residue that their bodies must push out. Therefore, breastfed babies have fewer and smaller bowel movements than their bottle-fed counterparts. I also want to mention the fact that, as the newborn baby begins life and the necessary process of bowel elimination, their first bowel movement is usually of a tar, almost black color and somewhat mucus-like in texture.
Another concern I hear on a regular basis is whether or not a mother's milk supply will continue for the weeks and months to follow. Breastmilk availability is based on demand and supply; the more demand, the greater the supply. This truth reinforces the warning to steer away from pacifiers and supplemental bottle feedings because the less our babies are sucking on OUR nipples, the less demand on our milk production abilities and the less milk overall. Child-led or on-demand nursing assures us of keeping a quality milk supply. I'm a perfect example of this natural milk-producing phenomenon. My milk has been flowing steadily for over a decade. And no, I don't consume huge amounts of dairy products to keep up this lactating momentum. My diet is comprised primarily of fruit with some vegetables, nuts, and seeds.
Putting children other than our own to our breasts is another misunderstood primal reality, one our society neither acknowledges nor seems to remember from its recent past. A primal mother doesn't deny a hungry infant her breasts, whether that child is her biological offspring or not. There is something eternal and sacred about serving the needs of chidlren in our midst. This primal sense of responsibility develops in our offspring a deep sense of trust in women, knowing that mothers and grandmothers in general care deeply about the particular needs of any child.
I have nursed any child who needed comfort and/or food and find it strange that people can get into such an uproar over nursing someone else's young - have they never heard the term "wet nurse"? Have they never sensed the depth of sisterhood? Many of our recent ancestors had wet nurses during their infancy and beyond. Keep in mind that the bottle is a recent invention compared to the eternal herstory of the delightfully beautiful female breast and its sweet flowing milk. If I was a baby I'd prefer enveloping my searching mouth around the soft nipple of a loving woman, than stare at an upright plastic bottle.
For those of you who don't like visits to the doctor or dentist, breastfeeding is the way to go. The more aggressive style of sucking necessary for breastfed babies results in greater jaw development and thus better spacing for teeth. Babies who are breastfed for at least six months have three times fewer ear infections than babies who are not given mother's milk; five times fewer urinary tract infections; five times fewer serious illnesses; and seven times fewer allergic reactions. And babies fed from the milk of fruitarian mothers enjoy an infancy devoid of any physical ailments.
Women who breastfeed for a lifetime total of two years or more have a forty percent less incidence of breast cancer. Women who have been breastfed when they were children have a twenty-six percent less breast cancer incidence than women who were not breastfed.
Breastfeeding also delays the return of fertility. Breastfed children are less likely to develop diabetes. Breastfeeding enhances intellectual development. Prolonged lactation results in greater weight loss for the mother from one to twelve months postpartum. Human milk lessens the risk of diarrhea for the breastfeeding baby. Breastfeeding promotes dental health. Breastmilk has antibacterial properties. Breastfeeding greatly reduces the threat of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Colostrum, the first milk is a complete food for the newborn. Diaper rash occurs less, and diaper duty itself is more pleasant because the odor from the feces of a breastfed baby is sweet compared to the foul smell derived from formula or other non-human milk.
Human milk meets human needs. Formula is a dismal imitation, and cow's milk is designed to build cows, not humans. The survival organ of cows is their muscles for the purpose of running from predators, thus their milk is specifically tuned to building massive muscle. That explains why a calf gains some four pounds daily thereby quickly attaining its large mass. By comparison, the survival organ of our human species is the brain, and human milk specifically feeds brain development. Mother's milk literally feeds the intellect of humanity.
This nutritional axiom sheds a brilliant light on the fact that, in just a few generations we have managed to decimate the planet and its diverse inhabitants. It is these same few generations who have, for the most part, been denied nature's brain food.
Our culture has a highly illusory relationship to cow's milk in particular and animal products in general. The osteoporosis scare is just one of many hypes used to convince people of their "need" for these foods. Why, then, in the country where the largest consumption of animal products occurs we find the highest rate of osteoporosis? The truth of the matter is that we are consuming far too much of the wrong kinds of calcium and protein, thus poisoning ourselves in an effort to ingest what authorities tell us we need. Let's not forget that the nutritional authorities are politically and financially related to the unbelievably high profits derived from the sale of animal products, and other foods such as cereals that are always accompanied by milk.
Just how long does breastmilk meet the growing needs of our young, and what happens next?
My children were exclusively breastfed for the first year, and more than ninety percent of their diet continued to come from my milk into and even past their second year with the introduction of such fruits as watermelon, bananas, coconut, papayas, and avocados.
Transitioning from human milk to the next step in the human dietary is host to yet another barrage of social myths and other nutritional assumptions. Judging by my own experience and the perfect health of my children, fruit is nature's plan for the next phase of culinary delight. After all, a freshly picked fig or mango - according to all the senses - is as pleasing as one's experience at the breast.
Being the die-hard detective of human roots that I am, my search for nature's nutritional plan unfolded this knowledge to me as gracefully and penetratingly as had those insights about brithing, bonding, and breastfeeding. I was reading an article about primates when the proverbial light went on in my head.
The author was describing how baby primates naturally transition from mother's milk to fruit and that, in fact, the nutritional composition of primate milk is nearly identical to that of fruit.