There are few more emotional topics than breastfeeding. How strange that something so natural, evolved for the optimum survival of both milk-producing and milk-fed mammals on this planet, should have become so controversial.
An animal that cannot feed from its mother will die, and the supply of its mother’s milk will dwindle for lack of demand, so nature makes sure that instinct and hormones rule them both by making them a bonded, synchronised pair. Similarly the human mother and baby are both programmed for breastfeeding. If this were not best for both, we wouldn’t have evolved that way.
In natural circumstances we don’t need to teach mammals how to feed their young. But now zoo-reared monkeys have to watch videos to learn what should come naturally. Human beings today are living just as unnaturally as they, and we too need education.
One of the major achievements of Breastfeeding Australia, from its inception in 1964 as the Nursing Mothers’ Association of Australia (NMAA), has been to educate doctors, midwives and baby health nurses about breastfeeding. The numbers of mothers totally breastfeeding their baby to six months rose significantly, despite hospitals’ policy to discharge new mothers with a farewell gift of formula.
General practitioners’ training at that time devoted little more than an hour to human lactation. Midwives too rarely saw a well-established nursing pair. It was this lack of ‘official’ information on natural feeding that led to the founding of NMAA by Mary Paton and like-minded friends. It became a national phenomenon that young mothers, learning from and teaching each other about breastfeeding in suburban support groups were providing valuable original research data to medicos and academics. Nursing mothers have contributed to many a doctorate in lactation and neo-natal nutrition.
These mothers could demonstrate that successful breastfeeding depends on confidence. Confidence comes from encouragement and education: nipple preparation in pregnancy, understanding the supply and demand mechanism of feeding (more suckling = more milk) and appreciating the many benefits, physical and emotional, that breastfeeding brings to both mother and child. The whole community benefits from healthy, happy families.
Today’s women can breastfeed their babies. Very, very few cannot. All the hormones and instincts are still with us; we just need to relax and let them work — unless we allow our increasingly unnatural lifestyle to interfere. The failure of the Western employment and economic system to acknowledge the nursing couple’s human rights to optimum nutrition and function is a failure of our so-called civilisation.
The flip side of parents’ having the choice of breast milk or a commercial product is so often the irrecoverable loss of a uniquely natural, loving, creative and even spiritual experience. The bond between a nursing mother and her child is very strong.
I’ve heard many mothers who had bottle-fed their first baby say how much easier and more enjoyable it had been to breastfeed their next child while having the example and support of successfully nursing mothers — and how they regretted not having had such timely information with their first.
You will hear passionate advocates for both breast and bottle. A baby and its mother are naturally designed to breastfeed, but our society unhealthily discriminates against them. If this is your dilemma, whichever method you choose for your child, be sure to fully inform yourself of what to expect and how to avoid potential difficulties. The best time to start this homework is as soon as your pregnancy is confirmed. That way you will be well-prepared to enjoy your baby.