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A Breastmilk Theory of Love

 

The Milky Way by Rubens

A Breastmilk Theory of Love: Relationships, Love and Mothering

Does our infant feeding experience affect how we relate to relationships? Is there a template for love laid down in early life that creates unconscious patterns that lead to either healthy or dysfunctional connections? Hear what a Wholistic Sexuality educator, former nurse-midwife and intimate arts counselor thinks about the deep connections between the breast and the heart.

If we’d had our needs met, completely and efficiently, with love, security and nourishment all coming together from the abundant breast of a loving mama—would it be easier as adults to form secure and trusting love relationships? To not be possessive and jealous? To trust in the abundance of love and that our beloved(s) will be there when we need them? To be able to receive pleasure? I believe it would.

Auguste Renoir, Maternite dit aussi l'Enfant au seinThe Bountiful Breast

Ah, breastmilk, Mother Nature’s most perfect food, the true nectar of the Goddess. Evolution has developed an exquisite arrangement for nurturing young mammals, perfected through millennia. It is an elegantly simple system, based on supply and demand. A human breast is essentially a milk factory. When a baby sucks on the areola of the breast, it stimulates receptors which tell the breast (via the brain) to respond by producing milk. As the infant grows and its caloric needs increase, the baby gets hungrier and sucks more, producing more milk. Despite myths to the contrary, the breast is never empty. There is an endless supply of milk, always as much as a child needs. As long as the system is not interrupted, and the mother is adequately hydrated and nourished, there will always be an abundance of glorious milk.

Magic Milk

Mammalian milk has evolved to meet the highly specific needs of each particular species. Human milk contains the exact nutrients in the perfect balance to grow the complex brains and bodies of our infants. It contains living immune factors to protect the health of the child. It teaches both our immune system and our metabolism how to function properly for the rest of our lifetimes by mechanisms that are still poorly understood. Children who are breastfed for a year (or ideally two or more) suffer from less of every known disease, not just as infants but throughout their entire lifetime.

Durer - Life of the Virgin -small cropRelationship 101

Sweet and plentiful breastmilk is the perfect food, always ready, warm and delicious. And it comes in an attractive and time-tested package, that of the woman’s breast, firmly attached to the warm, soft, breathing, pulsating body of the mother. This perfect food is delivered from within the context of the first love relationship that the baby knows. This is how evolution set up the system. When the baby human feels one of its basic needs, that of hunger, the need is met, not with an external object, but by their own personal Beloved. Fed from her warm yielding body, cradled in her strong arms, enveloped in her scent, her loving touch, steadied by her heartbeat and breathing, gazed at by bliss-filled eyes. Ideally, the human need for food is answered in the context of a relationship, by a person, with love.

Sad Stand-in

For those who truly cannot breastfeed, it’s good that we have a substitute that’s at least adequate to prevent significant infant mortality. And, of course, a bottle can be given while the baby is held lovingly in arms. But nothing from a factory can come close to replicating a system that evolution has perfected.

Unfortunately, many modern industrial culture women believe that they can’t nurse, don’t have enough milk and that their body has failed. The truth is that it is our system that has failed them. In nature, it would be extremely rare for a woman (or any other mammal) to not be able to adequately nourish her child unless she’s starving. In our bottle-feeding culture many women have unsuccessful nursing experiences because the natural process, which certainly begins before and during labor as well as after, has been repeatedly disrupted in multiple ways. The result is that the elegant system is too disturbed to function properly and nursing doesn’t work despite many women’s heroic efforts to fix it. This is more then a shame, this is a tragic epidemic as the dysfunction of this system has so many sad consequences.

The Barren Bottle

Compare the perfect sweetness and ideal nourishment of breastmilk to the synthetic formula given to most of us as children and to many babies even now. Artificial infant formula tastes nasty, like wallpaper paste. It’s often given in a transparent bottle, clearly in a finite amount. When the bottle is empty, that’s it. It’s all gone. There is no more. The need for food is met, not in the context of a warm and loving relationship, from a soft and sensuous mother’s body, but with a ‘thing’, a hard and separate object. This is so removed from the context of relationship that it need not even be given while the child is held. A bottle can be propped up or self-held by an older baby.

Terrible Templafinger-1404202_1920te

This forms the template for love and attachment that many of us struggle with for the rest of our lives. Is it any wonder that so many people in our culture, as adults, look to consumer goods, to external objects, to satisfy their oh-so-human needs? But more stuff is never enough to really fill those needs. So we go out and buy more stuff, newer stuff, bigger stuff, better, faster, sexier stuff. More, more, more. But it’s really no good. No matter how much we accumulate, objects will never satisfy our needs for love, security and acceptance. Only relationships can do that.

Sick Substitute

Moreover, artificial infant feeding formulas are unhealthy and barely adequate substitutes that can’t come close to Mama Nature’s perfect food. Indeed, they cause innumerable infant health problems, including gastrointestinal distress, allergies, irritability and malaise. Food, nourishment and the associated feeling of love can become deeply connected with feelings of sickness and pain.

Life Lessons

In our first few years we learn some of our most basic life lessons. Is the world a good or bad place? Am I loved? Can I trust that my needs will be met? Is my body a good place to be in?

Sunga period, 1st century BCEShould we be surprised that so many people have mixed up feelings of love and desire with pain and dysfunction? After all, for most of us our first model of relationship taught us that food and comfort come from an object that is separate from another body. That satisfying our hunger is likely to make us feel uncomfortable and even ill. We learned that nourishment is finite in amount and unpleasant tasting to boot. It’s no wonder that we feel that love is a limited commodity with only so much to go around. It’s not surprising that we can’t get comfortable and form trusting relationships with others. Is that why it’s so hard for some people to receive pleasure? Scarcity consciousness and bottle-fed limits are deeply ingrained templates. Bottle-contained artificial infant formula, unsatisfying, toxic, and unpalatable has confused us about the nature of love.

If we’d had our needs met, completely and efficiently, with love, security and nourishment all coming together from the abundant breast of a loving mama—would it be easier as adults to form secure and trusting love relationships? To not be possessive and jealous? To trust in the abundance of love and that our beloved(s) will be there when we need them? To be able to receive pleasure? I believe this is true.

Reframing Scarcity and Embracing Abundance

For myself, I’m trying to re-frame my beliefs about love and attachment, about scarcity and abundance, from a breastmilk perspective. It’s remedial education, to be sure. It’s a process that requires practice and repetition to succeed at changing (or at least influencing) such old core beliefs. I’m rethinking love, in the breast-milk model. I’m granting myself my ditaly-695032_1280enied birthright, reminding myself, over and over, and over again that there is an abundance of love, there’s always as much as you need and plenty to go around. And that if you need more, just suck and more will come. The breast is never empty, just like the heart. There is always enough. And my hunger can only truly be satisfied by human relationships, never by things. True milk, like true love is plentiful and nourishing, never finite or toxic. And it tastes really, really good.

No wonder the breasts are right over the heart. It is where love comes from. Endlessly, without limits, because the breast is never empty and the heart can always give more love. Read more

The Ecstatic Journey of Birth and Sex

The Ecstatic Journey of Birth and SexThe Ecstatic Journey of Birth and Sex

Sex, Fertility, Bliss, Bonding & Birth—One Elegant, Ecstatic System

Here’s the straightforward (and elegant) reality: women’s sexual, emotional and reproductive structures and systems are one connected, coordinated, integrated arrangement. Sex, pregnancy, birth, orgasm, breast-feeding, bleeding (and not bleeding) — all participate in the same grand system. Science tends to break systems down into their components, in the process often overlooking the fact that the whole is much greater than the sum of the parts. It’s an approach that has its virtues, but misses the forest for the trees. While the female sexual system does depend on the contributions of muscles, hormones, nerves, psyche, energy, neurochemistry and more, it’s not just a compilation of parts. It’s a unified, brilliantly designed system, and we’re missing something important if we don’t see it in that light.

lausselConnected Systems

In humans, sex and reproduction, love and lust, and care and connection all overlap and interconnect. There are not three separate systems, one for pleasure, one for reproduction and one for bonding. It’s all one integrated, multi-purpose arrangement. It makes evolutionary sense that this is so. While it’s certainly possible to have unconnected, uncaring sex, we are definitely hard-wired for connection.

The Evolution of Human Female Sexuality

This is especially true for women, for whom sex is a high-risk activity. Female humans have limited reproductive opportunities, unlike males with their unending supply of sperm. Pregnancy and child-rearing are activities that require an enormous amount of time and energy. Since it takes human babies many years to become independent, and since two can raise a family more easily than one, having sex with someone you are emotionally bonded to tends to be a successful reproductive strategy.

givingbirth5Sex and Birth: Joined Journeys

Our culture tends to see birth and sex as unrelated activities. Not that people don’t understand that sex is what gets the baby started, but the subsequent processes—pregnancy, birth and breast-feeding—are generally seen as maternal, not sexual. This is a false dichotomy. The fact is that arousal and labor are very similar, and so are orgasm and birth. While it’s true that sex is intensely pleasurable and birth is wildly intense (and often intensely painful), both are consuming, extraordinary and powerful processes that are similar by evolutionary design, and not by coincidence.

Sex and giving birth are not just two ends of a journey: they are the same journey, an intimately connected system that follows a primal evolutionary template. Evolutionary design conservatively uses the same equipment, energy and biochemical tides in both the sex and birth experiences. Both journeys also involve similarly altered states of consciousness, with the kindred trance states choreographed by the same chemistry.

The Same Trip

Both the first stage of labor and the process of arousal are involve surrender, release and opening. Each requires a person to go with the flow, turn inwards and become entranced. Both orgasm and the decidedly more active propulsive second part of labor involve adrenalin-mediated action.

Also, either process can get derailed by the same antagonists—fear, anxiety, and the inability to trust and to open. Yet another antagonist for both is stimulation of the analytical neocortical brain, which can cause either process to stall. Despite our generalized cultural anxiety, labor and birth have the potential to be powerful, transformative and even ecstatic experiences. Some women actually have orgasms during the birthing process!

Surrender in Safety

As a practical matter, it’s useful to keep the parallels between sex and birth in mind. As a midwife with over two decades’ experience birthing babies, I can say with certainty that, to have the best possible birth experience, you should choose your birth place the same way you’d select a place to make love — where you’ll feel safe, private and undisturbed. Surround yourself with trustworthy allies and people who have faith in the innate wisdom of the natural birth process. Only when a woman feels secure can she open to the powerful tides of arousal or labor and release into orgasm, birth or ideally orgasmic birth in a flood tide of pleasure, wonder and love.

 The Milky Way by Rubens

The Milky Way by Rubens

Love Fest at the Breast

Breast-feeding is also part of women’s sexual experience, as it’s designed to be a pleasurable and even ecstatic lovefest between the sacred and intertwined dyad of mama and baby. The hormones of in-loveness and bonding are there to help us survive the exhausting demands of parenting and ensure that we nurture our offspring instead of ignoring or abandoning them, as we’d surely do if we didn’t love them madly.

The Integral Nature of Female Sexuality

All the aspects of the journey — cycles, fertility, pregnancy, arousal, orgasm, birth and breast-feeding — are part of the integral whole that is female sexuality. It is one of the tragedies of our culture that we’ve severed pregnancy, birth and breast-feeding from their messy, earthy, embodied sexual roots. To fully appreciate female sexuality, we must remember these connections, which hold true at a primordial level whether the woman in question chooses to (or is able to) reproduce or not.

Beyond that, we must also bear in mind that the integral nature of female sexuality does not begin and end with the body. The emotions are involved, too. There are not separate processes for love and lust. All these circuits are connected to and by the biggest sex organ of all, the brain. We’re hard-wired at all levels to bond, be blissful and to birth!

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Breastfeeding Is The Better Choice

I love that Huff Post is showing  “22 Candid Photos That Show How Beautiful Breastfeeding Really Is.” I love it because breastfeeding is beautiful and normal, natural and super-healthy. Looking at these lovely loving pictures is a great way to end World Breastfeeding week. These photos  are a wonderful way to help normalize something that is so foundational that an entire class of animals is named after it. We are, after all mammals, identified by our ability to provide perfect food for infants via our mammaries.

It’s a bummer, though, that HuffPost also felt the need to put Kim Simon’s article30 Ways Breastfeeding and Formula-Feeding Are Exactly the Same” on the same page. Because, while all parents may share concerns and challenges, breastfeeding and formula feeding are not exactly the same—and their differences matter.

Yes, I understand that many women choose not to breastfeed, but articles like this won’t help future moms make an informed choice to breastfeed. And it is the better choice—no two ways about it. The evidence is clear—breastfed children have lifelong advantages in health and intelligence.

The author wrote this in anticipatory defense against the possible shaming of formula-feeding parents. I’m not writing this commentary to shame mothers who don’t breastfeed. I felt compelled to write it because I want to co-create a world where breastfeeding is understood for what it is—a huge benefit for baby (and mom, too.) Babies that are fed ‘mama milk’ are healthier not just while they’re nursing, but for the rest of their life. Every disease known to humans has a lower lifetime incidence if the person was breastfed.

I love that Kim Simon is a co-founder of the I Support You project, which aims to foster understanding and connection between formula-feeding and breastfeeding moms.  I also want all moms to be connected, supported and supportive of each other whatever their choices.

At the same time, I want mothers to understand that breastfeeding is the healthier choice. Not only that—it also makes life super easy. Here are just a few of the many ways this is true:

  •  Nursing makes it easy to feed your baby anytime. The milk is always ready. It’s the perfect food at the perfect temperature, and there’s an endless supply.
  • If you sleep with your baby (and I strongly recommend that you do), night feedings are simple—roll over and pop a nipple in their mouth! You can actually get lots more sleep if you breastfeed.
  • Since breastfed babies get sick less often, you have fewer cranky sick baby days and nights.
  • Wear your baby in a sling and you can be nursing while you answer the door, deal with your other kids, eat your own meal and so on.

No one should be shamed for their choices. At the same time, breastfeeding is far and away the better option. I want people to know this, and I want breastfeeding to be the norm.

Everyone has an equal right to choose. But not all choices are created equal.