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The following article was written by Elizabeth Brown and published in the Ladies' Home Journal (Feb, 1941).
AMERICAN women have been charged, recently, in fairly harsh terms, with refusing to nurse their babies. And the implication is that they are vain, selfish, lazy or, to say the least, uninformed.
The last of these reasons - and only the last, I think - is true. Women are uninformed about nursing. It isn't by any means so simple as the books say. It's a difficult, perplexing, sometimes dismaying experience. There's nothing natural about it, if you think of natural processes as occurring effortlessly. But for the mother who surmounts these obstacles, nursing her baby is a rich, a glowing experience, bringing with it an incomparable sense of peace and completion.
Medical men, psychologists and almost every mother who has nursed her baby agree on the wisdom of nursing. The baby's greatly increased chances of staying well during the first year, and of developing into a happy, confident child, are matched by the mothter's own deep sense of fulfillment. But too many mothers are uninformed on the first point and so never discover the second. I am convinced that if women were better prepared for the problems of nursing and realized the immense satisfactions to be gained from it, a much larger number would insist on breastfeeding their babies.
My own experience is typical, I think, and perhaps will indicate how the obstacles to nursing can, with a little foreknowledge and planning, be overcome, and what a rewarding experience awaits the woman who nurses her baby. Indeed, it now seems to me that to bottle-feed your baby when you can nurse him is like adopting a baby when you can have one of your own.
My first child was born several years ago. I was under the care of a well-known obstetrician, and I carried out his instructions carefully. But he was concerned only with getting me through a successful delivery. He told me nothing of the problems of nursing which were ahead of me. He mentioned in the course of an examination that l had one poor nipple, but said nothing more. I had the vague and disconcerting feeling that something was not quite right, but it wore off presently and I gave the matter no further thought.
When the baby was brought in for her first feeding, my troubles began. She couldn't nurse easily at one breast. I was too weak to maneuver her and too clumsy to help her much. By the end of each feeding I was exhausted and
chagrined. Further, my milk supply was scanty, according to the weight records. The nurse remarked one day with devastating casualness, "She isn't getting nearly enough milk from you." Supplementary feedings were begun. Before i left the hospital, my baby was entirely bottle-fed, and I was convinced that I couldn't nurse my baby. More important, because I had made a try which ended with
complete failure, the whole experience left me feeling discouraged and somehow inadequate.
If my second child had been soon after my first, I should not have even tried to nurse him. What possible reason could there be for repeating an experience so unprofitable and disappointing to us both? It is a common argument, born of an all-too-common combination of circumstances.
As it happened, several years went by before the birth of my second child - years during which I was studying recent work on emotion and the growth of personality. I gradually became convinced that mothers and their children both miss an important, almost vital satisfaction when they miss the experience of nursing. And l resolved that when I had another baby, I would try again, and not admit defeat so readily. Knowing from experience that bottle-feeding can be difficult, too, I was immune to the argument that it is just as good for the baby and far less trouble than nursing.
The crucial step in my new course was this resolution - backed, as it was, not by grim determination but by a genuine, hopeful desire. But I did do a number of things to insure its success. The first was to enlist the help of my doctor from the very beginning of pregnancy. When he found I was anxious to nurse my baby, he prescribed simple treatments for my nipples. Then I made sure that my family knew my plans and reasons and were ready to accept the regimen imposed upon a household by a nursing mother. (It doesn't help your self confidence when grandmother chides you for being "old-fashioned," or when your husband chafes at the restricted life you must lead for a while.)
I steeled myself, too, against the attitude of the hospital nurses, most of whom are impressed with the physical success of bottle-feeding and are therefore not disposed to urge nursing on a mother whose confidence is faltering. Indeed, I suspect that a very large number of mothers give up trying to breast-feed their babies because of the well-meaning but thoughtless comments about nursing which are made by hospital nurses during the first difficult days after the baby's birth.
A new mother is particularly sensitive to the nurses' attitude. I remember still with a sense of pain the nurse who said dryly as she helped me struggle with my howling, hungry fist-born, "In fifty years there won't be such a thing as a breast-fed baby." And I remember, too, the sense of triumph I felt when I could and did turn a deaf ear to the nurse who said, half reprovingly, of my second-born, "He only got two ounces from you at the last feeding!" She was fretting because the charts said he should be getting four ounces at a feeding. But I knew he was gaining and I didn't care what the charts said.
And finally I prepared mentally for those first few post-hospital days when one seems to be all thumbs - and very weak thumbs at that. This is most important, I think. It is one thing to nurse your baby in the hospital when he is handed to you, clean and rosy, every three or four hours. It is something else when you arrive home and have to add five nμrsing periods to the new, unfamiliar and exhausting routine of the baby's day.
But I quickly found that the nursing periods, instead of being another task, gave me a chance to relax, get acquainted with my son and really enjoy him. Instead of being suddenly two separate beings, we still belonged very much to each other, and we quickly established a rapport, out of which came his first fugitive smiles, and later his confident, happy little laughs.
The outcome of all this planning was unqualified success. The baby not only grew well but obviously enjoyed his feedings enormously. I enjoyed his ravenous hunger and his sleepy, half-smiling satisfaction, and I liked being with him, sure that we wouldn't be interrupted or worried over whether the bottle was the right temperature, the formula made up right, the nipple sterile, and so on. With this intimate contact, I came to know him more quickly as an individual; and as he grew old enough to have likes and dislikes of his own, I felt more confident in helping him. This understanding, and my feeling of adequacy and being able so simply to satisfy the first needs of my small son, have lasted long beyond the few months of nursing. The price of being at home at fixed times every day, and of leading a more regular and somewhat less active life than usual, was indeed no price at all, but a rich and profitable interlude, physically, emotionally and intellectually.