I settle into my nursing chair, breast-feeding pillow comfortably on my lap, feet up on the ottoman and lay A. down on the pillow. “Would you like some mommy milk?” She eagerly begins to nurse then looks up at me with her big blue eyes and reaches her hand up for mine. The love hormones wash over me in this moment. It is wonderful! This is what I waited for.
Prior to A.’s birth I did a lot of preparation, especially when it came to breastfeeding. My husband and I attended a prenatal class that had a session devoted specifically to breastfeeding, we attended our local community breastfeeding class, I read this book on breastfeeding, and I observed (during our required hours of observation for our training) many women breastfeeding to know a proper latch. Having a few friends who were unable to breastfeed (due to different circumstances), I knew that despite the preparation I did, breastfeeding itself might not work out. So while my preparation helped me to feel ready for the mechanics of breastfeeding, my Montessori training had prepared me to focus on the relationship with my daughter during feeding, breast or bottle.
“the child will receive not only the food to satisfy his hunger but also the loving presence of the mother. He will be offered information as to how to fill an empty stomach and how to enjoy a human relationship with its many sensory inputs (such as a face to observe, a voice to listen to, the warmth of bodily contact), which become food for the mind.” ~ Dr. Silvana Montanaro, Understanding the Human Being
It was important to me to focus on the relationship with my daughter that would unfold as I fed her. While I feel that breast milk is the best food for an infant, breastfeeding is not about the food itself. Feeding her was also about nourishing her psychological needs. Feeding my daughter provided me an opportunity to bond with her that no other situation would offer us. It is an intimate time for the two of us to share.
During her first few weeks I fed her skin to skin as we got to know one another. She was able to get to know my smell, be close to my familiar heartbeat that she heard while in-utero, feel my warmth, and be close to hear my voice. We were able to examine each other’s faces, staring into the eyes we had been waiting to meet for nine months. The first couple of months, the symbiotic period, was an essential time in our relationship to bond with each other. By the end of the symbiotic period, I knew we had a strong, trusting, loving bond together and attribute much to our time spent as I nursed her.
If the child is deprived of a mother who is fully present while eating, he/she will not be able to gain a full understanding of a relationship with another human being. The relationship with the mother is the child’s first relationship and it sets the stage for all other relationships. If all we offer is food and not our full attention, our full love, our desire to get to know this other human being – then relationship will only have empty meaning to a child. Relationship will be about the mechanics, not the warmth of intimacy.
“the nursing mother should be comfortably seated in a quiet place and feed the child while looking at it. Although it is technically possible to offer the breast and read a book, talk to someone or watch television, we must realize that, in this way, we detach psychological nourishment from biological feeding.” ~Dr. Silvana Montanaro, Understanding the Human Being
Those first few months with A. were so special. I was so excited to be a new mother that I fully devoted my attention to A. while feeding her. I was present with her in mind, body, and soul. But then came the book with the information I was craving to get through a challenging part of motherhood and I couldn’t put the book down. And the text that came flashing in so I continued the conversation while feeding A. I checked my e-mail in the morning to ensure there were no pressing matters to deal with for my school. I justified this thinking “she’s so focused on eating, she’s not paying attention to me”, “it’s just for a moment, then I’ll turn my attention back to her”, and thinking that other things were more important than spending quality, uninterrupted time with my daughter while feeding her. I hesitated to write this post as I don’t want to be hypocritical. But having the intellectual knowledge, the emotional understanding and desire to do things, and carrying it out in reality can sometimes be very challenging.
A few months ago A.’s weight gain was minimal, not in a concerning manner but in a ‘let’s keep an eye on it’ manner. I immediately went into protective mommy role: “Am I doing all that I can to provide for my daughter?” I thought back to the hormones involved in breastfeeding. I thought that perhaps if I wasn’t fully engaged in the moment with A., how could my body be deeply connecting to this experience? I took the books away from my nursing side table. I stopped bringing my phone to the nursing chair. I remembered to be fully in the moment with A. I started holding her with both hands to be more engaged with her while she ate. I let our eyes deeply meet again throughout the entire feed. I don’t know if this made a difference to her weight gain, but it helped me re-focus on all of A.’s needs: food for physical development and my loving, fully-engaged presence for her psychological development.
While I still sometimes struggle to not bring the phone with me to text or check e-mails, I definitely limit it while I did not a few months ago. I try to keep in mind how it feels when someone I sit down to share a meal with pulls out their phone and ignores me. “I thought we had an important date.” I feel hurt. I do not want my daughter to feel this way. No matter how many times a day I feed her, or for long, I need to bring my full attention, full acceptance, full love to that important time with her. I recently read this article that specifically focuses on the negative effects of texting while breastfeeding. It reminded me of a correlation I made during my training. The images of mothers suffering from depression and unable to connect to their baby (who was desperately trying to get the mother’s attention) looked a lot like the mothers who were watching TV, talking to a friend, or on the phone while breastfeeding. In both cases the mother was not engaged with her infant. While suffering from depression is not a choice (and I do hope anyone who is suffering from this is able to recognize it and get the help they need), feeding a baby while texting, reading, watching TV, talking to others, etc. is a choice. I need to make the choice to be fully with my daughter when nursing her. I can choose to engage with others or read my book afterwards. I can quickly check my e-mails prior to feeding her so I won’t be mentally distracted. Our Montessori trainer, Chacha, said “The child does not need the perfect adult, but an adult who is willing to become a better human being.” I know that I only have one child and those with multiple children have an additional challenge to stay fully engaged with their infant. A friend with multiple children said to me, “With my third, nursing was the only time I was able to fully focus on her.”
A special note regarding bottle feeding. The question arose during our prenatal class for myself who was worried that I would not be able to breastfeed and for those that were choosing not to breastfeed: Is it possible to have the same psychological connection with your baby using a bottle? Our instructor was wonderful in encouraging us to simulate many of the same scenarios. Feed your newborn with skin-to-skin contact. Have the mother exclusively feed the newborn for the first couple of months (symbiotic period) to establish their relationship (or at least limit others feeding the newborn during this time period). Hold the baby in a similar manner to breastfeeding, switching sides for each bottle feeding. Set aside all distractions so you can focus on your newborn. If the father or other caregivers are feeding then it is important that they too spend uninterrupted, focused time with the baby while feeding. The relationship of feeding can be deep, wonderful, and intimate if you bottle feed or breastfeed.
“When we hold a child, we must understand that a special life project is in our arms awaiting our assistance in order to develop fully. … Proper “holding” must convey to the child our joy for this intimacy, in addition to our love, respect and admiration for its being.” ~Dr. Silvana Montanaro, Understanding the Human Being