Encyclopedia of Reproductive Technologies

By Annette Burfoot | Go to book overview

thirteen
Breastfeeding

MARJORIE ALTERGOTT

Infants who are exclusively breastfed need no additional food or water. Contemporary medical professionals suggest adding other foods beginning between the fourth and sixth months of life, although supplemental foods in some cultures are offered much later during the first year. Unrestricted breastfeeding is an intimate experience involving extensive skin- to-skin contact during which each participant sees, touches, smells, hears, and senses the movements of the other. Because of the frequent interaction, mothers and babies can develop an acute awareness of each other, sensing each other's moods and anticipating movements. For women, the complex hormonal, neurological, and emotional interactions associated with breastfeeding contribute to changes in blood flow and temperature, contractions of the uterus and other muscles, nipple erection, a sense of pleasure and well-being, and perhaps other responses not currently documented. Although it is seldom recognized, infants also respond physiologically and sensually. Human milk is quite diluted, and babies must nurse often to obtain adequate nourishment. Although it has been postulated that the dilution is an adaptation to ensure constant monitoring and stimulation to enhance the infant's cognitive development and a close mother-infant bond, dilution and frequency of contact are more likely the result of an evolving process combining physiological and behavioral factors.

The length and frequency of nursing episodes vary from minutes to hours. They also vary with babies and mothers, infant age, and within any twenty-four-hour period. Because of this, and because nursing can be so integrated into daily activities, some mothers find it difficult to count

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