Reclaiming the Art of Breastfeeding
Indira Lopez Bassols
From: Leaven, Vol. 45 No. 2-3, 2009, pp. 16-18
My breastfeeding journey started 12 years ago in Mexico, my home country. Over the years with my three children, it has become an essential ingredient in my mothering. Although things seem to be changing sadly in some parts of Mexico now, a decade ago breastfeeding was very much part of our culture and tradition.
My daughter's arrival into the world was a beautiful, powerful, physiological (non-medicated) birth. Like many drug-free newborns, in the first hour or so after birth she was highly alert, participative in her own way, and making eye contact with me and my husband. With a bit of encouragement from my doula, my baby found the breast and fed happily for several uninterrupted minutes which felt like a blissful eternity. In the next few days, even though I experienced slightly sore nipples, there were no words to express the pleasure and joy of holding this little creature to my breast.
I never wondered whether I would be able to breastfeed, nor did I read any book on the topic nor attend any session in preparation. To tell the truth, back then I had never even heard of La Leche League. On my mother's side, my Mexican grandmother had breastfed her eight children, and my mother had breastfed her five children. In fact, every woman in my family I could recall had done so. Thus, breastfeeding was honoured in my family, and I had always felt it was natural to carry on with this powerful feminine family legacy.
So, when pregnant the first time, I did not think about breastfeeding much; I rather just felt it would be fine. I sensed there was a continuum between natural pregnancy, natural labour, and straightforward easy breastfeeding. Time, experience, and reality have shown me that, all too often, this progression does not happen. What can we Leaders do about it?
Dr. Michel Odent, French obstetrician and one of the greatest champions of natural birth, strongly advocates that women cannot "prepare" for natural childbirth. He believes that we carry ancestral inner wisdom inside us and, given the right conditions, our bodies know how to birth on their own. Thus, he stresses the importance during pregnancy of increasing women's confidence in their natural ability to give birth and setting the right conditions in labour.
The same element is crucial for optimal breastfeeding. Replacing worry, fear, and doubt with trust, confidence, and belief is the best starting point. Grantley Dick-Read coined the term "childbirth without fear" several decades ago; we can talk of "breastfeeding with confidence" along the same lines.
Over the years as a Leader and a doula, I have heard so many pregnant mothers say: "I will give it a go, but lots of my girlfriends were not able to breastfeed." The number of mothers who can truly not breastfeed should be a tiny percentage in comparison to the number who can. An essential component for successful breastfeeding is apparently being aware of the many successful happy breastfeeding stories. When women are surrounded mainly by negative stories, doubt can creep in like a silent serpent.
The World Health Organization states: "While breastfeeding is a natural act, it is also a learned behaviour." This is where our role as Leaders at Series Meetings becomes crucial. Many women have not seen happily breastfeeding mothers. If they don't have positive models to follow and any minor problem arises in the first few days, bottle and formula are often ready "just in case." Supporting pregnant women's confidence in their future ability to breastfeed is one of the most important things we do.
Our Series Meetings thus serve as powerful circles of truth and wisdom. They are a place where women can be supported so that their confidence in their natural innate ability to breastfeed is increased and maintained. This is why La Leche League has spread all over the world and its mission, embraced and passed on through the generations, is still crucial.
As Ina May Gaskin1 said during the First International Nurturing Conference (London, October 2008): "The best preparation in the Farm [referring to her community] for new parents is to have contact with breastfeeding mothers, make nursing babies visible, and exchange positive stories and experiences."
We as Leaders have a message to all pregnant and new mothers: "Believe in yourself that indeed you can breastfeed your baby, and trust your body with all its inner wisdom." As breastfeeding mothers and Leaders, we can reclaim the art of breastfeeding so it is never again lost and is passed on smoothly to our daughters and theirs.
1American midwife who wrote Midwifery and Ina May's Guide to Childbirth, among other books.