Suzanne Colson’s Biological Nurturing – a book review

I read a lot about breastfeeding to keep up to date as a breastfeeding counsellor. I want to improve the technical support I can offer breastfeeding parents and expand my perspective so I remain open to where they’re coming from when listening. With this in mind, I asked Pinter & Martin if they’d send me a copy of Suzanne Colson’s recently published second edition of her book Biological Nurturing: Instinctual Breastfeeding to review, which they generously did.

This is an important read for anyone working with parents who are breastfeeding or pregnant and want to breastfeed. As I read it, I reflected a lot on my own approach to volunteering in breastfeeding support, and there’s lots in its pages that I want to keep top of mind. However, I think it’s crucial that more medical professionals access Dr Colson’s research, particularly those who are decision makers around hospital policy and training. The book is, in fact, a repackaging of her doctoral research, made accessible for a wider audience. Not only is it written in fairly plain language but it includes lots of photos and QR codes for action videos.

“Biological nurturing” as a term has been around for a while, broadly used to mean breastfeeding in a laid back position. What I appreciated throughout the book was Dr Colson’s far more expansive view of the term which she originally coined. It is about getting comfortable, leaning back and keeping the baby at “the right address” in those early days, cheek to nipple, baby’s body to feet in contact with mother’s body. But she goes well beyond looking at a mother’s posture and a baby’s position and calls us to radically rethink the way we view mothers and babies.

She explains that, historically, “experts” have assumed that mothers don’t know what they’re doing and need to be taught how to breastfeed. Anyone can draw parallels here between the medicalisation of birth and the improper management of breastfeeding which has sabotaged this process. Though Dr Colson doesn’t really go into that, Biological Nurturing clearly seeks to re-centre mothers in a system that stopped listening to them a long time ago.

We learn in its pages that mothers are being taught to breastfeed in uncomfortable, unsustainable positions that actually make effective breastfeeding more difficult. The approach of “teaching” can be disruptive and disempowering. The many ways breastfeeding is taught seem to swing between putting all the onus on the baby or the mother to do it all. Biological Nurturing as an approach invites us to see the baby and the mother as two bodies going into breastfeeding with reflexes and instinctive behaviours that respond to each other. Everything has a purpose, from oxytocin release to the small size of colostrum feeds. This is a book to make you fall in love with breastfeeding.

Dr Colson covers lots of practical questions about how this looks in real life (spoiler: different for everyone) and she’s given me a lot to think about in terms of how I speak to the parents I support, remembering that I’m mainly there to help them relax into their own instincts. In fact, the people I see in the community have already got past a lot of hurdles. The information in this book needs to flood the maternity and early postnatal contexts so that parents and babies are learning to breastfeed in a space that feels safe and unhurried enough for the process to naturally unfold.

Though Dr Colson’s research and book focus on women as the one who do most of the breastfeeding (and there is a passing comment toward the end that seems concerned about attempts to make breastfeeding gender neutral), the evidence on Biological Nurturing has the potential to filter far and wide to benefit all who need to know that we and our babies can do this “body learning” together. I hope it gets everywhere.

Biological Nurturing: Instinctual Breastfeeding by Suzanne Colson is available at Pinter & Martin

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