My new health visitor came yesterday for my daughter’s 12 month assessment. Among the various intrusive questions she asked was how much my daughter breastfeeds, and whether I am giving her any other fluids. I dutifully answered, and told her she feeds on demand, which can vary from 10 times in 24 hours, to 20 times in 24 hours! Then she asked whether she nurses more for food or for comfort. I felt this was a pointless question. Of course my 12 month old doesn’t need to nurse 20 times a day for nutrition! If she did there would surely be something wrong? But I smiled and said often for comfort. To which, in response, I received a frown. I was taken aback. But it’s not the first time I’ve had this reaction.
One of the many benefits of breastfeeding is that it fulfills a baby’s need to suck. When a baby sucks, endorphines are released that calm and soothe them. It also strengthens the bond between baby and mother; the central concept of attachment parenting. Many parents, rightly or wrongly, fulfill the need to suck with the use of a dummy (pacifier). I decided early on I would avoid using a dummy if I could, for personal reasons, and have spent many an hour nursing my baby to comfort her through teething, colic and separation. It works for us, and I’m a big believer in sticking with what works!
But on a fair few occasions, like this, I have been confronted with disapproving looks and even open criticism for my choice to comfort-nurse my daughter. It’s usually along the lines of the tired ‘rod for your own back’ nonsense: that my daughter will never learn to soothe herself whilever she is using my breast as a comforter. But occasionally I feel there’s a deeper issue. I think many times it stems from the discomfort some people have with breastfeeding as a whole. I think many people can just about accept that breastfeeding is necessary to provide a baby with nutrition, but to also use a breast to provide them with comfort touches a nerve that sends shivers down their proverbial spines. I think people see something distasteful in letting a baby suckle to soothe them. Soothing should come from objects or cuddles, not breasts. And it probably has something to do with the sexual connotation attached to the breast in Western society.
I’m not exactly sure what needs to happen to change this issue. I’m not sure there even is a solution. The sexualisation of the breast is so established in the Western psyche that even my health visitor finds the idea of me nursing my daughter to comfort her distasteful! But as always, when it comes to parenting, we should make our own choices based on what works for us, and based on the best evidence available. And the evidence says breastfeeding is a great way to comfort a baby. So as long as she’s happy that’s what I’ll continue to do. And in the words of my mum, the health visitor can ‘go and whistle’.
Article by Lindsey Wilson
Lindsey is an attachment parenting, unschooling mummy to a beautiful baby girl. She lives in the north of England, and works part-time as a psychiatric nurse. Her hobbies are reading, cooking and baking, knitting and seeing bands.
Lindsey has written 25 awesome articles for Natural Family Today.