Breastfeeding: Manna from God
[Excerpt reprinted from Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting by L.R.Knost. Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages; Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood; and The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline by L.R.Knost also available on Amazon and through other major retailers.]
“But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children.”
1 Thessalonians 2:7
Jesus’ mother, Mary, didn’t practice attachment parenting when raising little Jesus. The Bible does tell us that she breastfed Jesus, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.” (Luke 11:27). The culture of the time tells us that she likely coslept with him in the small, one or two room house typical of that period and that she wore him close to her heart in the daylight hours in a wrap to keep him safe from the snakes and scorpions and other dangers that populated the region. So it is certain that she was a breastfeeding mama and almost certain that she was a cosleeping and babywearing mama.
But Mary didn’t practice attachment parenting as she was growing a tiny Savior. She simply parented Jesus in the naturally instinctive way that mothers have mothered their little ones since time began. Attachment parenting is merely a term coined much later to tie these natural parenting choices and others in with the modern research of psychologists like John Bowlby who found that the healthiest emotional and relational adults tended to have strong early attachments with a parent or primary caregiver.
The Bible reinforces those research findings by not just referring to breastfeeding as providing life-sustaining nutrition, but also as a source of comfort and connection, “For you will nurse and be satisfied at her comforting breasts.” (Isaiah 66:11)
God’s biological design for breastfeeding weaves a developing infant’s needs with a mother’s needs into a delicately synchronized dance, and even daddies get in on the dance! There is an inbuilt, biochemical response to the birth of a baby that affects both sexes in similar, though somewhat different ways. As the birth of a new baby nears, a mother’s oxytocin level, known as the ‘love hormone’ because of its ability to create warm feelings of safety and attachment, increases as part of the preparation for bringing a new life into the world and sustaining that life at her breast. Daddies also experience a rise in oxytocin, as well as an increase in estrogen, which results in their brains being pre-wired to love and protect their mate and offspring. Then, after birth and throughout the breastfeeding relationship, oxytocin levels in mamas and daddies remain elevated, rising and falling in rhythmic peaks and valleys in response to a baby’s ever-changing needs. This is no accident of nature. This is a beautiful biological design.
This lovely and perfect design also reveals itself in the balance of nutrients present in breastmilk. Breastmilk has the perfect composition of calories, nutrients, fats, and other components to ensure the optimal development of a growing infant. The composition of breastmilk shifts to accommodate growth spurts, sicknesses, and other needs throughout a mother and child’s nursing relationship. Interestingly, the ratios of each of the components change throughout the day to offer the most energy during the daylight hours and the highest concentrations of sleep-inducing nucleotides during nighttime feeding, so if a mama is pumping and storing breastmilk, it’s important to label the time of day the milk was pumped to avoid giving the more stimulating daytime milk at night!
Beyond the nutritional and bonding benefits of breastfeeding, there are also amazing health benefits to both mama and baby:
A reduction in the risk of SIDS, asthma, childhood leukemia, diabetes, gastroenteritis, otitis media (ear infections), LRTIs (pneumonia, bronchitis, etc), necrotizing enterocolitis, and obesity are just some of the protective benefits for babies. For mothers, breastfeeding has been correlated with a significant decrease in the risk of diseases such as breast cancer, ovarian cancer, diabetes, and heart disease to name just a few.
Additionally, the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics released a study in April of 2010 that concluded, “The United States incurs $13 billion in excess costs annually and suffers 911 preventable deaths per year because our breastfeeding rates fall far below medical recommendations.” Those numbers are only based on breastfeeding benefits for the first six months of life. The World Health Organization, American Academy of Pediatrics, Centers for Disease Control, and others recommend breastfeeding for the first two years of a child’s life. Imagine the tally if the researchers had looked at the lives lost and billions of dollars spent unnecessarily in a two year breastfeeding scenario instead of a six month scenario. (Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages)
Some stumbling blocks in the breastfeeding relationship that mamas may encounter include the modern societal view of breasts as solely sexual objects which often leads those in public places, including many churches, to shame mothers into hiding in restrooms or vehicles or at the very least using covers that make breastfeeding far more difficult and clumsy than it needs to be. Biblically speaking, breasts are referred to half as often in reference to sexual relationships as they are in reference to the God-designed breastfeeding relationship between mothers and their little ones. Again, that is no accident!
Breastfeeding is not shameful and should not be hidden. As one of our current world leaders, Pope Francis, said during a 2014 baptism ceremony at the historic Sistine Chapel,
“Today the choir will sing, but the most beautiful choir of all is the choir of the infants who will make a noise. Some will cry because they are not comfortable or because they are hungry,” Francis said, according to Reuters. “If they are hungry, mothers, feed them, without thinking twice. Because they are the most important people here.”
He didn’t tell them to leave or to cover up or to make their babies wait. He tenderly told the young mothers to feed their babies when they’re hungry. End of story.
Another stumbling block to a healthy, full-term breastfeeding relationship is the increasingly prevalent diagnosis of low milk supply:
Even though mothers’ bodies are capable of miraculously growing a human being for nine months and bringing that precious new life into the world, those same life-giving bodies seem to be failing in ever-increasing numbers to provide life-giving nutrition to those precious babies because of issues with low milk supply.
Why is this happening? For some, it is certainly just pediatricians using formula-fed babies’ growth charts instead of breastfed babies’ charts or family and friends who believe that all babies should be chubby and content that lead new mothers to believe they have low supply, but there does appear to be an increasing number of babies legitimately labeled as failure-to-thrive with low milk supply determined to be the cause. (Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages)
Often the low milk supply is caused by forcing babies to sleep alone and training them to sleep through the night. The fact is that babies aren’t biologically designed to sleep through the night. They are, though, biologically programmed to crave closeness with their mothers, and their proximity to and access to the breast throughout the night stimulates ongoing production of breastmilk, keeping up the mother’s supply naturally.As a simple matter of survival, it makes biological sense that God would build into babies a need to be near their primary source of safety, nutrition, and comfort:
Babies biologically should not sleep through the night. Not only is the deep sleep required to sleep through the night actually a recognized factor in SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), but babies who sleep through the night are also not nursing to stimulate breastmilk production, thus their mother’s milk may begin to dry up. Clearly, that’s not a healthy biological design. (Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages)
The bottom line is that breastfeeding is a biological norm created by God to meet a baby’s needs in the healthiest and most convenient way. That said, there are certainly times when a mother can’t breastfeed due to a medical condition, life circumstances, adoption, or other factors. In those cases mamas can still achieve a healthy attachment and strong, loving relationship and even boost their oxytocin ‘love hormone’ levels by holding their little ones close to their hearts during feeding, making eye contact and exchanging smiles and coos and giggles, kissing and nuzzling their babies’ fuzzy little heads, keeping their little ones close during the day in a baby wrap or sling, taking time out for a few periods of ‘kangaroo care’ each day, and meeting nighttime needs quickly, gently, and consistently. (end excerpt)
L.R.Knost is a best-selling parenting and children’s book author and founder and director of Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources, an online resource for gentle parenting education, articles, and research. Books by L.R.Knost include Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood ; Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages ; The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline ; and Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting (Release date: May 2014) the first four books in the Little Hearts Handbook gentle parenting series, as well as her children’s picture books Petey’s Listening Ears and the soon-to-be-released Grumpykins series available from Amazon and other major retailers.