Saturday, November 17, 2007

Monkey see, monkey do

I read this in Our Babies, Ourselves, by Meredith Small, p. 178 in my copy, and remembered I'd heard about it before. It's a fascinating story.

"[Diane] Wiessinger offered this story: A female gorilla, born and raised in a zoo, gave birth to an infant. In an attempt to nurse it, the mother held her infant incorrectly, with the back of the baby's head toward the nipple. The keepers feared for the infant's life and took the baby away. During the gorilla's next pregnancy, the keepers tried an experiment. They lined up a group of breast-feeding humans outside the cage and allowed the mother gorilla to observe. When her next infant was born, the mother gorilla, too, turned the baby toward her breast and everything went fine."

[I've loved other things I've read and heard from Diane Wiessinger, the lactation expert quoted in this passage. She has a website here filled with commonsensical, reassuring wisdom about breastfeeding. It's fun to peruse, and you might find the gorilla story on there somewhere!]

In this bottle-feeding culture, we witness babies being held face up and in the cradle hold, when for breastfeeding, face in with the cross-cradle hold, for instance, works particularly well. It's difficult to know how to breastfeed when all we see is a different behavior. We can't get an idea of positioning when we're not culturally allowed to look directly at breastfeeding mothers, or when mothers cover themselves up because of these taboos. We can't get an idea of how often babies breastfeed when mothers do it in private or at home, or feed on a schedule. We don't even imagine nursing a toddler, let alone understand how to manage it, when breastfeeding past the age of one is kept in the dark.

That's why, although I don't feel I nurse out of some sort of political statement -- I breastfeed because my baby needs it and I'm the mother -- I do feel that every time I nurse in public I am making some sort of change in the world.

I demonstrate that breastfeeding is natural. I normalize it, every time I casually bring my baby to my breast during a conversation, or a dinner out, or in a parking lot after Mikko's woken up from a carseat nap. I'm putting it out there. I also talk about it, as I would any other integral part of my day, and I answer people's questions about it openly.

I feel that every time I breastfeed in the presence of others, those people might be more accepting of the next woman they see breastfeeding, more encouraging of breastfeeding of their own children, and more educated in passing along information to someone who's struggling with or interested in breastfeeding. I also hope that I'm helping to raise a new generation of daughters who will breastfeed and sons who will support it.

I want breastfeeding to taken for granted, and I'm doing what I can to make it so.

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