Saturday, May 15, 2010

Food for Thought - Why does our culture fight our nature?

I got my new issue of Today's Parent in the mail this week and I read the most interesting article in it. Well, I found it interesting because it confirms something I believed in quite naturally that our culture would have wanted to correct me on. Let me explain: I'm a breastfeeding mama. I've nursed all three of my children. What's one thing that you always hear about nursing your babies and sleep? "Don't let your baby get in the habit of falling asleep while nursing!" It's one of the supposed sins of parenting. Apparently that's just a terribly bad habit. Well, I am one parent who admits to nursing her babies to sleep. I rocked them to sleep. I cuddled them to sleep. All things that we are not supposed to do because we are supposed to teach baby how to go to sleep on their own. That is one of the goals in our culture.
Here's a quote I read this week: "Babies are biologically designed to sleep at the breast. It's clear from the composition of the milk and the baby's hormonal response to nursing that babies are meant to go to sleep in association with breastfeeding. Human milk even changes over the day to have more sleep-inducing components during the evening and at night." Beth McMillan, lactation consultant (Today's Parent, June 2010).
This quote is prefaced with the response of sometimes it is okay to let your baby to fall asleep at the breast, and sometimes it isn't. My second child was one who needed to be woken up at feeding time to make sure he was getting a full feed as a newbie. He wasn't gaining weight properly and was in a vicious sleep/eat cycle. But, once a baby is established in feeding and is gaining weight properly, I believe it is perfectly natural to let a baby fall asleep at the breast at the end of a feed. They don't have to stay there. My daughter does this at night. I then transfer her to her bassinet to sleep, and she sleeps well.
It's funny, I wonder if perhaps our culture isn't so completely bent on proving that humans are so different from every other creature on earth that we forget that we are by nature mammals. Think of other mammals in the world. How do their babies interact with their mamas? Puppies, kittens, piglets, and chimps, they all snuggle with their mamas. They nurse and the fall asleep all cuddled up together. I remember meeting another mama once at a conference (we were the only 2 nursing women there and the only ones who brought a child with them). In a whispered voice she admitted to me that she nursed her son to sleep. I looked at her and said, mine does the same thing. Well, you should have seen the look on her face. The anxious guilt just melted away. Incredible.
Baby eats. Baby is full. Baby is snuggly and content. Baby is relaxed and falls asleep in mama's arms. Mama has a peaceful child. Mama is relaxed too. So why are we punishing ourselves over this again?


  1. I felt the same pressure about nursing my baby to sleep. Nursing him to sleep was my biggest revelation with mothering a fussy high needs baby. When I figured out how calming it was and how he would go to sleep...I just kept it up. I won't do anything different when it comes to another baby either. Now that I am finished BF him there has been no problem with sleep or getting to sleep.

  2. Here's my confession: I still nurse my son to sleep, he's 20 months old. He gets the best sleep that way, and so do I. Thank you!!!!!

    (BTW, I love that your site header photo includes Kashi's cereal, the one with the hearts in it. Our Son loves those).

    Maggie - Mommy Molecules




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