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Breastfeeding is a Learned Behavior: So, Go Forth and Mingle!

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I was soaking wet, standing in the middle of the beach playground with the top half of my wetsuit pulled down, feeding my two year old while chatting to my friend. We were flapping our jaws about something or other, when my friend paused for a second, looked down and said, “God, I wish someone had just shown me how to get comfortable like that when I was still feeding my baby.” She had read all the books, had all the lactation consultants help her. Still, something about it, she said, she just could never relax and get comfortable.

Twice today, two of my friends came to me with their breastfeeding woes. Their stories were similar in nature. Not enough support. Lack of knowledge or information. Weren’t getting the kind of support they needed. Had no breastfeeding friends to get advice from. Oi vey! It shouldn’t be that way!

Isn’t breastfeeding a natural instinctual thing?
Breastfeeding is natural, but it’s not always instinctual. Especially if a mother is under stress or does not have a clan of other breastfeeding mothers around her. Let’s ask a mother gorilla who had a baby in an Ohio zoo. I heard this story years ago and I found it cited here. Her baby eventually died because the mother gorilla had no idea how to feed her baby. Zookeepers clued into what had happened. So, the next time the mother gorilla became pregnant, the zookeepers allowed the mother gorilla to observe breastfeeding volunteer mothers from the local La Leche League. The mother gorilla was able to breastfeed her next baby successfully!

I mean, I guess there is a chance that if you had your baby on a deserted island, you might get lucky and be able to breastfeed without any help. But, maybe you wouldn’t! Maybe you would need some help! What if your baby had a tongue or lip tie, or what if your nipple is inverted, or what if you didn’t know how often to feed your baby and what if, what if? What if you were just a nervous wreck? I know, most of us don’t live on deserted islands, but sometimes it feels like we do, simply because we live in the confines of our own four walls!

What About Books and Professional Help?
Can you learn a language from reading a book? Can you learn to play a musical instrument from reading a book? Hardly. You might get the general idea, but nothing helps you learn like seeing and hearing it from another person whom you trust. You need to see it and hear it. Professional help from certified lactation consultants is amazing… but, nothing beats hanging around other breastfeeding mothers. By watching and learning the way they do it, on an everyday basis, it would become a much more comfortable thing! You can soon pick up a few breastfeeding tricks from observation. For example, I had heard about feeding a baby in a sling, but I could never manage to do it, until one day, I SAW other mothers doing it. It instantly made sense.

Time to Reinstate the Sister-hood
From the beginning of time, women with new babies would have been surrounded by their mothers, aunties, cousins and sisters. They would have seen breastfeeding left, right and center for as long as they could remember. They would have seen how if a sister was having trouble, somebody else would have fed her baby for her. It’s not like that these days, so we need to bring it back into context to the world we live in today.

Breastfeeding in public matters
You don’t need to go crazy about breastfeeding in public, but if you are a breastfeeding mother, just remember that you have no idea which future mother (or father) is learning something when they see you breastfeed. The more people who see it, the more comfortable the whole society will be with it. The more people who are comfortable with seeing it means that more people will ask questions, seek advice and be successful on their breastfeeding journey.

Hang out with other breastfeeding mothers
A little support, spending time with other breastfeeding mothers, a few encouraging words, a little question and answer session may be all that you need to keep you going or to get you started. If you don’t know where to find other breastfeeding mothers, check out your local attachment parenting groups, babywearing groups or breastfeeding associations. Usually you can find these groups on Facebook or through websites. In many countries, like the USA, you have La Leche League and in Australia, you have the Australian Breastfeeding Association. A quick google search will point you in the right direction. but, FIND them! Hang out with them. Make them your friends! Use the internet to your great advantage. You may not find your breastfeeding soul sister right down the street, but you might find her on Facebook and you can meet her in person later.

Ask to watch
Find anyone you know who breastfeeds and annoy the hell out of them! Ask them to show you how to do it BEFORE you have a baby. Seriously! Or, if you’ve already had your baby and you’re having difficulties, ask if they can watch you and troubleshoot for you. Ask if you can have them ‘on call‘. Asking advice from professionals is ideal, but sometimes those people are not available, or sometimes you just want a second opinion, or want to hear the voice of a friend. It’s hard to learn something without seeing it done first.

Take the time to learn about breastfeeding. There are certainly books and articles out there that are super-mega useful. But, some can be really confusing and negative. (Avoid any books that say to put your baby on a strict feeding schedule!) One of my old time favorite websites for breastfeeding is You can find a very comprehensive list of articles and books there. But, most of all, go out and mingle! Find other breastfeeding mothers and make them your friends! You may not have anything in common other than the fact that you breastfeed, but so what, what a great excuse to make a friend!

(the photo is of my two year old as a newborn, say “awww”)

Volk, A. Anthony (2009). Journal of Social, Evolutionary and Cultural Physiology. (3)4 305-314



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