James Akre on doing what comes naturally …

This article is published with the author’s gracious permission and is excerpted from The Problem with Breastfeeding: A Personal Reflection. (2006). Hale Publishing. Amarillo, Texas.

Notwithstanding conventional carnal canons framed in Hollywood storytelling, Harlequin romance novels and bodice-ripper fiction, which of the following options best describes the first time you had sex with a partner?

  • did-the-earth-move-for-youExquisite! The earth moved magically for both of us; we were instantly attuned to meeting each other’s every need; and we were totally fulfilled by the experience!
  • It was okay but we quickly realized that we still had a lot to learn. So, we promptly resolved to do two things: educate ourselves—and keep doing it until we got it right!
  • Frankly disappointing. I remember thinking: Is this all there is?! Too big an investment for too small a gain, really. I might try it again one day, but there’s obviously no hurry.
  • I found the whole experience disgusting and degrading! I decided, then and there, that flying solo was the way for me. Today, I achieve my pleasure by artificial means only.

Perhaps we need a reference book about ignorance, including a chapter especially devoted to the generic implications of not knowing what we don’t know. What I have in mind is reflected in the all-purpose lament:

“I didn’t think it was going to be this difficult!”—whether “it” refers to riding a bike, having sex … or breastfeeding.

Is it the flawed perception that breastfeeding is so utterly intuitive that leads many observers to assume a no-instructions-required attitude in this regard, and then to be surprised that it’s “so difficult”? This remarkably common premise—and sure-fire recipe for disappointment and failure—is especially ironic if you consider how lacking in positive breastfeeding role models so much of popular culture is today.

We may in fact be more aware of the challenge of learning to ride a bike or having sex—and more confident in our ability to do both well—than we are of breastfeeding. All three are just as surely natural acts as they are learned behaviors; and even if each is not especially difficult, we still need to know the basics and apply ourselves—until we get it right.

James Akre is a reviewer for the journal Pediatrics published by the American Academy of Pediatrics. For almost 25 years, he worked in international public health nutrition for the World Health Organization. James is an author, independent researcher, founder, chairman and CEO of the International Breastfeeding Support Collective, where he has conducted independent research focusing on the cultural, socioeconomic and political dimensions of breastfeeding and their implications for health, development and welfare. He lives in Geneva, Switzerland.