Recently I received an email message from someone named Nimal, who I do not know, in Sri Lanka, saying
"I was quite impressed by your website in which you talk to many mothers and mothers-to-be with your in depth experience. I feel a website like this helps many mothers who are looking forward to be mothers and those who are already mothers. I found there are so many useful articles in your website.
I feel you could add another valuable article to your website, thats about the crucial importance of breast feeding, the length of it etc etc."
Thankyou, Nimal, for this invitation to write more about breastfeeding.
Briefly, one cannot promote physiologically normal birth without also promoting physiologically normal nourishment and nurture of the newborn child. Breastfeeding is part of that natural continuum. In fact, if the woman is privileged to experience minimal disturbance in the crucial moments around the time of birth, it is unlikely that the midwife in attendance will need to do anything about breastfeeding. The mother and baby proceed on the intuitive journey, in skin to skin contact, making eye contact, and soon the baby searches for the breast.
Once the baby knows that food is found at the breast, and the mother has mastered a few basic skills such as holding the baby in a relaxed way, lovingly molding baby's body to her own, with baby's chest agaist her chest, baby's chin against her breast, baby's head slightly tilted back ... breastfeeding happens whenever baby is hungry or just needs mummy's special comfort*.
How long should this continue before weaning begins? That's easy. As long as it takes.
By this I mean, until baby starts putting pieces of suitable food into his or her own mouth, and tells mummy it's time to give me more than the breast milk. This is usually around 6 months of age. There should be no dairy or soy artificial alternatives to mother's own milk, except in situations so dire that an inferior substitute is truly all that's available.
This discussion leads me to an obvious line of comment: what about the mother and baby who do not experience physiologically normal birth and initiation of breastfeeding?
I have often used the principles of the breastcrawl for babies who have spent time away from their mothers, or whose experiences at learning to breastfeed have been less than satisfactory. Babies have an amazing capacity to learn, and it seems that the triggering of that instinctive ability to seek the breast and obtain mummy's milk is not well understood.
* The asterisk is on comfort. Breastfeeding is the essence of comfort, for both the mother and baby. Too often, in Melbourne the city where I live, where babies can be seen as accessories for the woman who has everything, the phrase 'comfort sucking' is used, usually in a negative way. What a shame!