Most of you figured I would not let the controversial Time article on extended breastfeeding go without reaching out for balance on the issue. First of all, before anyone gets offended and their feathers ruffled, I want to explain to people who haven’t already read my books or know my stance that I am 100% pro- breastfeeding, home birth, baby wearing, co-sleeping and attachment. Besides having my own home births and reattaching with my autistic son-thus healing him from autism, I also studied attachment and orgonomy in a three year program under a licensed psychologist. I am not coming at this issue as a bra burning renegade (although I have that in me!) but with a true desire to help-children. With that being said-the idea of extended breastfeeding has been hijacked by some very neurotic individuals and like any idea such as early potty training, co-sleeping, etc, the emotional plague-as Reich put it- seeps in, takes hold and takes over. I pose these two questions about breastfeeding side by side-are you mom enough to breastfeed and are you mom enough to stop breastfeeding? Let me explain.
As an American, I know our young country has over come some serious patriarchal set backs from our sex hating Puritan ancestors. However, just last week I was banned from Facebook for a week for posting a breastfeeding photo, clearly, there is more work to do and perhaps we could rightfully say we have only just begun. However, in our efforts to prove ourselves as women and mothers many of us have gone too far out of balance to the detriment of our children and our relationships with our children and even our husbands. I would like to present to you my own clinical case study and introduce a new idea of balanced attachment parenting. Apparently, extended breastfeeding has become one in the same with extended breastfeeding, this calls for a redefining of the attachment process of what it is. Certainly, breastfeeding is apart of it but lets not get stuck on the idea that it is the only way-because even my own son had attachment disorder and I had nursed him the longest of all my children.
What is Attachment?
Attachment doesn’t begin and end with the breast, but rather attachment develops from an emotionally healthy mother
that can reach out to her child through pregnancy, labor, birth and of course the first crucial years of life. Attachment is a large puzzle and although many people have pieces of the puzzle, to raise an attached and emotionally healthy and later happy and fulfilled adult has as much to do with the person laying the pieces-as it does with the pieces themselves. Recognizing, of course, there is no perfect mother-however, we must not miss the bigger picture. We applaud women who have the courage and commitment to even care about the puzzle pieces and pick them up but there is room for improvement and the rewards and benefits outlast future generations.
The Physical Aspects of Attachment
Dr. John Bowlby is the founder of the attachment movement and therapy. As a child himself back in the early 1900s, left in an educational institution at an early age-he made attachment psychology and research his primary concern. His work with orphans and also hospital institutionalism changed our modern-day system of health and birth. His work directly attributed to women being able to stay in the hospital with their children. But not only Bowlby contributed to this movement but Dr. Wilhelm Reich as well. A scientific pioneer, also of the early 1900s, his work, research and devotion to children showed how autism had a large degree of attachment disorder within it and that the first week of life was crucial to the mental health and emotional well-being of the child for the rest of its life.
Both of these attachment activists indicated that breastfeeding was crucial but Reich discovered something unique about breastfeeding through his use of electrodes on skin. He found that an infants whole body experiences an energetic release while nursing, he also found that certain women have decreased energy in the breast and nipple area. With these two facts, he definitively proved that a cold “dead” nipple would not energetically connect with the baby properly, therefore, the infant would not be able to experience a complete energetic release. This essentially means that even though a woman breastfeeds, that is not always an indication that the child is properly emotionally and physically attached. What we are talking about is the essence and core of body/mind connection and health.
The Emotional Aspects of Attachment
Now I am going to present two other major scientific findings on breastfeeding and attachment that will surely offend a few people. The first is Rudolf Steiner, founder of anthroposophy and the Waldorf School movement and the second is Jean Liedloff’s research on tribal and modern-day parenting in her book “The Continuum Concept.”
Steiner recommended that a child weans when it becomes vertical, that is to say anywhere between 6-9 months. As a Waldorf parent myself, I know quite a bit of Waldorf mother’s that ignore this information and continue to nurse without even looking into the reason’s why. Some of his reason’s for weaning were based on the fact that a child naturally attempts to wean itself during this time. He believed when a child can sit up and turn away from you, it is presenting its first necessary steps of autonomy and independence, therefore, the ability to feed oneself and develop independently outside of breastfeeding is to be honored and not ignored, thwarted or manipulated.
Without even knowing Steiner’s work I had intuitively raised my own children that way, I took their clues and each one of them between 8-14 mos. spontaneously stopped breastfeeding and never even tried to go back! It was always hard on me emotionally, as it naturally brought up my own feelings of being rejected but did not have a problem with transition. Likewise, we all know the mother, that just cannot stop breastfeeding their child and the child cannot emotionally let go. This is most likely a neurotic “hook,” this means at some time the child attempted to wean itself and was held back and forced to keep nursing by the mother. This can be seen as an indication of emotional/mental and physical impairment and not attachment to the child.
Attachment Case Study
Several years ago I had a woman visit me at my office with four children. She wanted color therapy for a learning disabled ten year old daughter that was still breastfeeding. A homebirthing mother, that slept with all of her children including the 12 year old son, didn’t strike me as off or unstable but as a mother who was really believing she was attached and doing the best for her children. She wanted to focus on healing her daughter’s brain to help her academic level, while indubitably, it was the urgency of the ten year old daughter’s attachment disorder which proved to be the biggest block to health and healing. The mother herself was so blocked on this issue that she refused to believe her daughter had an attachment problem because of everything she was doing. Eventually, the mother stopped coming to me because she did not want to wean her daughter and help her elevate to the next level of consciousness. The daughter who refused to make eye contact with her mother and whined and pushed her away when the mother attempted to talk to her or cuddle her, needed more than anything to be treated like a pre-teen and not an infant anymore. I believe she resented her mother for just shoving the breast in her mouth and not treating her like the person she is-this is not unlike what Helen Keller’s mother did to her with candy.
Balanced Breast Feeding Basics
I present Jean Ledloff’s research in my first book “Beyond Natural Cures” in fact the core of this article, is also the
core of that book. Jean found that modern-day women could not recreate or emulate tribal style attachment no matter how hard they tried. By living with tribal families, Jean saw that sleeping with babies and children, baby wearing and extended breastfeeding produced happy and stable children and adults. However, this was a stark contrast with what she found with modern-day westernized women who tried to do those same very things. Inevitably, she found these women produced children that were spoiled acting, ungrateful and insolent-not happy. So, what gives?
I feel that Jean’s work along with Steiner’s coincide. The fact is, that we westerner’s do not live in tribal society and though we read about it and appreciate it, we will never truly know what it is like or how to remake it. We have so much against our motherhood and parenthood such as: electronics, radios, commercials, EMFs, carcinogens and chemicals. Most of us have been raised by emotionally unhealthy unstable parent’s that resorted to drugs, pharmaceuticals, schools and televisions to raise us. I am not at all insinuating that we all give up our quest for attached parenting, but merely recognize our own sickness and mental disease and how it infects everything we do-even with the greatest intentions.
In this respect, I reflect on Khalil Ghibran’s poem “The Prophet” where he indicates that we cannot go back to the past but must help our children go into the future. They should go farther than us, as we are the bows and they are the arrows. As progressive parents, we have made it much farther than our own parents by putting our foot down and insisting that we take back our births and motherhood. Let us also muster the strength to heal ourselves enough (and that could mean some therapy such as orgonomy to get through it) to believe that our children deserve to grow in freedom and reverence of their very soul into adulthood. Breastfeeding, is a phase of childhood, it is a transition from one stage of life to the next, let us help our children through it but not hold them back.
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