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Powerful immune and growth factors are present in your breastmilk that cannot be duplicated in a laboratory. From colostrum to milk, from night feeding to day feeding, from morning feeding to evening feeding, for a healthy baby or a sickly one, a mother’s milk varies its composition in an astonishing response to her baby’s immediate needs!
One of the main hormones of breastfeeding is prolactin, known as the “mothering hormone”; prolactin is also found in the bloodstream during deep relaxation, meditation, or hypnosis. Think of it as a natural “coping agent” that helps us deal with fatigue and focus on the essential—the child. It even blurs our short term memory to help keep us wholly in the present, the only place where our child can meet us. Nature is so clever in her strategic hormonal planning!
Breastfeeding in the hour following birth protects against postpartum depression. It supports the gaze-to-gaze “falling in love” process that releases a nurturing hormonal cascade of oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine. This in turn engages the mother’s brain in the delight of breastfeeding, while beginning to build the oh-so-magnificent and important scaffold for all development and learning in the baby—attachment. In the process, both mother and baby aren’t just enjoying the oxytocin, hormone of love, but also hormones of bliss!
A powerful soothing element in a newborn’s life has also been the most constant sensory presence in his intra-uterine world—his mother’s heartbeat. When a baby can look at his mother’s face (his very favorite landscape, which is also the primary stimulus for newborn brain development) and sense her heartbeat (that comforting, regulating constant), he is in what we might call an optimal learning state. Joseph Chilton Pearce points out nature’s perfect plan for supporting the earliest unfolding of our children’s intelligence: making human breastmilk the weakest and wateriest mother’s milk in the animal kingdom (the lowest in fat and protein) ensures that nursing will be frequent. And thus, the infant’s two critical needs, his mother’s face and heartbeat, will be met consistently and often, and learning (i.e., attachment) will unfold according to nature’s brilliant plan!
The composition of breastmilk changes in the course of a single feeding. One way to avoid colic is to make sure you entirely empty one breast before offering the other, so that your baby gets the rich hindmilk. Hindmilk contains digestiveenhancing proteins. Consuming more hindmilk prevents the baby’s stomach from emptying too quickly and dumping excess lactose into the small intestine, which can cause symptoms of colic.
All else aside, one of breastmilk’s most appealing benefits is a practical one for the busy, tired, new mother: it’s always the right brand, it’s always ready, it’s always at the right temperature, and you never have to stumble around in a dark kitchen to find it!
Cutting-edge attachment science explains that our attunement, our engaged emotional availability to our baby during those close times such as breastfeeding, is as critically important for her growing brain as calories. So rather than being a time to “exit” energetically by putting our mothering on autopilot, (watching TV, talking on the phone, hosting guests, etc.) breastfeeding is an exquisite opportunity for each of you to “learn about” the other.
As an adopted baby it was a given that I would be bottle-fed. But I knew nothing of such social arrangements; babies arrive knowing breastmilk is their birthright, this elixir of life. Thus, I found breastfeeding my son and daughter especially precious. And though they are now 19 and 15, I still enjoy a certain abiding confidence gained by breastfeeding them. I believe there is a deep connection and trust established through the joy of the nursing relationship. Once the teen years arrive with their tender challenges, it helps in a manner that is out of their conscious awareness but very much in mine.
We cannot overestimate the lifelong effects of breastfeeding… or not.
About the Author:
Marcy Axness, Ph.D., is an early development specialist, adjunct professor at Santa Barbara Graduate Institute, and popular speaker on attachment, culture, and child & parent development. Dr. Axness has a counseling practice in the Los Angeles area specializing in fertility, pregnancy & birth psychology, adoption and early parenting. Reach her via her website at www.QuantumParenting.com or at
For more information about the author and this article, please visit: http://pathwaystofamilywellness.org/references.html
This article appeared in Pathways to Family Wellness magazine, Issue #15.
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