Nipplephobia: When Mammals May Not Feed Their Young

By Danelle Frisbie © 2009

We, as humans, are the only mammal that would ever be crazy enough to look down on the natural, normal, healthy feeding of our own kind. Much to our detriment.

In her new book, Ina May's Guide to Breastfeeding, Ina May Gaskin discusses nipplephobia in the United States. She asks, "In what species besides our own would adult males or females harass a mother in the act of nourishing her young? Such behavior would not occur to any other creature."

I wholeheartedly agree with her next observation:

I find this kind of behavior neurotic at best, but when it represents the norm for millions of people, I think we have reached the realm of near-psychosis - mass mental illness. If we humans watched adult birds diving and pecking at mother birds as they attempted to stuff worms and insects into the gaping beaks of their chicks, we would think we were watching a horror movie about birds gone mad. It is horrible to see adults behaving in an infantile way that doesn't nurture the generations to come.

Although really, the psychotic manner in which we treat breastfeeding mothers and their young is not even 'infantile.' In fact, infants are the ones who, when left to their own accord, have the feeding/thriving skills down pretty well. It is us adults and our modern ways, void of any trust of the perfect, primal mother-baby dance of balance, who mess it all up. As Gabrielle Palmer writes in her masterpiece work, The Politics of Breastfeeding, "It is almost unknown for a mammal in her normal environment to produce live young and be unable to produce the milk they need." We simply do not find 'supply issues' in any mammal species - other than those which have only recently surfaced among the human mammal when she is not fully supported and empowered in the natural, normal feeding of her young. [This normal environment also includes a mother being able to keep her baby in his/her natural carry mammal baby habitat (we, as humans, are 'carry mammals') which is on or close-by her chest 24-7 until s/he is old enough to voyage away from Mom solo]. Palmer also reminds us that, "for 99% of our existence on this earth, humans survived without any milk other than [human] milk." You don't say?!?!

I was recently reminded through a real-life example of the powers and 'magic' of human milk. My son caught a cold as we traveled the country (in and out of germy airports and hotel rooms as I guest lectured at several universities). At 14-months he still breastfeeds whenever he feels like it, but I wanted to zap the sniffles and oozing eyes before they got any worse. I pumped a little fresh milk and used a dropper to place a few drops in the corners of his (closed) eyes and a couple drops in each nostril. This is not the most fun experience in the world for a toddler...but neither is a cold. Packed full of antibodies, antivirals, antibacterials, white blood cells, stem cells, glyconutrients, and other healing components we have yet to understand, the breastmilk worked its magic and my son was back to perfect health within 22 hours. What pharmaceutical could possibly produce such results with a virus (and without any negative side effects)?!

And Palmer agrees:

If a multinational company developed a product that was a nutritionally balanced and delicious food; a wonder drug that both prevented and treated disease, cost almost nothing to produce and could be delivered in quantities controlled by consumers' needs, the announcement of this find would send its shares rocketing to the top of the stock market. The scientists who developed the product would win prizes, and the wealth and influence of everyone involved would increase dramatically. Women have been producing such a miraculous substance, breastmilk, since the beginning of human existence...

If society were organized so that the true baby milk manufacturers, women, earned the rewards they deserve for their production, the [artificial] baby food industry would dwindle and much of the poverty that causes infant disease and death would disappear. Helping and supporting women to breastfeed would save more children's lives than any other public health preventive intervention, more even than immunization, or improved water and sanitation.

It is difficult for me to express the deep love affair I have with breastmilk. This substance - one which is free for us to manufacture, is the ultimate in human baby feeding AND human health. There are no 'negatives' to the natural feeding of the human species. We need to jump in and encourage, support, celebrate all mothers around us in the primal, peaceful care of their young. Humanity, quite literally, depends on it. For our sake, I just hope we can squash our nipplephobia as quickly and urgently as breastmilk eradicated my son's cold.

Nursing mother/baby sculpture handmade at the Bell Pine Art Farm


  1. I couldn't agree more. Thank you for writing this.

  2. What a wonderful post!! I'm going ton 15 months of nursing my son! :) It's a beautiful thing...both medically and emotionally, even physically. I'll never forget this special time that only he and I can share! :)

  3. I agree--great post! I used breastmilk in my baby's eyes when he had a clogged tear duct and, as you said, by the next day, they were totally better! I am going to learn from your experience and use it if my son gets a cold too! I am still exclusively breastfeeding my 6 month old (solids will come soon enough, I'm sure), and had no idea how committed I'd be to it until I had him. It's such an amazing thing, and I truly did not understand how amazing until I had my own baby. I was always pro-breastfeeding from a health and freedom standpoint before I had him, but now I am so ultra-pro-breastfeeding for those and many other reasons, including personal and emotional--which I did not know if I would have. I love it. I do believe there is something special that happens when a mother breastfeeds, and I think that unless you breastfeed yourself, you may not really "get" that, at least not on the same emotional level. So I don't blame people for being squeamish about it. We can be gentle, explain, show, and hopefully people can at least see objectively all the benefits and amazing qualities of breastfeeding. But some still may never get that emotional connection. Anyway, it's great to discuss and raise awareness!

  4. It is wonderful to hear other's stories/experiences. Thanks for sharing. :)

    Tara - don't let people tell you that you have to start solids at 6 months (or 7 or any time in particular). The benefits of EXCLUSIVE breastfeeding over partial breastfeeding begin to diminish between 8-12 months of age. It makes no (medical) sense why the WHO and AAP recommend exclusive breastmilk to 6 months, when all studies show babies benefit more w/ exclusive breastmilk until at LEAST 8 months. They NEED nothing else for their first 12 months of life.

    I know several families who have exclusively breastfed their children till 12 months of age in the U.S. In other parts of the world this is perfectly the norm. We (personally) exclusively breastfed our son till 10 months. At that time he had been walking for 6 weeks, had 8 teeth, and could go straight to eating tiny pieces of fruits, vegetables, and soft whole grains.

    Some excellent books on this subject include:

    Baby Matters: What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Caring For Your Baby

    Natural Family Living

    Take Charge of Your Child's Health

    Once anything other than breastmilk is introduced into the gut of a developing baby, the flora is forever changed. This is why I believe it is so important that people not only learn the benefits of breastfeeding, but also the benefits (immediate and life-long) of exclusive breastfeeding.

  5. Thank you so much for this article! I can think of several people to forward it to. I feel honored and blessed that my "Mother's Milk" sculpture was used as an illustration. The card that comes with the sculpture reads:

    Mother's Milk comes from the heart center with nourishment, warmth and love. A life sustaining gift you bring your little one. Remember the importance of caring for yourself as well as your baby during this special bonding time.

    This was designed while I nursed my daughter, breastfed until she was three when we mutually decided to stop. I will be reintroducing this sculpture for Mothers Day 2010. If anyone is interested you may add yourself either to my email list from my website, or become a fan on facebook to receive an announcement.

    From a Mother's Heart,
    Debbie Berrow,
    Bell Pine Art Farm

  6. Great post! Thank you!

    And Amen to your response to Tara (and good for her for still exclusively breastfeeding even though there's pressure at 6 months to start solids!). I started both my older girls on solids (tasting from my plate) when *they* were interested in solids, not by the calendar. My oldest started tasting bits of food at 7 months old and my middle started tasting bits of food when she was nearly 10 months old. For both of them, this was about a month after they got their first teeth. My new little one is still months away from trying anything but breastmilk and we'll start solids on her schedule whenever that may be :)

    I always enjoy your posts - keep up the good work!


  7. Tara (and any other interested party) - When I posted the response above last Oct, I had not yet reviewed the book, "Child-led Weaning". It is an excellent resource that I would suggest to parents BEFORE they get to the point where they are considering starting solids. It is really more a book about the intro of any non-breastmilk item into baby's diet than about weaning. An excellent addition to our field of knowledge and resources - a practical guide for parents.

    Find it here on Amazon:

  8. Just read this with a HUGE smile across my face and with almost butterflies.
    My son got stung by a wasp at a farm in the summer, he was fine but smarting so I squirted some breast milk on the sting.
    Within seconds the angry red spot was going down and he was running off chasing a piglet within an hour it was a pin point!

    The emotions you feel as a breastfeeding mum are out of this world, I look at my son and think wow I did that.

    I really am so glad to see SO many women standing up and proudly shouting I AM A BREASTFEEDING MUM!
    and to see more women nurturing their own.

  9. I never thought of putting my milk up my sons' noses or in their eyes to cure their colds. I *almost* can't wait until they get a cold so I can try it!

    (btw, I find the cartoon at the top of the post very funny.)

  10. It is funny when you think about it. As a breastfeeding mom I've gotta say the sight of a nipple isn't really that big of a deal around our place! I'm pretty sure members of our extended family have accidentally got an eyeful, but considering the context I was never embarrassed.

  11. We did something similar (to the situation with your son's cold) when my son had pink eye. I squirted milk into his eye while he was breastfeeding and it cleared up after less than 12 hours.

  12. I accidentally squirted my first son in one of his eyes when my milk first exploded in, when he was 3 days old. I felt a bit bad at first but nothing bad happened so I did not think anything more of it, until 1 year later when he got a case of pink eye, in the eye that did NOT get the accidental squirt, my doctor gave him a prescription, but I had remembered someone saying you can use breast milk to clear up pink eye so I gave him a few drops and it cleared up by the next day, and I never filled the prescription...

    With my next 2 children I gave them both a few drops in both eyes when my milk came in around day 3 or 4, and so far my 5 yr old has never had an eye infection in his life, and neither has my 5.5mth old... I have never heard of any studies done on that yet, but I can not see how it could have hurt them, and I do not regret it in any way... I wonder if it could be used as a natural immunization for baby's? it certainly can't hurt them right? I wish someone would do a study on that, if it was proven to be true why don't doctors recommend that at birth also, maybe then more people would start thinking of the numerous uses for breast milk...

  13. Michelle KerchevalFebruary 19, 2011 4:13 PM

    Wonderful post and I wholeheartedly agree! I have used breastmilk in my babies' eyes as well.

  14. Thank you for a great post. It reminds me of a t-shirt that i love:
    I make milk! What's your superpower?

  15. I completely agree. I wish there was a magic wand we could wave so that people could see how "udderly" ridiculous this all is.

  16. Thanks for this post - I was aiming for 6 months exclusively, if I managed. Now I realize there is nothing more important to manage than that and I will take that to heart when I go back to work in three weeks. In fact this article is making me think about keeping my son formula free and breastfeed him until he can switch to cow's milk.



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