Thursday, October 14, 2010

Nipplephobia: When Mammals May Not Feed Their Young

by Danelle Frisbie

We, as humans, are the only mammal that would ever be crazy enough to look down on the natural, normal, healthy feeding of our own kind. Much to our detriment.
In her new book, Ina May's Guide to Breastfeeding, Ina May Gaskin discusses nipplephobia in the United States. She asks, "In what species besides our own would adult males or females harass a mother in the act of nourishing her young? Such behavior would not occur to any other creature."

I wholeheartedly agree with her next observation:

I find this kind of behavior neurotic at best, but when it represents the norm for millions of people, I think we have reached the realm of near-psychosis - mass mental illness. If we humans watched adult birds diving and pecking at mother birds as they attempted to stuff worms and insects into the gaping beaks of their chicks, we would think we were watching a horror movie about birds gone mad. It is horrible to see adults behaving in an infantile way that doesn't nurture the generations to come.

Although really, the psychotic manner in which we treat breastfeeding mothers and their young is not even 'infantile.' In fact, infants are the ones who, when left to their own accord, have the feeding/thriving skills down pretty well. It is us adults and our modern ways, void of any trust of the perfect, primal mother-baby dance of balance, who mess it all up. As Gabrielle Palmer writes in her masterpiece work, The Politics of Breastfeeding, "It is almost unknown for a mammal in her normal environment to produce live young and be unable to produce the milk they need." We simply do not find 'supply issues' in any mammal species - other than those which have only recently surfaced among the human mammal when she is not fully supported and empowered in the natural, normal feeding of her young. [This normal environment also includes a mother being able to keep her baby in his/her natural carry mammal baby habitat (we, as humans, are 'carry mammals') which is on or close-by her chest 24-7 until s/he is old enough to voyage away from Mom solo]. Palmer also reminds us that, "for 99% of our existence on this earth, humans survived without any milk other than [human] milk." You don't say?!?!

I was recently reminded through a real-life example of the powers and 'magic' of human milk. My son caught a cold as we traveled the country (in and out of germy airports and hotel rooms as I guest lectured at several universities). At 14-months he still breastfeeds whenever he feels like it, but I wanted to zap the sniffles and oozing eyes before they got any worse. I pumped a little fresh milk and used a dropper to place a few drops in the corners of his (closed) eyes and a couple drops in each nostril. This is not the most fun experience in the world for a toddler...but neither is a cold. Packed full of antibodies, antivirals, antibacterials, white blood cells, stem cells, glyconutrients, and other healing components we have yet to understand, the breastmilk worked its magic and my son was back to perfect health within 22 hours. What pharmaceutical could possibly produce such results with a virus (and without any negative side effects)?!

And Palmer agrees:
If a multinational company developed a product that was a nutritionally balanced and delicious food; a wonder drug that both prevented and treated disease, cost almost nothing to produce and could be delivered in quantities controlled by consumers' needs, the announcement of this find would send its shares rocketing to the top of the stock market. The scientists who developed the product would win prizes, and the wealth and influence of everyone involved would increase dramatically. Women have been producing such a miraculous substance, breastmilk, since the beginning of human existence...

If society were organized so that the true baby milk manufacturers, women, earned the rewards they deserve for their production, the [artificial] baby food industry would dwindle and much of the poverty that causes infant disease and death would disappear. Helping and supporting women to breastfeed would save more children's lives than any other public health preventive intervention, more even than immunization, or improved water and sanitation.

It is difficult for me to express the deep love affair I have with breastmilk. This substance - one which is free for us to manufacture, is the ultimate in human baby feeding AND human health. There are no 'negatives' to the natural feeding of the human species. We need to jump in and encourage, support, celebrate all mothers around us in the primal, peaceful care of their young. Humanity, quite literally, depends on it. For our sake, I just hope we can squash our nipplephobia as quickly and urgently as breastmilk eradicated my son's cold.

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