Since the beginning of human history, women have been breastfeeding their babies. The practice has moved from one that is natural and normal to one that is sometimes discussed in ethical and political arenas. These discussions can cause confusion and self-doubt in new mothers and may even discourage them from attempting breastfeeding. True, also, is the fact that there are many pressures on women today that can dissuade those from breastfeeding who normally would. But there are a few important things to know which remind us how important breastfeeding is for a developing child and her mother and why the practice is important to pursue.

The World Health Organisation states, “Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended up to 6 months of age, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond.” and the benefits are numerous.

Colostrum, the first milk a mother produces, is a perfect food as it begins the process of clearing the baby’s digestive system so that all needed nutrients from the following milk can be absorbed. Regular breast milk is full of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids that are essential for brain growth and also contains just the right balance of proteins, fats, vitamins and calcium for the growing baby. Although producers of baby formula are trying their best to recreate this food, they still have not achieved the perfect recipe, and probably never will.

Breastfeeding is one of the best tools for building attachment between a mother and child. The pair are looking at each other in close proximity. Life-giving nourishment is being given and received. And oxytocin is being released within the mother. Indeed, this situation is something to be emulated when breastfeeding is not possible as I’ll expand upon further down in the post.

Although the benefits of breastfeeding for infants may be most obvious, there are also many positive outcomes for mothers. Firstly is that suckling helps the uterus to contract and shrink back closer to its original size. Weight loss occurs due to the expenditure of calories. The possibility of breast, ovarian and endometrial cancers is reduced and there is a psychological wellness associated with playing an important role in someone else’s life. Let’s not forget that mothers often become aware of healthy eating in order to produce good milk for their babies which, in turn, benefits the health of the mother.

mother breastfeeding outdoors

What happens when a mother can not breastfeed? Advocates of breastfeeding will cite the mantra “Breast is best” and the main goal should always be to aim for breastfeeding. Like with the myriad of things that we will strive for for our children over their lifetimes, if breastfeeding is not coming with ease, having confidence that it will happen is the best you can do. And that confidence must come from believing in the spiritual and nourishing connection you have with your child. It’s sometimes easy to give up too quickly when standards of feeding times and amounts, from medical practitioners or other advisers, seem too high to reach but Ina May Gaskin, a renowned midwife, states, “It is important to keep in mind that our bodies must work pretty well, or there wouldn’t be so many humans on the planet.” It is therefore important for mothers considering weaning early to consult a number of different sources before making a decision.

There are occasional situations when breastfeeding really is not possible. These might include the mother having to take particular drugs, double mastectomy, difficult to identify allergens from the mother’s diet being transmitted through milk, and adoption. In the case of adoption, some mothers have been lucky enough to breastfeed their adopted children but very few adoptions happen under the circumstances needed to facilitate this practice. It is, most certainly, something to research in case it can work for you.

When you absolutely can’t breastfeed, the main things to remember are that guilty feelings are not going to nurture the spiritual and emotional bond you have with your baby and also that the goals are to nourish and bond. As alluded to earlier, simulating a breastfeeding environment can facilitate these goals. Choose the best, organic, breast milk alternative that you can. Always keep eye contact while feeding your baby. Hold her close and maintain some skin to skin contact when possible. She will feel your heartbeat and know the scent of your body.

Breast milk truly is nature’s perfect first food. Making every effort to nurture your baby in this way has benefits that go beyond simply filling tiny tummies. You can feel confident that you are doing the best for you and the baby.

Photo credits:
Piknikas by Aurimas Mikalauskas on Flickr
UNICEF Ukraine by unicefua on Flickr