Montessori Parenting: was Montessori supportive of breastfeeding?


On the last day of the International breastfeeding week, I want to share more info about breastfeeding and Montessori.

To start with, let me emphasis that I welcome and support all kind of families and I believe that we can nurse a child by breastfeeding or bottle feeding (or tube-feeding as well).

I breastfed both my children. At the time, I did a lot of research to support my choice. I found some local council based support (while in Ireland) and received support from the Leche league. I was lucky not to have encounter too many issues and I am happy that I was able to breastfeed both of my children for around 4 years each. If you feel triggered by an article about breastfeeding, feel free to skip although I also talk about bottle feeding in a positive way.

Was Maria Montessori against or for Breastfeeding?


Maria Montessori never explicitly talked about breastfeeding.

In the London lectures, written in 1946, she said:

"You can tell me than humanity has existed thousands of years without psychology {...} Until modern times mothers took their children with them everywhere they went, because they breastfed them. {...} there must be a new form of education from birth. Naturally, modern life has to be different. We cannot allow children and their mothers to be out in the dirty street, nor can we send them back to nature. However, we can look at the reality and change the way we treat little children.

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In this quote, she acknowledged that mothers were always with their children. She was always a great advocate of women's rights and was for women being able to work. In her time, sending a child to wet's nurse was common and formula feeding was becoming a reality. She, herself, didn't raise her son in the early years. 

To my knowledge, that extract is the only mention of breastfeeding. She has two books specifically written to parents and one about the child's development under 3. And yet, she doesn't speak about "nursing". Was breastfeeding considered a private matter? Something deeply individual to each family and therefore not discussed by the experts? 

So, Montessori herself didn’t talk about breastfeeding, but some fellow Montessori teachers talk about it at length.



3 books are generally recommended for the parents of a new-born or a child under 3. Those 3 books talk about the benefits of breastfeeding and the importance of the nursing relationship. However, when it comes to weaning, the information provided is outdated and not encouraging.

Those weaning advice are not in line with the WHO recommendations or the last researches about the benefits of extended breastfeeding.

For example, in The Joyful Child by Susan Mayclin Stephenson, although the author emphasizes the importance of breastfeeding, she also warns the parents to not comfort feed the child.

“We must also keep in mind the potential effects of nursing a child in response to every negative feeling – tiredness, pain, or frustration. We should offer loving comfort in those situations but offer a child food only when he is hungry for food. This helps a child stay in touch with his own natural and healthful eating needs, growing into an adult who eats for nutrition and out of emotional needs”.

What the author fails to understand here is that the breast and the nursing relationship is not similar to giving a biscuit, a sweet or a pacifier (and then often send the child away with his comfort treat). The breastmilk, as food in this particular instance, is secondary to the comfort offered by the mother.

Several studies have shown increased antibodies being produced by the mother and given through the milk while her child is unwell. The breastmilk contains antibodies that prevent, postpone, or attenuate diseases caused by pathogens in their environment. Breast milk displays the unique potential to adapt itself to the requirements of the child.

The breastmilk has soporific properties, so induces sleep naturally. Naturally occurring chemicals called nucleotides that have previously been linked to sleepiness only reach their highest concentrations in human breast milk that is expressed at night.

Check this study https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22205210

And this one https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn17908-evening-breast-milk-means-a-good-sleep/

A 2009 study published in the journal Pediatrics showed that breastfeeding (or formula feeding) was more effective than any other intervention (being held, sucking on a pacifier, oral glucose solution) in reducing a baby’s pain after a heel prick, as measured by several factors including the amount of crying and the baby’s heart rate

So clearly science has shown several times that comfort feeding is not an issue.

It is part of the breastfeeding journey. By extension, it is also the case in formula feeding while the parent is totally involved in the process, less so when you give a bottle for your child to feed himself.

Comfort feeding with food is often linked to childhood obesity (and later on with adult’s obesity). Again, the facts have spoken, and the WHO organization states that exclusively breastfed babies have a lower risk of childhood obesity.

I’m sorry to say that I totally disagree with Susan Stephenson although I respect her work as a Montessori guide of many, many years. The book I mentioned was first published in 2001, and many of the studies quoted above are more recent.

I can only guess that her advice was in line with the medical advice of the time.

Another book is highly regarded in the Montessori community: Montessori From the Start from Paula Polk Lillard.

The book was first published in 2003. Again the breastfeeding “advice” is really outdated and to be taken with a pinch of salt. The author clearly recommends completing the weaning process by the time the child is 8 months old.

“After the two-month period for establishing nursing has passed, the mother and child have approximately six months remaining before the process of weaning from the breast is completed.”

She goes on discussing nursing schedule, how to drop one feed at a time, and how to manage discomfort as you wean your baby.

And lastly, the book “Understanding the Human being” which is also a well-known expert book and the basis of the 0-3 Montessori training has some “crazy” advice as well.

The weaning tips, with fruit juice at 4 months old are totally obsolete and not in line with any of the information given today.

I would love to see a revised edition or even a version that skips any kind of food recommendations and advises the parents to check the most updated advice from the WHO.

But it’s not only that aspect that has puzzled me in that book.

The author, Silvanna Montanaro, warns us that if the mother fails to wean the child at the appropriate developmental stage, then there will be trouble.

“Human milk can become another kind of dependence which must be shed just like the womb.”

I’m sad that those 3 books that I do recommend for all the other aspects of Montessori don’t update their information about weaning and breastfeeding.

The most valid recommendation comes from the WHO organization, and it says:

“Review of evidence has shown that, on a population basis, exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months is the optimal way of feeding infants. After that, infants should receive complementary foods with continued breastfeeding up to 2 years of age or beyond”.

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So, dear mother, if you read one of those books, and you feel uncomfortable about their breastfeeding recommendation, be aware that they are outdated.

Rest assured that breastfeeding is compatible with the Montessori philosophy.

Maria Montessori was a medical doctor. We don’t know for sure what she would have recommended at the time. She mentioned some diet advice in one of her books, and yes, it is totally obsolete now. I tend to believe that she would have followed the medical recommendations, and she would have kept up with the research.

Now, I want to continue this blog post with what is good from those Montessori books and share with you some tips about feeding your baby.

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Feeding your baby

 

 – breastfeeding and bottle feeding

“the child will receive not only the food to satisfy his hunger but also the loving presence of the mother. He will be offered information as to how to fill an empty stomach and how to enjoy a human relationship with its many sensory inputs (such as a face to observe, a voice to listen to, the warmth of bodily contact), which become food for the mind.” ~ Dr. Silvana Montanaro, Understanding the Human Being

“the nursing mother should be comfortably seated in a quiet place and feed the child while looking at it. Although it is technically possible to offer the breast and read a book, talk to someone or watch television, we must realize that, in this way, we detach psychological nourishment from biological feeding.” ~Dr. Silvana Montanaro, Understanding the Human Being

​When you breastfeed or bottle-feed your baby, the act of feeding is more than fulfilling a biological need. It is more than providing food to your baby.

When you breastfeed, the spiritual nourishment will be naturally encouraged:

-         The mother is the one nourishing the baby

-         Breastfeeding promotes skin to skin contact

-         Babies can only see things about 8 to 15 inches away. That also happens to be the distance between your face and your baby’s face when breastfeeding.

-         We hold the baby when we breastfeed.

-         We switch side allowing your baby to experience another position which is good for his physical development

-         Our baby can smell us and develop a physical bond

Tips to nourish your relationship with your baby while bottle-feeding:


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-         During the symbiotic period, allow the mother to feed the new-born solely

-         Feed your new-born with skin-to-skin contact. 

-         Similarly hold the baby to breastfeeding, switching sides for each bottle feeding. 

-         Although the bottle may be substituted for the breast, it is still given by a loving caregiver who needs to give her/his undivided attention to the child.

Multitasking while feeding your baby:


It can be very tempting to read a book, scroll your social media on your phone or to watch the television while feeding your baby.

But think how you would feel if your partner was looking at his phone while having dinner with you. You would feel alone, ignored, and hurt. You would feel that you don’t matter.

Feeding is a time to connect with your baby and to bond. I used to read my book once my baby was asleep on me, and I limited my time on devices while actively breastfeeding him. We know we’re not perfect but thrive to limit multitasking.

Read this interesting article about texting and breastfeeding:

Where to find some support regarding breastfeeding:

International:

The Leche League

UK

The breastfeeding network 

Info from the NHS with local contacts

UK Helplines

·        National Breastfeeding Helpline – 0300 100 0212

·        Association of Breastfeeding Mothers – 0300 330 5453

·        La Leche League – 0345 120 2918

·        National Childbirth Trust (NCT) – 0300 330 0700

Websites

·        Baby Café is a network of breastfeeding drop-ins. You can find your nearest drop-in on the website by entering your postcode.

·        Bliss is a special care baby charity that provides vital support and care to premature and sick babies across the UK.

·        The Breastfeeding Network provides breastfeeding support and information.

·        La Leche League offers mother-to-mother support with breastfeeding.

·        The Lactation Consultants of Great Britain can help you find a lactation consultant near you.

·        The Twins and Multiple Births Association (TAMBA) has information about feeding twins and triplets.

·        The National Childbirth Trust (NCT) is a charity that provides information and support on all aspects of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood, including breastfeeding.

·        The UK Association for Milk Banking has information about using donated breast milk if your baby is premature or ill, and how to donate breast milk. 

More info about Bottle-feeding your baby from the NHS.

Recommended book:

The womanly art of breastfeeding:


This book is considered as the bible of the breastfeeding mother. You will find all the info you need for most commons issues and situations. It is published by the Leche league and contains very accurate and up to date information. It was my main source of information about breastfeeding when my children were little.

The book contains a vast range of nursing advice, stories, and information-from preparing for breastfeeding during pregnancy to feeding cues, from nursing positions to expressing and storing breast milk. With all-new photos and illustrations, this ultimate support bible offers:


  • real-mum wisdom on breastfeeding comfortably-from avoiding sore nipples to simply enjoying the amazing bonding experience
  • new insights into old approaches toward latching and attaching, ages and stages, and answers to the most-asked questions
  • strategies for moms who choose to breastfeed for a short time or who plan to nurse for a year or more
  • reassuring information on nursing after a C-section or delivery complications
  • recent scientific data that highlight the many lifelong health benefits of breastfeeding
  • helpful tips for building your support network-at home or when back at work
  • nursing special-needs infants, premies, multiples, and how to thrive no matter what curveball life throws
  • guidance on breast health issues, weight gain, day care, colic, postpartum depression, food allergies, and medication


The most recent edition also contains plus-Internet references for further information, including La Leche League support sites and groups.

Do you have any concerns about breastfeeding? Do you have any questions? Please leave a comment!

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About the Author Carine Robin

Carine Robin is a a mother of 2 children. She raises them the Montessori way. Originally from Belgium where she worked as a child psychologist for several years, Carine spent 6 years in Ireland before settling in in the UK. She qualified as a Montessori teacher 10 years ago and has since worked as Montessori teacher and preschool manager. She founded Montessori-family in 2011 to provide opportunities for parents to discover Montessori. She believes that it’s truly possible to implement the Montessori ideas at home to make your house and family life welcoming to your child, her needs and her thrive for independence. She offers parents & babies classes, toddlers playgroups; Montessori home designs, one to one support, parenting classes and online courses.

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