August 2019

What Could Be More Natural?

Birth Matters August 2019

By Laura Maxson, LM

People have a wide variety of expectations and experiences when it comes to breastfeeding.  Many can be surprised when breastfeeding turns out to be harder than they expected. Although most go on to have an enjoyable breastfeeding experience for months or years, they will often remark that they thought breastfeeding would have been more natural.

The terms natural, second nature and physiological are often used interchangeably, but they can mean very different things. Lactation is a physiological process – babies have a sucking reflex and breasts produce milk.   In that respect, breastfeeding meets one definition of natural.

However, while lactation is natural, the act of breastfeeding will feel natural and become second nature only after repetition results in muscle memory and reflexive response.  Eventually women breastfeed without thinking too much about what they are doing.  In fact, if she does try to analyze it step-by-step, she might find it difficult to describe what she is actually doing.

Think about how a student driver feels sitting in the car, drivers permit in hand, as she prepare to make a right-hand turn for the first time. Now compare this to the last time you made a right-hand turn.  Chances are you simply knew you had a right turn coming up and you didn’t think about it at all, you just did it.  However, no amount of rehearsing will result in the student turning with the same relaxed, competence of an experienced driver because that only comes with practice.

Breastfeeding, like driving, is not always easy at first.  In fact for some, it can feel hard and scary.  Breastfeeding is a life skill that will become as natural as driving or riding a bike. Once you have the basics down you’ll hardly give it a thought.  But it takes time to lay down that muscle memory, not only for you, but also for your little one as well. When it comes to honing skills, we know that practice makes perfect (or at least good enough) and anyone with a newborn will get plenty of practice time.    

Breastfeeding soon becomes second nature for most, but unfortunately, not all.  There are those who have a more complex relationship with breastfeeding.  Issues with latching or milk supply can result in pumping, bottle feeding, supplementing with formula, or using nursing aids that can really add to the learning curve.  A rocky start often resolves with time and help, but specific situations and medical conditions can result in on going issues no matter how much practice, pumping, or helpful advice is given.  It can be a real heartbreak when breastfeeding doesn’t work out as expected.

Everyone begins at the beginning – doing everything for the first time – holding baby in arms, arranging pillows, recognizing the wide-open mouth at just the right moment to pull baby into the breast for a good latch.  Appreciate the intention and effort as your journey plays out.  No matter how those feedings go, remember to take a breath, drop your shoulders and drink in that beautiful baby as she drinks in her meal and your love.

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