Yes, I Do Still Breastfeed for Myself (in Part)
Today I needed this just as much as him - if not more.
It has taken me a week to write this post, because it has been a week when I came face-to-face with racism & it knocked me for six. As a half Jamaican, half Irish, British 36 year old,, I consider myself fortunate to have grown up in a multicultural suburb of Birmingham where I never felt as though I was any different to anyone else because of the colour of my skin. I went to school with children whose parents & grandparents had emigrated to the UK from all over the world. After traveling to and living in big cities around the globe, my fiancé highlighted how I have, in his view, been extremely fortunate not to have come across racism as I have this week, before now.
Have I been living in an idealized dreamworld? Perhaps. My growing up in a community where we celebrated Diwali & Eid alongside Christmas & Easter, meant that I never truly appreciated just how lucky I was to be exposed to such beauty & so many different cultures from such an early age. The events of the last week have shaken me to my core and have left me wondering whether rural Oxfordshire is the kind of place where we can raise our son to be a confident and happy man who knows that his worth as a human being has absolutely nothing to do with the colour of his skin or his magical, mixed heritage.
There is a poisonous narrative that after a certain period of breastfeeding, a mother is, “Only doing it for herself." Firstly, let’s set the record straight: Breast milk never loses its nutritional or immunity-boosting properties. Therefore it is impossible for a mother to only breastfeed for herself. Even if her motivations were purely selfish (and I’m yet to hear of a mother yet who feels this way), her little one will benefit from the nutrition that her milk provides. Not only is breast milk always nutritionally beneficial to children, but a significant part of the reason why I continue to nurse my three-year-old son is for me and that’s not just OK - it’s wonderful.
When a mother nurses her child, prolactin and oxytocin are released into her system...Prolactin is associated with stimulating milk production when a child nurses.This particular hormone is produced at night and is reported to make mothers feel sleepy and relaxed during night feeds (1). I experienced this first hand from the the moment that my little boy first latched onto me. I remember the feeling so clearly that second night in hospital - his latch was voracious and as he nursed, waves of sleepiness washed over me with such power that I struggled to stay sitting upright, holding him. The feeling is less intense now, but one of the reasons that I continue to nurse my son at night is that it helps both of us to drift back to sleep in moments, allowing us both to get as much precious sleep as possible.
Oxytocin is responsible for triggering the let down reflex (which forces milk to be ejected from a mother’s breasts in fine streams). It is also responsible for two very different physiological and psychological responses in mothers. Oxytocin generally induces a sense of calm and reduces stress (1). I count myself to be incredibly fortunate to experience this each time nurse my son. I know that not every mother does and oxytocin is thought to play a significant role in D-MER (when a mother experiences negative emotions just before and during her let down). For me though it’s a bit like the sensation of being immersed in a warm bath or embraced by someone you love, really tightly. That feeling of closeness as my son’s chunky body melts into mine is priceless and my gosh, I will miss it when our breastfeeding journey ends. So yes, on this day and on many other days, I nursed my son for myself as well as for him and I say that without a hint of shame and with a heart full of gratitude.
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1. Infant and Young Child Feeding: Model Chapter for Textbooks for Medical Students and Allied Health Professionals. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2009. SESSION 2, The physiological basis of breastfeeding.