There’s A Person On Your Breast – Don’t Take The Intimacy Out Of Breastfeeding

Sometimes I read an opinion or sense a pervasive attitude that gives me a knot in my gut. If you’re a blogger (I’m learning), this is a signal that you need to share your thoughts. Of course, at first you tell yourself, “Hey, Self, forget about it – don’t ruffle feathers. Your point of view will be unpopular and may offend. Other parents may feel criticized and judged — which is the last thing in the world you want to do.” But in the end you have no choice. Really, there’s no point in writing at all if you censor the thoughts that rile you.

I recently read a post that stimulated a lively discussion. The author’s point: a photo of a woman breastfeeding should not be considered intimate — “intimate” implies something private and sexual. Although breastfeeding can be a tender time of bonding, it’s often “just a meal”.  It should be openly engaged in anywhere and not necessarily given special attention, or any attention. “Although I did stare into my son’s eyes and kiss his fingers and yes, cry, while he nursed, I also read books and magazines, fooled around on Facebook, watched TV and was downright bored.”

Commenters disagreed with the author about the term ‘intimate’ connoting sexuality, but most concurred that while breastfeeding can be a time of love and intimacy, it is just as often “servicing” a baby. “Fast food”, one mom called it.

‘Intimate’ is not just a sexual word in my book (or the dictionary for that matter), and there’s no getting around the fact that breastfeeding is a physically intimate activity.  My point (and infant expert Magda Gerber’s belief ): babies need it to be emotionally intimate, too. That doesn’t mean we have to be behind closed doors, staring in each other’s eyes. But it does mean being present, whether we’re feeling bored, tired, impatient or lonely, whether our eyes are open or closed, whether we’re in the middle of a shopping mall, on a bus stop bench, or cozy in our chair at home.  Our baby needs us to share the experience, to include him, not be somewhere else.

What disturbs me is not a mom’s choice to make a particular feeding session “just a meal”.  It is the assumption that our choice makes no difference to a baby.  There is a perception implicit in this particular discussion, elsewhere on the web, and pervasive in our culture that babies are not as conscious and aware as you and me. They are not fully present, not quite real people yet. I once had this view myself, so I understand it. But, in fact, recent studies like the ones reported in Jonah Lehrer’s  Wired Science – The Frontal Cortex show that babies are even more aware than we are, because they lack the neurological ability older children and adults have to tune out stimuli.

What is our baby thinking when we’re watching TV or on Facebook while he’s sucking away?  Does he feel valued…or totally insignificant? How might our inattention affect his self-worth?  Granted, it is easy to underestimate and ignore a person who has very limited communication abilities. Babies can’t ask for our attention. They accept what we give and come to expect it, but isn’t that all the more reason to give them the benefit of any doubt?

Our baby is new to the world, and every moment we spend touching and holding him is a lesson about intimacy, about what it means to be in a relationship with another.  We don’t have to be a perfect parent — stuff happens, and we can’t always be attentive while we feed our baby. We just have to perceive our baby as a person, a partner, and have the good intention to include him whether it works out each time or not. That might mean acknowledging, “I’m sorry, I’m so tired that I’m going to close my eyes while you drink, but I love you.” Or, “It’s loud and distracting here, I know. “  Or even, “Just let me accept this friend request and I’ll be right back with you.”

The author of the post, who created her site “because of her passionate commitment to breastfeeding”, and others are admirably spreading the word that breastfeeding is the optimal choice for mothers and should be openly accepted and encouraged by society. I share her concern that the notion of attentive feeding can be intimidating and overwhelming for new moms, who may be struggling to establish breastfeeding, needing to do whatever it takes to get through the early months.  But the issue is not about being perfectly attentive every time. It’s an attitude. It’s making those times when we’re distracted the exception, so our babies can learn that physical and emotional intimacy belong together.



Please share your comments and questions. I read them all and respond to as many as time will allow.

  1. Hi Janet!

    I,m Brenda, from Mexico City, I wrote to you last month because our baby was awakening in the middle of the night, do you remember?
    You were so right about the tips you gave us about the sleeping problems we were facing, but we´re back on track now! Sleeping all night until 6 or 7 am. Thankyou!!

    I need to study for a conference I´m giving about active participant. I´m working at RIE Parent/Infant Guidance Classes Center ( and we´re teaching parents about RIE, so I was wondering if you wrote something about it. Although I have Magda´s Book I just want to know your point of view.

    Thanks for your time!
    See you.

    1. Hi Brenda! So good to hear from you. I’m glad sleep is back to normal at your house.

      I think you are asking if I’ve written about babies participating actively in feeding, diapering, bathing, etc., right? Here are some posts:

      Breast and bottle feeding:
      Toilet traing:

      More about Magda Gerber and active participation:

      Hehe…hope you’re not sorry you asked! Please keep in touch!

      1. Lisa Blocher says:

        Hi Janet-
        I stumbled across your blog because one of my friends posted a link to one of your articles on FaceBook…about intimacy & breastfeeding…
        Just reading Brenda’s (from Mexico city) email…and she thanked you for some sleeping tips you sent her. So I’m writing to you to ask for some advice in that area as well.
        My baby is 6 1/2 months old and waking every 2-3 hrs at night & the past few days – hourly…I try to just pat him and assure him by standing near his crib – but his crying escalates & I can’t bare just to leave him – so I pick him up – & either gently bounce him back to sleep on my shoulder or nurse him depending on his cues…most of the time he wants to nurse…
        Because the past few nights have been so sleepless – his daytime routine has been off, as well.
        I feel so frustrated and just like I’m doing everything wrong! Which I know is not true – because he is so happy! I just feel like I’m failing…
        Anyways – any resources or advice you can offer would be greatly appreciated.
        Thank you so much…

        1. Hi Lisa! You’re definitely NOT doing anything wrong or failing in any way. Do you think your boy is teething? The discomfort might be waking him up. My thought is that he is going through a difficult phase because of the teething, and he’s also become used to the bouncing or nursing to get him back to sleep. How does he go to sleep at night and for naps? Does he usually fall asleep bouncing or nursing? I would work on those times first, rather than changing the routine in the middle of the night. Gently take him off the nipple before he falls asleep at nap or bedtime and allow him to go into his crib relaxed, but still awake. Then, if he cries a little, you can stay there, talk to him soothingly and maybe caress him while he goes to sleep. Tell him about the new routine beforehand. One sleep specialist I admire recommends placing the baby the crib facing downward so that he sees where he’s going. Some babies are very disturbed when they awaken and don’t know how they got there after falling asleep in the parent’s arms or in a different position.

          Your goal might be to encourage him to find sleep with your emotional support, but with you doing less, and giving him opportunities to practice when you have the energy (during the day or early evening) to do that. Most sleep experts also say that creating a healthy routine for daytime sleep is the key to better sleep at night.

          1. Carol Hewitt says:

            I’m an infant/toddler teacher and have always made a practice of telling an infant that I’m about to put him/her into their crib — even if they’ve fallen asleep in my arms on the way to nap or after a bottle. I don’t wake them, but assume that they’re probably at a very shallow level of sleep and can hear and process enough to avoid that sudden sit-up-look-around shock that hits us all when we wake up in unexpected locations.
            Pretty much always say the same thing: “I”m going to put you in your bed and, ooo, you can stretch your body and wiggle into your most perfect position, yes it feels so good.” With very tender sleepers, or while building the expectation, I leave my hands between their bodies and the mattress when I first lay them down. “You’re there,” I whisper. “In your crib in the nap room at school. I’ll be here when you wake up (or – if I won’t be – I tell them who will).” I slide each hand away slowly, releasing their weight onto the mattress as they retake control of their bodies. Then I leave them the heck alone.
            And, of course, getting them to bed before sleeping is so much better. And (my preference) getting rid of the cribs so the small people can crawl or toddle to their low nests or beds on their own is best of all.

  2. “It is the assumption that our choice makes no difference to a baby.” I agree with you that it does make a difference to the baby and to the ongoing relationship between mother and child.

    I am not a willing participant in the either/or discussion of formula or bfeeding.

    But that assumption seems akin to propping a bottle for the baby to feed from. I also think the many comments to the tune of “fast food” denigrate women and their unique role of giving birth and caring for infants.

    1. Yes, it is akin to propping a bottle, which I don’t believe is good for babies either. Feedings of any kind are ideally a time of intimacy, especially in those first years when babies are learning about relationships, life — and their place in it — so rapidly and profoundly.

      Personally, I wouldn’t want my breasts confused with a McDonald’s drive-thru.;-)

      1. I have come to see breastfeeding as a time to get centered for both myself and my 1 year old. When he asks to nurse, I realize it comes at a time during the day that I need to slow down. It’s almost as if he’s reminding us both to slow the pace.

  3. It can’t be said often enough ! Thanks Janet !

    I just read a post in a forum by a mother asking if the mobile phone radiation is dangerous for the child cos she’s on the www every time she is breastfeeding. Well – if you’re scared it might be dangerous don’t use it in the first place but despite that – how hard is it to seriously sit down, disconnect from the world and tightly connect to your baby ?
    Sad. Very sad.

    1. I agree that it is sad that some women haven’t discovered the pleasure and the sense of intimacy and deep connection that can come from being present and paying close attention when breast or bottle feeding a baby, but I believe we have to try to be sensitive to the fact that for some people it is “seriously hard to sit down, disconnect from the world, and tightly connect with a baby.”
      Many people have not ever had someone to model such connectedness for them, nor have they been introduced to Dr. Pikler’s and Magda Gerber’s ideas about feeding babies in a respectful way, by bringing full attention to the baby while caring, so they might not have had the opportunity to experience the benefits for themselves and their baby.
      There isn’t a lot of support in our society for slowing down and paying attention in general.Usually, people are encouraged to multi-task.
      Many new Moms are trying to switch gears from working in a pressured
      professional environment to being at home (at least for a short while) with a baby. This is a big adjustment for many to make.
      Most new Moms feel overwhelmed, exhausted, and/or isolated, and may choose to watch t.v., talk on the phone, check e-mail, etc., as a way to feel connected to the outside world and/or to “feed” themselves, by meeting some of their own needs, while feeding their baby.
      I have compassion and understanding for Moms that make this choice, even as I strive to suggest that there might be a different way…
      I’m glad that Janet’s site exists to give people alternatives to common and accepted ideas that don’t really support parents or babies.
      If I had a wish, I’d wish that we lived in a society where there was more support and understanding in general for what babies and their parents need.

      1. Lisa, I can’t thank you enough for sharing these thoughts (and so eloquently) because I have had them, too. I have been the mom nursing at 2, 3 and 4 AM, lonely and desolate with no one to share with, but a tiny, needy, non-verbal person. I have been bored out of my mind with the monotony of caring for my babies. I’m going to write more about this because I agree that moms need to know that those feelings are normal.

        And you’re right that few talk about valuing intimacy with our babies during feedings.

        The truth is that making feedings a peaceful, intimate time together makes the mechanics of breastfeeding work better, too. I spoke with a lactation consultant today about that and she concurred. If we can relax and let go of the outside world, it makes life with a baby easier.

        Thankfully (or not), our children’s infancy is a very, very short period of time in the scheme of things.

      2. Beautifully put, Lisa! So many aspects of RIE run counter to the predominant culture of our time, and especially challenging for individuals who may not have gotten secure attachment in infancy/childhood.

    2. In the early days you spend a minimum of 8hours out of every 24 hours feeding. I challenge anyone to not find that “hard” and to “disconnect from the world and tightly connect your baby” for all of those hours is simply not a realistic expectation (Particularly if you also have older children who need you too.) and your comments are quite judgmental actually

      Signed, someone who has happily and lovingly breastfed for a number of years through more than one child!

  4. The talk about fast food reminds me of this picture: which I wrote about for a paper about breastfeeding and the media in college, maybe you’ve seen it before… I agree with Barbara completely, referring to breastfeeding as “fast food” is insulting and I’m sad that some mothers feel this way.

    I feel so passionately about respectful feeding. Thanks for keeping on top of this important topic!

    1. Weird picture! Was that an ad for McDonalds? Christina, I would love to read your paper!

  5. I know you didn’t write this post to make women feel guilty, but after reading it, and after looking back at all the times I screwed around on the internet or read a book while nursing, I do, indeed, feel guilty.

    I did make a conscious effort to tune into her and stop doing other things, but then she wouldn’t look at me or would close her eyes, and I felt like the bonding wasn’t happening, so I would go back to other things. Not every time, but still.

    I just recently stopped nursing at 18 months. I feel proud for getting to this point, but I also feel guilt for maybe not making the most of the experience.

    1. Megan, I love that you shared this, but now I feel REALLY guilty for causing you to feel that way! Knowing you, you have found many, many other other ways to bond with your girl. You are one of the most “hands-on”, attentive moms I know, so please don’t feel guilty!

      This post was in response to the idea that it doesn’t matter what we do while a baby nurses…it’s all the same to the baby. My point is that it our baby’s point of view is something to be mindful of…that’s all.

  6. Thanks, Janet. I know nursing is just one of many ways we bond with our babies, and I definitely feel that Charlotte and I are bonded.

    Don’t feel guilty for making me feel guilty. I ALWAYS feel guilty! LOL

  7. My son just turned 1 and I am still nursing him. It’s a wonderful way for us to bond and reconnect, especially since I work outside the home all day.
    However, the first 6 weeks of breastfeeding were very challenging. He was a “slow eater”, and he would take 50 minutes to an hour at every feeding. He fed every 2-3 hours, so I was literally in a glider or on a couch for about 10 hours a day while he ate. No matter how delighted you are with your new baby and how much you love him, spending 10 to 12 HOURS a day simply gazing at a little baby who has his eyes closed has the potential to drive a sleep-deprived new mommy to the point of giving up on breastfeeding completely. So, I did read, watch TV with the volume low, or sometimes try to rest my eyes. I felt guilty about it, but knew that I would feel more guilty if I let myself get frustrated and give up.

    He now nurses for only 5 or 10 minutes and it’s not long enough for me! We try to always go somewhere quiet where we can connect and minimize distractions, and it’s lovely. So, while I wholeheartedly agree that many moms may not make the most of the chance to make breastfeeding intimate, I also know that there are situations where its incredibly difficult to do what you feel you “should” be doing, and choices have to be made to ensure everyone’s happiness and sanity.

    And to your point about those lonely, middle of the night feedings…I always tried to think of all the other mommies in the world who must be awake and nursing their babies at that very moment, and it made me feel much less lonely.

    1. Julia, thanks for sharing. I don’t think we should feel guilty for any of the choices we make that help us get through those early days. And with an toddler, if it’s not intimate the way it is with you and your boy, why bother?

      My frustration comes with the attitude that the baby isn’t considered as a fully present individual. And, honestly, for those who struggle with breastfeeding, a noisy, distracting, stimulating environment can only make feedings more difficult for the baby. I have read posts by bloggers detailing ways to type and scrapbook while nursing as if the baby is non-existent. I just don’t think we can believe that our attention doesn’t matter.

      Good idea to think about those other mommies in the night. You must not have had a crazy single neighbor like we had when one of my babies was small. He had 2 AM parties in his pool and caroused like a maniac all night long, which made feel even lonelier (not that I wanted to join him… Ew!)

  8. Miven Trageser says:

    Janet, your motivation to write after reading these items written “as if the baby is nonexistent” is beautiful. I would say that if you acknowledge your baby’s point of view, you have done the most important thing and there is less of a road map as to what you must do next. I think of this as a space-creating stance. A lot of judgment about ideal present-centered, bonding breastfeeding can then be avoided, because there are not as many do’s and don’ts once you have shifted in this fundamental way, and acknowledged the selfhood of the other. (By the way, this helps couples in therapy too!) You mention some great examples of how you can be present to your own fatigue, for example. That creates space for the baby.
    In my field of psychology and infant/child attachment security, these ideas are borne out by research. The parents’ capacity to reflect upon the infant’s mental states is a predictor of attachment security. It is through this process that the child’s earliest Self is created and they develop what is called a Theory of Mind, part of what distinguishes us as social creatures.

  9. I just wanted to say that as I am still nursing my 8 month old 30 week preemie. I absolutely agree that it matters and the intimacy is there, important and something that your baby craves. My daughter around 6 months no longer tolerated my making her feeding time my down time. Whether I was sleeping, watching t.v., or reading she would not settle and eat till it was quiet and I made eye contact. This is my third time around nursing and they all reached a point where the world was more interesting than eating but the other two never seemed to demand the same level of attention. I honestly feel she needs the connection and has made it clear she wants it. So those days I’m exhausted and really just wish I could zone out, I try to remind myself in a year or two she won’t want that kind of attention she will be asserting her independence.

  10. I am currently BFing my 18 month old daughter. I have had many ups & downs throughout my experience. Several– okay, I am done. DONE. moments. Without getting into all of that, I am so happy to be nursing my daughter right now. A big turning point for me was when she hit 12 months old, had finished nursing but hadn’t unlatched yet, and looked up at me with a big “I’m about to do something funny” grin. She then created a pattern of hums (ex/ “Hum. HumHum. Hum) and used her eyes to prompt a response. So, in response, I repeated her hum pattern and she was delighted- it made her feel heard by me. Even now, at the end of each nursing session she plays this game. It is one of the best times of our day. Bonding over breastfeeding took several months for me…but eventually we got it.

    1. Thanks for your lovely story!:-) Yes, there will always be ups and downs with our children, whatever it is we are doing together. We aren’t always able to connect. The important thing is to have the intention to include our baby in the experiences we share with her…especially when it is an activity as intimate as breastfeeding. We must acknowledge the fact that our babies have a point of view that matters.

  11. The thing about breastfeeding is that the closeness is pretty much part & parcel of the act. Yes, it’s possible to ignore your baby while he’s at the breast, and/or nurse in a perfunctory manner, but it’s hard to do so completely!

    There is research on mothers with postpartum depression and breastfeeding where they looked at the babies’ brain activity. The babies of depressed mothers who were breastfeeding had the SAME type of brain activity as babies whose mothers weren’t depressed. Babies of depressed mothers who were not breastfeeding had different (impaired) brain activity. In other words, breastfeeding in and of itself, *even when the mother is depressed and not making an effort to connect with her baby*, gives babies a normal experience of bonding and development.

    I think we can trust babies to let us know when they need more connection with us while nursing (my babies certainly communicated this very clearly!), and when they are content to just nurse and think their own thoughts while we occupy ourselves.

    1. I respectfully disagree that an infant can let us know when she needs more connection while nursing. An older one, perhaps, but by then our babies have already learned to expect our distracted presence, if that is what we have given them. Babies get used to the habits we create. Anyway, I don’t believe it should be a newborn infant’s responsibility to ask for the attention they deserve while they are “up close and personal”. It’s up to us to honor our baby that way.

  12. I think I just had an epiphany! My daughter is 6 months old, and we’ve struggled through reflux issues (hers) and supply issues (mine) to maintain breastfeeding. For the past month or so, she’s gotten into the habit of grabbing fistfuls of my breast and pushing away so that she’s barely latched on, which caused a great deal of soreness and more supply problems. I tried everything I could think of, from different positions, to holding her arms away from her face and trying to keep her from moving away from my breast. Nursing became a very stressful time for both of us and I just didn’t see how we could continue this misery.
    During one nursing session, I gently moved her hand away and stroked her arm, made eye contact and talked to and smiled at her. What a difference! She melted into me and gave me a great big milky smile and nursed without struggling to get away. Could our whole problem have been that she was begging, screaming, crying out for my focused attention? And all this time I thought she would be happy just to nurse while I read or watched TV or whatnot.
    We forget that nursing is about so much more than JUST nutrition. Now I try to listen to her cues and give her all the attention she’s been craving during our nursing sessions, and it’s made for a much happier (and healthier!) baby and mommy. I didn’t realize until reading this posting that this “intimacy” is exactly what has been missing.

    1. Tamara, I’m so glad you have figured this out. Kudos to you for being sensitive and insightful!

  13. I wish I would have read this a few days ago. I just blogged about my breastfeeding experience on my blog. I’m happy with the way it turned out, but reading this prior would have given me more to think about before writing.

    I wrote truthfully about my own personal experience and of course I managed to offend some people in my life. My feeling is that if it offends them, then maybe they needed to be a little offended.

    1. Emily, exactly. I’m glad you wrote your post (enjoyed reading it) and I honestly can’t imagine how it could offend anyone (but what do I know?). I would love to hear more of your thoughts on breastfeeding and intimacy…whether you think the two need to belong together or not.

      1. Thanks for reading.

        I agree with you 100%. I think we need to at least be present (if we are awake). There have been times I try to do other things while I nurse. I find the more distracted I am, the more distracted my son is too. When I am completely present during nursing sessions, they tend to last longer and I get less aggravated. If I am trying to do something else, all I can think is “Is this almost over? I really need to finish _____.” That’s not the kind of attitude I want to have. If I am doing something with my child, whatever it is, I want to be there, present and attentive.

        Now, during middle-of-the-night feedings, all bets are off. I’m a zombie at that point. 🙂

        When all is said and done, intimacy is not sexual. Breast feeding is an intimate act. It is where a child first learns trust. Even if you are bottle feeding, you should be attentive and present.

  14. It is very important to be engaged when interacting with your baby…that is a given. Focusing on the words to describe these moments is not necessary. The word intimate connotes a special time between the mother and child.
    It seems to me that when one criticizes the words like “intimate” and “fast food” that moms use to describe their breastfeeding experience you are in fact making mom uneasy about her abilities yet again. This time it is her ability to communicate.
    Lets try to support breastfeeding any way we can and not be so hard on how moms describe this worthy experience.

  15. I totally agree with you. I love being part of the experience. Though I must say that I have found it so much easier to be present while nursing baby 2 than I did with the first! Mostly because we have had some feeding issues and for the first 15 weeks of her life I had to take her into my bed and feed her laying down every single feed. She is now 16 weeks old! Yep one whole week of being able to feed while sitting up. I am committed to remaining tuned into her while we feed.

    My son on the other hand was a sleepy feeder and took an hour to feed…for months. feeding laying down was impossible and I almost fell asleep and dropped him during night feeds on more than one occasion. SO to survive the many night feeds I watched pre-recorded episodes of favourite tv shows to keep me awake. I do feel a bit guilty about that, but at the same time I’m not sure how I would have gotten by without it.

    I also wonder if the whole notion that breastfeeding should not be ‘intimate’ is because of the general attitude in our society that boobs are actually sexual objects (not to mention being ‘rude’ and to be covered up at all times) and are only on loan to babies for a short period of time, after which they should go right back to being sexual??

  16. Stephanie says:

    Thank you for this article! I have always enjoyed feeding my children, and have encouraged everyone I know to breastfeed. I am guilty, however, of just giving a “meal”. In fact, I was nursing the first time I read this, lol. After reading this I have been making a point to make eye contact and give him my full attention. At first I couldn’t even get him to look back at me no matter how hard I tried because I had spent so much time doing other things while I nursed. This was heartbreaking for me, and I have made it my mission to change how I spend the time I have with him. After a few weeks of this he is now playing and responding to me! Thank you again for giving me this new way to look at something so important!

  17. Interesting topic! I definitely have spent a lot of time when my girls were nursing online, and sometimes, I did feel guilty and turned it off. I feel very strongly about seeing parents tuning out on their cell phones or smartphones, not engaging with their kids on walks and outings and such — and is a major reason I’ve not gotten a smartphone, actually!

    That said, it was also my lifeline when I was housebound nursing twins (or even my singleton) for literally 10 hours a day to connect with the world and other mothers via the internet (or by reading a book). I would have gone totally nuts if I had not.

    I think there is a balance to be found, though! When they were nursing a lot I would definitely connect with them sometimes and have those awesome, just being together moments — we had them many times a day, for sure, and we all savor them! As my girls started shortening their nursings, I did start putting down the computer/ipod more. But when you have a comfort nurser, or a child who nurses to sleep, for instance, they are not looking to connect with you 100% of the time, either (at least mine weren’t!). I found my girls fell asleep (and still do, as we still nurse to sleep for naptime) MUCH faster and more reliably if I took a mental break and did some reading while they nursed and dosed off.

    So, mainly, I agree with you, but I also think that there can be a balance here, and it’s not all or nothing in my book.

  18. Kim Lewis says:

    Hi Janet, I continue to love your blog! When the comments on a post get long, I find it hard to read through them all to see if what I want to say has already been said! What I want to say is that the most important thing is that breastfeeding be perceived as “normal” and something every mother does (that would be the day). Some do it sleepy, some do it distracted, some do it attentively, some space out, some do it unconsciously (and literally fall asleep), some use the time to read, some visit with a friend. The oxytocin release can make you drowsy. All are within the range of normal breastfeeding behavior the world over. When terms such as “intimate” are used, if it harms even one breastfeeding relationship because someone viewed the mother’s experience as “sexual” then I would proceed with caution. While I felt the breastfeeding relationship to indeed be intimate, it was also boring and a nuisance sometimes. I was an avid breastfeeding mom, breastfeeding a total a nine years of my life, and I’m here to say that it runs the gamut. Anna Tardos (director of the Pikler Institute) said that children raised at home by their own mothers are generally not at risk of NOT getting their needs for attention met, so while attentive feeding is imperative for babies in child care, it is less imperative for babies at home. And Ed Tronick found that attentive mothers are only attentive 30% of the time. On the other hand, new mothers need good models of attentive feeding. That remains the ideal, and is such an opportunity to get to know one another.

  19. I haven’t been able to read through all of the posts; but like one other Mom wrote, this article did make me feel a little guilty. My son nurses for hours everyday. He’s been doing this his whole life. When he was a newborn sometimes he nursed all day. I was lucky enough to be home with him and able to do it. He’s now 22 months old and if I were to stare deeply into his eyes the whole time he nursed I would go nuts. I do sometimes stare at him. And sometimes he smiles up at me . But for the most part he’s sort of watching or my chest me by route and I am watching nexflix on mute and reading the subtitles. Its the only way I can do this so often. While we aren’t always engaged in tender moments the entire experience is very tender and intimate.
    Further, I think the idea that we have to be careful about using the word intimate is frankly very strange. Why even give more power to the bizarre idea that breastfeeding is sexual. While we nursing mamas may be marginalized and ostracized for nursing, we certainly don’t have to also not use words that might make someone uncomfortable. That whole concept is so unsupportive of nursing woman.
    As far as calling it fast food. I think that is actually kind of a radical concept and in our modern society where everything is about being fast,quick, and easy– it could actually empower more woman to nurse.

    1. I agree. As someone still nursing an almost 2 year old, this article basically worked to make me feel guilty because often, when she’s nursing (usually with her eyes closed) I like to snatch some “me” time. I do my utmost to be respectful to my baby and connect with her, and my instinct (unlike this article) tells me I succeed, but to be honest if I couldn’t read a book or the newspaper on my phone sometimes when I’m feeding then I doubt I would have kept it up so long. To say that me doing so is tantamount to “propping her up with a bottle” is incredibly insulting.

  20. Hi Janet,

    I’d like to share this with you in connection with this post. Since I practiced paying full attention to my son during breastfeeding (and also nappy changes), I am constantly reminded by him (5 month old) when I don’t. If I am talking to others, typing at my blackberry, or even glancing somewhere else!, he would stop feeding and look curiously to the source of my distractions or to me (not in an upset way, but in a very loving smiley way sometimes with a little sound). Not until I meet him back eye-to-eye that he would latch back on. The strange thing is he doesn’t look at me during his feeding but as soon as my attention get shifted from him, he knows! What a wonderful gift of reminder 🙂

    And yes sometimes I am still tempted and got bored or tired or whatever… (guilty as charged!)

    1. Fantastic story, Grace! Enjoy your lovely and sensitive boy…he’s tuned in!

  21. FIrst let me say that I think your perspective on this is wonderful. You have a great take on a lot of issues and I love reading your posts. …that being said I viewed this article very differently. As a dietitian I wonder if this dis-connect during infant feeding times (nursing or bottle-feeding) is akin to the one the population is experiencing at large today. Many adults and even children do not connect over mealtimes like in the past when dinners were a family event. A time for the activities and happenings of the day to be discussed and bonds to be formed with parents and children. Now meals are eaten in the car of in front of a television. Or in the rare case the family is together then cellphones are ringing and people are checking their facebook comments. No genuine conversation or real connection. Just like some of the moms with these babies. I do not exclude myself from this behavior as I have often watched tv (usually via closed captioning with the sound off) and even facebooked while nursing, but it is alarming how frequently we are now more “intimately” connected with our electronic devices than family and friends. Just a thought-what do you think about this cultural phenomenon?
    Although today when I sat down to nurse I grabbed the remote control but made an active decision not to turn it on but to connect with my baby girl because as many commenters have stated this will not last forever and once done you cannot get those “intimate” moments back.

  22. I am a single mother and have been since 12 weeks pregnant. My family lived 400 miles away when I had my son, my friends were from uni and moved back home. My son fed and still feeds basically all day except when he was newborn the feeds were much longer, I also had a cesarean so I couldn’t go out and meet new people for weeks. I was so obsessed with trying to be a good parent, I found this article and instantly guiltily agreed. I turned my tv off more I tried not to look at my phone, no matter how asleep my child was, when he was about 2 months old he went through a phase of wanting constant eye contact while breastfeeding but after that he would only be distracted from feeding if he had eye contact and averted my gaze if trying to get to sleep at the breast. Being a single mother is isolating and as pathetic as you might think it facebook is a godsend, I could actually talk to other adults through it and share pictures and experiences of my beautiful baby with my family. Tv as well stopped me feeling so lonely and helped me cope with the endless feeds (even now at 15 months he feeds 50-60 times a say despite offering solids and water frequently). I just needed you to know how cutting and hurtful this article is as actually it is not practical either, maybe if my baby fed less if id had more support or even just some some company it mightve been different. I am also curious to how you deal with getting babies to sleep and crying as my son needs rocking etc and you seem to think letting them cry is ok, I have tried this a few times and my son soon becomes hysterically upset I dont understand what happens in your house or evidently a lot of parents houses. I enjoy your “wait” rule and free play and uninterrupted learning ideas I think many think I do this to the extreme and I love this so I am confused by the other thongs you say which dont seem to make any sense to me. I know when my child needs comforting and I always implicitly ask him if I can look at my phone or watch tv with a kiss on the head or a squeeze and acknowledgment that he is either falling to sleep or asleep. I just think your judgements are cutting and unjustified. I would also like to know how long you have breastfed a child because at a certain age there is definitely a time where you just become food some times, a quick pit stop before play starts again.

    1. Catriona – I’m sorry that my perspective is so hurtful for you to hear. Sounds like you are in a very difficult situation and that you have created some habits for your child, perhaps with the (understandable) hope of avoiding his more difficult emotions. I’m wondering what your toddler’s doctor says about him breastfeeing 50-60 times a day…Does he or she believe this is necessary? To be honest, your general approach does not seem like a good fit for the advice I have to offer. The RIE way of thinking is not for every parent, so please don’t take offense.

  23. Hey Janet

    I have been breastfeeding now for five years, one child after another until they are about 2 and a half, so almost done with the last one and I agree that the bonding felt between a child and mother while nursing is intimate as it should be. It is our mistake to associate intimacy with only a sexual aspect when there are many more ways to be intimate.

    In all the years that I’ve been nursing the days that I have the hardest time getting them to nurse to sleep, or settle in to nursing, or making enough milk are the days when I am distracted from them. I might pick them up when they want to nurse and latch them on but then my attention is elsewhere and they sense that. And they don’t like it. Also the days when I became increasingly frustrated with being “stuck” with them, we’re also days when I was too busy worrying about what I wanted to do and not paying any attention to them.

    I am not saying you have to sit there and stare in to their eyes and make a big deal about it, but I do think it’s important to acknowledge the moment, hug, kiss, rub their backs or legs, talk to them as they first start to nurse and then as they get settled in, you can go back to your tv show or book or whatever, with occasional comments to them. Sometimes when I am reading and they are restless, I will just read them a passage from the book, it usually soothes them out of the restlessness. Now that my son is two, he is the one who instigates the intimacy, wanting to hug me, or rubs my neck, or plays with my hair but sometimes he is just as happy to nurse and then jump off and go play.

    As with all things that I’ve noticed in R.I.E. And parenting in any fashion, it should be about recognizing, and acknowledging the other person and respecting them, as a whole being, whether that’s your child who needs to nurse for the fifteenth time in an hour or for the mother who is exhausted and desperately wants a minute to herself.

    As someone who has suffered with post-partum depression three times now, I am grateful for the opportunity to sit and relax for a moment and will usually reflect on things that made me happy that day, like the fact that I have been blessed and lucky that I can nurse successfully and that my children are rarely sick and very healthy because of it. Also the act of nursing releases feel good hormones in women too, so usually after a little session, I feel a bit better too.

  24. I really enjoyed reading this article ( while breastfeeding my 7 month old to sleep for his nap, haha!). I think whatever your opinion on the word ‘ intimate’ the article really highlights that breastfeeding happens as it happens… Some sessions are lovely where u touch hands and faces and gaze at eachother and some sessions are a quick sip on the run!! As mums we feel the need to be doing everything perfectly for our children right down to breastfeeding. I nearly always feed my son ( 2 nd baby) as he’s going off to sleep as he drinks more and isnt so distracted. Thanks again for the article!

  25. I remember when my second baby was born, you know babies can feed for hours for those first few days or even weeks. So was she. When i saw her asleep at my breast i was usually trying to read a book on my kindle or watch something on tv. As soon as i had some sort of device in my hand she was starting to cry till i put it away!

  26. Totally agree but I gotta add that this was much easier with my first child. It is very difficult to connect with my daughter with her brother around… He was only 22 months when she was born, which in my opinion is really young still. I do my best to give her as much attention as I can while nursing, but I am not gonna lie it is a challenge. She is 10.5 months and and an amazing little girl 🙂 balance… It is all about balance 🙂

    1. Oh me too. ME TOO. I have a 17 month old gap and it’s SO HARD to find the time to devote to both of them the way I would like to.

  27. Hi Janet,

    I am a devoted advocate of the RIE techniques and I engage daily with the practices. I have 2 littles, a 5 month old and a 22 month old and I am tired. None of our family sleeps well overnight, and we have just moved, lost my father in law and are renovating.
    I read this knowing you were going to advocate to be more fully connected, but I use the time when I am nursing to relax and not engage. To try and refill my buckets so to speak. I don’t know how to find more energy to connect in when I breastfeed. I am feeling despair as I truly do mindfilly parent all day every day (and all night too!).
    Any advice would be so welcomed.

  28. This is SO timely for me. I just decided to cut out internet this week–I still need it for work and email, but I’m cutting my “coffee time” internet down and will only mess around if he’s napping now, and only every now and then. No more reddit for me.

    I realized it’s affecting me, not just while I’m online, it extends to afterward. And I’m just “here” less.

    I totally agree about this article and I’ve thought to myself, hmm, maybe I should just sit here and be with him. One time I saw a mom at the airport, rocking the stroller and totally reading on her phone. Really??!? Of course we all have these fleeting moments but it just seemed so symbolic. I have a feeling that was how it always is for that mother.

    This article is awesome!!!!!!!!!!!

  29. Janet I totally agree with you and believe I understand what you mean.
    It is funny to see how screens have become such a necessity in life to some.

    I find breast or bottle feeding a moment to be still-in the moment. A moment in silence with my child.

    There are plenty of other moments to gaze at a screen or read articles. I like to check in to Facebook or news mostly in the evenings when my children sleep. Sometimes during the day when they are playing independently.
    Then my attention is also fully there with what I am doing.

    These feedings, whether bottle or breast are more meaningful then some may ‘consider’, both for the one feeding and the one drinking ;). And of course you do not need to sit and stare lovingly into the childs eyes the whole time or make the moment more than what it is. However I do believe that the child feels what we feel, as children are so sensitive to our emotions. Sitting behind screens reading facebook or playing games are stimuli that do affect us even though some may not be aware of this.. so if someone is playing an exciting game or reading an article that stirs up thought and emotion within, the child that is feeding close to that heart of the caregiver, can feel that from the caregiver that thinks they are ‘calmly’ feeding their child. When in fact that caregiver is not present in the moment with their child.

    I think we somewhat underestimate how amazing and important life is. And get lost in things that are at moments (such as feedings) insignificant.

    I actually find it an underestimation of the child who is there depending on us and wishes to feel safe.
    Breast and bottle feeding to me are a moment to rest in stillness with my child. Maybe we glance at each other, smile…. maybe I think for a second about something else… then slip back into the still moment with my child.

    Janet your awesome and I hope you are doing well!

  30. This makes so much sense to me, and reflects a lot of what I was intrinsically noticing when I feed. That isn’t to say I am always 100% engaged with my baby (is that possible for anyone?!), but I try to acknowledge the time as an interaction between two people, which is what I see you advocating here. During times when I am distracted or disengaged, my daughter still gets fed, but I notice that I miss signals to meet whatever other needs she may have at that time
    The way I think of it, if I am at a dinner table with another adult it feels rude to be on my phone (although again, sometimes I still do it). So I try and give the same level of respect to my daughter. And during the times that I do choose to do other things whilst feeding (though desire or perceived necessity) I try and acknowledge to myself that it is an active prioritisation choice I am making, and try and avoid distraction becoming the default position.

  31. Linda Falconer says:

    I’m so happy to see this post. I follow a breastfeeding page because I want to feel connected to the current culture that my daughter is currently navigating as she nurses her 3 close daughters. The main concern among these Moms is pumping & supply – it is a very different climate from my own early mothering experience & I’m learning so much. Thank you for remembering to our young Moms that feeding is not just feeding – no matter how you’re doing it❣️

  32. I had two children who nursed very differently which affected my ability to view nursing as a joyful time of connection. The first nurses every two hours around the clock for 45-60 minutes a session for the first 6 months of her life, though after that began to space out sessions more. She also was an extremely clingy and fussy infant/toddler. She refused bottles, pacifiers, solids etc for a long time. In hindsight there may have been some feeding or other issues I should have looked into but the at the time the advice I received was to keep giving my all without limits, and that this exhausting relationship was normal. I resented motherhood and felt guilty for my resentment.

    My second child was an efficient nurser, and from his first day of life was capable of being finished with a nursing session in 10-15 minutes. He also nursed less frequently and was a more easy going baby overall. I nursed him until age 2 and enjoyed a lot of pleasant intimate moments making eye contact etc with him. But I was able to give in those moments because I didn’t feel resentful in this relationship due to the fact that I actually got breaks.

    I only now recognize fully why I felt so different in these two nursing relationships, and still have some complicated feelings towards my oldest when she demands things of me.

    I would hope that if others encounter mothers struggling the way I was in the future instead of basically telling them to tough it out and be a martyr, (or to just give up) they watch for signs a mother is being driven into the ground by a demanding nursing/clingy infant relationship and help her figure out things that might help. I would have loved to have that intimate comfortable relationship with my first like I did with my second instead of feeling like I was never enough.

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