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Breastfeeding is a Learned Behavior: So, Go Forth and Mingle!

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I was soaking wet, standing in the middle of the beach playground with the top half of my wetsuit pulled down, feeding my two year old while chatting to my friend. We were flapping our jaws about something or other, when my friend paused for a second, looked down and said, “God, I wish someone had just shown me how to get comfortable like that when I was still feeding my baby.” She had read all the books, had all the lactation consultants help her. Still, something about it, she said, she just could never relax and get comfortable.

Twice today, two of my friends came to me with their breastfeeding woes. Their stories were similar in nature. Not enough support. Lack of knowledge or information. Weren’t getting the kind of support they needed. Had no breastfeeding friends to get advice from. Oi vey! It shouldn’t be that way!

Isn’t breastfeeding a natural instinctual thing?
Breastfeeding is natural, but it’s not always instinctual. Especially if a mother is under stress or does not have a clan of other breastfeeding mothers around her. Let’s ask a mother gorilla who had a baby in an Ohio zoo. I heard this story years ago and I found it cited here. Her baby eventually died because the mother gorilla had no idea how to feed her baby. Zookeepers clued into what had happened. So, the next time the mother gorilla became pregnant, the zookeepers allowed the mother gorilla to observe breastfeeding volunteer mothers from the local La Leche League. The mother gorilla was able to breastfeed her next baby successfully!

I mean, I guess there is a chance that if you had your baby on a deserted island, you might get lucky and be able to breastfeed without any help. But, maybe you wouldn’t! Maybe you would need some help! What if your baby had a tongue or lip tie, or what if your nipple is inverted, or what if you didn’t know how often to feed your baby and what if, what if? What if you were just a nervous wreck? I know, most of us don’t live on deserted islands, but sometimes it feels like we do, simply because we live in the confines of our own four walls!

What About Books and Professional Help?
Can you learn a language from reading a book? Can you learn to play a musical instrument from reading a book? Hardly. You might get the general idea, but nothing helps you learn like seeing and hearing it from another person whom you trust. You need to see it and hear it. Professional help from certified lactation consultants is amazing… but, nothing beats hanging around other breastfeeding mothers. By watching and learning the way they do it, on an everyday basis, it would become a much more comfortable thing! You can soon pick up a few breastfeeding tricks from observation. For example, I had heard about feeding a baby in a sling, but I could never manage to do it, until one day, I SAW other mothers doing it. It instantly made sense.

Time to Reinstate the Sister-hood
From the beginning of time, women with new babies would have been surrounded by their mothers, aunties, cousins and sisters. They would have seen breastfeeding left, right and center for as long as they could remember. They would have seen how if a sister was having trouble, somebody else would have fed her baby for her. It’s not like that these days, so we need to bring it back into context to the world we live in today.

Breastfeeding in public matters
You don’t need to go crazy about breastfeeding in public, but if you are a breastfeeding mother, just remember that you have no idea which future mother (or father) is learning something when they see you breastfeed. The more people who see it, the more comfortable the whole society will be with it. The more people who are comfortable with seeing it means that more people will ask questions, seek advice and be successful on their breastfeeding journey.

Hang out with other breastfeeding mothers
A little support, spending time with other breastfeeding mothers, a few encouraging words, a little question and answer session may be all that you need to keep you going or to get you started. If you don’t know where to find other breastfeeding mothers, check out your local attachment parenting groups, babywearing groups or breastfeeding associations. Usually you can find these groups on Facebook or through websites. In many countries, like the USA, you have La Leche League and in Australia, you have the Australian Breastfeeding Association. A quick google search will point you in the right direction. but, FIND them! Hang out with them. Make them your friends! Use the internet to your great advantage. You may not find your breastfeeding soul sister right down the street, but you might find her on Facebook and you can meet her in person later.

Ask to watch
Find anyone you know who breastfeeds and annoy the hell out of them! Ask them to show you how to do it BEFORE you have a baby. Seriously! Or, if you’ve already had your baby and you’re having difficulties, ask if they can watch you and troubleshoot for you. Ask if you can have them ‘on call‘. Asking advice from professionals is ideal, but sometimes those people are not available, or sometimes you just want a second opinion, or want to hear the voice of a friend. It’s hard to learn something without seeing it done first.

Take the time to learn about breastfeeding. There are certainly books and articles out there that are super-mega useful. But, some can be really confusing and negative. (Avoid any books that say to put your baby on a strict feeding schedule!) One of my old time favorite websites for breastfeeding is You can find a very comprehensive list of articles and books there. But, most of all, go out and mingle! Find other breastfeeding mothers and make them your friends! You may not have anything in common other than the fact that you breastfeed, but so what, what a great excuse to make a friend!

(the photo is of my two year old as a newborn, say “awww”)

Volk, A. Anthony (2009). Journal of Social, Evolutionary and Cultural Physiology. (3)4 305-314



4 Responses »

  1. So true. Excellent article and so on the money. Ina May Gaskin’s Guide to Breastfeeding is a great book and definitely should be read before having a baby. Helped me immensely. Another factor that I think is really overlooked is support by your partner in breastfeeding. Having a partner who is able to physically and emotionally support you in your choice to breastfeed can & does make all the difference especially in the first few weeks when figuring out how to do it and dealing with recovering from birth and coping with no sleep. My husband was basically the only one who didnt suggest formula as I had round after round of mastitis (6 times in 6 weeks). This was all set off by following for 2 days that hideous book Save our sleep that had been pushed at me in all directions. I didnt do the crying it out but had been pushed into expressing milk which set off mastitis. No where did ANY book explain that expressing is very hard if you are breastfeeding on demand. Getting more than 1 ounce at a time is very hard and trying to get more can cause irritation. Several months after this mess I met an early childhood nurse who explained this and also stated that if she had her way that she would like that book banned as she had seen so many woman who had lost their breastmilk or given up breastfeeding altogether because of trying to follow that program in the first weeks after giving birth.
    I’m still breastfeeding on demand my 17 month old and we are both very happy with that. This horrifies some members of my family but I tell them its none of their business and I love them no matter what they think.

    • So true about having a supportive partner! My husband was super supportive. Even when my 4 1/2 year old occasionally asks for boobies (ahem), he just smiles and thinks it’s cute. So sad about the Save our Sleep book. I’ve heard it was bad, but I never knew about the failure of breastfeeding in so many mothers 🙁 It’s such a stupid name for a book too. I mean, is our culture so obsessed with sleep that we have to give up our natural instincts to nurture our babies?!

      • Yes the book is that bad. Everything all couched in so reasonable language that what you are doing is really the best thing for your child. I know so many people who swear by it but without being too judgemental they all seem to like having their children at arms length and to my eye just seem more interested in the concept of a child rather than being with their child. One of the main proponents who pushed the book at me is always aghast if I turn up somewhere without a pram and am actually holding my child and going off on little explores with her. Her nearly 4 year old is almost always still in a stroller so that she can “get a break”. While I understand the “get a break” concept totally and I use a pram on occasion, I hate the idea of it being used as a prison. I take my hat off to you Kate for still being able to carry your kids in slings. My back gave out when my sturdy little one hit the 11kg mark at 11months. It was carry and let toddle when needed after that.

      • Oh, I know what you mean about the pram prison! I’ve always been a sort of workhorse kind of person, but everyone is made up so differently, so you really have to honour your body. In lots of cultures, no one person would do all the baby wearing. In fact, in some places, they have specific baby wearers who wear your baby around while you go and do some work! I use our pram sometimes for my 4 year old, if we’re going on a really long walk and will be out all morning and I know that at some point she will actually get tired. But, for the most part, I’m a firm believer that kids need to exercise A LOT! Anyway, about the book, I think I would love to actually get my hands on it and write a blog post about it, now that you’ve said how awful it is (and you’re not the first).

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