Personal Experience of Breastfeeding
HLC was born out of my devastation at not being able to breastfeed my first child. I lacked the knowledge and the assistance needed to let down my milk. The more my hungry son screamed, the guiltier I felt. I felt like I had failed motherhood. I finally gave up my attempts at breastfeeding and put my hungry child on the bottle, and once I regained my equilibrium, I set out to research why I failed at breastfeeding.
Twenty years later, after researching breastfeeding in 178 cultures and across species, I turned this knowledge into my first book, The Tender Gift: Breastfeeding. Below is an excerpt from the Introduction to the book, describing the very personal experience of breastfeeding.
Dana Raphael, Ph.D.
Special, peaceful, important, filled up full, no longer lonely, powerful, so full of love, spiritual--that's what women think of breastfeeding. When else are two beings so together? When else do you have your very own body producing food with little effort, filling and growing another human being?
But it's not all one way by a long shot. I awakened my son when miserable with breasts bloated, about to burst, and I exhale in exquisite relief as he clamps onto the nipple, nursed and relieved the pressure. Thank you dear child.
I am well-versed about lactation. I know all about contents of milk and the difference in colostrum, the nervous system pathways, the hormones, the ducts in the mammary gland, the cells, the ejection reflex, what elements do or don’t pass through the milk, but what I can't explain is how come my body is designed to feed another. How come a day or so after childbirth my bosom is transformed and as if from nowhere, fluid issues forth. And how come each time the infant sucks, miraculously, my breasts quickly swell. What an instrument is the human female body!
Mothers know, sacred or not, this act needs intervention. If not, lactation will not work. I'm lucky, affluent and Western, yet when I failed to breastfeed my first child, I was so crushed that I'm still going on and on about breastfeeding many decades later. I had alternatives. Sterile cow's milk. Most moms, poor souls, don't have options. No breastfeeding and the baby simply dies. The transformation of the breast and the subsequent lactation is magical. The uniqueness of the letting down of the milk is almost indescribable.
I have been asked by men, "Can I breastfeed as well?" (Have they caught on? want "in" on this private and powerful connection?) I tell them that during the embryonic stage at around five weeks, the development of the mammary gland in males ceases. Some won't take “no” for an answer. A few have admitted to me that before their baby was delivered, they took prolactin hormones hoping to stimulate some secretion so they too could have this unique experience.
My husband tried it. It was like this. I nursed our adopted baby when she came to us three days old. My younger, natural child was then 12 so I certainly never had sufficient milk. While she suckled, I pressed a small syringe full of milk into the corner of her mouth. He used this vial also when he tried to breastfeed her. "It sort of tickled," he reported. "Oh, that was something special. Everyone was asleep. It was so quiet. Just the two of us. It didn’t last long, she figured out I wasn’t the right gender. But I felt a special communion with this kid. I'll never forget it."
Nurturing a baby with breast or bottle is a private experience, a love lesson. It taught me that peace is possible and violence not intrinsic to the human condition. It moved me off the plane of everyday with its banalities and dangers.
I bottle fed one son from month two, breastfed number two son 18 months and nursed and supplemented my adopted Jessa for 10 months. Each time I stopped, I knew I was losing something. It's made me an advocate for breastfeeding, and I will continue to do whatever I can to help women have the support they need to lactate successfully. I also wish this special joy, this inner calm for our poor and hungry sisters in the developing world.