We all talk about ‘baby brain’ and experience the ups and downs of our hormones during our early weeks and months as new parents. But the cleverest change in our minds is going on quietly, behind the scenes, as one of natures most incredible evolutionary processes gets to work, ensuring our baby is fed and nurtured.
I think I would be inclined to call my current state of mind “extreme baby brain”. I guess two pregnancies in two years will do that to you. I used to be so organised, I have held down a responsible, grown-up job for over a decade now and managed to lead a busy social life alongside it. Everything changed when babies arrived. My mind is now a messy, chaotic place, half-remembered tasks and forgotten to-do lists laying around all over the place. I started thinking about how children affect our lives whilst researching a forthcoming article I am writing for ABM magazine about breastfeeding. As part of this piece, I have received accounts of several breastfeeding experiences, all of which make the hairs on your neck stand up, they are so charged with emotion. It made me wonder why those of us who successfully breastfeed tend to have such a profound reaction to the experience.
Sitting down for a feed becomes an oasis of calm in an otherwise hectic existence. Whether you’re still feeding your first-born or you now have number two – or more – to deal with, you will no doubt be thankful that, every now and then, you are forced to stop and take a break. Even though most of my feeds are now accompanied by my toddler hanging round my shoulders shouting “horsey, horsey” or removing my specs so I can’t see past the end of my nose, I still feel an overwhelming sense of calm as I feed my little one.
We have one thing to thank for this tranquility, as well as for the feelings and emotional journeys experienced by the breastfeeding mummies I spoke about earlier: oxytocin. Often called the hormone of love, oxytocin is released by your brain into your body when your baby suckles at the breast. The system works so well that your brain can even deliver oxytocin in response to you just thinking about feeding.
The hormone then stimulates your milk ducts to deliver the nourishment directly to your baby while you benefit from the handy side-effects of calmness, satisfaction, sometimes even sleepiness or joy.
At the moment, I have a deep admiration for the human body. For how it manages such a complex task with the minimum of fuss, leading to us having such a straightforward and simple feeding experience. I’m just starting out with weaning and it’s all about being in the right place, the right state of mind (little person and me), having the puree or vegetable batons and cooled boiled water all readily pre-prepared.
Hmmm….bring back the oxytocin or, at the very least, hand me a large glass of red, now please!