The fireworks have fizzled away, the chink of glasses is a distant memory and now it is back to work as usual. I remember the start of each new January school term as a child – newly sharpened pencils, school socks whiter than white and with springy elastic irritating my ankles, the sweet tang of anxious excitement as I strode out, full of good intentions to keep my pencils ever sharp and my socks permanently clean. A week in my pencils were chewed and my stained socks hung despondently over the tops of my scuffed shoes.
New Years Resolutions: I hate them! The cold, dark mornings and the dank evenings hardly inspire us to get out and get fit, or to eat more salad. The bar, set too high, is destined to fall as we crash, hungover, cold and miserable, headlong into it. I save my tough resolutions for the summer when I feel energised and sharp-minded. My January resolutions are of a more sumptuous kind – “eat more chocolate”, “always have a drink of red wine in the bath”, “enjoy sneezes” …
However, this year is a little different. Amongst my various charming and indulgent resolutions, I have snuck in a challenging one and so far, so good. I have resolved to avoid using the word “breastfeeding”.
I have long had a difficult relationship with the word: breast sounds so formal and joyless as well as simply not being the word we women use in everyday life. All the women I know only have breasts when they are poorly: as in “doctor, I have a pain/lump/weird thing in my breast”. At all other times we have boobs or tits. Some lucky women have bosoms. I do not possess anything ample enough to be granted that title so I have boobs. The word “breast” alienates young and old alike, not to mention our partners who, having enjoyed living with a frisky, fun-loving boob-owner, suddenly discovers he is living with a breast-owner and that screams “fusty old matron”! Certainly “breast” does not reflect the smoochy, squirty, crazy world of babies on boobs.
And “feeding”. This word, paired up with “breast” has, I believe, done more to harm women’s belief in their ability to nourish and soothe their own child than any other I can think of. Constantly drawing us to consider amounts and measurements, from the very outset women are destined to feel a failure.
Because babies don’t go to the boob to feed. Anyone who has ever lived with the muddle we call a baby knows that. They dive in at the slightest provocation– too hot, too cold, too bored, too excited, morning, afternoon, evening, evening, evening, evening …
Babies want to suckle. It is at the boob that they can keep warm, settled, protected from infection, and safe from everything this scary new world can throw at them. Suckling causes a huge release of endorphins into the baby’s bloodstream to calm his nerves and relax his immature, spasming gut. If he needs extra soothing, he will squeeze down to make the boob give up some milk which is rich in this soporific drug and he will spend a few happy moments transported away to a sleepy boob heaven before the endorphins wear off and he comes to to start suckling again.
Evolution doesn’t need your vulnerable baby to feed and then come off and sleep in her crib. That would never do. Your little one cannot manage any of her systems right now. Her breathing, heart rate, thermostat, reflexes, immunity and gut are all completely erratic, deregulated and this is what keeps her safe: her little erratic system creates an internal chaos that drives her to do anything she can to get into arms and she will wriggle, root, writhe and yell until you can’t stand it anymore and haul her to your chest. Out plops a boob and this instant skin to skin calms the frantic systems down. Now her breathing, heart rate, temperature, reflexes and gut all quickly settle and her risk of infection plummets. This is called survival.
If a baby simple went to your boob to feed, she would guzzle her milk, go down in her crib happily and then spend too long away from this skin to skin security. So young babies have evolved to take any milk they might need interspersed with many long moments suckling but not taking milk.
Just like me when I have a damn good book to read but only £2.50 in my pocket, I can while away many a happy hour in Costa: a sip of coffee and then a minute or ten lost in a chapter, another sip and then an idle while spent in a pleasant reverie before returning to my book, then a swirl of my drink followed by a glug before heading back to my book again. Safe from the rain outside and without a care in the world. Why would I rush out to do battle with the germs and traffic?
So take a tip and ditch the terms “feeding”, “breastfeeding” and “cluster feeding” and choose a more honest one that doesn’t create unrealistic expectations that your “Coffee-Shop Baby” can never meet: suckle, nurse, cwtch, soothe, smooch, snuggle.