09 July 2008

In Breast We Trust

Recently, I had one of those uneasy conversations which played over and over again in my mind afterward, and I wish I could go back and edit my response. A well meaning person asked, in genuine curiousity and without intended criticism, if my son would be able to develop self-soothing behaviors and coping mechanisms as long as he was "placated" at the breast whenever he was upset. I stumbled through a defensive response, citing arguments for the psychological soundness of breastfeeding past infancy, how by age five most children will have a variety of internal coping mechanisms, and how children I know who were breastfed responsively have grown into very secure, indepentent individuals, etc.

It was the word placate which shook me. Sure, it was used innocently enough, but the connotation is one which in my mind evoked the image of me thrusting my breast into my son's mouth whenever he gets disagreeable. Here's something that will stop your whining--pop! There's also the suggestion of the s-word: spoiling. That by placating him with the breast I am allowing myself to be manipulated, or that I'm reinforcing my son's neediness by giving in to his demands by nursing him, as they say--on demand. Again, I don't suspect these notions were suggested by the questioner, but they are common assumptions in our bottle feeding, baby scheduling culture.

A more fitting response would have been to clarify that my son is not placated at my breast, he is nurtured. Nursing provides him not only optimal physical nourishment, but emotional sustenance. It is a safe haven for him, a place where he comes to center himself, to process his experiences and recharge his batteries. Unlike the child who may smirk with self-satisfaction once his manipulations have been rewarded with a formerly taboo object (the sweets he was whined for, as an example), the child soothed by nursing returns to his activity like one rising from meditation--calm, with focus and once again able to act from the better part of his nature.

Unlike anything I've ever experienced in my life, breastfeeding my son feels intenseley and inexpressively right. The urge to meet his needs this way is prompted from deep within and acted upon peacefully, without question, with no trace of hesitation or internal conflict. I imagine many moms who have responsively breastfed their little ones well into infancy and beyond touch upon this deep feeling of inherent rightness. This may be one inspiration behind lactivism and breastfeeding support efforts, just as I imagine a similar feeling inspires the natural birth movement. It's something which is extremely difficult to convey to those who have not experienced it.

Of course, I intended the title of this post as a little joke. It is not in the breast but our children in whom we need to place our trust. I have complete faith that in time Charlie will find other sources of emotional nourishment, other ways to center himself and cope with life's challenges. He learned to walk and talk. He wants to be able to do things for himself. He will wean. He will sleep through the night and someday he will even prefer his own space. Our time spent nursing may serve as a bedrock within him--evoking that place of safety, a deep well of comfort and love which he can always draw upon as needed.

No comments: