Breastfeeding a baby is a most sublime and natural act in the sphere of nurturing. But like birth, breastfeeding is occasionally fraught with difficulty, requiring guidance, skill and determination to succeed. For these mothers breastfeeding is a learned art, as they adjust and accommodate their unique bodies to their particular baby. And even mothers and babies who feed easily may enhance their experience and benefit from the wonderful knowledge that is available regarding successful breastfeeding. However, as with birth, we are in danger of losing our breastfeeding skills and our patience to modern convenience. Bottle-feeding with artificial formulas is fast becoming the norm.
Breasts are a vitally important part of the whole of the life-giving and nurturing capacity of each mother. They are designed to hang and move freely, change shape, flow with milk, and nurture conveniently and without inhibition. Sadly, in our modern way of life, and in some traditional and religious cultures, they are usually trussed into brassieres, their leaking soaked and suppressed, and their public exposure when breastfeeding causes irate and absurd debate about obscenity. Though contemporary fashion is certainly becoming less concerned with covering up, it seems unlikely that going topless in the cause of breastfeeding will become acceptable. Body exposure and fashion in general is more concerned with the pubescent sexuality of pert breasts and male titillation than with the precious functions they serve to feed our off spring. Sadly, dread of sagging breasts has now become a selling point in favour of artificial feeding. Similarly, the fear of irreparable changes to the ‘honeymoon passage’ (some adverts soliciting for elective caesarean births use this term) is now feeding an increasing desire for women to have caesarean births. How soon will we attempt to seduce women with a belly– free pregnancy – thereby doing away with the possibility of stretch marks and lack of muscle tone? It seems that we aren’t particularly in favour of maintaining our wonderful natural abilities to give birth and succour. Mothers are oft en left to find their way alone through this maze of conflicting values. Because bottle-feeding has become so mainstream and is so readily available, there is often less encouragement to breastfeed (you have a choice). Apart from concerns about social inconvenience and body image, bottle-feeding is also an easy remedy to problems that might otherwise require a measure of patience, ongoing support or better nutrition.
There are many excellent books available on breastfeeding and many dedicated and wise consultants and advocates who ensure that mothers who wish to feed successfully have support and information. As in any field of endeavour, some of the information is conflicting, and some advocates are more passionate – or more pedantic than others. If we are to keep the motivation and art of breastfeeding alive and well, we need to find a balance between offering ready support and encouragement and also giving space and time to mothers and babies to find their own way with feeding. We need to encourage and normalise touching, playing and spending time with breasts, yet be sensitive to shy, or inhibited women. We also need to be able to acknowledge the emotional issues that may arise when breastfeeding, and know how to appropriately invite further exploration of those issues.
As with many other aspects of birthwork, this balance can oft en be found through direct and honest communication, loving presence and simple but revealing questions.
You can ask:
Apart from ensuring the baby latches well on to the breast, with correct positioning and posture, and regularity of feeding, there are other factors that can influence the ease of feeding. As with birth, the instinctive ability to feed is sometimes obstructed by a variety of internal and external factors.