Breastfeeding - spiritual nourishment?
I've been breastfeeding my son for 25 months now, which is quite some time when you think about it. This means that for 25 months he hasn't been very far away from me, which has taken some adjusting I can tell you, as I used to be such a free-spirited-independent-and-love-the-silence-and-time- on-own-sort-of-lady!!
It has always felt right for me to breastfeed him somehow. Admittedly he doesn't need the milk to feed him anymore, but I am a true believer that there is still something ever so nourishing about him ingesting breast milk and having that connection with me.
In fact I was heartened to read a book recently that even suggested that the breasts have their own chakras (energy centres) so that not only are we nourishing our babies by giving them breast milk filled with all the nutrients and goodness needed to boost the immune system and grow the baby, but we are also spiritually nourishing them. Yes, I like that!!
And I suspect that there is a lot to be said for that when you consider that the breasts are located right there by the heart chakra, which is all about unconditional love and our ability to give and receive and nourish ourselves and others too.
Spiritual and immune-system nourishment aside, breastfeeding does have its downsides though. Elijah still doesn't sleep through the night and after 25 months this has got a little warring. So too his anger and irritation if I am unable to feed him when he demands it - at 25 months one does feel a little self conscious about feeding in public for example, although I gave in on the flight between Guernsey and Gatwick recently because that is what he has always done and it seems to calm him and ease the pressure in his ears.
The other downside being my inability to leave him for any prolonged periods of time. In the early days just going to teach yoga was a challenge, not least for Ewan who dreaded the classes and was always a little fraught when I made it home having had to contend with a screaming baby who desperately wanted some of mummy's boob!
He's been a boob monster alright. In those early months he would feed relentlessly at night. And then any time I was away from him, it would be the first he wanted upon my return. That has eased, but he still partial to a middle of the night feed and loves nothing more than falling asleep on the boob after a nice bath!
So its taken quite some determination on my pat to finally realise that I needed a break. On my own. Away. No one clawing for my boob, and no one waking me in the middle of the night. Bliss.
So here I am in Croydon of all places, undertaking a 3 day Ayuredic pancha karma with my lovely Ayurvedic doctor, Dr Deepika. Dr Deepika has been my Ayurvedic doctor for about 10 years but this is the first time I have come to do the 3 day treatment with her. I did a 10 day pancha karma in Nepal quite a few years ago now, certainly pre-Elijah and that was just wonderful. This is pretty wonderful too albeit only the 3 days, but it is the peace it provides that is as healing I think as the treatments itself.
As for Elijah, well he's doing just fine. He only woke for his grandparents once last night and that was at 12.30am so they had quite an easy going time of it - not sure whether to be pleased or envious!! Seems he is coping without the milk though, which just goes to show how adaptable we are!
I'm reminded of the time he went on a nursing strike. Good grief this was horrible. He was 10 months old at the time and I had flown up to Edinburgh with him on my own to visit my best friend and her family. One of the evenings he bit me while feeding and not only did this surprise me but it hurt! I yelped and he went on strike. It was traumatic as I was not ready to stop feeding him and he certainly didn't have an appetite for food back then.
The flight back to Guernsey was horrible as he screamed with the pain in his ears and yet refused to feed, he would just turn his head away. Back home I was beside myself and ended up taking him to the doctor who concluded that he had simply had enough of breastfeeding and had stopped. End of.
Well I wasn't really sure about that and so I did some research and came across this concept of the nursing strike, which all made sense. There is a lovely Guernsey breastfeeding facebook community out there and the ladies were ever so supportive and encouraging. I was very emotional and my breasts were really sore despite me expressing.
I did all the things the other women suggested, lots of skin to skin, baths together, trying him on the nipple in the middle of the night when he was all sleepy and for a few emotional and challenging days there was no change and I felt really forlorn and sad with it, but finally, after about 5 days he took the opportunity to feed in the middle of the night and that was it, he was back on the breast milk again. I couldn't have been happier!!
So Elijah and I, we've had quite some journey with our breastfeeding, we even got shouted at in a restaurant in Jersey for apparently being the most useless public breast feeder this other mother had ever seen. Elijah was only 6 months old at the time, but for some reason this lady had it in for me and that was that. She was most definitely out of order, it was her thing not me, and the restaurant and our dinner guests were all very supportive.
The next day I ended up breastfeeding my way around Durrell's wildlife park in Jersey, he was hidden under my top and no one looked at me strangely or said a word. I pretty much stopped worrying after then, if other people have an issue then they need to figure that one but, its natural, its what we have done for thousands and thousands for years, more women need to get breastfeeding out in public otherwise children will grow up thinking that basis just drink milk in a bottle...
We've fed all over the place, on long haul flights, in toilets (yuck!), on the beach, in the mountains, in the car, in taxis, at baby yoga (where often ALL he would do was feed so that not much yoga took place in those sessions), on buses, at festivals, on a farm, in restaurants and even on my yoga mat!! Its what we've done.
And I have to be honest, at times I have embraced the opportunity to just sit down and take a break! Yep, that's me, often found checking emails and facebook rather than staring lovingly at Elijah as people believe we breastfeeding mums do! I quickly learned however that whatever I'm reading needs to be positive because otherwise I'm passing negative energy on to my son!
Dr Deepika thinks the breastfeeding is crazy! In the Ayurvedic world they feel that the women starts to lose too much energy after 6 months. She specialises in fertility and she said that more often than not as soon as the breastfeeding ladies have stopped breastfeeding then they easily get pregnant again (while they have not been able to while breastfeeding). There are exceptions to the rule and two of my friends got pregnant while breastfeeding and one of them now tandem feeds.
I believe in Chinese medicine they also feel that the mother becomes depleted if she feeds beyond 6 months. IVF clinics insist that you have stopped breastfeeding before having any further treatment although I believe this is more to do with the drugs you have to take, rather than the energy depletion of the Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine world.
At the end of the day you just have to do what feels right for you and your baby/toddler. In fact the lovely Sri Lankan lady who is doing my treatments here was fed by her mother until she was 5. That worked for them. I cannot imagine that Ewan would let me continue for that long he struggles with 25 months as he worries about what other people will say - which is the silly thing really because when did breastfeeding become so underground, its crazy!
The World Health Organisation suggests that women should feed their children until they are 2 years old, and yet the accepted advice is only for 6 months and even then mothers stop much sooner, or don't start at all, which I always feel is a little of a shame really simply in terms of the antibodies passed on in those first few days and also that spiritual and nourishing connection.
But that said I am also aware that many ladies find that they simply cannot breastfeed, sometimes the babies cannot latch on properly and they start to lose too much weight, or they may have tongue tie, or perhaps the lady's milk just isn't enough for the baby. And often from a lifestyle perspective it just doesn't work. Some ladies need their partners to help with the night time feeding and other times ladies have to go back to work quickly and don't have time for all the expressing (this was certainly relentless for me when I had to return to part-time work after 3 months).
The pancha karma aside, having some time away has been wonderful. Of course I miss my boys but its so lovely to have some peace and quiet and time to catch my thoughts, let alone reading a book and doing some shopping - its the small things!!!
I've a feeling our breastfeeding days will come to an end soon. I'm sad about this thought, but I will always know that I did what was in my heart to do, that I nourished him as much as I could in this way (spiritually and otherwise) through thick and thin and despite all the negativity (and surprised looks and judgements) I received. But we'll see, my time away may have changed nothing for him - although I am quite sure he'll be most put out when he knows about our breastfeeding days when he is older!!!!