Blood, Breast Milk and Living Water

Blood, Breast Milk, and Living Water

By Robyn Allgood, AAHCC

Therefore with joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation. –Isaiah 12:3

I have always been grateful to have been able to breastfeed each of my babies, particularly my first baby.  My daughter and I struggled after a difficult labor and birth.  Ignorant to the effects of epidurals and other interventions,[1] we had some obstacles to overcome that made breastfeeding harder than it had to be.  I remember crying as the nurse took my baby girl from me and fed her a bottle because she was not latching on.  She had been given a bottle while I was in post-op following a cesarean section.  The bottle of sugar water granted my baby instant gratification.  She did not have to work for the milk and, as a result, she became impatient and unwilling to latch on and work for the colostrum I had to offer her.

I will forever be grateful for the two nurses who sympathized with my desire to make breastfeeding work.  My husband and I decided to make some changes to allow us to get breastfeeding established.  Our baby would no longer go to the nursery.  She would room in with us constantly.  We also banned bottles and had a breast pump brought in.  After many hours of working with our baby with the help of these two special nurses and help at home from my younger sister, mother, and sister-in-law, we were able to finally establish breastfeeding.  I still cry when I think about their loving service.

I learned many lessons from that first experience with breastfeeding.  Thankfully, each of my subsequent babies latched right on without any interruption to the breastfeeding relationship and had the opportunity to work for their nourishment.  Every time I sit down to nurse my newest little baby, I express gratitude to the Lord for this blessing.

Living Water

My early struggles with breastfeeding brought me to a greater appreciation for it.  It was something I had to work and sincerely pray for.  As I sat nursing my fifth baby one day, I pondered this miracle once again.   I thought about how breast milk is made from the mother’s blood that in turn becomes sweet living water full of antibodies and immunities that cannot be replicated artificially.  As one author points out:

In the last 50 years, medical science has learned a great deal about human milk, particularly in the area of immunology. We now know that colostrum is loaded with antibodies that protect newborns from disease, that mature milk has a perfect balance of nutrition for infants, and that toddler milk becomes more concentrated with immune factors as the toddler begins to nurse less. Milk that is produced after a premature birth is different from the milk of mothers whose babies are born fullterm, and those unique properties are beneficial for fragile premies. . . Human milk is a complex, living substance that is the key to good health and optimal development for human infants.[2] (emphasis added)

As I pondered the living nature of breast milk, I then thought of the living water that Christ offers us, available because of the blood Christ shed for us.  The Guide to the Scriptures tells us that living water is, “A symbol of the Lord Jesus Christ and his teachings. As water is essential to sustain physical life, the Savior and his teachings (living water) are essential for eternal life.”[3] In fact, Jesus teaches the woman of Samaria at the well, “Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:13-14).  If you were to break down what breast milk made up of, it is mostly water but it really is more than that:

Mother’s milk, a living liquid, contains just the right amount of fatty acids, lactose, water, and amino acids for human digestion, brain development, and growth. It also contains many immunities a baby needs in early life while her own immune system is maturing. One more instance of mother extending her own power, (love) to her developing child.[4] (emphasis added)

Patience

Patience has never been my virtue, and breastfeeding requires a great deal of it in first establishing the relationship and then as we continue it.  Heather Farrell explains this need for patience well:

It has always really impressed me that a baby has to work pretty hard to get its milk. It has to learn how to latch on and then they have to suck and suck for a while before anything gets flowing. It can be frustrating and slow at the start. Yet the more they suck the more milk their mother produces. If they were to stop sucking, the milk would go away, but when they ask for more, it comes in abundance.

I think that is just like our Father in Heaven. He has told us “ask and ye shall receive, knock and it shall be opened unto you.” He has living water for us, but we have to be willing to ask Him for it, over and over again. Sometimes we even have to work, and it takes a while before anything comes.

If we give up and scream and cry because what we want isn’t coming fast enough, then we miss out. We have to keep working and asking, and soon His living water begins to flow—like a river. It amazes me that this is one of the very first lessons that we are taught when we come to this earth. God could have made breastfeeding a much different process, but I think He knew that His children needed to learn this right away.[5]

Love

Hormones play an important role in this process.  Oxytocin and prolactin are integral in releasing and stimulating milk production and ejection.  Oxytocin is known as the love hormone and causes the ejection of the milk. [6]  French researcher and obstetrician, Michel Odent, pointed out that “it is noticeable that whatever the facet of love we consider, oxytocin is involved.”[7]  Right after the birth of the placenta, we have a high level of prolactin, the mothering hormone.  While we are nursing we continue to have elevated levels of prolactin that decrease over time.  The entire process is triggered by love.  Love is also at the root of what brought about the Atonement.  “For God so loved the world that He gave His Only Begotten Son” (John 3:16).  Author Cory Young has said:

The altruistic oxytocin is part of a complex hormonal balance. A sudden release of Oxytocin creates an urge toward loving which can be directed in different ways depending on the presence of other hormones, which is why there are different types of love. For example, with a high level of prolactin, a well-known mothering hormone, the urge to love is directed toward babies.[8]

It is no mistake that this first meal is sweet. This experience in life is a powerful symbol. God intended for each and every one of his children’s first taste in this life to be pleasing and full of love. Babies go through a lot being born.  How powerful for them to know that life, from the very first mouthful, is intended to be sweet. In 2 Nephi 2:25 we are reminded that, men, women and babies are born “that they might have joy.” God’s symbolism never ceases to amaze me.

Sacrifice

It is a blessing to nurse our babies, but there is a measure of sacrifice involved.  To continue a successful breastfeeding relationship, there is a need for the mother to offer her body to benefit her baby.  It can be hard to adjust to feeling that your body does not just belong to yourself anymore.  All of a sudden your schedule is determined by someone else’s needs for nourishment.  Mom will be on-call day and night.  It reminds me of the constant availability of our Savior when we have needs.  We are reminded that “his hand is stretched out still” (Isaiah 9:16).  He does not turn us away whether it is 3:00 pm or 3:00 am.

Along with losing a bit of independence, sometimes breastfeeding is a trial for mom and baby.  Just ask the mother who has had to deal with thrush, breast infections, cracked nipples, or other difficulties.  She has had challenges to overcome that require sacrifice.  Some women sacrifice greatly to pump and then feed their baby making the process twice as long.  And for some mothers there is a sacrifice of the ideal of what they so desired to give their baby when breastfeeding, for whatever reason, is unable to continue or be established. We are all called upon to “sacrifice in the similitude of the great sacrifice of the Son of God” (D&C 138:13-15).  Nursing our babies is one of the ways in which a mother can sacrifice for the benefit of another as the Savior did.

Unity

It is easy for me to get busy and forget that it is time for my baby to nurse again.  When this happens, she gently rubs her head into my chest until it dawns on me, “Oh, you’re hungry!”  I have become distracted from her needs.  I savor the reminder, and we go to our comfy glider to enjoy a feast of sorts.  I think of her gentle reminders and wonder how often the Savior is quietly and gently nudging me to come to Him and drink of living water.  Breastfeeding has provided me an opportunity to become aware of this need to come to Him frequently, becoming one in purpose.  In Isaiah 49:23 we are reminded, “And kings shall be thy nursing fathers, and their queens thy nursing mothers: they shall bow down to thee with their face toward the earth, and lick up the dust of thy feet; and thou shalt know that I am the Lord: for they shall not be ashamed that wait for me.” I think of “those that wait” for Him as those who continue to come to Him for the living water and nourishment He can provide.  They come again and again (just as a baby does) to partake of his living water through repentance, forgiveness, service, and submitting their will to His.

The other side to the unity we experience through breastfeeding comes from the mother. When a baby has not been fed for a while, a mother will likely experience physical discomfort. Her breasts may become engorged and full and she’ll want, almost with desperation, to feed her baby. It is almost impossible to forget to feed your baby when your chest is full and hurting. This is also symbolic of the Savior:  “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee” (Isaiah 49:15). The Lord doesn’t want to be away from us anymore than we want to be away from Him. He wants, with desperation, to give us the life that He is overflowing with.  Unity works both ways—the mother and child are bound to each other through need and necessity, and the same is true of our relationship with our Heavenly Father.

Pondering this subject has brought me to be more in awe of the miraculous feminine body that God created to give His children life.  The female body is a powerful symbol of God’s love for His children.  Nursing has become more to me than a way to nourish my baby.  It has also become a time for quietly communing with my Savior and to partake of His living water.

NOTES

[1]  Della A. Forster and Helen L. McLachlan,“Breastfeeding Initiation and Birth Setting Practices: A Review of the Literature,” J Midwifery Womens Health (2007) 52/3:273-280. www.medscape.com/viewarticle/558119 (accessed 9/2011).

[2]  Anna Edgar, “Anatomy of a Working Breast,” New Beginnings (March-April 2005) 22/2:44-50.  http://www.llli.org/NB/NBMarApr05p44.html (accessed 9/2011).

[3]  Guide to the Scriptures, “Living Water,” http://lds.org/scriptures/gs/living-water.t1?lang=eng&letter=l (accessed 9, 2011).

[4]  Cory Young, “The Science of Mother Love,” http://www.babiesonline.com/articles/baby/scienceofmotherslove.asp (accessed 9, 2011).

[5]  TGOGL discussion board

[6] Michel Odent, The Scientification of Love, (London: Free Association Books, 2001) 10-11.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Young, “The Science of Mother Love.”

2 thoughts on “Blood, Breast Milk and Living Water

  1. Lani says:

    One of my favorite pieces in the book. 🙂

  2. […] AboutAuthorsBookThe BookBlurbsBuy HereTable of ContentsRead ExcerptsBlood, Breast Milk and Living WaterCreating a Sacred CesareanWe Are Each EveStrengthening Marriage During Pregnancy and BeyondCounsel […]

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