Back to articles What is Love?

Categories: Parenting

A simple question without a simple answer.

 A simple question, without a simple answer. However, you need not look far a-field to observe the effect
that a lack of love induces. Frederick II (1194-1250) Emperor of Germany, wished to determine how and
what a child who had been raised, unspoken to, would speak. Their mothers and nurses were instructed
to nurse and care for their physical needs and nothing else. The exercise was in vain, as all of the
children died. 

Why? What element of care were these children lacking?


Why? What element of care were these children lacking?

The negative impact that is derived from an inability of a mother/infant pair to bond is far reaching. It
has been extremely well researched and documented in many species including humans.  John Bowlby
was the first modern psychologist to explore human primal heritage  and its implications in respect to
maternal infant care and response in both.  It is extremely relevant to recollect that in the past 40,000
years homosapiens (humans as we now know ourselves) and our ancestors have depended completely
upon the effectiveness and ability of a mother to bond with her infant and subsequently nourish and
nurture it at the breast. The static nature of the human body, in comparison to the world surrounding it,
surely requires consideration in the manner in which we raise our infants today.

Studies, anecdotes and assessments of mothers and infants, dating back one hundred years ago and
more, have described the importance of bonding and attachment in humans and animals, as well as the
disastrous effects of compromised bonding. Much attention has been paid to the initial hours and days of
attachment following birth, and the immense behavioral capacities of an infant in its ability to see, hear,
smell, and move in rhythmic response to its mother’s voice. Such reciprocal interaction provides the basis
of communication essential for attachment.  In turn, separation has a negative and disabling impact. The
lengthier a separation becomes, the greater the impact to mother  and more so to child.  

Human mothers learn to recognize their own babies, as their infant in turn, does the same.  Much of this
process begins prior to birth and perhaps even prior to pregnancy.   Mothering is in many ways like
breastfeeding a learned behavior.  A woman’s predispositions to mothering can greatly impact her own
response to mothering.   These experiences provide a cultural context influencing the mother-infant
relationship positively or negatively.  The relationship may then be further complicated by many other
factors.  In many instances the effects modern society has had upon the art and nature of mothering has
been negative.  Yet modern society has also brought many undeniable advantages that cannot be
overlooked.  How can we reconnect women to the art and nature of mothering at the breast, love
embodied, which has in so many capacities, unrecognized to the untrained eye, been lost; while women
also continue to live and work, empowered within the modern world, not simply as women but for those
who choose to be, women who are mothers.

What does this all have to do with breastfeeding? Love and bonding have also been found to be
associated with the release of certain hormones.  The same hormones that are actively involved in
sustaining and maintaining a breastfeeding relationship oxytocin and prolactin, though they have many
roles, have been found to be keenly involved in feelings and actions of loving, caring for, and protecting
loved ones most notably off spring.  Love is not only a poetic pose or a constructed idea, it is a
physiological state on which, for an infant survival and future potential are derived. The nature of the
release of these hormones and their effectiveness is in response to the behaviors that produce them.  So
the behaviors seem to reinforce the hormones and the hormones reinforce the behaviors. If the choice is
made to not breastfeed, what other choices are being made indirectly and unintentionally?

What is lost when breastfeeding, which it is so simply called, despite its true nature and complexity is
prevented, inhibited, or avoided. How does it effect the decisions we make as mothers, the way we raise
our children, and the children we raise? The differences between breast and bottle are immense, not
simply as a source of nutrition or disease prevention but as a fundamental choice in parenting style and
behaviors related. These effects can be far reaching ultimately having an effect on society as a whole.
The act of breastfeeding enables a self re-enforcing chemical pathway of mothering.  One need only
ask an experienced and successfully nursing mother of a subsequent child who, after failing to nurse her
first, (So often due to circumstances that for so many women are far beyond themselves) of the
differences she herself observes in the closeness she shares and the bond she describes with her infant,
whom she has nursed, and the effect it has upon her life.

  Ashley Montague, Touching: The Significance of the Skin (New York: Columbia University Press) 86.
  Susan Hrdy, Mother Nature: A History of Mothers Infants and Natural Selection (New York: Pantheon Books) 97.
  Marshall Klaus and John Kennell, Maternal Infant Bonding (Saint Louis: Mosby) 11.
  Klaus 4.
  Montague 85.
  Michel Odent,  “Promoting Breastfeeding as a Useless Promotion of Love,” Primal Health
  Hrdy 116.