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A Timeless Connection

Michele Call
St Louis MO USA
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 25 No. 4, 2008, pp. 18-19

When I was in college I used to collect art prints of mothers and babies, many of them depicting breastfeeding. I gathered postcards, prints, and even a postage stamp. I found that artists from various ages and cultures were trying to capture the special something between mother and child. While I was not yet a mother, I admired the mother-infant bond that the artists depicted, longing for the day when I too would experience that most intimate breastfeeding relationship.

And here I am, well over a decade later, with five breastfed children of my own, helping other mothers experience that same special relationship. When I began breastfeeding my first child it didn't initially live up to my lofty expectations. I had attended a breastfeeding class at the hospital and read THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING carefully so that I could latch my baby on correctly. I eagerly put Rebecca to the breast that first time, within minutes after her birth, with great expectations. Instead, breastfeeding was painful. After having the latch-on checked several times and making some calls to La Leche League, my nipples finally healed. But other problems were starting.

As my milk supply peaked at around two weeks, my precious little girl started protesting angrily when the milk began to flow. I dutifully followed the advice someone gave me and forced her to the breast against her wishes -- after all, if she didn't eat she'd starve. Before long, even seeing my breast made her arch her back and scream. And then came the inevitable breast infection. I guess nursing for three minutes every three hours can make it hard to empty the breast! After four weeks, on the advice of a lactation consultant, I started block feeding, offering her just one breast per feeding, alternating breasts every two hours. The consultant explained that I had too much milk for my little one to handle and this would help slow things down for her. Things improved dramatically! Now she would nurse, and her nursing sessions lasted 15 to 20 minutes.

Breastfeeding took a lot of concentration for my daughter. She couldn't do it if there was noise around. Often, I would need to nurse her upright in the sling, or lying down with the lights dimmed. She didn't nurse for comfort, just for a meal. I planned outings around her self-imposed schedule of nursing every three hours. At one point, she went for a week or two when she would only nurse with me lying down. Some onlookers suggested I was spoiling her by giving in to her wishes. All I knew was that she was as unhappy about the situation as I was and I needed to make breastfeeding as comfortable as possible for her. Another time my husband got a cold and she went on a nursing strike because the noise of his coughing, sneezing, and blowing his nose seemed to be upsetting to her.

At around four months, it happened. I realized we had become the mother-infant pair in the pictures. We were sharing the special breastfeeding bond, the one that words can't describe and that great artists long to capture. In the midst of the struggles, we were making that timeless connection. Suddenly the hard times felt worth it. Breastfeeding had helped me move from an attitude of force-feeding my daughter so that her weight gain would be good, to going to any lengths to make nursing enjoyable for her. Even though I had longed for an intimate breastfeeding relationship for years, I couldn't truly understand when we started out that breastfeeding is so much more than just food. It is nurturing. It is learning about someone else's needs, even when that someone doesn't herself know what she needs.

Over the months, Rebecca's nursing strikes became less frequent, until she would nurse comfortably even in public. By the time she was a year old, our problems were long forgotten and we shared a free and easy nursing relationship.

It wasn't until after my second baby was born that I started attending La Leche League meetings. I came with a desire to help other mothers experience the magic of breastfeeding. I found I still had a lot to learn. At one of my first meetings, I remember the Leader, Sue, saying that if the baby resists the breast, you shouldn't force her. Instead, comfort the baby, gently wooing her to try again, always being mindful of her feelings. Wow! Had I done that instead of forcing Rebecca to latch on in those early days, could I have avoided some of her breast aversion?

While I am still myself in the process of learning the art of mothering, I am now a La Leche League Leader. My passion is to pass on the magic of the breastfeeding relationship to other mothers and babies, mothers and babies who may give up before nursing ever really clicks unless they have the support of mothers who have persevered before them. And isn't that what mothers have been doing for thousands of years in every culture -- passing along the unspoken wisdom of the art of mothering through breastfeeding?

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