Wednesday, May 16, 2012

breast is best

breastfeeding | photo: Jerry Bunkers
With all of the recent hullabaloo about breastfeeding because of the recent cover on Time magazine I wanted to share a few thoughts.

My kids are grown and I am no longer breastfeeding. While I did not breastfeed them for the extended periods of time mentioned in that article, I certain support those who can and do.

I am upset about the picture chosen but I am sure it was chosen for shock value.  No one I know has their child stand on a chair to breastfeed.  It is a cuddly, bonding experience.  The magazine cover is very militant in attitude (down to the cammo pants the child is wearing) and does not look comfortable or close knit for either one of them.  I think it gives people the wrong attitude about breastfeeding in general and extended breastfeeding in particular.

 Not every mother is able to breastfeed, but this post isn't about that. It's about how important breastfeeding is and how we need to get over ourselves and our squeamishness about it.  In other parts of the world breastfeeding is encouraged and is practiced for extended periods of time.  Here we get too wrapped up in the fact that these are breasts which are seen as a primarily sexual part of the body.  But while playing with boobies can be fun, let's remember that their primary function is to feed an infant.  Something that our bodies can do so very well and with wonderful purpose.

In our country the formula companies push their product over breastfeeding.  Not because their product is better (it isn't) but because that's what makes them money.  They have subsidies, spending our tax dollars, to back their product and get it into the hands of new mothers making it seem like a positive choice.  Combine this with what appear to be our general uncomfortableness with the concept of breastfeeding in public and far too many people feel that this is somehow a shameful practice.  One that perhaps should be carried out furtively. In dark corners.  Under blankets.  I believe this seemingly prim attitude toward breastfeeding needs to stop.  Let's be healthy, supportive, nurturing, and above all, nourishing for our babies.

The truth is that breastfeeding is the best, most positive first option for babies and young children.  For newborns, breast milk is the only way that immunoglobulins are passed from the mother to her baby.  Specifically IgE which is the one that regulates certain allergies, and IgA, which protects the lining of the intestines.  Both are critical to our lifelong health.  Sadly the lack of both is on the rise in our country with a corresponding increase in the number of children with allergies and other health issues.

Breastfeeding is also good for the mother.  It releases oxytocin which is a hormone that promotes relaxation; in other words it can help lower stress.  Other studies show that women who breastfeed have a lower incidence of breast cancer.  Two great benefits for mom while simultaneously providing lifetime benefits for baby.

When I was pregnant my mother gave me a copy of The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding.  It was a great book, I learned a lot from it, and I believe it helped to get me and my first child off to a good start.  I want to encourage others to read it, to share it to help themselves and others.  I want to encourage people to seek out their local La Leche League, to learn more about breastfeeding, and to find friends and support for themselves and their family.  

Most importantly, I want to encourage people to breastfeed their babies.


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