A friend of mine recently had a baby and, like many new mums, was shocked by how challenging she found breastfeeding. I empathetically consoled her as I too experienced difficulty with the initial phases of breastfeeding.
Listening to my friend’s experiences and reflecting on my breastfeeding journey, it’s hard to determine what was the most difficult aspect – the physical discomfort of early feeding, or the contradicting advice received from well-meaning friends, family and health professionals.
While pregnant, I went to all the courses, read breastfeeding books and magazines, and spoke with friends and families who had breastfed. I found out that it wasn’t an easy feat, but I learned that my body was perfectly capable of nourishing my baby and that with the right attachment and time, we would both be enjoying the wonders and numerous health benefits of breastfeeding.
So it was safe to say that I felt like a well-prepared breastfeeding mummy-to-be. Or so I thought.
My beautiful daughter was born following a natural, drug-free labour and feeding was initiated naturally after birth. She was a relaxed and very sleepy baby, and hardly woke for feeds. I was shocked, I thought all babies screamed constantly for feeds, and my plan was to breastfeed my baby on-demand. However, I had a non-demanding baby and an over abundant milk supply. She was averaging about two-three feeds a day, and lost more weight than expected in the first week. I frantically sought advice from anywhere: family insisted four hourly feeds, with no more than 10 minutes on each side; while friends recommended three hourly feeds for as long as baby wanted. My midwife advised not waking my baby at all for feeds, while my Maternal and Child Health Nurse strongly recommended at least two hourly feeds to help her regain her birth weight. Needless to say, I was a confused, emotional wreck. Meanwhile, I had been diagnosed with Mastitis – a very common condition especially in the early phases while the breast milk is establishing – and was coping with cracked, sore nipples.
But with time and support from the Australian Breastfeeding Association, more study about breastfeeding naturally and the gradual return of my self-confidence, my baby girl and I got there. Within three weeks, my little angel regained her birthweight and continued to thrive.
My story, which is a very typical one, is just one of millions of breastfeeding journeys rooted in initial despair and anxiety. We tear ourselves apart wondering why we cannot breastfeed our babies simply and achieve something that our bodies are designed to do naturally. Until I continued to gather more information about breastfeeding, I didn’t realise that my disabled efforts were very normal in a society where, for the most part, the practice is not carried out in public. Breastfeeding is a ‘learned’ process and to expect our babies to suckle contently at a mother’s breast from birth is a grossly unrealistic expectation, and to hear a mother disinterested in breastfeeding because of the challenges of learning to breastfeed, is a heartbreaking consequence.
While it can be argued that we are moving closer to becoming a more accepting society of breastfeeding with ‘breastfeeding rooms’ in shopping centres and the use of ‘breastfeeding privacy blankets’ for public feeding for example, these ‘westernised’ attempts to support breastfeeding, in my opinion, do little to help share the skills and knowledge women need collectively to maximise early successful breastfeeding experiences.
Support groups such as the Australian Breastfeeding Association do a remarkable job of providing information, disseminating research, running classes, setting up local support groups and their Mum 2 Mum help line was a Godsend for me.
I believe as more research comes to light about the myriad of health and emotional benefits for baby and mother, breastfeeding will continue to gather in popularity and with time and support, I hope mothers will feel more confident to breastfeed their babies more publicly and talk more openly about the challenges and triumphs of breastfeeding.Photo: iStock