When this article as published way back in 1955, breast-feeding was a lost art.  Most babies were bottle-fed and I knew of no woman  who nursed her baby.   Breastfeeding was at that time counter-cultural.  The first La Leche League group was formed in l958 and their The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding was written to fill a very real need.   Is is not amazing that a normal, natural, motherly action could be so supplanted by a contrived, bothersome, inferior method of baby feeding?   It makes one wonder about the common sense of womankind.

The swing is back to normal mothering but individual mothers still need encouragement to persevere, especially when they know there is a workable alternative if they run into problems.   If you, like me, have no friend, relative, or mother to cheer you on, I think the following should be helpful. Reading it over some fifty years later, there are some sentences that I might want to tweak a bit, but human nature and human physiology do not change significantly in a mere half-century. Much is written nowadays about the importance of finding time for one-on-one relationships. Much is said about the need for busy mothers to find a little time to relax so that they don’t get so overwhelmed.  Just settle down, with a baby at the breast, and  let the oxytocin flow — it’s like a little oasis!


I once heard of a woman who filled up so much after her baby was born that she couldn’t buy a bra big enough to fit her.  But she couldn’t nurse her baby.   She had “that blue milk, you know.”  And every time I think of her I grieve a little for the baby that would have thrived on that abundance of blue milk — for it cannot be disputed that human milk is the best baby food.  True, it is bluer than cow’s milk — and for good reason.  It has less protein, less fat, and more sugar than cow’s milk.  Its composition is different because it is intended for a baby, not a calf.  By the time cow’s milk is properly doctored up with a formula (water and some form of sugar are added to cow’s milk for no other reason than to make it more like breast milk) it, too, has a bluish-white color.

Suppose you realize that breast milk is superior to any formula.  You know that it is economical, convenient, just the right temperature, wonderful when traveling.  When your baby comes, you would like to breast-feed him.  You wonder if you can.  According to medical authorities, more than 9 out of 10 women are physically capable of nursing their babies satisfactorily.   Dr. Grantly Dick Read, foremost advocate of natural childbirth, gives the figure as 98 out of 100.  I believe you can, too.  Why?  Perhaps I might state the theme of this article by parodying the popular song — anything I can do you can do better!

More and more women today are following the trend and turning to breast feeding.  Too many of them, easily discouraged, are giving up too soon.  They listen to their well-intentioned (but misinformed) friends and doubt their own ability.  My purpose in writing this article is to give confidence to those who want to breast-feed their children by telling them may own story.

My third baby, at three months, has not yet seen a bottle.  She sleeps ten to twelve hours a night, is fed four or five times a day, and is happy and thriving.  My first two children received only breast milk until they were six months old.  Yet, even today, there are people who look at me, look at my baby, and feel sure that I must be giving her a bottle on the sly.

In my early high-school years I read an article in one of the women’s magazines about the advantages of breast-feeding.  This pleased me for even then I thought babies should be nursed by their mothers and it was nice to know that it was being advocated by sensible and educated persons despite the fact that I had no personal acquaintance with any breast-fed babies.  I resolved then that if I ever had children I would feed them as nature intended they should be fed.

However, when I married and became pregnant, the matter took on a new aspect.  I wanted to nurse my baby — but could I?  I had several reasons for wondering.  In the first place, rumor has it that if your mother didn’t nurse you, you won’t be able to nurse, either.  My mother didn’t nurse any of us and, as a matter of fact, I fared somewhat badly in the first few weeks because she couldn’t find the right concoction to put in my bottle.   It may be possible that ability of suckle one’s young would be lessened if many succeeding generations bottle-fed their babies.  However, I and many other women have found that one generation of bottle-fed babies does not doom all succeeding generations to the bottle.   Besides, it occurred to me that if anything “ran in the family” it might be the tendency not to get along on any of the ordinary formulas.  I decided to give my child a chance a nature’s own formula first.

My second reason for wondering if I could nurse successfully was that I am not exactly the type some folks expect a nursing mother to be.  As a college graduate, living a  busy life in a big city. I know that some of my friends and relatives were surprised at my being so “animal” as to breast-feed my children, perhaps even wondered a little as they marveled whether nursing a baby is being done nowadays by “nice” people.

Last, but far from least, loomed the fact that no one has ever thought of me as bosomy.  I my college days some of my girlfriends were blunt enough as to inquire why I bothered wearing a bra.  The one I did wear was 32AA (double A being smaller than A, in case you’ve never had to trifle with such minature undergarments).  Where, thought I, is there going to be room for those four to eight ounces of milk that my youngster is going to be crying for every few hours?  I did not know that the size of the breast before pregnancy gives little indication of the amount of milk one will be able to produce.  Milk production is dependent upon the amount of secretory tissue in the breast and this secretory tissue remains undeveloped until after conception.  The growth of the breast a puberty is due chiefly to deposits of connective tissue and fat.  This explains why a small breast, made up primarily of glandular tissue, may produce more milk than  large breast that may actually contain less glandular tissue.

In good time my first baby, Wendy, arrived.  During pregnancy my bust measurement had increased t 32A.  Thus encouraged, I said “yes” when the nurse at the hospital asked if I wanted to nurse my baby, and she was first brought to me eighteen hours after birth.  She apparently had a strong sucking instinct and immediately went about the business of withdrawing the colostrum that was then present in the breast.

It is said that the colostrum may contain factors that contribute to the baby’s immunity to certain diseases at birth and that it seems to have a laxative effect which helps to clean out the intestines of the meconium present when the baby is born. It may have values which have not yet even been suspected. At any rate, it was there, my baby wanted it, and when I nursed her I had the feeling that the food nature had provided for new0born babies was probably better than the sugar and water that was given to the babies which were destined to be bottle-fed.

Then my milk “came in” and my breasts were tense and sometimes painful. I looked in the mirror and was startled at the fullness I had acquired which extended up to my collar-bone and under my arms for breast tissue is seldom confined to what is usually considered the breast proper. When the baby started to nurse there would be a sharp sensation in both breasts as if every little milk gland were turning itself inside out to produce milk. I later discovered that just thinking about nursing could produce this feeling and cause milk to leak from the breasts. This is strong evidence, I think, of the intimate relationship between one’s mental state and one’s physical processes, and helps to explain the value of wanting to nurse your baby in order to be successful at it. As the baby nursed, I was also aware of sensations like mild menstrual cramps — the “after-pains” which were to become more noticeable after each baby. I thought it proof that nursing would, as the books say, hasten the return of the uterus to its normal size and position.

The original swelling of the breasts went down and I was quite comfortable. The breasts were soft and felt almost empty. It is at this stage that many women become alarmed and fear that they are losing their milk. It is well to remember that at this tender age a baby wants only two to four ounces at each feeding and there is no reason for the breasts to produce more. Perhaps the initial flooding of the breasts of to give the mother confidence that she could produce much more milk is she had to. Perhaps it is for triplets. But under ordinary circumstances one baby will need only one to two ounces of milk from each breast per feeding and rare is the woman who cannot produce that amount.

When we were discharged from the hospital at the end of nine days Wendy had regained her birth weight after the customary loss during the first few days. She received no milk other than my own and doubled her birth weight in four months. By the time Terry arrived 23 months later I was more at ease and expert in the matter of breast-feeding and she left the hospital six ounces over birth weight and doubled her birth weight in three months.

When Wendy was six months old I decided to put her on a bottle because I thought she was nursing too frequently. However, after a struggle in which she refused to accept the bottle, I discovered she wanted to be bottle-fed just as often and it was much more of a bother with sterilizing, refrigerating, and bottle-warming to contend with. And, for the first time, she became constipated — an ailment not encountered in the breast-fed baby, according to “Babies are Human Beings” by Aldrich. Terry, on the other hand, at the age of three months started to sleep 10-13 hours without a feeding at night and was weaned to the bottle at six months for no other reason than that she was willing. I feared that if the attempt to put her on the bottle were made a few months later she might, like Wendy, fight it. She was no sooner weaned than something happened which made me decide never to stop breast-feeding again when a baby’s life depended on it getting milk. Chicago had a milk-strike and the milkman no longer left milk on the doorstep. Of course canned milk was still plentiful and the strike was over within a few days, but in that brief moment of panic when I first heard of the strike I wondered at the faith we place in the cows, the dairies, and the milkmen when we make out babies lives dependent upon their services. If bottle-milk should fail (as is within the realm of possibility in an atomic age) it would probably be too late to put the baby back to the breast. And what would baby do then, poor thing?

I suppose that every woman who has successfully breastfed several children has a few theories about the care of the nipples and the best way to go about nursing.   When my first baby was born we were told that the secretion of the glands of the nipples was the only lubricant required to keep the nipples soft, yet tough enough to withstand vigorous nursing.  We were also told to wash the breasts once a day, nipples first, and to keep a clean cover over the breasts between feedings.  No massage and no ointments either before or after birth were recommended.  With this minimum care I have had no trouble with tender or cracked nipples and no infections.  I think that in most cases such care is adequate and that any other treatment should be avoided unless prescribed by a doctor to remedy an actually present difficulty.

At the same hospital I was told to offer the baby only one breast at each feeding if that would satisfy her.  This I also did, but I have since discovered that there are numerous advantages to giving both breasts at each feeding, even if there is a plentiful milk supply.  Since there seems to be divided opinion on the subject, I would like to give some of these reasons:

First of all, some say that giving the baby both breasts at each feeding is too hard on the nipples, does not give them a long enough rest period, and increases their tendency to crack.  However, I feel that nursing, like any other exercise, is best undertaken frequently and in small amounts.  Is it not easier on the nipples if the baby nurses five minutes at each breast and is quickly satisfied than if it tugs for twenty minutes on one nipple until the breast has been emptied?

Then, too, they say that if the breast is not completely emptied at each feeding the milk supply will decrease, and some even go to far as to advocate manual expression or the use of a breast pump to accomplish this if the baby is satisfied before the breast is empty.  I think it is true that the milk supply will decrease if the breast is not emptied.  My only comment is, “So what?”   Unless the mother is going to contribute her surplus milk to a milk bank, what is the point of producing more milk than the baby needs?   The milk supply will decrease to the point where the baby does empty the breast and then will increase again gradually as he grows bigger and demands more.  The only good reasons I can see for pumping a breast are (1) to supply breast milk for other babies, or (2) to keep the milk supply going when for some reason such as illness the mother is temporarily unable to nurse her baby.

Why try to satisfy the baby with one breast when each mother is equipped with two?  I always see to it that the baby nurses at least a little from the second breast if for no other reason than that I feel lopsided and sometimes uncomfortable when a breast is left untouched for eight hours or so.  It does not seem sensible to go around flabby on one side and bursting on the other when I can be comfortable and symmetrical most of the time.  I do alternate the breast upon which the baby does most of the suckling at each feeding in order that both will get approximately the same stimulation.

If you really want to succeed at breast-feeding, be wary of the advocates of supplementary bottles and of regular substitute bottle feedings for the baby that does not get enough at the breast. These, I think, are the most important causes of failure in breast-feeding for, unless one is very careful, the baby ends up entirely on the bottle. If a baby is gaining satisfactorily, it is probable that he is getting enough to eat. The “colicky” baby or the baby that takes only small amounts at frequent intervals seldom fares better on the bottle. It is fairly well recognized today that new babies may want to eat as often as ten times a day and that they seldom behave like clocks. Modern “demand feeding” is an attempt to adjust mealtime to the individual baby’s requirements and it is a good deal easier to demand-feed a breast-fed baby than a bottle baby for obvious reasons.

The supplementary bottle which is given to satisfy a baby after he has emptied both breasts certainly does nothing to encourage a better milk supply and probably discourages it. The baby, being satisfied, will not demand more milk by frequent and prolonged nursing and the breast has no way of “knowing” that it should produce more. Therefore, the milk supply does not increase. Often the baby will begin to prefer the bottle because the milk comes faster and easier and soon he refuses the breast entirely. Or else the mother tires of having to bother with both breast and bottle feeding and uses the bottle alone.

A regular substitute bottle feeding definitely discourages the milk supply. The breasts go for eight hours or so without any stimulation for several days and the milk supply decreases in accordance with the decreased demand. Soon the mother thinks the baby needs another bottle each day and before long she has very little milk left for the simple reason that she has been going through the very same procedure that is used when it is desired to wean the baby from the breast. An occasional bottle does no harm but the mother who lets the substitute bottle become a regular thing should not be surprised when she finds she is rapidly drying up.

Finally, if you want to breast feed, make the most of that first baby. Don’t give up too easily with a better-luck-next-time attitude. The first baby is your practice baby and you will probably never again have so much time and opportunity for leisurely practice in the art of nursing. Sometimes it seems to me that my other two youngsters reserve most of their deviltry for the time when I unbutton and sit down to feed Peggy, my third-born. I like to lie down as I nurse, completely relaxed, with the baby lying beside me. Peggy has seldom experienced this luxury and as often as not she is fed as I walk about, plucking the 17-month-old out of the sink, off the table, or away from the stove, while I try to persuade the three-year-old to put the flour away and save her pie-making for later when I can help. Peggy, therefore, does not always have the peaceful mealtime that was Wendy’s birthright but I nurse her with a confidence and casualness born of experience that Wendy never knew — and inward peace that I believe amply compensates for the lack of outward peace.

As a result of this experience, limited though it may be, let me say that breast-feeding is wonderful for fostering strong and satisfying mother-child bonds. It is pretty well understood that a breast-fed baby needs its mother in a way that a bottle-fed baby never does. The mother never has the feeling that daddy or grandma or the girl next door could do the job of feeding her baby just as well, perhaps better, than she could. She cannot leave the baby for long periods of time for she is “tied down” (where she belongs, I might add) not only by her baby’s needs but by her own needs. For the nursing mother experiences a real physical need for her baby that the non-nursing mother never feels. When her breast are full to bursting she seeks a hungry little mouth. And when that hungry little mouth sucks as if life depended on it, when the pressure within her is relieved as the milk flows out, when the baby’s eyes close and she relaxes in her giving, there is a mutual contentment and satisfaction that knows no parallel.

It would be a shame to miss it.


Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?  Isaiah 49:15