Breastfeeding is one of the most divisive subjects in women's circles, whether in the secular or Christian world, women become very sensitive on the matter and open discussion becomes almost impossible.
"...as an infant drinks at its mother's comforting breasts."
I had just turned 20 when Ettore was born. Giving birth, then being able to feed my child naturally was just a beautiful confirmation of how wonderful our body is and of how perfectly thought out by the Creator we are. Breastfeeding felt natural and moreover was very practical.
When Virginia (our number 5) was born it was a different story, she was unable to latch on properly and it made the whole breastfeeding experience very difficult and I was close to giving up many times in the two weeks following her arrival. At the same time I was determined to succeed but knew it wouldn't have been the end of the world if I didn't... I hadn't been breastfed myself and I am perfectly fine today.
I do find however that whenever breastfeeding is mentioned, women become incredibly opinionated, patronising and at times extremely unkind to one another and develop a sense of superiority towards other mothers who might have chosen to do things differently whether that's bottle-feeding or simply breastfeeding for more or less time.
I sometimes wonder what would women of past generations make of what breastfeeding has become today: the expensive chair, the magic cushion, the silent room, the hiding apron. Surely the point of breastfeeding is not only that the mother's milk is good for the baby but it's also practical and doesn't need any more gadgets than the ones already provided by the Creator, It can be done anywhere and does not require any training.
The simplest and most natural act of providing primal nourishment has been transformed into a higher experience that requires intellectual assent and complex reasoning behind it and of course lots of expensive gadgets and training.
Finding myself once again before breastfeeding I got thinking about what breastfeeding is NOT:
- Breastfeeding is not a profession: our vocation as mothers is not a profession with a job description, a busy timetable and strict unchangeable routines. It cannot be transformed into a job that after a while becomes monotonous and grey like every other job, where your manager becomes annoying and your employees unbearable. Breastfeeding can sometimes become just another task in our daily busy schedule. Remember the baby you are holding is not just another client, she is the one that needs you and you are the whole world to her. Stop and whenever possible concentrate all your effort on your little one...even if only for a few minutes as difficult as it may be!
- Breastfeeding is not a trend and fashion items are not necessary: The market is always very quick to take advantage of the needs as well as the weaknesses of the potential customer. Gadgets appear to accompany every aspect of motherhood and become almost compulsory. Mothers can be so insecure in themselves and their role that they rely on books and tick lists that will prove they are doing the best for their child... An apron is introduced on the market as women become more and more uncertain whether breastfeeding in public is acceptable. I ask... What's wrong with using a scarf or a loose top? Discreetly breastfeeding in public can be done everywhere whether sitting down, standing up or even walking around;-)
- Breastfeeding is not a lifestyle, it is only a brief period of the baby's life. Breastmilk is of course best for the baby, should be encouraged and supported whenever possible and women should help one another when necessary. Though many women have rediscovered the beauty of breastfeeding they sometimes face the danger to turn it into the latest organic experience for babies and pursue it in some cases to the detriment of other relationships. A woman always runs the danger of been controlled by the feeds and breastfeeding instead of being an advantage becomes an inconvenience for the mother, the husband and the entire family. When a new baby is born into the family it is natural, at the beginning, for the mother to concentrate all her attentions on the little one as she gets to know him/her while the father stands in the background waiting patiently, with the grace of God, for the moment when the mother gently introduces the new addition to the family's daily routine. It can happen that the natural and beautiful bond that breastfeeding creates is sometimes exasperated by the protective and over caring nature of the mother and can interfere with her role as wife and mother to other children. Breastfeeding should never take over the spouses' life. Everything works in perfect harmony and balance in the hands of God. By never losing their focus on each other, breastfeeding fits in beautifully to their life and instead of creating a barrier between the two, the spouses discover yet another thing that can bring them together, another occasion to be at each other's service. Those 'moments' together are very important and give the couple strength they need to love their children. Cooperation, understanding and creativity are paramount.
- Breastfeeding is not a competition:All my children were fully breastfed till the age of six months and looking back I'd say that I neither liked it nor disliked it. After this time as my children start solids and are weaned the 'Italian way' I feel my job is done... I am no longer essential... the bond is established. They can now start taking full advantage of the beautiful fresh food that they will little by little discover and enjoy. Longer is better? Maybe! But we have found our balance and this has worked for us. I hope you will happily find yours =).
- Breastfeeding is not a method to space pregnancies: The primary purpose of breastfeeding is the feeding of the child, a secondary consequence is often the suppression of ovulation but some women can still ovulate during this time. My mother in law got pregnant 3 times while fully breastfeeding and ended up with 4 children under 4 (the last 2 were twins). The Billings Method or other type of NFP should be consulted in case of wanting to space pregnancies. Extending breastfeeding to increase the gap between children is unreliable and risks using one child to avoid another.
- Breastfeeding is not a New Age Spiritual experience (there is much more than that): There is no New Age or free spirit hipster approach to breastfeeding, women have been breastfeeding for millions of years. We have been created as a union of body and soul and while we are alive the two cannot be separated. When the spirit is unwell the body is weak, when the body suffers the spirit has to adjust. When breastfeeding we are called once again to serve the other, to lay down our life for our children with all that is required of us, having to stop when there is no time to stop, the extra tiredness, the discomfort, the constant backaches, the funky sleeping positions. Breastfeeding is truly giving your body up, there is nothing glamorous about it and humiliation is to be found when people abuse you or give you funny looks as they find that natural act displeasing.
Without knowing we have been preparing for motherhood all our life. We have been daily surrounded by mothers, we cared for our little brothers or sisters, loved our friends and have naturally been drawn to give ourselves for the other.
When the time comes and we face motherhood everything we need is already there and neither books, nor essays, nor apps, nor gadgets, will be able to teach us everything our unique children and family need.
Dear mother reading this, don't be afraid to follow your instinct, to apply your brain rather than to trust in a trend or the latest fashion that clashes with your instincts and clearly goes against the spontaneity of life. Always work in partnership with your spouse and listen to what he has to say, always remember that even while you are a nursing mother you have many other roles, that of a bride, that of a mother of an older child or many older children. Embrace your vocation. Look to the heavens and draw your strength from the mother of mothers, the only example worth following, Our Lady, the Humble Servant.
We are God's creation, our bodies recount His glory and His love. In breastfeeding we receive the spirit of servants and without words we are asked to love once again with our whole self, because to love is to serve.