Michael Mendizza

Writer, Filmmaker

Nothing Compares


Breastfeeding, Parenting

They say, breast is best. Well, duhhh. But wait, I’m a guy. What do I know? The overarching question is why have a baby? Hormones, of course. No one can win an argument with hormones. There is only one correct answer, to nurture the healthiest, happiest, most awake, aware, sensitive and responsive human being possible. Having a baby is all about the baby. It is the ultimate ‘giving back.’

Nature invested billions of years nudging us to where we are today and the very least we can do, being so gifted, is to make the most of it. And the best way to express our appreciation is to give back to life our very best, moment by moment, by modeling our very best with this new life placed in our hearts and in our hands. Modeling our best is a huge challenge. But, everybody wins.

Modeling our best depends, however, on one’s degree of enlightenment or self-centeredness. While in Dharamsala, India, recently, I explored with a highly respected counsel to the Dalai Lama a chart depicting ordinary virtues and golden virtues. On the left was a list of virtues common to both categories: be nice, donate to the poor, don’t hit, don’t say mean things, help those who need help, etc. At the top were two column’s headings: The Ordinary virtues, meaning selfish, and the Golden, or selfless, virtues. The same virtues, two very different experiences. 

An ordinary virtue, helping the poor for example, is really about what a wonderful person I am. For example, traveling in Europe one discovers how the cathedrals, magnificent tributes, were erected to strengthen wealthy families’ social and political power, all in the name of you know what. Building something beautiful so people understand how rich and powerful we are is an ordinary virtue. In the golden column there is no self to be puffed up. We give to life because that is what we are. Our babies are that, life expressing life in this unique way. Midwife, yogini and herbalist Jeannine Parvati Baker summed it up this way. “I ask my baby how she wants to be born and I arrange myself thus. I ask my baby how he whats to be held and I hold him that way.”

Over millions of years nature perfectly balanced the needs of mothers and babies. Then convenience, the job, emails, what time is it, Facebook posts and a zillion other abstractions entered the conversation. Did I call Facebook a distraction? OMG!

Over 95% of all women are physically capable of breast feeding. Beautiful Z, my wife, took to pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding like a duck to water. But why do so few, for such a short period of time? Only 16.4% of American mothers breastfeed exclusively for six months. It doesn’t make sense. Nature floods the nursing mother and baby with calming, pleasure inducing hormones, one of the many reasons why Carly Elizabeth passes out in the process.

There must be something getting in the way. A psyche full of distractions and, dare I say another factor, is embodiment. On one end of the embodiment continuum sensual touch and pleasure is rich and fulfilling. That mom enjoys the sensual experience nature intended, the loving waves of oxytocin, endorphin and other hormonally induced pleasures. The other end of the embodiment continuum is best represented, ironically, by a woman who managed the WIC program for a large county in California. In a candid moment she leaned over her desk and said, “Really, you want to know? Breastfeeding is like having a giant, sweaty tic stuck to your body all day.” For one, pleasure, for another, the same experience is disgusting. This distinction may be a factor in who breast feeds and for how long.

Add to this a million distractions. You can tell when the person you are with is paying complete attention to this moment you are sharing, or most often not. Babies are acutely aware of the quality of attention we are sharing. Ideally, breastfeeding asks for moments of quiet, attuned attention. As when giving birth this intimate exchange requires privacy, feeling safe, not being observed, very little or no verbal-intellectual activity, on demand, twenty minutes every two to three hours. A Zen master would find this challenging. There is a very good reason why the highest percentage of women who exclusively breastfeed for one year or more are affluent.

For over 100 years women have been “told” by “corporations” that formula is good for babies, that mothers need to rest, formula is fortified, causes babies to sleep longer, etc. Forty-five million dollars were spent in 2013 on formula propaganda. Advertising is propaganda. Work makes breastfeeding difficult, often impossible. Formula is more convenient, easier to schedule. 57% of the workforce are mothers with infants. Up from 53% in 2004. The U.S. has no guaranteed paid maternity leave. We proudly rank on every measure of family policy – last. That makes us the very most stupidest.

Formula pushers give samples to hospitals. Nurses give “free” formula samples to new mothers, which represent a strong tacit “medical endorsement.” But wait! How credible is this silent endorsement? The US ranks:

  • 13th (last) for low-birth-weight percentages
  • 13th for neonatal mortality and infant mortality overall
  • 11th for postneonatal mortality
  • 13th for years of potential life lost (excluding external causes)
  • 12th for life expectancy at 1 year for males, 11th for females
  • 12th for life expectancy at 15 years for males, 10th for females

The combined credibility of our wonderful, most expensive, lifesaving system in terms of compound adverse effects from medical treatment proudly places the U.S. medical profession as the third leading cause of death in the U.S., after heart disease and cancer.

In a personal interview, Ashley Montagu noted: “There is more intelligence in the upper and lower lips of a newborn baby than all the obstetricians in the world.” But all too often we are out of step with this innate intelligence and trust our intellect instead. Go figure?

According to the CDC more than half of U.S. hospitals offer new mothers free formula gift bags. A majority of mothers receiving samples take the bait with 7 out of 11 reporting lower rates of exclusive breastfeeding. U.S. baby formula market is estimated to be a $5 billion per year industry. $5 billion is a big incentive not to breastfeed.

The point worth ranting about is obvious. The society we create, one that, like it or not, reflects our collective inner core values, does not value, honor or support women as nurturing mothers. If we did we would have a different culture and a different world.

In order for women to protect and nurture life’s most precious gift, life, women need to be protected, supported, respected and yes, nurtured. They need to focus their attention on the miracle unfolding in their arms and nuzzling at their breasts. The highest male responsibility, and therefore culture’s highest achievement is to be that sanctuary. Failing that is literally suicidal. Paraphrasing Maria Montessori – a child not nurtured during its formative years becomes its own worst enemy, and that child becomes the society we live in. What goes around comes around. The way we treat babies is the way those babies will treat the world.

According to James W. Prescott, PhD, if we could do but one thing to reduce violence, after, of course, a fear and drug free birth, it is to allow, encourage and support breastfeeding on demand for two years or longer, as recommended by the World Health Organization. And the reason? Not nutrition. Of course nothing manufactured compares to the infinite subtlety of mother’s milk for a newborn.

The key factor in reducing violence, increasing empathy and therefore gender equality and a more just and truly intelligent society, the key to reducing anxiety, depression, fear and rage is sensory integration, feeling safe, in a word “pleasure.” Right behind the breast while breastfeeding are the heart radiating fields of loving oxytocin, endorphins and other hormonally induced waves of peaceful energy. Ideally the mind of the mother is free from daily concerns and virtual abstractions. (Yes, she stopped texting for a few precious moments.) In that space the warmth of her body surrounds her baby as the unique scent of her baby fills her with a special knowing.

Eye contact, gentle movement, soft touch, quiet smiles, feeling completely safe and nourished floods the developing young brain that integrates these diverse sensations into a self-world view that reflects this unified pattern. Such a brain learns to interact with the world in a loving, empathic, reciprocal way, integrating every experience. This multi-sensory integration unfolding in a loving, pleasurable context develops a deepening emotional intelligence and upon these two the intellect forms and expresses this unified-wholeness. And that expression becomes the society, the world. A body-brain denied this loving sensory integration disassociates. Its self-world view is more isolated, detached, cut off, more selfish, sensory and emotionally hungry, compulsive-addicted, less empathic and therefore more violent.

Indeed, Breast is Best for 101 Reasons and more. But we forget. We are so distracted, busy with trivial abstractions and distractions. But I know Carly Elizabeth knows what is important.

Michael Mendizza