A while back, I was invited to join in a group based on the principles of Aletha Solter's Aware Parenting. I was happy to join, as the universe had been pointing me in Solter's direction time and again and I was interested in finding out what this was all about.
Anything called Aware Parenting can only be a good thing, as awareness is something I am very profound about.
I haven't' had the chance to read any of her books, but have read some of the articles and interviews she did. One thing she says is that sometimes, breastfeeding can constitute a control pattern. I had to stop and think about this for a while. Are there times when it is wrong to breastfeed your child?
Now this is my interpretation of what she means with this: indeed, sometimes, we could carelessly put our babies on the breast when they're upset, or crying, just to shut them up. Most babies will accept the breast when they're upset and will then indeed be quiet. yet in doing so, we squish their authentic expression and tell them, it's not ok to voice your concerns and you better be quiet.
Now this is a profound thought. I had never stopped to consider this.
Now to be quite frank, I also don't really use breastfeeding in this way. But still, I know it happens, so the remark is an intelligent one to make.
To not use breastfeeding as a way to shush authentic emotion…
What the people in this group had come to understand was that children need to cry and breastfeeding them when they do takes away their capacity to heal. Breastfeeding them for comfort would in fact just be a control pattern you place upon them in order to shut them up, and thus avoid the expression of emotion.
Again, yes, I agree that sometimes children need to cry to express their emotions, to heal their sadness. Some more than others.
My daughter - a very sensitive child - used to need to cry to release tension at night, but at that time, I didn't know that and thought there was something wrong, that I was doing something wrong. Solter introduces the principle of 'Crying in Arms' in order to create a safe and nurturing environment for children to release their emotions.
But this notion resulted in parents refusing the breast for comfort, refusing the breast for falling asleep, refusing maternal comfort when crying (baby had to stay with daddy when reaching for the mother - in order to 'release').
It just proves that even with the best intentions, which I truly believe Solter had, people will misinterpret and it can create very distorted situations.
So just to be clear:
Yes, sometimes children need to cry to release the pent up emotions, this can be the stresses of the day, or deeper emotions, like separation, birth trauma, illness… If your child isn't hungry, or cold or doesn't have any immediate apparent need, it is ok for your child to cry. Make sure you are there and present, that you don't close off mentally. And you don't need to shush them.
- nursing your infant to sleep is ok.
- offering your breast for comfort when your child wants to be comforted is ok. In the early months - and years - you will act as regulator of your child's emotions, it is from you that your child learns to gain control of their own feelings. And if you are breastfeeding, breast is a huge part of comfort and emotion regulation.
- refusing your breast for comfort or sleep is just as controlling as pushing breast to shut them up.
In the words of Dr. Thomas Lewis in A General Theory of Love:
"A distraught baby reaches for his mother because an attuned parent can soothe him, he cannot soothe himself. As a consequence of thousands of these interactions a child learns to quiet himself. His knowledge, like knowing how to keep a bike upright, is implicit, invisible, inarticulate, and undeniable."