It’s easy to forget that we humans are animals– mammals to be precise. Perhaps it can be distasteful to think that we are just another animal. But reminding ourselves of this simple truth can be a brilliant way of connecting with our instincts and accepting our baby’s needs.
My eldest daughter is nearly nine. When she was born I’d had very little experience of babies. Everyone else seemed to know more than me. They said I was spoiling her by picking her up all the time; that there must be something wrong if she needed to feed again after only a half hour. I wanted to pick her up when she cried and most of the time I fed her because I didn’t know what else to do to soothe her. I did it because it felt right, but I plagued myself with worries that I was doing something wrong. At the time, I didn’t realize that following my instincts was exactly the right thing to do.
Mammals are special because we feed our babies with our own milk, which is specially suited to their needs. Our bodies follow a natural process during pregnancy to make colostrum and then after birth, mature milk. Different kinds of mammals produce different kinds of milk with various nutrient levels. For example, some mammals produce milk that’s high in protein and fat: they only need to feed their babies once in every 12 hours so they can go off and forage for food, leaving their babies in the safety of the cave or nest. These include deer and rabbits and are known as cache mammals.
Other mammals, like cows and giraffes, are follow mammals– the babies are mature at birth and follow their mothers on foot and feed intermittently throughout the day. Nest mammals’ mothers visit them in the nest several times per day and they are immature at birth– these include dogs and cats.
You and me? We are carry mammals. Our babies are the least mature at birth, they need our warmth and closeness; they need to be carried and fed nearly constantly. Of all the mammals, we have the lowest fat and protein in our milk so we need to feed our babies often.
When I first came across this information, in Nancy Mohrbacher and Kathleen Kendall-Tackett’s book Breastfeeding Made Simple, I was amazed. Carrying my baby and feeding her around the clock was a biological imperative pre-determined by nature, not just me taking the path of least resistance or ‘giving in’ to my baby. People looked upon me as following a whim of a parenting movement, but actually I was simply following my mammalian instincts.
Breastfeeding our babies is a one-stop, quick-fix parenting tool. It’s about more than just the milk– it’s a thirst-quenching drink, a complete meal, and more. It’s a full-body hug, our baby’s first relationship– the cornerstone upon which all of her relationships are built. It’s the best way to soothe, warm, and reconnect with our babies. When our babies breastfeed, they feel the sound of our heart and our breath, the warmth of our skin, and they drink in the smell of us.
Remembering that we are mammals enabled me to accept my parenting decisions as natural and based on my instincts. It also helped me to accept my baby’s needs. She wasn’t being manipulative, or unnecessarily needy, or difficult. It confirmed for me that she was not being a ’difficult’ baby, as many people around me tried to portray her. She was just a normal baby. In fact, she was just being, well, a mammal.
Lisa Hassan Scott is a stay at home mother of three little ones, age 2, 5 and 8. An American living in Great Britain for over 15 years, Lisa is a Yoga teacher certified by the British Wheel of Yoga, and a La Leche League Leader. She blogs about mothering, breastfeeding, Yoga and the mind at www.lisahassanscott.co.uk
About Lisa Hassan Scott
Lisa Hassan Scott is a stay at home mother of three little ones, age 2, 6 and 9. An American living in Great Britain for over 15 years, Lisa is a Yoga teacher certified by the British Wheel of Yoga, and a La Leche League Leader. She blogs about mothering, breastfeeding, Yoga and the mind at http://www.lisahassanscott.co.uk. Follow her on Twitter: @lisahassanscott