Breastfeeding: Remembering Our Mammalian Roots


We are mammals. We forget this most of the time.

But when we breastfeed our babies, our mammalian roots come to the forefront.

When it comes to breastfeeding, we can’t really break away from what was established millions of years ago—namely that in order for it to work, babies need to breastfeed very frequently, both day and night.

Breastmilk is digested quickly, usually in about 45 minutes. Nature designed things so that babies would need to feed again pretty soon after they started, especially when they are young.

Most animals are born knowing how to walk, and are generally more independent than humans are. Part of the theory is that humans have such giant heads, so they have to be born while they can still easily be birthed—and before the rest of their bodies are fully “cooked.”

So human babies are born still developing, quite helpless, and need to be very close to their parents to survive. The way human milk is digested reflects this; it magnetizes mothers to their babies.

To keep up a milk supply, most mothers need to breastfeed in the middle of the night. And babies wake up frequently to alert their mothers of this fact. Some have surmised that part of this is because if a wolf were coming, a mother would be on heightened alert to protect her young.

Of course, most of us aren’t in danger of getting eaten up by wild animals. But our breasts and our babies haven’t gotten the message yet. The eating and sleeping patterns of our babies and young children are still driven by our biological roots, even though we live in the modern world.

And that’s the thing: our 21st century world doesn’t really recognize our biological roots. We are told to put our babies on eating and sleeping schedules from the onset, to sleep away from them, and separate from them earlier than they (or we) feel ready. And I get it: many of us don’t have a choice in some of these matters. Others of us make choices—valid choices—to do things differently.

Sometimes you can monkey around (sorry for the pun!) with how breastfeeding is supposed to work, but you can’t get away from the facts. In order for breastfeeding to work, most mothers need to surrender to it—to the frequency, the unpredictability of it, and the fact that it requires sacrifices and lifestyle choices that can feel stifling.

Really, whether you breastfeed or not, the baby period is really hard because of the BIG NEEDS of babies. We need to remember this. We need to acknowledge this. And we need to support and empower mothers so they can nurture and feed their sweet little mammalian babes.


Image used under Flickr Creative Commons license from Clara S.


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