…Contemplating the Core Elements of a Modern Breastfeeding Lifestyle
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The Tao of Conscious Breastfeeding

The ba gua above is often used to depict the Tao and its pursuit.  This lactation consultant sees a breastfeeding baby in its center.  In reality, it is the yin-yang symbol which represents the duality of opposites, male and female energies, inherent in the natural order of the universe.

According to wikipedia, the word Tao is most often defined as a path or way, but can also be defined as to guide or lead.  Thus it perfectly describes the ongoing process of how a new mother learns to breastfeed and teaches it to her baby…the Tao of Conscious Breastfeeding.

There are several basic learning styles: audio, visual and kinesthetic.  To climb the conscious competence ladder and gain mastery of the skill of breastfeeding will take differing amounts of time for each nursing couple.  Finding the right combination of learning styles will help them to reach competence much faster.

Babies are sensational beings. They learn through repetition. They are hard-wired at birth with basic reflexes which assist them to adapt and thrive outside the womb. They draw conclusions on a primal level from what happens when they do certain things; if it is associated with a pleasing outcome they will repeat the action to get the same result.  It is quite Pavlovian.  Over time they begin to gravitate toward a learning style that may be preferred as they mature.

Adults have the ability to analyze more information and understand more complex causal relationships. They are capable of establishing new neural pathways at any time by intentionally repeating new behaviors which will replace those that no longer serve them.

A Chinese Proverb reminds us:

I hear and I forget.
I see and I remember.
I do and I understand

What is your learning style?  How has it impacted your breastfeeding journey?

As a Conscious Breastfeeding mother, you will be teaching your baby to breastfeed and ultimately establish rhythms in all areas of his/her life.  You can draw on these insights to assist your child to develop the muscles of learning which he/she will be using throughout life.

The Tao of Conscious Breastfeeding is a truly foundational experience.

August 25, 2010   No Comments

Breastfeeding in Public: Eye Candy or Not?

This summer the pedestrian mall between Herald Square and Times Square in New York City is home to a unique art installation, Sidewalk Catwalk, promoting the fashion district.

The mannequin below was designed by Kenneth Cole.  Its tongue in cheek message made me think of the topic du jour…Breastfeeding in Public.

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Lily O’Brien’s Chocolate Cafe near Bryant Park is just a few blocks away from the “eye candy” above.   A New York mother claims in a law suit filed this week  that she was harassed there last summer while breastfeeding her 5 month old infant.

In the past 24+ hours her story has been trotted out on all the local media. Read more here.

Cathal Queally, the Irish candy man proprietor of Lily O’Brien’s Chocolate Cafe, told the local NBC interviewer that it was a misunderstanding.   He said he grew up with sisters and was surrounded by breastfeeding women. He added that the target audience for his confections are mothers and children.  Indeed, there were signs welcoming breastfeeding mothers on his store front window.

It is Breastfeeding Awareness Month so any buzz on breastfeeding gets traction.  The comments on the blogs, news articles online and those solicited from New Yorkers on the street were mixed.

A cynical analysis might be that the entire episode is being “milked” for all it is worth by the parties involved.  On the whole. the impact of this publicity seems positive.

The media news blitz is educating the public about the law allowing mothers to breastfeed anywhere, rallying other breastfeeding mothers to have confidence to openly breastfeed and publicizing an establishment now very openly declaring that they are breastfeeding friendly.

I still find it quite amazing that breastfeeding in public ruffles so many feathers.   Breasts are mammary glands perfectly designed to feed human babies.  Their function as eye candy is contextual.

We have lost touch with the naked truth.  As the Kenneth Cole mannequin reminds us…Underneath it all you are all naked.

Human bodies are works of art in their own right.  When a mother breastfeeds her baby that stark beauty is expanded into a very sweet and tender tableau…

Eye candy in the eyes of the beholder.  What do you think?

August 17, 2010   3 Comments

Conscious Breastfeeding: Beginner’s Mind

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One of the most valuable concepts of Eastern philosophy is found in the Japanese word Nyuanshin which is commonly translated as “beginner’s mind”.  I stumbled upon an amazing post which draws upon this concept… The Inner Art of Airmanship…Master of the Wing , Yet Always a Beginner.

While reading this article I suddenly remembered a fun incident that I had shared many years ago with my youngest brother Stephen who flies silver jets…or so says his email handle.  To be more exact he is now a major in the Air Force Reserves currently on leave from being a pilot for American Airlines.

When he was in the final stages of getting his wings, Stephen had arranged for all 4 of us siblings and the parents to have a go with him in the cockpit simulator used to train pilots.  Sitting there with him and faced with a dashboard of complex and unfamiliar knobs and gauges was exciting, but daunting.  I was immediately overcome with admiration for him to have been able to master such complexity.  On another level, my desire to show how smart I was and to be better than all the other newbies in the family got in my way as I tried to follow his instructions in this unfamiliar space. I became filled with fear being asked to “pilot” this imaginary vehicle.   Although, I was quite comfortable with the technology specific to a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, this was beyond my scope of knowledge and expertise.  I felt like a fish out of water.

So… to no one’s great surprise… I crashed the plane and didn’t even realize it until he exclaimed…gee…you’ve just  cost Uncle Sam millions.

We both had a good laugh!

My misadventures in the cockpit could be a metaphor for the way a new mother may feel when she starts breastfeeding, a bit vulnerable and out of her element.  Although she has lived in her skin for some time, she has not ever had to rely on her body and specifically her breasts in this way.  She knows that breastfeeding is natural and has most likely heard that it has a learning curve.  She may do a fair bit of reading, take classes and/or check in with her family and peers to get prepared.  She may expect that it will be easy, or not, depending upon the input she has had in advance of beginning her breastfeeding experience.

It seems to me that the Zen concept of Beginners Mind is particularly suited to a new mother.  It requires that she leave behind some of her preconceived notions and be open and receptive to learning, both in mind and body, the fundamentals of mother-led Conscious Breastfeeding.

Unfortunately, many mothers experience pain or may even be unable to get a good latch because they believe it should be left up to their baby or worse yet, a pump.

As in flying planes or practicing martial arts, breastfeeding requires attention be paid to the details of a learning a specific physical skill…in this case, the latch.  By “just doing” the specific steps that enhance the latch connection an optimized breastfeeding journey becomes possible.

A muscle memory of the latch will develop for both the mother and her baby; it is acquired after some practice and the rate of learning is different from one individual to another.

Coordination of this latch-on technique can at first seem difficult.  Through continuous repetition of the basics, a dynamic will develop for a Conscious Breastfeeding mom… where she is no longer needing to make constant corrections, but will still remain alert for any changes that could develop bad habits or set backs that might unfavorably alter her enjoyment of breastfeeding.

As a new mother you need to be patient, diligent and forgive yourself for being a beginner.

By embracing your beginners mind, you will own the experience.  Do the learning.  Walk the path.   And you, the student/mother will ultimately become the teacher for your baby of this way of Conscious Breastfeeding and many other life lessons.

August 16, 2010   2 Comments

The Breastfeeding Rebellion: A Step Back For Womankind

It never fails. Every year as we near World Breastfeeding Week, 1-7 August, articles come out on the subject of breastfeeding intended to stir up emotions and debate among mothers.  True to form, The Guardian has just published  an article by Viv Groskop, “Let the Breastfeeding Rebellion Begin“.  It catalogs, yet again, the controversy that surrounds breastfeeding in the 21’st Century.

Although at first glance it appears to be an even handed examination of the issues, the overall tone leans toward the negative.  As local and national health groups gear up to promote breastfeeding, this article calls into question whether these efforts may be foolhardy and be putting too much pressure on mothers.

I have been in the trenches throughout the period in question and have observed the same issues raised in this article.   I will outline what Ms. Groskop deems to be the “Breastfeeding Rebellion”.   In a followup post, I will take these points and put them into a more positive light, calling for a “Breastfeeding Revolution.”

Mothers are struggling with breastfeeding and abandoning it.

The article starts with the story of a mother, Sarah Butters who apparently admitted to the author that she hates breastfeeding. “As a mother you feel you should be able to feed your child and I just couldn’t do it.” 

Ms. Groskop, tells us how this mother Sarah, after 6 days of trying and failing, went to bottle-feeding and five years on, still harbors resentment about having to make that choice.  She adds that there is an increasing chorous of mothers in the blogosphere who share similar feelings of guilt and/or resentment about their breastfeeding experiences.  So it is not surprising that “Despite concerted efforts, only one in 5 mothers in the UK are breastfeeding at 6 months.” 

Breastfeeding promotion puts too much pressure on women and may be counterproductive

It is obvious from the statistics that breastfeeding promotion efforts haven’t made much of a dent in the numbers.  She cites a few examples of academics looking at this issue in the UK and the States.  

-Dr. Michele Crossly, a psychologist from the University of Manchester apparently found “far from being an ‘empowering’ act, breastfeeding may have become more of a ‘normalised’ moral imperative that many women experience as anything but liberational”. 

-Sue Attersby, a researcher and lecturer in Midwifery at Aston Uiversity says, “We need to support women who use formula.  Mothers who formula-feed are treated like second class citizens.” 

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Ms. Groskop adds, that “even breastfeeding promoters are concerned about the guilt and bad feelings being reported by increasing numbers of moms about their breastfeeding experiences”. 

-Pam Lacey, chair of The Association of Breastfeeding Mothers, said …”It’s the system that has failed them by failing to support them.”

Breastfeeding has become a war and is tied to what it means to be a good mother.

Lumped in this section are several snippets that speak to the notion of maternal identity, feminism and polarization of women around their experiences of breastfeeding.

-A British academic researching breastfeeding and maternal identity feared a backlash from those in the pro-breastfeeding lobby and anonymously commented, “Breastfeeding has become so strongly tied to what it means to be a good mother. There is no space to say, ‘It didn’t work for me’.”

-Hannah Rosin’s inflammatory article, “The Case Against Breastfeeding” is held up as an example of a huge backlash in the US against the breastfeeding lobby.  Ms. Groskop tells us, “this debate is polarizing into the “lactofanatics” vs. the “formula apologists.” 

Stigma and guilt can be common for women whether they breastfeed or not .   

According to Ms. Groskop,  ”Both here and in the US very few mothers are entirely comfortable about their breastfeeding decisions and many admit they wish they didn’t have to do it.  Some see the promotion of breastfeeding as part of the problem.”

She elaborates on this theme by sharing her thoughts on the recently released 20′th Anniversary edition of the book by Gabrielle Palmer, “The Politics of Breastfeeding”.  It is hard to miss her bias when she writes about this book that examines breastfeeding in a bottle-feeding world:

“Dubbed “the Freakonomics of motherhood”, the book demands that the advertising of formula milk be banned, calls for breast milk to be given an award for the fewest food miles, and praises women for producing “the most ecological food product in the world”. So now not only is breastfeeding nutritionally correct, it’s also environmentally ethical.” 

Ms. Groskop does acknowledge that breastfeeding advocates are adamant that promotion is needed ” because the rates are poor.” 

-Mary Renfrew, professor of mother and infant health at the University of York, describes the health benefits of breastfeeding as being equivalent to “a very powerful broad-spectrum drug”. 

Lest that engender guilt, we are yet again treated to more from Ms. Rosin’s article: 

“The difficulty with the health argument, though, is that it lays women open to the charge of selfishness if they don’t breastfeed. Which, argues Rosin, is demeaning. “In Betty Friedan’s day, feminists felt shackled to domesticity by the unreasonably high bar for housework.” In the 21st century, it is not the vacuum cleaner keeping us down, Rosin adds, “but another sucking sound”. 

It is very telling that this article closed with this quote from of a report on mothers who use formula by Dr Ellie Lee, a sociologist at Kent University:

“There is no one who would not concede that breast milk is good for babies. But the body that provides the milk is connected to a whole set of social relationships.”

“When it doesn’t work, women take it so personally. They will say, ‘My baby hates me’. It’s such a destructive thing to do to mothers. And I think the pressure is getting worse.”

Houston, we have a problem. We have just celebrated the 40′th Anniversary of  the first walk on the moon, “One small step for man, one giant step for mankind.”  Yet,  in 50+ years, we have not been able to figure out how to help women breastfeed without angst.  

To be continued…

 

July 21, 2009   1 Comment

Breastfeeding: A Verb that Stirs up Many Feelings

Alex Mandossian is one of my favorite teachers.  Recently he asked readers of his blog and students “What is your verb? “  It generated a very interesting response from all of us and got me thinking about ‘Conscious Breastfeeding’ as a verb.

I have noticed that many new mothers identify themselves through the prism of their breastfeeding experience.  Feeding their babies is a central theme. Especially in the early days of motherhood, it is often the focus of their existence.  For them, breastfeeding is their verb…”I breastfeed, therefore I am”.

Breastfeeding is indeed an action verb that cannot be done alone.  Each time a woman breastfeeds, it is a unique experience that she shares with her baby or babies.  As with most relationships, it definitely does take on a life of its own.  It stirs up many feelings. 

Feelings according to Wikipedia…” are also known as a state of consciousness..”  Thus when examining the upgraded verb ‘Conscious Breastfeeding’ one must consider them.

On the recent episode of The Breastfeeding Salon Show  we began discussing this notion in greater detail.  Throughout the month of June we will continue exploring, both on the show and here in the blog, how feelings are a critical aspect of your breastfeeding experience. 

How does your Breastfeeding make you feel ?

Happy, Sad, Angry, Loving,Frustrated, Accomplished, Painful, Pleasureful,Tired or Energized.  What describes your journey?

…By being aware of your feelings, you will be able to improve your Conscious Breastfeeding Connections.

 

June 4, 2008   No Comments