Friday, June 8, 2012

The Nightstand, VOLUME TWO

My nursing/reading spot, already well used and well-loved. And Cody has since set up a reading lamp for me!

I finished reading Babies, Breastfeeding, and Bonding, by Ina May Gaskin, and wanted to share my thoughts on the book, as promised. This started out as my favorite book on breastfeeding. I really appreciated that Gaskin wasn’t writing about breastfeeding from the angle of a specific method, but was clearly sharing what, in her experience, works and doesn’t work, as well as challenges a nursing mother can or will face, and ways to overcome them.
Gaskin makes the point that it is traditional for children in non-industrialized countries to be breastfed from birth up to seven years, and rightly so because of a lack of alternative good nutrient sources. I’ve heard many in the U.S. argue, as I’m sure you have, that extended breastfeeding of this kind should be the case for American women and their infants, as well. To my surprise, Gaskin stated that although extended breastfeeding is the norm in other cultures, it need not be the norm in the United States. We have such easy access to all the nutrients we need that our babies need not be dependent on breast milk for nearly as long as other children who have very limited access to nutritious food. She still maintained that a child should be breastfed for no less than one year, and I doubt would be against extended breastfeeding, but it was refreshing to hear her take such an approach to the topic of extended breastfeeding. Lining up well with Gaskin’s statement, most sources that I have read seem to point almost exclusively to extended breastfeeding as a means of continued bonding and closeness with ones child, and that it is nutritionally unnecessary after 2 years.
Once one gets past the great practical advice in the first half of the book, Gaskin’s work starts to show it’s age. Many of the topics she talks about are worthy of time and discussion, but she spends much of these chapters sharing quotes from people whom she had surveyed who were born in the 40’s and 50’s. These opinions and anecdotes are interesting, but tell me nothing about the way our generation views breastfeeding, or how one ought to view it today and always. There is most assuredly nothing of a timeless nature in the latter half of this book. 
One of the reasons I had been eager to read Babies, Breastfeeding, and Bonding, was to gain further insight into the appropriateness of public breastfeeding, further developing my thoughts on the matter, and to understand how some seem to be able to at least pretend that there is nothing sexual about breasts. All that Gaskin really did to shed any light on these subjects was share what others, again, born in the 40’s and 50’s had to say. She, and others, argued that there is simply nothing sexual, or at least nothing inappropriate about bare breasts, particularly when they are exposed for the sole purpose of feeding a baby. I agree that breasts have an incredible functional purpose, one that I thank God for, but I can’t help but be aware of their sexual nature as well. Perhaps it would be more convenient if they weren’t viewed that way, but in 21st century America they are. Although I am in full support of discreet public breastfeeding (and this doesn’t necessitate a cover!), it seems futile to me to pretend, as it seems many would like to, that there is nothing sexual about breasts. My thoughts, which are still forming, is that breastfeeding in public should be just as accepted as bottle feeding in public. When there is no exhibition, but simply a mother providing nourishment to her child, it is something that should be praised by all. 
It was good to read this book, and though the latter half was not what I had hoped it would be, it still enabled me to think through a few aspects of breastfeeding, and form my own opinions a little more concretely. I’d love to hear your thoughts!
P.S. I’ve heard from friends that when they had their second baby, they tended to shed the cover more when they were in public, because they had gotten good at being discreet without it. I’m interested to see what it looks like for me to breastfeed this second little babe of mine. DId you go without a cover more with your second?

And in case you missed it... The Nightstand, VOLUME ONE.

1 comment:

  1. Not having a baby (yet), I've no personal experience in this, but I have thought a lot about it. I agree that breastfeeding should be welcomed. It makes me mad that a woman who chooses to use formula can go wherever she wants and participate in adult conversation as she feeds her baby, but a woman who chooses to nurse her baby (which, shhh, I believe is the superior choice anyway) often feels as if she must flee to a private room. As if feeding her kid is shameful.

    On the other hand, I also agree that one can't simply pretend that breasts are non-sexual. I don't quite understand people who make that claim :) Flashing the entire world is not the solution, either... but there is a middle way! I've seen moms nursing their babies very discreetly. I know it's possible and I think that kind of breastfeeding is what we should aim for.

    And the rest of society needs to buck up and stop being awkward about it.