Father, mother, baby: breastfeeding. The eighth concept. La Leche League Great Britain News, September/October 1996

Father, mother, baby: breastfeeding

The eighth concept

Anthony Stadlen

Copyright © Anthony Stadlen 1996, 2021
LLL GB News, Number 95, September/October 1996, p. 8

[Note, 2021

Breastfeeding was a dying art. It was actively discouraged in ‘civilised’ countries. Formula companies persuaded mothers that their formula was superior to a mothers milk. Mothers were anaesthetised in childbirth and this often resulted in the babies being too drugged to breastfeed. Mothers were often encouraged to be further injected with drugs deliberately to stop milk production. In the rare cases where they courageously chose to breastfeed, they had usually not as girls seen their mothers breastfeeding, and so did not have the intuitive bodily knowledge of the various traditional ways to position their babies for successful breastfeeding. It would often, then, be concluded medically that, as was only to be expected, the young mother could not breastfeed.

La Leche League is an international organisation which has grown from the attempt of a small group of American mothers since 1956 to support, inform and encourage mothers who want to breastfeed their babies. Its philosophy was developed in the League’s manual, The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. In 1972, after much discussion, this philosophy was summarised as eight sentences, each embodying a separate ‘concept’. In 1973 and 1975, a ninth and a tenth ‘concept’ were added.

In the 1990s, my wife Naomi Stadlen, then editor of LLL GB News, published a series of explanations and discussions of the ten ‘concepts’. She invited me to contribute a brief discussion of the eighth, which had been stated, and explained by Catherine Pardoe, in the previous issue, No. 94, July/August 1996, p. 13. The eighth ‘concept’ had by this time become two sentences:
Breastfeeding is enhanced and the nursing couple sustained by the loving support, help and companionship of the babys father. A father’s unique relationship with his baby is an important element in the childs development from early infancy.
The brief article below was my discussion of the ‘concept’. Of course, fathers and mothers, fatherhood and motherhood, are well on the way to having been officially abolished today. The ‘concept’ and my discussion of it may perhaps be of antiquarian interest.]

The most interesting aspect of this concept for me is the reference to the fathers unique relationship with his baby (News, July/August 1996). The concept does not seem to be saying that, if the baby’s father if not there, everything is hopeless. It does say how important the father is, when he is there.

So what is fatherhood? What follows is one fathers experience. He can, for example, come into the room where his three-month-old baby is lying with its mother, its head buried in its mothers breast. The baby looks up, flushed, joyful and milky, and gives a wholehearted cry of delight and hot welcome to the father. This confirms that the baby and mother have been having a wonderful time, which then opens up to include the father.

The baby gives the father the sense that his fatherhood brings a totally other ecstatic dimension to the joyful space already shared by the baby and the mother. To be granted such trust and high expectation is an awesome responsibility, which could be a source of anxiety, were it not that babies are so generous and grateful.

This confirmation does not come all at once. It takes a few weeks from birth for the babys dreamy trust and curiosity to undergo that miraculous transformation, when the father is suddenly aware that the baby is looking at him intently, in a radically different way from before, and is appealing to him to confirm and share the astounding joy, and even joke, of recognition.

Recognition of what? Of something difficult to put into words, that is not really acknowledged in the books about babies. But it seems the most important thing of all. The baby seems to be experiencing, after its biological birth, a second birth. The babys eyes light up with a new light, and its smile is different from the more dreamy smile that preceded it. The baby seems to be recognising in a definitive way that there is another person there, another experiencing being like itself. The baby seems to be checking that the other is not just experiencing, but experiencing the baby, and even experiencing the baby as experiencing the other.

This two-person experience of the babys can of course happen with the mother or father. But the point of fatherhood is that there are three people, not just two. Nor is the father just a further edition of the same. From the start, the fathers distinctive voice, smell, feel, and ways of lifting, holding, throwing and catching, playing with, singing and talking to the baby are different from the mothers style, and can alternate with hers. But these fatherly activities are not a substitute for hers. They are part of the erotic polarity with her. They should be a continuation of their warm sexual relationship. The baby joins in the dance, which should never degenerate into sexualising the baby.

When this happens, the father does not feel excluded, or want to compete with either mother or baby. He experiences fatherhood as a privilege, opening onto the miraculous, and as an occasion for personal renewal.

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