Breastfeeding: It’s Not Just About the Milk

As you know, your milk is a wondrous thing. It is uniquely designed for your baby, changes by the minute and by the day and is the perfect nutrition for your baby no matter what her age. It is also full of antibodies, long-chain fatty acids and protects your baby from illness. It’s always the perfect temperature. It tastes like ice cream. You always have it with you. It’s free! You will never have to worry about a batch of your milk being recalled. Still, as great as your milk is; for your baby, breastfeeding is about much more than the milk.

When you breastfeed your baby, you are continuing a relationship that began when she was still in your womb. She felt loved and protected and always had everything she needed. She never had to wait. She was never cold, or lonely or frightened. Everything was perfect.

Her birth, as wonderful as it was, launched her into an imperfect world. A world with loud noises and unfamiliar EVERYTHING. Digestion is uncomfortable. Diaper changes are horrible. She feels vulnerable, and hasn’t yet learned to use all of her senses to orient herself. She relies heavily on her sense of touch and smell. Consequently, she really doesn’t know where you are if she is separated from you.

When your baby is distressed, she wails as if her world is coming to an end. The newborn cry is impossible to ignore, isn’t it? There is nothing more demanding of our attention. And often grandmas, and daddies and best friends are absolutely unable to soothe your baby. That’s when you can bring out your magic.

It turns out that your breasts provide for your baby a whole lot of peace. Being at the breast is the next best thing to being tucked safely inside your uterus. It’s where your baby feels the most whole. It’s the place where everything is right and perfect once again.

My family members—who had never really seen breastfeeding in action—always laughed when my daughter in full-throttle crying immediately silenced when she came to my breast. “It’s just like magic,” they would say. Indeed! My daughter had taught me (very quickly!) that it wasn’t about the milk for her. She would latch right on, suckle for a minute or two, then let out a big sigh and relax. She just needed a little bit of that magic breast to feel whole and connected to me again.

I remember wondering how difficult it would be to be a mother without this powerful tool at my disposal. It solved everything! Was she over-stimulated? Frightened by a stranger? Tired? Angry about that last diaper change? Hungry or thirsty, perhaps? It didn’t matter. I didn’t have to guess what was wrong. I simply offered my breast and she was soothed.

So don’t worry about trying to figure out exactly what’s wrong when your baby cries. You have very powerful magic available any time you need it. Offer your breast—even if you “just” fed her. She will tell you if it’s the right thing or not. If she’s happy and calm, it is the right thing! If you find yourself repeatedly comforting your baby at your breast, remember it is the most natural thing in the world. You don’t need to be concerned that you are starting bad habits. You are meeting a need. You are doing what mammals do. You are giving your baby your special mommy magic!

A note to mommies who struggle with low milk supply: Most babies are happy to go to the breast for comfort even if your supply is low. Just make sure your baby is gaining weight and getting adequate nutrition by another means.

2 thoughts on “Breastfeeding: It’s Not Just About the Milk

  1. Thank you, Renee, for that lovely essay. Yes, breastfeeding is so much more than a feeding method. It is a mothering tool par excellence. When a friend of mine was asked why she was *still* nursing her little girl, she replied,
    “My daughter calls nursing *love.* How could I possibly tell her to stop getting *love* before she is ready to give it up on her own?”

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