When asked about a dad’s perspective on breastfeeding, I admit I get a kick out of that title, The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. This is the name of the book published by La Leche League, and it’s the Bible of Breastfeeding. The Maxim for Mammilla. The Tome for Teats.
What can I say? The title of the book makes me giggle.
Whenever I tell Gwen that the title amuses me, she looks at me as if I’ve just called Canada the 51st state or let out a very large, wet belch.
I just think there’s something funny and awkward about the title. Not about breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is the bomb. It’s dope.
Breast milk is beyond science. We have yet to fully understand it, and we will certainly never reproduce its equal in a laboratory. It is a mystery, like quantum physics and black holes and the appeal of Bikram yoga. It is God manifest in the material world. I get a bit fired up about breast milk.
Here are some of the wondrous perks of breasts. I mean breast milk.
The first milk that comes out after baby is born is called colostrum. Colostrum contains gentle laxatives that help baby poop out the meconium. It contains probiotics that set up the proper flora in the baby’s gastrointestinal tract and is higher in protein than ordinary milk. Colostrum also contains antibodies to protect the newborn against disease. These antibodies set up the infant early on with a healthy immune system. They contain the combined disease prevention protocol of mama. And when mama gets a fresh cold, she passes her newly-created antibodies to fight that cold right to her baby. When my wife was nursing, she’d be thrilled to get colds so she could give this gift to our son. She’d be in tears of joy.
Every mammal produces colostrum for their babies. It seems so sacred to me, a special bond between mom and newborn baby. In Southern India they sell a special sweet cheese made from cow colostrum. When I first read this I literally choked back a vomit, and then I realized that it was no different from cheese made from regular cow milk. New things can seem so scary.
Breastfeeding bonds mama and baby. There is no better soother or TLC than a nice, warm nipple. Visualize this. You’ve had a tough day of learning to use your fingers. You’re frustrated after the fifteenth time you dropped the ring that dangles above your head. You’re craving some touch. Well, now, there’s that warm soft fleshy mama who smells so good. The warm nipple that fits just perfectly in your mouth. And the milk, oh, the milk, let me tell you! Delicious. And you always fall asleep after drinking it. Ah, sweet ambrosia.
Breast milk is a panacea. It generates hormones in mama that battle baby blues. A few drops heals pink eye. I’ve seen this firsthand, and it’s amazing. Noah had pink eye. Gwen posted this to Facebook and asked for advice (yes, we get our medical advice from Facebook). A friend told her to express a few drops of breast milk right into Noah’s eye. And that cleared it up. You could see the redness disappearing as in time-lapse photography.
Studies demonstrate that breast-fed children are less likely to develop juvenile diabetes, multiple sclerosis and heart disease, and mothers who breastfeed are less apt to have osteoporosis later in life, are able to lose weight gained during pregnancy more easily and have a lower risk of breast, uterine and ovarian cancer.
I bet when you read that list just now, you were like, “less likely to develop multiple sclerosis, yup, heart disease, (yawn) yup, osteoporosis, yup, lose weight more easily… wait, what? I’m in!” We live in a strange culture.
Breastfeeding is not only good for the baby, but it’s good for mom, too. Not only can it help with weight loss, lower your risk of potential cancers like breast, uterine, and ovarian cancers, and help prevent osteoporosis, but it is also good for mom’s mental state. Research has shown that breastfeeding can help with baby blues and, in some cases, postpartum depression. When you nurse, your body releases oxytocin which is a “feel good” hormone. That feeling you get when you nurse can help combat those feelings of exhaustion, frustration, and…well, exhaustion — because that’s pretty much all you’ll feel in those first few months anyways.
But it is also important to note that breastfeeding can also be detrimental to mothers who are experiencing postpartum depression and anxiety. For mothers who are having difficulty nursing, whether it is because of lack of milk expression, painful nursing sessions, difficulties with latching, or other nursing problems the pressure to successfully nurse can be detrimental to a mother’s mental health.
And research agrees. A study published by the National Institute of Health found that research have found that breastfeeding can help prevent postpartum depression but it can also hinder it. Because there are confounding psychological, physiological, and societal factors that go into breastfeeding, it is hard to determine if breastfeeding can help a mom experiencing postpartum depression or make it harder for her to get through it.
The study states that, “Numerous studies on the topic of breastfeeding and postpartum depression have come to contrasting conclusions, likely a result of the interaction between the numerous and complex physiological, psychological, and sociocultural mechanisms potentially responsible for the relationship, as well as the use of varying methods for studying the association. Specifically, a number of researchers have reported no relationship between breastfeeding and postpartum depression and two early reports suggested that breastfeeding mothers have a higher risk of depression. In contrast, a number of more recent studies have revealed that women who formula feed have higher rates of depression than women who breastfeed, while other researchers have shown that mothers who experience postpartum depression are at greater risk of early breastfeeding cessation.”
So, breastfeeding generates hormones in mama that battle baby blues and may (or may not) help battle postpartum depression. And it is far cheaper than buying formula. It can even help prevent illness in your child and changes when your child is sick to help them get better. So basically, breast milk seems to be some sort of magical cure-all. You have probably seen those memes that joke to “just put breast milk on it” (come to think of it, has anyone tried to put breast milk on 2020?). Breast milk also cures chapped nipples and lips and fights baby acne, and the list goes on. In fact, breastmilk I suspect that it could loosen tight lids and finally get my car door to stop squeaking. But Gwen is always so hesitant to try these things. Here are some other tried and true things that breast milk seems to help:
- Pink eye
- Diaper rash
- Ear infections
- Scrapes and cuts
- Soothe teething pain (breastmilk popsicles are quite popular for teething babies)
- Reduce appearance of stretch marks and wrinkles
- Help cure eczema
- Soothe sunburns
- Helps get rid of skin warts
- Helps get rid of cradle cap
- Canker sore relief
- Reduce puffy eyes
There are hard times. Pain, clogged ducts, infection. For these, our midwife taught Gwen to use cabbage leaves. And they worked. More than once, Gwen sent me out to the market for a head of cabbage. She’d take a large leaf and cup it over the affected area. Have you ever heard of the doctrine of signatures? It’s the idea that herbs and plants in nature give us clues by looking like what they help. Well, all I can say is that a cabbage leaf looks an awful lot like a breast. It even has veins and a nipple bump.
If supply seems low, get help. Whatever the problem, be it pain, infection, or simply fear, ask for help. Midwives, doulas, breastfeeding support groups and La Leche League educators can help. You are not alone. I promise they have seen the problem before, and I promise they will help. They are true experts in The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding.