Hours after Alex was delivered by C-Section, I lay gasping on a hospital bed still trying to comprehend how I’d been flayed like a cod fish and robbed of the precious living cargo that had roomed within me for nearly nine months when the nurse arrived with my newborn and jammed his mouth over my tender nipple like a woodsman firmly planting an axe.
On his first “latch”, Alex’s bite force felt like the “lethal banana teeth” of a freshly hatched T-Rex.
I’m sure people on the street heard my pitiful scream as I waited for the visual fireworks of agony to subside. This new brand of post natal torture pumped up the volume on my synaptic receptors with a violent suddenness that left me an octave short of leaping for the window ledge.
Mercifully a ministering angel arrived in the form of lactation consultant Marianne Brophy who floated into the room with the soothing reassurance of a Red Cross nurse at the Battle of the Mammaries.
Her almost supernal wisdom in the ageless bonding of mother and child and gentle, expert guidance marked a milk-shed moment in my life as a mother.
I was later to learn that I was far from universally singled out for lactating greatness. Midlife moms are cutting a distinguishing swathe in the nursing business.
With looming menopause, and feminist backlash against breastfeeding, you might assume that fewer midlife moms (having been weaned on the feminist equal rights ethic) would nurse.
In fact, the opposite is true.
According to a recently published survey from the Public Health Agency of Canada, new moms over the age of 40 are more likely to nurse than the average mother—over 90% initiated breast feeding between 2007 and 2008.
It supports the old adage that age begets wisdom. (Or, rather, is it determination being begot?)
From vital colostrum (packed with antibodies) to enhanced bonding through hormone-stimulated receptivity to baby’s cues, it is widely acknowledged that nursing nurtures wellness to wellbeing.
But the long arm of nursing reaches even further, extracting the gold standard of post natal wellness from the baby teeth of scientific research. A 2007 California study showed that, although women giving birth after 35 are at increased risk for breast cancer, this applied only to those who did not breastfeed.
However, for moms in front lines on the maternity wards, the end of a day’s hard labor inspires only common sense. Equality is a social issue that can be defended and fought for in the cloisters of academia or in HR departments, or in feature articles that generate controversy and media hype.
In the meantime, while the “to feed or not to feed” debate rages, almost every mother will give her kid the elixir of life if she possibly can. Hands down.
Brophy highlights the need for a stronger infrastructure supporting onset of nursing (a most tender and vital beginning) in hospitals and maternity care facilities. Health professionals need to be teed up on the tricks of the trade, in order to grasp the fleeting opportunity for success.
However, there is still a tide of social censure on breastfeeding mothers and this is compounded with midlife moms—the whole idea of granny-aged nursing moms flies in the face of the popular dewy-eyed Venus-de Milo-style-image of a young mother with her baby at the breast.
And this further puts us at risk of making the lame assumption that any challenge to nursing for over 40 moms must be due to age.
Lisa Cohn, a fifty-two year old mother from Oregon who is currently nursing her 15 month old son may be a case in point. Cohn, who had her first two children at 31 and 41 by vaginal delivery was “overflowing with milk” following those pregnancies.
However, when she gave birth to her third child by Caesarean at 51, it was hard getting started and the baby slept a lot. It took months of working with a lactation consultant before they could go with the flow.
Cohn, an author who specializes in parenting and environment, wasn’t sure if the problem was caused by her being an older mom.
Marianne Brophy argues that age has no bearing on our ability to nurse. “Interventions such as caesarean section or labor medications may cause mother and baby to get off to a slow start” she says.
In the end, Mother Nature presides over birth and nursing with her system of checks and balances that have been in place since the beginning of humanity.
Once a woman has conceived and given birth, what’s age got to do with it?