Breastfeeding Advice from Cows

English: An English Longhorn cow and calf.

My husband is shockingly crunchy.  He isn’t the type of person anybody would expect to be crunchy, natural, green, or any of the other words associated with this lifestyle, but he is.  He doesn’t try to be crunchy.  It’s not something he even realized he was doing before I came along and told him what crunchy meant.  He just does what comes naturally to him.  He is a farmer.  He was raised on a farm and has owned cows his whole life.  I didn’t know much about cows before I met him.  It seems now that I know more than I would ever have cared to know.  There have been some wonderful lessons I have learned from cows, though.  The most important of these lessons would have to be about breastfeeding.  Let’s face it, cows are way better at nursing their babies than humans are.  They do a damn good job of it.  Here are the most important lessons I have learned from cows about breastfeeding:

  1. Cows, naturally, nurse their babies (much like humans are supposed to).  The difference is that cows do it in public and never give it a moment’s thought.  Their baby is hungry, their baby eats.  That’s it, that’s all.  None of the other cows glare or give disgusted looks or talk in hushed voices about how inappropriate that mama cow is being.  There are no great debates about how much udder is appropriate to show or at what age the calf should stop nursing in public.  Whenever somebody sees a cow nursing their baby at a farm, or in a field on the side of the road, or in a book, or on T.V., they always comment on how cute it is.  The parents will point out to their children the nursing calf and explain to them that the baby calf is hungry and is eating.  Can you imagine this happening with humans?  Nobody is commenting on how cute it is when they see a baby nursing in the mall.  No parents are explaining to their children about how babies eat from breasts when they see it being done in public.  Instead, they are judging the nursing mother for breastfeeding in front of their children and wishing she would cover up or go somewhere else.  Cows know nursing in public is no big deal.
  2. A nursing cow is attached to her baby.  A mama cow has to be available to feed her baby whenever her baby wants.  Anywhere a mama cow goes, a hungry little calf is sure to be not far behind.  The mama cow can’t just leave a bottle and go out with her cow friends for the day.  The needs and wants of her baby always come first.  This is an important one for humans to learn from cows.  A nursing baby needs to be near it’s mother.  Nursing is a lot more than just a source of food for a baby and cows understand that.  Calves nurse to sleep, nurse for comfort, nurse when they are scared or hurt.  Humans nurse for all these reasons, as well.  If the mother is not around for the baby to nurse when he/she needs to, it can be very upsetting and traumatizing to the nursing relationship.  Human mamas need to be just as attached to their babies as cow mamas are.  That’s not to say they can never get a break (I’m hiding alone in my bedroom as I type this) and you will see cows on the other side of the field (I’m sure they’re hiding from their calves) all the time, but the mama just needs to be close and able to get there when the baby decides it needs to nurse.
  3. Cows allow their babies to wean themselves.  You don’t see any cows cutting their babies off cold-turkey at 6 months old or replacing their nursing sessions with a bottle once they get “too old” to nurse.  Cows respect and understand that their babies will wean on their own timeline and there is no need to force it.  Human babies will also wean in their own time, but unfortunately not many babies get the chance to choose the length of their nursing relationship as it is usually cut short by forced weaning.
  4. A farmer will try everything they can to get a calf to nurse before they ever turn to bottle feeding.  They will keep the cow in the barn and go out there at regular intervals to help the calf nurse.  They will wash the cow’s udders in warm water and milk her to help produce milk.  They will feed her extra hay, grain and lots of water to increase her milk.  They know that a few problems might happen when nursing, but it’s normal to have them and they are almost always fixable.  Bottle feeding has major drawbacks and they realize it and they aren’t going to bottle feed unless absolutely crucial and every attempt at nursing has been made, and then made again for good measure.  Now, I know this lesson has been learned from farmers, not cows, but I feel like it’s an important one.  Humans will turn to bottle feeding at the slightest of problems and without giving it a real effort.  Cows have to give it a real effort.  They have no other choice.  There are no bottles for them (unless supplied by the farmer) and that is why nursing almost always works for cows.  There is no giving up.  They have to allow their bodies to do what they are designed to do or their babies starve.

I realize that this logic could be applied to any mammal other than humans.  Be it cats, monkeys, horses, dolphins, or any other mammal that nurses, but cows are the ones that I have had the time to observe nursing their young and the ones that have taught me my lessons.  Cows are good mamas and I think we could all learn a little from the natural world. ❤

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5 thoughts on “Breastfeeding Advice from Cows

  1. Hi! I enjoyed this post! While I’m not quite as passionate about breast feeding as you are, I do not debate your logic. I was thinking about a woman I know while reading the part about children weaning themselves. She breastfed until her son was 5 (obviously not exclusively, he ate table foods as well). I give her props for hanging in there but to me it seemed like a very long time to be breastfeeding. I am just curious if you have thoughts on this type of situation?

    • First off, I applaud this woman for allowing her child to wean himself naturally and sticking with it so long. The natural age of weaning for humans is anywhere between 2-7 years old. (You can read more about this here: http://www.kathydettwyler.org/detwean.html) so 5 years old would absolutely fall within a normal age range to still be breastfeeding. Now, obviously, most children do not breastfeed until they are 5, but some do. Every child is different and while most will wean between 2-3 years of age, some just need to nurse a little longer, but they will wean when they are ready and it’s up to the mother to be patient and allow them to decide. Now, to give you an example of how a child nursing at this age would be completely normal within the animal world I will use cows as a quick comparison. Most cows live to be 15-20 years old. Calves will nurse for about 1 year (some a little shorter and some a lot longer, it really just depends on the calf). So that means a cow spends about 1/15 of their life nursing. If humans were to spend 1/15 of their life nursing they would breastfeed until the age of 5 (given an 80 year life expectancy). So, using this comparison your friend breastfeeding her son until 5 years old is totally normal. 🙂 You can read more about the natural age of weaning and determining this age for humans compared to other mammals in the article that I provided you with above.

  2. I would also be curious to see a post on what sorts of toys you make or purchase? We read a lot. I make some things. We use second hand for a few items. So far, he hasn’t needed much. However, with a first birthday later in the spring, I feel like we could be over-run with plastic from well meaning friends and family. Thanks!

      • Thank you! I appreciated your response to my breast feeding question and I am very much looking forward to the toy post. I would also love to see a post on how you launder your cloth diapers. We use cloth diapers and we like them very much. However, sometimes I feel like I’m wasting resources washing them on a sanitary/super hot wash cycle. Also, my son has very sensitive skin so if you have a preferred brand of detergent, I’d be curious. I do incorporate vinegar soaking/rinses as I find it really helps the diapers stay fresh and absorbent. But perhaps that’s not the best or the greenest? I could keep you in post ideas for years! ha! You rock!

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