I took the girls to the Zoo today at in the Great Apes habitat, there was a sign talking about Ape habits. One that really stuck in my mind was about the gorillas. Mother gorillas give birth about every 4 years and they breastfeed for 3 years. But like in humans, breastfeeding does not come automatically to the great apes. Back in 1980, the Zoo in Columbus Ohio found that their female gorillas were having trouble with their maternal instincts (primarily because their babies were taken from them soon after birth and the mamas had no mothering models.) The Zoologists were going to show the gorilla mamas videos of breastfeeding until a group of mothers offered to nurse their babies in front of the habitat. If you think about it, the only bodily functions that happen automatically are breathing, heart beating and elimination. We have to learn to walk, talk, eliminate on the potty, feed ourselves, dress ourselves, the list can go on and on.
Bottom line is this: breastfeeding is natural and instinctual but not automatic. It is a learned behaviour and has a learning curve. As a mama, you have to decide if you are willing to learn… As a baby learns to crawl, he falls more often than one can count, but he keeps trying. No one ever said to a mother: “Oh, your child is just not walking so why don’t you just give up and put him in a wheelchair” but we are quick to tell a mother “Oh, your child is just not nursing so why don’t you just give up and give him a bottle.” (Of course, that wheelchair quip is in absence of an organic reason for the child not walking, so smooth the feathers.)
So what can we do? If you see a mother having difficulty nursing, give her reassurance. Smile at her, nod at her. If you are so inclined, tell her she is doing a great thing by nursing her baby. You don’t know where she is on her nursing journey and your vote of confidence might be all she needs to keep going.