Tag Archives: breastfeeding

Cute Alert: Animals Adopting Other Animals

Screen shot 2013-09-20 at 11.24.43 AMHappy Friday! We are bombarded with images of how cruel nature can be so often that we can forget how much animals can teach us about love and compassion.

Are humans the only ones capable of caring for children that aren’t their own? This video goes to show how universal the maternal instinct can be, even with animals you never thought would get along. Dogs with nursing kittens – and vice versa – to literal tiger moms and piglets – share their milk, comfort the young ones and adopt them as their own. Have you ever seen something so cute?


What did you think of the video? Share your favorite animal “love stories” with us in the comments below!

The Baby-Led Weaning Experiment

banana diveMy littlest one was sitting in her exersaucer, madly trying to eat the plastic letter B and the plastic butterfly hanging next to the plastic letter B. She was yelling a lot. I started thinking maybe they didn’t taste nice? How about a banana? I’ve been reading the Baby Led Weaning book for a little while now, and feeling inspired by their (many might say crazy!) ideas.

“The mush stops here!” In a nutshell (not a spoon), the Baby Led Weaning idea is that babies will feed themselves when they are ready to, and we don’t have to push food into them. It’s finger foods from the beginning, whenever the baby decides the beginning will be (an ability to sit up and grab things required).

BLW proponents say feeding themselves helps babies learn hand-eye coordination. Babies will have an sense of what they are putting in their mouths instead of being surprised by the mush, so they’ll be happier doing it. They won’t feel left out of the family dinner. They won’t choke because their reflexes will push the food out if they aren’t ready for it. (She pushed out the little piece of banana that she accidentally bit off.) I think BLW is even supposed to make them smarter!

I’m gonna give it a shot. I didn’t do it with her brother (and he’s certainly smart enough). I mostly chewed his food for him in the very beginning (I know, gross, but helpful in a digestive enzyme sort of way!), and he loved being fed so it wasn’t a problem.

My little girl, by the way, isn’t quite ready. As you can see from the photo up there, I was holding the banana for her, and I think that is a major no-no. The little girl needs to be in charge, and I don’t think she is quite up to the task yet. But soon!

For now, I think the thumb is yummiest. Especially when it’s covered with banana goop.

New Motherhood: 5 Ways to Thrive in the Postpartum Period

Vanessa's Sunshine!!! Emilía.

By Zoe Etkin

In America we desperately need to let go of “super mom” syndrome. The expectation that women should be back to work, back in shape, and somehow managing everything else, in 6 weeks or less is just not a realistic portrait of new motherhood. I propose a new way, well, an old way, really, of viewing the postpartum period. One that honors the mother just as she is in her unique journey. The number one issue is the length of maternity leave in this country—6 weeks doesn’t cut it. But I won’t go down that rabbit hole, as government reform is what is required to make that change possible. There are, however, things we can do, as new mothers, and as those who support new mothers, to make the postpartum period less stressful and more enjoyable.

  1. Enlist family and friends for support, but set clear boundaries. Moms: give your friends (family too) specific hours that they should visit. Make it brief—2 hours tops—enough time for them to throw in some laundry, grab you a snack, and hold the baby while you shower. Friends/family: When you visit a new mom, focus your attention on her. Often people get wrapped up in the excitement of the new baby (totally understandable—babies are amazing), but at the exclusion of the mother. Let her know what a good job she is doing, then moon over the baby when she’s taking a little “me time.”
  2. Part of recovering from your birth, and producing milk to feed your baby, is maintaining good nutrition. Sitting down to eat a full meal is often not possible for new moms, so it’s important to have healthy snacks and water available at all times. Simple snacks I recommend are avocadoes, almonds, eggs, trail mix, fruit, and smoothies. Preparing meals before the baby comes is a great idea too. Prep a few homemade veggie lasagnas, soups, and other easily reheated meals for the first weeks home with baby. You’ll probably be offered meals from friends and family as well. Streamline that process by choosing someone to set up a Meal Train for you. This website allows you to state food preferences, times you’d like food delivered, and if they are to just drop it off (rather than come in). Fresh meals at your doorstep are such a blessing to families with newborns.
  3. Diapering/Nursing Stations: If you have a larger home, particularly multi-level, you don’t want to be trekking up and down the stairs to change baby’s diaper, or feel tethered to one spot for nursing. Purchase a few small baskets and stock them with water, nuts, diapers, nursing pads, burp cloths, a clean onesie, wipes and nipple/butt cream. Place one basket by your bed, one in baby’s room, and one in the living room/where ever else you’ll be nursing. I highly recommend these to women who’ve had surgical births, as stairs can be uncomfortable to navigate during recovery.
  4. Hire a postpartum doula. No really, I’m not just plugging my own work! What we do as postpartum doulas is focus on the mother’s needs, emotional and physical, assist with breastfeeding, give newborn care instruction, watch siblings, perform light household maintenance, and provide resources and referrals, among other things. With many new mothers’ partners away at work, the doula can provide relief, support, and encouragement. Our hearts are so open as doulas, we absolutely love watching our clients grow into confident, amazing parents. We’re there to support the partners as well, and the siblings, making sure the household is running smoothly, but our number one and two priorities are mother and baby.
  5. This is for you, mama: make time to take care of yourself. I know it seems impossible with a newborn, but schedule it into your day. When your friend, relative, postpartum doula comes over, make sure one thing they do is hold baby while you nap, exercise, eat, shower, meditate, or whatever else feels good to you. You’re not super woman, and we need to stop making our mamas feel like they need to be. It’s okay to be exhausted, frustrated, overwhelmed. It’s also okay to accept help when it’s offered, and ask for it when you need it. We’re a society of hard workers, but we must balance that work with self-care.

Finally, set up your postpartum support system prenatally, making the transition into new motherhood more easeful. Take the journey one day at a time. It will get easier. Your baby is only this small for a short part of her entire life. You are doing an amazing job, right where you are in this moment.

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76773_582146197395_8154608_nZoe Etkin is an LA-based CAPPA trained birth and postpartum doula, poet, and teacher. She earned her MFA in Writing from CalArts, where she earned the Beutner Award for Excellence in the Arts. She is the editor of Red Sky: A Literary Journal, and her own poetry can be found in many print and web publications. She is committed to educating and empowering women, supporting families, and promoting good writing.

 

Photo credit: David Terrazas

Angelina Jolie Got a Double Mastectomy – Should You? 10 Alternative Preventive Measures.

Angelina Jolie arrivingSo, Angelina Jolie got a double mastectomy as a preventative measure, in order to reduce her risk of breast cancer.

Should you do the same?

Angelina apparently had a particularly strong genetic tendency as well as a strong family history. Angelina made a brave choice that may have been the best one for her, but it is worth careful consideration around whether this preemptive strike is the right choice for any woman who carries the BRCA1 gene.

Genetic risk is real, but epigenetics has the potential to trump genetic risk. Epigenetics literally means “on top of genetics.” Epigenetic “tags” sit on top of our genes and turn them on and off. These tags are influenced by our experiences and environment. What we eat, how much stress we undergo, and what toxins we’re exposed to can all alter our genes. We are not at the mercy of our genes as much as they are at the mercy of our diet and lifestyle choices.

Here’s an example that should strike hope into our very souls: Dr. Dean Ornish has conducted research that found a vegan diet caused more than 500 genes to change in only three months. How? Epigenetic tags turned on genes that prevent disease and turned off genes that cause a variety of illnesses, including breast cancer, heart disease, prostate cancer, and other illnesses.

I think the term “Holistic Medicine” has been used so much that it has almost lost it’s meaning. What might be a better term is “Context-Driven Medicine.” Our bodies—our hormones, organs, tissues and systems—do not act in a vacuum. They respond to our environment and thoughts. Thought creates biology. So does environment. When we are afraid, our chemistry changes. When we inhale pollutants, our
chemistry changes. Conversely, when we enjoy whole food, fresh air, good company, and feed ourselves inspirational thoughts and ideas, we affect our thoughts, emotions, environment, epigenetic tags and, ultimately, our genes.

So what about mammograms?

Prevention is different from early detection. Early detection doesn’t stop breast cancer from arising. Prevention does. When we better our lives, our breast health can improve in response.

Here are some simple (but sometimes hard to hear) tips to support breast health:

  • Avoid alcohol. There is not safe level of consumption. For a good summary of this, check out this video. We like to drink alcohol for relaxation and, in some cases, to support heart health, but there are better, more effective ways to support heart health without increasing the risk of cancer.
  • Eat lots of veggies. Changes in diet may prevent 30-40 percent of cancer cases, or 3 to 4 million cases annually. Veggies protect against many types of cancer by enhancing cancer-protective capacity, deactivating carcinogens and blocking tumor development.
  • Have an exercise routine that is right for you.
  • Avoid too much coffee, especially non-organic. Coffee seems to have an affinity with breast tissue and women with sensitive breasts around their period might do well to avoid it.
  • Breastfeed! This increases circulation in the breast tissue. Women who nurse have lower risks of breast cancer. This decreases the potential for stagnation in the breasts. When we are not breastfeeding we can increase circulation in our breasts by massaging them on a regular basis.
  • Avoid the use of antiperspirants. They don’t allow the release of waste products from the local area.
  • Breathe deeply. This opens the chest area and reduces stress.
  • Eat organic, when possible. Especially meat and dairy, if you consume them. They concentrate pollutants that act as bad estrogens and are carcinogenic.
  • Avoid environmental pollutants. If you happen to be in an environment that is polluted from off gassing of carpets, paints, plastics, construction materials, etc. maybe fill the room with houseplants. They help to purify the air.
  • Don’t smoke. Please.

There’s more information on breast health and why all these things are important in Chapter 13 of my book Balance Your Hormones, Balance Your Life.

Breastfeeding Pain – The Aspects of Motherhood No One Told Us About

AlmuerzoBy Jackie Lai

Gift, joy, fun, and of course, love. The words most often mentioned when we think of motherhood. The less spoken, possibly even taboo words: painful, overwhelming, relentless, stressed, anxious, also often describe motherhood. As with any other life experience, the positive and the negative have to coexist. Together, they balance each other and without the negative, it is all too easy to take the positive moments for granted.

When we are pregnant and become new mothers, everyone tells you only about the positive stuff. About how you should enjoy each moment, because time is fleeting and the babies grow up so fast. Because being a mother is such a joy. Because, because, because. But what happens when we start feeling the other stuff that no one talks about? It ends up being an unspoken truth which transforms itself into guilt, disappointment, resentment, and even depression.

It is in this spirit that two friends and I founded Pariday. Pariday is about the parts of motherhood that no one tells you about. One of it, we discovered, is that breastfeeding really hurts! Even after going through two natural childbirths, the first of which took three days, breastfeeding remains the most painful thing I have ever done. While labor and childbirth are painful, it is broken up into minutes at a time, usually with a beautiful prize at the end. The pain experienced during the early days of breastfeeding however, is constant and exacerbated by the fact that after being sucked on a sore nipple, you have to do it over and over again and somehow expect the soreness to heal.

The benefits of breastfeeding have been researched and touted to no end, so much so that now women are almost pressured into doing it for that golden first year. No doubt, breastfeeding is natural, but it is also extremely difficult! The learning curve is steep, and the ladies who have a hard time ultimately end up blaming themselves when it does not go perfectly “the way everyone else says it should.”

To add insult to injury, a common advice for soothing said pain is to use frozen peas on your sore nipples and engorged breasts. Faced with excruciating pain, holding a stiff plastic bag of solidly frozen peas to your body is just another sacrificial thing we mothers do to power through this difficult time for our babies because everyone else says we should. Breastfeeding is painful enough, why does the recommended solution have to be equally painful?

Many women stop breastfeeding just a little too early because of the pain they experience. Without judgment, we created the TendHer Pillows and Pillowcases because we wanted to give women the opportunity to try and overcome the initial hump by providing a more elegant pain relief solution to one of the less elegant parts of being a mother.

Naturally, some women do face other genuine issues like low milk supply, recurring infections, and difficulties with baby which cause them to stop breastfeeding, usually not without some emotional distress and feelings of inadequacy. To me, these women are the ones who truly have it right because they realize that it is about enjoying this precious moment with their baby, and not about stressing out over where their baby’s food is coming from. To be able to give up something that everyone else says you should be doing represents the greatest love and respect for yourself we all need to be good mothers. Without a deep well of self-love to tap from, it would be impossible to take care of yourself enough to fend off the many taboo emotions that arise from motherhood.

For the month of May, we are offering Intent readers $5 off all online Pariday orders! Use promo code: INTENTMOM

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jac head shotJackie Lai is a co-founder and an expert in product design and manufacturing at Pariday. A structural engineer by training, Jackie has broad experience spanning the entire product design process from concept to manufacturing. Jackie’s driving force is to help people. She is a certified yoga instructor specializing in Prenatal Yoga and therapeutics. After having her first baby, she realized there was another way she could serve others – by offering better solutions to the genuine issues faced by new moms. Visit our website and find us on Facebook!

photo by: Daquella manera

The Truth About Medications during Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

Screen Shot 2013-05-06 at 5.54.14 PMThree years ago, I received a tragic phone call from a friend. Her sister, whom I’ll call Mary — a bright young woman who had struggled with bipolar disorder throughout her life — had recently given birth to her second child. Mary had chosen to go off her psychiatric medications during pregnancy and breastfeeding. This hadn’t posed a problem during and after the birth of her first child. But this time, it led to disaster.

Lack of sleep, stress from caring for a toddler and a newborn, and problems at work took their toll on Mary. She began to spiral, pacing and panicking. Just as her husband was about to take her to the hospital for treatment, Mary slipped into a psychotic episode. She heard voices telling her to attack her husband and children — which she did, with a knife.

Thankfully, Mary’s husband was able to wrestle the knife away and prevent her from causing any real physical harm. But the damage had been done. The government accused Mary of attempted murder and domestic violence assault. Mary was sent to prison and later a psychiatric hospital. She was forbidden from having any contact with her children. Only last month was Mary permitted her first visit with her now 3-year-old, who has no memory of his mother.

This is obviously an extreme illustration of what can happen when pregnant and breastfeeding women don’t treat their own illnesses out of fear of harming their children. But my closeness to the incident has made me extra sensitive to the issue, which is so important yet rarely discussed in our society or media.

2013-04-25-KateHeadShot-thumbI was so excited to hear that a dear friend of mine, writer/editor Kate Rope, had taken a position as editorial director for a new non-profit called the Seleni Institute. Seleni is dedicated to women’s reproductive and maternal mental health. It offers online resources and support as well as research funding for women’s mental health issues. And, in early May, Seleni will open a clinic in Manhattan to serve women during this critical time in their lives.

Kate, who has been a health journalist for the past 15 years, began focusing on the mental health issues of motherhood after her own difficult pregnancy. Just one week after conceiving her first child, Kate ended up in the emergency room with horrible chest pain. The doctors, worried that she had a blood clot, gave her a CT scan — but found no answers.

For the next five months, Kate suffered from debilitating pain that was misdiagnosed as heartburn. When several different medications brought no relief, she ended up in the hospital again. After three days of tests — including one that involved nuclear radiation — she had a diagnosis: inflammation and fluid around her heart. For the rest of her pregnancy, she had to take ibuprofen and steroids to control it.

And she worried about the health of her baby constantly. “Everyone around me was planning home births and practicing prenatal yoga. Meanwhile, I was doing all the things pregnancy books say are dangerous — taking medications and getting X-rays. I felt very alone and scared.”

Kate’s story has a happy ending: Not only did she eventually get the diagnosis and treatment she needed, but also she gave birth to a beautiful, healthy daughter. Still, the experience traumatized her and led to two outcomes: postpartum anxiety so severe she needed medication to treat it, and a personal commitment to helping other women facing the same choices get good information and peace of mind.

2013-04-25-CarlheadshotKate got help for her postpartum anxiety and went on to co-author The Complete Guide to Medications During Pregnancy and Breastfeeding with Carl P. Weiner, M.D., a perinatologist and professor of pharmaceutical sciences at the University of Kansas School of Medicine.

Kate explained to me that there is very little well-researched information about the safety or effectiveness of medication during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Most pharmaceutical companies won’t do controlled clinical studies because of concerns about liability. Therefore, much of the information doctors use to make prescribing decisions comes from doctor’s case studies, animal research, and epidemiological evidence.

Dr. Weiner had already combined all of this scattered information into an academic text to help doctors choose appropriate medications for their pregnant and breastfeeding patients. Kate helped him translate that text into an easy-to-understand, A-to-Z directory of over-the-counter and prescription medications for pregnant and breastfeeding moms. It also explains how to find good medical care if you have a chronic condition or develop complications during pregnancy.

“We want pregnant and breastfeeding women to have good information and to know that they are not alone and they don’t have to sacrifice their well-being for their baby’s health. We want to help them make good decisions with their health care providers,” says Kate.

If you are planning to become pregnant and require medication for physical or psychological conditions, Kate and Dr. Weiner recommend getting informed before trying to conceive. “Meet with your doctors — your psychiatrist, OB-GYN, midwife, or specialist — and talk through your concerns,” says Kate. “Ask them what they know about the medications you take, their risks and benefits, and whether or not you should switch to a safer option or discontinue treatment during pregnancy.”

Of course, you may not have the chance to prepare (half of all pregnancies are unplanned). In that case, don’t make any choices about stopping or starting medications on your own. Meet with your health care providers right away to discuss your treatment.

And whether you plan for pregnancy or need to make choices once you learn you are pregnant, Kate and Dr. Weiner both recommend looking for providers who have experience treating your condition during pregnancy.

It’s also wise to be wary of the Internet. A March 2013 study supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analyzed 25 websites that published lists of “safe” medication during pregnancy. The researchers found 22 medications deemed safe by one site were labeled unsafe by one or more of the other sites. “That kind of inconsistency online,” says Kate, “not only means you don’t have access to the best information, but that you can become unnecessarily anxious.”

In the end, “the important thing is to remember that you need to be a healthy, happy, high functioning person for yourself and your child,” Kate offered as reassurance. “And that means getting good medical care and making good choices for both of you.”

 

Photo credit: Flickr

Photo credit: Kate Rope

Breastfeeding: Nature’s Perfect Baby Food

Brought to you by Deepak Chopra, M.D., Alexander Tsiaras, and TheVisualMD.com

The moment a mother delivers a new person into the world, her next amazing feat begins: producing and delivering the perfect food for that baby.

Hormonal changes at delivery trigger the lactation process. Breast milk is the ideal combination of protein, fat, immunity boosting factors and key nutrients to help a baby’s body and brain grow strong. The act of nursing also seems to lower mothers’ risk of breast and ovarian cancer. For the most part, breastfeeding requires just mom, baby and a comfortable chair or bed. No dishes, no groceries, no bottles! However, this natural process is not without its rough spots. Nipple soreness, anxiety and exhaustion strike most nursing moms at some point. The most important advice to new moms: Don’t give up. Make sure to line up expert help from maternity nurses or a lactation consultant. A summary of some common challenges during breastfeeding, along with solutions and tips can be found below. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends nursing a newborn exclusively for at least six months and preferably continuing, after the baby begins eating solid foods, for a full year or more. Nearly every mom and baby can do it. They just have to learn to dance together.

Breastfeeding Obstacles

Mom and baby just can’t get comfortable.

Closeness is key. Whether you cradle the baby, hold her football-style at your side or let her lie beside you, bring her face close to your breast so she can latch on securely. Don’t strain your back by leaning forward.

The baby is not gaining weight.

 It is common for babies to lose a little weight after birth, then settle into a pattern of gaining a pound a month or more. Consult your pediatrician. If your baby has six to eight very wet diapers a day, and is nursing at least every two or three hours, there is likely no cause for alarm.

The mother’s breasts are heavy and sore.

Engorgement is the signal to feed the baby. If your breasts remain engorged between feedings, try pumping the milk and freezing it to alleviate soreness.

The mother feels she has too little milk.

Nursing is a positive feedback system. Breastfeeding signals the brain that the body needs to keep up the baby’s food supply. When mothers stop nursing for a bit out of frustration or exhaustion, the body reads it as a sign that baby has had enough, and cuts production. Try to keep breastfeeding or pumping milk even when the going gets tough.

The baby seems to nurse nonstop!

Breastfeeding on demand is a round-the-clock job. Newborns often nurse every 90 minutes to two and a half hours, because breast milk is quickly digested and these tiny people have a lot of growing to do! Plan to spend many hours bonding with and feeding your infant in the first few weeks. As the baby grows, both of your bodies become more efficient at breastfeeding and it begins to take less time.

The mother has nipple discomfort.

First, make sure the baby is securely latched on, taking in the nipple and most of the areola for maximum comfort and efficient feeding. If nipples become cracked and sore, apply a 100 percent lanolin cream. Watch for signs of infection, and consult your lactation consultant or physician if soreness persists or worsens.

Did any of you resolve a breastfeeding challenge?  Share your story in the comments!

Learn more about the benefits of breastfeeding:

TheVisualMD.com: Mother’s Milk

Should I Stop Nursing My Toddler?

It has been eighteen months since I painstakingly helped Ayla latch on for the first time.  In those first days and weeks, I was certain that I wouldn’t last past three months.  But I made it to three, and implored the gods to help me make it to six. Then six months passed.  And I set a new goal: Twelve months.  After that, I swore I would be done. 

But some things changed along the way.  To begin, I reached a point where I forgot I was doing it.  Pulling up my shirt and guiding Ayla to my breast became second nature.  It’s the same thing that happens when I’m driving on an open road for long stretches of time.  At some point, I realize that I’ve been driving (for minutes, or hours) without the help of my conscious mind.  My mind would have been watching the vast sky or reliving a special moment in my life and all the while another part of me had been driving carefully, changing lanes and shifting gears. I can’t recall exactly when I stopped keeping track of which side Ayla was drinking from or whether it was time to switch from the Cradle Hold to the Football Hold.  But when I could let go of the mechanics of nursing, it became a deeply meditative interlude in my day.  And in those moments, I felt more spiritual than I have while sitting in meditation or praying or practicing yoga under the stars.

Another change was gradual disappearance of my enormous (bourgeois) guilt about nursing.  I had read enough progressive parenting books to know that there wasn’t a bottle in the world that could compare to my breast milk.  Ounce for ounce, my milk outpaced formula in every category.  But while knowledge can liberate us, it can also erect tall fences around us.  And in those early painful months, I felt confined by my decision to breastfeed.  On the one hand, it was convenient not to have get out of bed in the middle of the night or rush home from the park to make a bottle.  But once you start nursing, you can’t stop.  I wanted to so desperately not to be needed all the time.  I wished for a few days off now and again, to gain some perspective before returning to the job.  

But once Ayla was eating solid food, need, so to speak, dried up.  And so, nursing became a choice that we each had to make.  At some point after the six-month mark, we both enthusiastically said, “Yes!” to nursing.  This time around, I found many and varied reasons to want to nurse.  Some days, when I felt enveloped by darkness, I knew that nursing would help me see light again.  Nothing grounds me more than feeling Ayla’s tiny body in my arms and listening to the soft puffs of her breath.  No matter what storms are passing through my life, I am reminded that they will pass when I’m nursing Ayla.

Similarly, I noticed Ayla seeking out my bosom when she wanted to reconnect or play with me (or my nipples), rather than when she was thirsty.  Nursing is a means for us to reacquaint ourselves if I’ve been out for the day or away on a trip.  I’ve grown to love all the gestures and movements that make up our breastfeeding body language.  I can tell when Ayla wants to nurse by the way in which she reaches out to me.  We have little rituals about how we curl up in each other’s limbs—how her head rests on my upper arm and how her toes seek out the warm crevice behind my knees.  We both heave a silent sigh once the milk starts to flow.

What I like most about breastfeeding my toddler is that the dynamic has shifted.  My breasts are no longer the great providers and cosmic soothers that they were in the early days.  Nowadays, breastfeeding feels more like an exchange amongst equals—it is something we both choose day after day, because it enables us to share and reaffirm our love for each other.  

Eighteen months ago, I thought breast milk was all about providing nutrition and immunity to my child.  But I’ve since learned that milk is actually a four-letter word for love

 

Note: This post was cross-posted to Taz’s personal blog, http://laboroflove.typepad.com

Bad Mommy: The Sexism Embedded in Women

This summer one of my clients and one of my girlfriends gave birth. As they approached their due dates they described the same familiar upset other girlfriends and women in my practice had reported at the end of their pregnancies.

Well meaning women – family members, girlfriends, colleagues or strangers – would freely inform them of the right way to deliver and the right way to feed the baby.
 
Here are some of the things women actually say to each other:
 
·        You cannot have a Caesarean!
·        It’s not a true birth experience if you don’t deliver vaginally
·        Don’t have a vaginal delivery; it’ll be a nightmare
·        You should demand a C-Section and make it fit your schedule
·        If you want what’s best for your baby you’ll breastfeed
·        Bottle feeding is wrong, I don’t understand why anyone would do it
·        Breastfeeding in public is disgusting
·        You’ll never sleep and get saggy breasts if you breastfeed
 
 Over the years mothers-to-be have confided in me their reaction to these words, ranging from, “What she said really bothered me.” or “Where does she get off?” to “I wanted to punch her in the fucking face!”
 
Even confident, well-informed, headstrong women are affected by these comments. If a man were to make statements like this women might brush them off as sexist, thinking he has no right. But women often listen to other women with a different ear, curious to hear their perspectives on things they have in common.
 
Sometimes even if a woman defends herself against the offending comment in the moment, she still finds it lurks in her mind afterward, because she’s about to become a new mother and she too feels pressure to do it right. She may secretly feel guilty or question herself and her judgment…because she has been judged.
 
Sexism plays a major part in this pressure to fit all mothering into a box labeled “The Right Way.” Since our history is rife with rules designed by men to keep women in line under male authority there’s a psychological reasoning that if women do it the right way they’ll be safe and above reproach. 
 
When women unintentionally carry on this tradition of restriction it eliminates the variable of uniqueness in every childbirth and mother/infant relationship. And in those cases in which a woman is unable to deliver vaginally when she desperately wanted to, or can’t breastfeed when she desperately wanted to, these comments from other women can contribute to her feeling faulty and broken.
 
There are women out there who have wonderful easy birth stories; there are women who feel breastfeeding is blissful; and there are women who love bottle feeding. But there are many stories of frightening and bumpy beginnings. 
 
To go through a planned Caesarean based on safety and well-being, or to end up having one at the end of labor for the same reason aren’t issues of mothering to be judged. The same is true for bonding around feeding. If a woman knows she’ll be incredibly uncomfortable nursing, the tension it would create for her and the baby makes bottle feeding right for them. And if a woman tries to breastfeed and finds either she or the baby cannot due to issues of pain, milk production, latching or sleep deprivation, then the peace a bottle will bring is right for them.
 
Women shouldn’t impose strictures on other women’s individuality and choice when we wouldn’t want that from men. Making room for mothers and babies to go through the beginning of their lives together in whatever way they feel is best is the right way for them.
 
So be generous with each other and reduce the risk of getting clocked.
 

Breastfeeding Part II: Sexual or Spiritual?

When I read a passage in Ina May Gaskin’s book that suggested that breastfeeding can be a sexual experience I nearly fell out of bed.  Sexual? Was she kidding? I felt as though nursing was one of the least sexual experiences.  I had heard women say that breastfeeding was physically pleasureful.  While I was curious about whether sexual feelings would arise while nursing, I usually felt more like a dairy cow than a sexual woman when nursing.

But if you had asked me if breastfeeding was spiritual, I would have responded differently.  Not in the first weeks of nursing, but now that we’ve mastered the mechanics of nursing, breastfeeding is often elevated to a higher realm.

Let me explain.

At the outset, I couldn’t stop thinking about whether I was nursing correctly that I couldn’t enjoy it at all.  Breastfeeding was highly technical.  While it wasn’t devoid of emotion—it made me cry occasionally, or wince with pain—nursing certainly wasn’t ethereal.

Then Ayla matured.  She perfected her latch.  She drank more efficiently. So I tossed my nursing pillow aside and learned to nurse her anywhere, anytime. I learned to maneuver her into the right position while sitting in a restaurant, walking home, rocking her to sleep or flying in a plane.  But even with these notches in my nursing belt, spirituality didn’t figure into the picture.

Then Ayla turned 6 months old and began to spend longer stretches of time away from me.  When we were reunited, my breasts were so full that I could have squirted milk across the living room into my partner’s coffee cup.  At those times, I would thank God for her thirst.  It was a tremendous release.  But nothing more than that.

But after six months, something changed.  I began to notice a current of electricity pass between my daughter and I when we nursed.  It grew stronger and stronger.  And suddenly, we began communicating on a deeper level when I lifted my shirt and held her close to my bosom.

If I closed my eyes while nursing, I’d often see images of the two of us in the far future—she as a young adult and I as an older woman.  I also “saw” us playing on the beach, walking in a forest, taking in a sunset on the top of a cliff.  These images were so satisfying.  They helped me trust that Ayla would be loved and protected in her lifetime. 

There were other times when I could “hear” Ayla speak to me when we nursed.  When she looked up into my eyes while nursing, I could almost hear her whisper, “I love you.”  Or, after drinking my milk for a long time, I could swear that a little voice said, “Thank you mama” before falling asleep.

When Ayla was eight months old, she contracted the Chicken Pox.  She was covered in spots, burning hot and crying from the pain. Nursing was the only salve to her discomfort.  I kept Ayla on my breast almost continuously for a whole week.  While nursing her I prayed, recited blessings and sang quiet songs. 

With each passing day, the energy between and around us intensified.  It began with her pain.  Then I showered her with motherly love.  Before long, I called out to the Divine Mother, and asked if She could join us.  Eventually, Ayla and I were both welcomed into what felt like God’s bosom—a place so warm and loving that we couldn’t help but be healed. 

That was the day that I had my first spiritual parenting experience.  Breastfeeding was the act that helped me see God in the bond between parent and child.

 

Do you have a similar story to share? Was breastfeeding sexual for you? Or spiritual? Or both? I’d love to hear from you.

 

 

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