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Giving Birth

Alert and active participation by the mother in childbirth is a help in getting breastfeeding off to a good start.

Reclaiming the Art of Breastfeeding

Indira Lopez Bassols
From: New Beginnings, Vol. 29 No. 4, 2009, pp.38-40

My breastfeeding journey started almost 12 years ago in Mexico, my home country. A decade ago breastfeeding was very much a part of my culture and its traditions. Nowadays, sadly, things seem to be changing in parts of Mexico and there is a decline in the breastfeeding rate. Over the years, breastfeeding has become an essential ingredient in mothering my three children.

My daughter's arrival into this world was a beautiful, powerful, and amazing physiological (non-medicated) birth. As many "drug-free" born babies are in the first hour or so after birth, she was highly alert, and made eye-to-eye contact with me and with my husband. With a bit of encouragement from my doula*, she found the breast and fed happily for several uninterrupted minutes that felt to me like a blissful eternity. In the next few days, even though my nipples were a little sensitive, I have no words to express the joy I felt holding this little creature to my breast.

While pregnant for the first time, I must confess, I did not think about breastfeeding much at all; I rather just felt it would be fine. I never wondered rationally if I would be able to breastfeed, nor did I read any books on the topic or attend any sessions in preparation. I had not even heard of La Leche League at that point.

On my mother's side, my Mexican grandmother breastfed her eight children, my mother breastfed her five, and every other woman in my family tree I could recall had done so, too. Indeed, breastfeeding was honored in my family and I felt it was natural to continue this powerful feminine family legacy.

Looking back, I sensed intuitively, perhaps naively -- in my defense I was only 25 years old -- that there was a continuum from natural pregnancy, natural labor, to straightforward easy breastfeeding. Time, experience and reality have shown me that, all too often, this progression does not happen.

However, as an LLL Leader and a doula, I have witnessed too frequently the indiscriminate cocktail of drugs, painkillers, and anesthesia used in labor and how they tend to impact negatively on breastfeeding. In my role as a birth doula, I have been privileged to study directly with Dr. Michel Odent, the renowned French obstetrician and perhaps one of natural birth's greatest proponents. He advocates that women cannot "prepare" for natural childbirth. How can they? We carry ancestral inner wisdom and given the right conditions, our bodies know how to birth a baby. In other words, as women, we are perfectly designed to give birth naturally. Odent stresses the importance of increasing women's confidence, while they are pregnant, in their natural ability to give birth and in setting appropriate conditions for labor.

The same elements are crucial for an "optimal" start to breastfeeding. Replacing worry, fear, and doubt with trust, confidence, and belief is the best starting point. Grantley Dick-Read, an obstetrician who practiced in the 1940s and promoted natural drug-free childbirth, coined the term "childbirth without fear;" I believe we should talk of "breastfeeding with confidence" along the same lines.

If "drug-free" born babies have been so beautifully self-attaching in the hours following after birth for centuries, how can it be that mothers don't have an innate built-in know-how to respond? It takes two to tango, so the answer is obvious: as women we do have that response within us. The vast majority of women are perfectly designed to breastfeed their babies.

Over the years as an LLL Leader and a birth doula, I have heard many pregnant moms say: "I will give it a go but lots of my girlfriends were not able to breastfeed." As if they were going to flip a coin and see on which side it would land. The number of mothers who truly cannot breastfeed should be a tiny percentage in comparison to the number that can. The same applies to the necessity for cesarean sections (which indeed can be life saving) yet happen with alarming frequency.

An essential component for successful breastfeeding seems to require an awareness of the successful, happy breastfeeding experiences of others. If we listen to all the bad stories doubt can creep in like a dormant serpent. Similarly, we tend to hear the unfortunate highly medicalized birth experiences and rarely do we get to hear the natural, positive or "undisturbed" ones, as Sarah Buckley so beautifully described them. Today, perhaps the vast majority of women haven't seen any happily breastfeeding mothers. If they don't have positive models of family or friends to aspire to and any minor problem arises, bottles and formula are often ready "just in case." Supporting pregnant women to give them confidence in their future ability to breastfeed is one of the most important things LLL Leaders do.

However, how LLL Leaders boost women's confidence seems to be the crucial part of the equation. LLL meetings have filled this purpose for more than half a century all around the globe. These meetings serve as powerful circles of truth and wisdom. They provide a place where breastfeeding mothers may gather together to honor, praise, and respect their natural innate ability to breastfeed.

Ina May Gaskin, highly respected midwife and author of the seminal work Spiritual Midwifery, said during the First International Nurturing Conference: "Womb to World -- Innate Behaviors," in October 2008: "The best preparation in the Farm [referring to her community] for new parents is to have contact with breastfeeding mothers, make nursing babies visible, and exchange positive stories and experiences."

My message to all pregnant and new mothers is: "Believe in yourself. You can indeed breastfeed your baby. Trust your own body with all its inner wisdom." In the same way in which our generation is reclaiming the art of giving birth naturally, so should we as breastfeeding mothers reclaim the art of breastfeeding, ensure it is never lost, and pass it on to our daughters in perpetuity.

* The word "doula" comes from the ancient Greek meaning "a woman who serves" and now refers to someone who is trained and experienced in providing continuous physical, emotional, and informational support to the mother before, during, and just after birth; or who provides emotional and practical support during the postpartum period.

Resources Buckley, S.J., MD. Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering: The wisdom and science of gentle choices in pregnancy, birth, and parenting. Brisbane: One Moon Press, 2005. Colson, S. Suzanne Colson's extensive research on "Biological Nurturing" demonstrates what many women and babies have been doing for centuries: see Kroeger, M. Impact of Birthing Practices on Breastfeeding, 1st edition: Jones and Bartlett; 2004 and 2nd edition, October 2009. May Gaskin, I. Spiritual Midwifery, Revised edition: The Book Publishing Company, 1978; Ina May's Guide to Childbirth, 1st edition: Bantam, 2003. Indira Lopez Bassols
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