I sat down in my seat, surveyed the room full of two hundred lactation consultants, doulas and public health nurses, and felt…right. I belonged there. THIS is where I was supposed to be! I’m sure raging pregnancy hormones *may* have had a tiny role, but I actually felt tears prick my eyes as I realized that I have finally found my calling.
I learned so much, and it was reaffirmed to me just how much there is still is to learn. I am looking forward to being in a role where my sole responsibility is to help mothers and babies. I am certain challenging times will present themselves, but I imagine it will be a rewarding career.
My most favourite presentation was by Diane Weissinger. She gave a presentation which was focused on what we, as humans, can learn from other mammals about the birth process and breastfeeding.
I was fascinated the entire time she was speaking and am not sure if I can do justice to the gist of her message here.
She began her career as an ethologist – someone who studies animal behaviour. She studied the “sand bathing rituals of the brown quail” - or something of the sort – which when she announced that at the beginning of her talk brought several snickers from the crowd. We were wondering how THAT exactly brought her to be speaking at a breastfeeding conference…
Well, she eventually did go on to become a certified LC, but there were experiences from her first life with quails that taught her a lot about humans.
She told us a story of when she would be observing these birds in a lab setting. When the study first started, her bird blind had not yet arrived so she crouched in the corner of the room to observe the bird’s behaviour. She was astounded by the strength of the pecking order that existed. There were very clear boundaries and roles within the bird’s flock. Her bird blind eventually arrived and once she was undercover and no longer noticed by the birds, an astounding thing happened: the pecking order completely disappeared. She realized that it was her mere presence that was causing the birds to act a certain way.
She went on to talk about birth and always came back to the example of the quails. What smalls things are we doing with births that are unknowingly altering it’s natural course?
She discussed the “birthing practices” of several mammals. Pick a mammal. The literature for every single of them tells owners/vets to make sure the mother is in a comfortable, familiar place. Lights should be dim and the room should be quiet. You are never to move a labouring mammal… she should be left to position herself as she pleases. Interrupting her can stall her labour….
So here’s the big lightbulb… WE ARE MAMMALS!!!
Think back to the quails…. what interferences are we lending to the birth process by continually checking dilation (the cervix knows how to dilate – it doesn’t need help!), telling women when to push (again – women know how and when), and having women lie down flat on their backs (women who are allowed to position themselves almost always squat when giving birth…)
Somehow through the medicalisation of birth, women have learned that we don’t know how to give birth and to breastfeed, when our bodies and our babies know exactly what to do.
I remember moments after Tristan was born, asking my midwife if I should try to nurse him. She told me to go ahead and I clearly recall looking up at her with anxious eyes as I replied, “But I don’t know how….”
The truth is, if an (un-medicated) baby is left to lay skin-to-skin on his mothers chest, he will find his way to the breast all on his own. When he is only minutes old. Amazing! (You can see an example of it here and an interesting study here). Of course, it is common for help to be needed with positioning and latch, but the point is that it is natural and instinctual for both mama and baby.
Anyways, just some food for thought. It’s really making me think about how I would like my upcoming birth to unfold.
My first course, Breastmilk: Composition and Function starts this week. I know, sounds thrilling doesn’t it?
To me, it actually does! :)