You are gazing at your newborn, overwhelmed with feelings of love, amazement, and relief that the birth is over. All of your thoughts are in the “now,” and the future is another world, far, far away. Perhaps your immediate thoughts also include the wish to breastfeed your newborn. This is wonderful, because breastfeeding in the now is very much connected to the future.
Yes, breastfeeding, the time-honoured and traditional way of feeding a baby, is very much connected to the future. It lays down the foundation for you and your baby’s future emotional and physical health. How?
First the physical benefits. Breastfeeding offers protection against cancer for both mother and baby; it provides protection against obesity, diabetes and many other non-communicable diseases. It offers long-term immunity to infections which in many parts of the world can be fatal. And by observing the WHO guideline of exclusive breastfeeding up to six months, you have a good chance of protecting your baby from harmful and troublesome allergies, which in fact is vital if your family has a history of allergies. And for you it is the logical link in your hormonal chain of menstruation, conception, pregnancy and childbirth.
The action of breastfeeding requires strong muscular jaw action by your suckling baby, which in turns encourages optimal mouth and dentition development. Breastfeeding in the first days after birth triggers strong uterine contractions and helps to restore your womb quickly to its pre-pregnancy state. Although in the first days these contractions can be quite painful, keep at it; it is worth it for your own health and speedy recovery.
While all these physical benefits seem most worthwhile, it is the bonding factor which is so unexpected and so wonderful. The closeness, warmth and skin contact provide the glue to cement your relationship with your baby. Many mothers are bewildered, even confused about their first feelings of motherhood; they feel guilty that they do not feel the surge of love which everyone talks about. Not to worry: breastfeeding will help to create this bond – for some it is immediate, but for others, it can develop slowly. Be patient; it does happen.
Baby’s sight is exactly geared to see his mother’s face. It helps the baby to feel reassured and comforted and these positive feelings can last a whole lifetime. My brother served in the Korean War. He told me that invariably when men were dying on the battlefield, they did not call for their wives or sweethearts, but for their mothers.
Breastfeeding can create a warm, comforting haven for the newborn entering into our noisy and brightly-lit world. And it will continue to perform this role through the many changes in your baby’s journey through life. Mother benefits too, as the same hormones which make and let down the milk have an instant calming effect, ensuring that she sits down, relaxes and forgets about everything else when she is breastfeeding. Instead of worrying about what needs to be done, she will be enveloped in peace and calm. And these breastfeeding hormones even pass over to your husband or partner, giving him enhanced protective feelings and making him extra loving and patient with you and his newborn.
So how else can breastfeeding touch the future? It is said that breastfeeding heightens the intelligence, develops secure and confident toddlers, and may act as a contraceptive for the mother. Of course, the environment benefits as well. It involves no industrial bottles or formula, and should also decrease the need for expensive health care, due to the improved immune system. And because there is always a ready supply available at the right temperature, baby does not have to wait for a bottle to be prepared, avoiding unnecessary distress and crying which in turn can cause the baby to be needlessly restless. Naturally the advantages of breastfeeding when travelling do not have to be enumerated here.
I ran my own playgroup back in the 80s and 90s. I could usually tell when a toddler had been breastfed. They were loving and cuddlesome, yet at the same time showed a remarkable degree of confidence, and they were quite able to say goodbye to their mothers.
Breastfeeding or re-lactation is even recommended in disaster or refugee situations, as it is more sustainable and reliable than donated formula, thereby ensuring the future survival of these unfortunate and vulnerable babies.
Indeed, in a myriad of known and unknown ways, breastfeeding helps to mould your and your baby’s future from the early days of your baby’s life.
If you would like to know about the many other good reasons to breastfeed and how it affects the future, we recommend that you consult our La Leche League manual The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding and our other publications, which can be seen on online. Here you will learn how your baby’s future is inextricably linked to you and your wonderful breastmilk.
LLL Leaders are always happy to answer your telephone or email queries. We recommend contacting us or attending one of our monthly meetings before the birth of your baby, because the information you receive will give you a good start. You can check the LLL website for details of the English-speaking monthly meetings in the Zurich region and elsewhere, where mothers can find help and support and see how others enjoy breastfeeding and are taking the first steps into a happy future for themselves and their babies.
By Joanna Koch
Joanna is a long-time LLL Leader and a founding member of the Mothering Matters Team. Originally from England, she has been in Zurich since 1960 and enjoys time spent with her eight loving grandchildren.
Illustration by Albina Nogueira
Albina has been a primary school teacher since 1992, and a writer and illustrator since 2006. She currently lives in Switzerland, but her homeland is Portugal. She is also the author of Letters to Grandparents and Hairdresser. To find out more, like her on Facebook or see her books in Amazon.