The Business Of Breastfeeding
Breast feeding, much like sleeping, is a topic that truly riles a nation.
Recommendations from the World Health Organization is that babies should be feed exclusively breastmilk for the first 6 months of life.
According to the Australian Breastfeeding Association 96% of mothers initiate breastfeeding. However, only 39% of babies are been feed exclusively with breast milk by 3 months of age. And only around 15% are being breast feed by the 5th – 6th month. Out of the 36 developed countries, Australia rates at an appalling 34th, with the USA coming in last.
So why the big drop off?
And more importantly, how do we support our breastfeeding mothers?
The answer is complicated. We need to acknowledge the pressure for mothers wanting to or having to return to work. Many of these mothers only have the option of putting their babies onto the bottle because their work places don’t accommodate feeding mothers, or expressing ones either. Even fewer women have the opportunity to take their children to work.
This was highlighted this week, when Larissa Waters made history for being the first women to breastfeed in Parliament.
An excellent article written by Clementine Ford pointed out that Larissa was probably not making a statement… the reality was that she was just trying to get her job done. But she also has a new baby. That was probably hungry. And needed to be fed. While she needed to put forward a motion around black lung for her constituents. And she got on with the job. Of both putting the motion forward and feeding her baby. Simple multi-tasking.
I remember vacuuming while breast feeding.
However, the comments made to Larissa both online and via text message to her personally, were pretty vile. And ignorant. I am not going to even bother to refute them. But I am going to share, what I think, are the top Five issues that face our new mothers.
And how we can best support them:
1. It ain’t easy!
You would think that breast-feeding would be the most natural thing in the world. Our bodies are designed for it, right? Our bodies are amazing as we produce, via our breast milk, everything our baby needs to thrive. However, the learning “how” is not easy! For both mother and baby, latching on correctly, takes skill and patience. Unfortunately, if not done correctly your baby can graze the tender skin of the nipple. Or in my case, suck blisters!
In those first few days before your milk fully comes in, is the best time to learn good technique. Because coinciding with the baby blues (which hits around Day 3) is your baby’s hunger! And with your new born screaming, your nipples shredded, haywire hormones all mixed with sleep deprivation… this will leave you so far from the image your had of bonding with your beautiful newborn, that you may not even recognise yourself.
The amount of support you receive at this time is critical to your breast feeding success rate. I think it is well worth your time to research a Lactation Consultant at the same time you are getting your bag packed for hospital. Ask your friends for recommendations or search for one here. And if your baby is not latching on properly, don’t wait until your nipples are shredded before seeking help.
What surprised me, was that I also needed help for the birth of my second child to latch on correctly. I really thought I would be able to nail it second time around and was shocked to have the same problems.
You are not a failure if you seek help.
2. Supply and Demand
How many books do you own about mothering? How many articles have you read? Mothering is big business and everyone has a strategy. Mothering has moved from intuitive to formulated. Sleep is converted to hours documented and feeding is based on how much your baby has drunk.
And breast feeding is hard to quantify.
How much has your baby really had? If baby vomits, are you back at square one?
When you bottle feed, you are able to make some pretty clear calculations around how much milk your baby has had. But breast can be much harder to quantify, especially if your baby is not latching on properly or your milk supply is not matched to your babies needs. And you may also be trying to understand what your baby is trying to communicate with their crying.
It can be a pretty stressful time… and especially if you have been told your baby is not thriving.
Personally, I could have fed a third world country with my first baby (second time around, my body seemed to realise that it was just one child) and sometimes I would wake up my sleeping baby, just to reduce the painful tension of milk engorged breasts. However for my second baby, who was off all the size charts pretty much from birth, I was told to cut back on breastfeeding because my son was getting too big!
Advice I promptly ignored, because I just knew that he was going to be a big lad.
Max at 3 months, bathing next to his friend Hattie (who is one day older)
Both were exclusively breastfeed.
My son, Max at 14 years old. Easy to see now why he was off all the baby charts!
But my experience, is not everyone’s. Some women experience the opposite and their milk supply is low. Again, a lactation consultant can help advise you correctly on your individual needs. But I do know nutrition and hydration pay a key part… and if you are needing a little extra, share this recipe for Lactation biscuits to your well meaning friends and family!
3. Breasts for Sex Versus Breasts for Feeding
We are pretty use to seeing breasts.
They sell cars, they congratulate sportsmen and they can even accompany wealthy old men. Breasts are synonymous with sexy.
But they do have a duel purpose and that is to fuel our babies. And it would seem that we are so use to seeing the former (sexy) and hardly ever see the latter (repeat: Larissa Waters makes history in June 2017 for being the first women to feed in Australian Parliament)… That for many it can seem, well, unnatural. A bit like having a woman as President (Hillary) or Prime Minister (Julia)… You know it is possible. But because you have never seen it before, it can just look odd. And one might even unconsciously jump to the conclusion, that it is unnatural, because this has never been seen before.*
This seems pretty contradictory to me.
And when I was breastfeeding – 14 years ago, I also experienced comments that would have me feeding my baby in public toilets and I also received looks of disgust, that I some how could not control myself until I got home (?!?!) I honestly thought it was just a view held by a few ignorant and (possibly) older people and surely it would die a natural death by stupidity.
But it would seem not. Sadly, it would seem that there are still plenty of people willing to state some pretty stupid things.
And in the same week Larissa Waters makes history, we have Maria DiGeronimo from the Channel 7 Reality TV Show Yummy Mummies claiming:
“Breast feeding in public is illegal. You just don’t do it.”
When given the opportunity to explain, Maria confirmed that she knew breastfeeding in public is not illegal. She just had not feed her child in any public places and had preferred to breastfeed in quiet and private spaces. If you are one of the minority who feed their children past 3 months… then it can be unrealistic spending a great deal of your time finding quiet and private spaces.
Not every moment breastfeeding is a bonding moment. Sometimes it is a reading a book moment, watching TV moment, having coffee with friends moment, a vacuuming moment or even putting forward a motion about black lung, moment.
If you would like to join me to express your disappointment about these limiting beliefs and comments for women who have every right to breastfeed whenever their baby is hungry… sign this petition!
*This is certainly not my opinion, but my observation. I experienced my first female Prime Ministers at aged 16 – Jenny Shipley and followed by Helen Clark. Their gender was never an issue in the press. So I never questioned it. It just was.
4. The Misery of Mastitis
Mastitis is a term I was aware of because growing up on a diary farm, it was pretty much an occupational hazard for our cows. Cows with mastitis had to have their milk flushed away and could wreck havoc if mixed in with the milk going to the factory. All of this meant a loss of income to any diary farmer. Had I known then, what I know now, I would have run down to the paddock and personally applied chilled cabbage leaves to their udders.
Mastitis is an inflammation coming from blocked milk ducts, that may become infected. At first it feels like you have a flu coming on, progressing to chills and shakes. However, every time your baby latches on to feed it is about the excruciating pain imaginable.
At the first signs, you absolutely must head straight to the Dr. to get medication to clear it up.
However, what many websites (Thanks Dr. Google) and many proper GP’s fail to inform mothers, is that mastitis can completely mess with your emotions. If you experience mastitis then you may also experience severe emotional responses such as grief, pity, despair and intense feelings of failure. The emotional response can seem disproportionate to the ailment and hence you may believe that the two are not related. But they are.
Go to the Doctors. Ask for help. Go to bed and cry. This too shall pass.
5. Support The Girls
The breast tissue while you are breast feeding is being stretched and the change in hormonal responses means everything is more lax than normal. So therefore, any exercise needs to have a well fitting bra to protect your breasts.
I am a big fan of She Science because they are able to fit your girls out, no matter what size and what shape they are in. I have personally road tested their service and you can read about my experience here.
For those women who have the opportunity to feed their baby exclusively from the breast in the first six months of their babies lives, you may have had the winning lottery of opportunity. This will include support at home, support at work, support by your community. It also means that (unless you express) these women will be 100% responsible for the physical feeding of their babies – day and night. Sacrifices inevitable have to be made to make that happen.
For those women who do not have the support, or can not breast feed exclusively for what ever reason… this is no easy option either. There is the added expense of formula and all the paraphernalia that you need. Not to mention all the out of pocket expenses if you first tried every possible thing to be able to breast feed exclusively. Coupled with the guilt of possibly not providing the best thriving environment for your child.
And like I stated at the beginning of this blog… there is nothing like breast feeding or sleeping for topic’s to rile a nation… we must all remember …
All mothers love their children.
All mothers make the best decisions that they can with the circumstances as at that point in time.
All mothers experience mother guilt. So pointing out what you perceive as short comings, are nothing that they have not worried about before.
It costs nothing to be kind.
I believe we will turn around the breast feeding statistics of Australia if we:
- have fully paid maternity / paternity leave for first 6 – 9 months of birth (at least)
- better funded child care and where possible, attached to the work place
- better funded support – so lactation consultants are just not available to those women who can afford them
- more visibility of women breastfeeding / expressing in public (without shame and the idea that you must feed your baby in public toilets is as distasteful as it actually is)
- our popular culture reflecting the reality of those early years (what about that for a reality TV show!)
These may seem like unrealistic demands, until you realise that other countries are adopting these strategies. And the pay off, does not just benefit the mother and baby… but all of society.
This blog has initiated lots of conversation… and interesting point… but this article just blew my mind!
The science reporter, Michaeleen Doucleff looked at countries around the world who had 100% breastfeeding rate and you will be amazed what she discovered! Women are not so different the world over, and neither are our breastfeeding issues!
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