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Learning About The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding

Kimberly Hancock
Redford Township MI USA
Report from 2001 LLLI Conference
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 18 No. 5, September-October 2001, p. 171

At La Leche League's 17th lnternational Conference, I was able to celebrate my journey through nursing motherhood and mark my graduation from a long period of doubt into joy and fulfillment in my nursing relationship with my nine-month-old son, Erik. My guidebook for that journey has been THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING.

For me, the highlight of the Conference was meeting the women who founded La Leche League International and wrote THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING. I had them sign my memory-filled copy and was eager to tell each one of them that La Leche League means a great deal to me. My own shyness and the many women in line behind me clutching their own treasured copies of THE WOMANLY ART didn't allow me to elaborate.

During my teenage and college years, I worked at a bookstore where THE WOMANLY ART OF BRFASTFFFDING was sold. In My six years working there I became quite familiar with the cover of the 1991 edition.

Occasionally, I would ring one up for a glowing pregnant woman. Sometimes a harried new mother with a crying baby in her arms would ask me in a desperate voice if we carried the book.

Once or twice, while I dusted or stocked shelves, I curiously flipped through its pages, pausing at the pictures. I was certain that I would never be familiar with the mysteries contained within that book. I had never so much as seen my mother's breasts and I had certainly never seen a baby being fed this way.

When I became pregnant 10 years later, I read everything I could get my hands on about pregnancy, birth, and childcare. All of the books agreed: human milk is best. I went in search of the paperback whose strange author, La Leche League, I couldn't yet pronounce and became the owner of the 40th anniversary edition of THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING. I read most of it during my pregnancy, and I credit this preparation for the ease with which Erik and I began breastfeeding.

I was sure to breastfeed minutes after birth and to be conscious about good positioning and latch-on. I am convinced that this good start is what has made breastfeeding free of physical discomfort or "mechanical" problems for me and my baby.

Still, I treated THE WOMANLY ART as one book among many in my parenting library. I had no idea how much I would eventually profit from my $15.95 investment.

Breastfeeding has been challenging for me emotionally. I'd never known a woman who breastfed, and some of the women closest to me attack my decision. I have heard everything from, "He's not getting enough to eat" when my son was a few days old to "He's too old for that" just a few weeks ago.

Since I had no friend or relative to model my behavior after, I clung to the advice in THE WOMANLY ART. I remember how reassuring it was to read paragraphs aloud to my husband during the sleepless nights of continual nursing.

For months, I kept the book right next to my favorite nursing chair for easy reference. Its advice was invaluable when it was time to start solids or create a family bed, vital when I needed to have emergency surgery that kept me away from Erik for almost two days, and then when he started trying out his new teeth while nursing. One by one, all of the other parenting books I had purchased during my pregnancy fell by the wayside.

The absence of real-life models often depressed me and made me wonder sometimes if breastfeeding really was to blame for Erik's nightwaking, his fussiness during the day, and my messy house.

It was lack of emotional support that led me to go beyond what THE WOMANLY ART offers in print by attending my local La Leche League meetings, beginning six months ago. There I met experienced mothers of toddlers as well as mothers even less experienced than I was. Most of them had the same difficulties I had with burnout or family criticism. Some of them had problems I feel lucky not to have experienced such as mastitis or an unsupportive husband. One mother had successfully breastfed her son for two years after having a single mastectomy. Their heartfelt stories, familiar complaints, and useful advice inspired me to keep nursing.

So many women, like myself, inherit a legacy from families and culture that isn't conducive to breastfeeding. For them to breastfeed successfully takes determination and a strong source of support.

Reading LLL publications, attending Group meetings, and attending Area and International Conferences have given me the information and emotional support I need to mother my son through breastfeeding.

Thanks to La Leche League, I have been transformed from a young woman who was mystified by the contents of the mysterious paperback, into a confident mother who recently breastfed her baby on a crowded elevator at the Hilton Chicago with a new copy of MOTHERING YOUR NURSING TODDLER tucked inside her purse.

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