Breastfeeding: The Crucial First Three Years

In accord with the intent of World Breastfeeding Week (Aug. 1-7, 2007) to draw attention to the importance and values of breastfeeding, I submit the following:

Breastfeeding Provides the Mother
For years I have stressed the importance of prolonged breastfeeding in relation to the importance of the presence of the mother to her child’s formation during the first three years of life. We have experts who have stressed the importance of the early years and that the child should have one consistent caregiver during that time. God has provided this care during the early years through the breastfeeding.

For emphasis on the importance of the early years in this blog, I have chosen to quote from W.D. Virtue’s work in Mother and Infant with his permission. The bold-face type and italics are the author’s.

“The maternal-infant bond is one of the most intense unions in each person’s life. The nursing mother is the best primary caretaker of the infant because of her connatural qualities relative to the infant. Breastfeeding insures that the mother will be in constant contact close by the infant day and night so there is affective touch and time for a one-to-one private tutorial in love. Through this prototypical relation the infant is initiated into fidelity and trust and enters the communion of persons. Thus, in keeping with what we said about affirmation, what matters is not simply what the mother does for the infant – for many people can ‘do’ things for the infant. What affirms the infant is the mother’s person in a relationship in which she is moved with love and joy and in an embodied way manifests this delight in the child who thereby feels he or she is good…. Nature has made woman most apt to be the primary caretaker and private tutor of love” (266-7).

“What holds society together is not merely external authority, laws or other social structures, but the interior capacity for love and trust among persons. The infant best grows in this capacity through the maternal-infant bond established through the one-to-one relation in the first three years. What holds society together is moral respect and trust among persons, and the foundation for this moral respect is in the maternal-infant bond whereby through empathy the mother evokes in the child a sense of good and evil. This moral foundation can be given in the fourth and fifth years of childhood because of the bond established in the first three years of life, whereby the child desires to do the good out of love for mother, in order to maintain their harmonious bond, and the child learns to avoid evil which disrupts bond with mother. True morality is based on a relationship to one loved; this is the proper final causality of moral ends as directed to persons and to God as our true end” (382-3).

“This interpretation of the facts of nature and psychology regarding human infant care leads to the conclusion that the child receives the best care and the needs of the child are put first when there is good mothering…To give the best care to the offspring requires full time mothering in the first three years of life”(383).

Message: Mothers, please do all you can to remain close to your little ones during their first three years of life. If work is a necessity, consider part-time work over full-time work or consider work that can be done at home. During normal day-to-day activities, take your baby with you.
Fathers, offer loving support to your wife and remain with your wife and family. Remember that according to David Blankenhorn of Fatherless America you are that “most significant other” to your children.
Parents, pray for each other and your children daily.

Sheila Kippley
NFP International
Author: Breastfeeding and Catholic Motherhood (Sophia, 2005)
Natural Family Planning: The Question-Answer Book (e-book
at this website, 2005)

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