Ever heard complaints about how much pressure there is to breastfeed? You know, the midwife who made a mother put her baby to the boob against her will, or the child health nurse who pushed a woman to keep breastfeeding even when she was struggling and her baby wasn’t putting on weight? I think stats show this to be more of a myth than reality. Only 18 per cent of Australian women are actually exclusively breastfeeding their babies at six months of age.
I sometimes hear stories about women who couldn’t breastfeed because their milk didn’t come in. This is one of those terrible misnomers. If the milk was delayed for a medical reason and the mum isn’t encouraged to continue initiating breastfeeding, she may believe she’s just one of those women who doesn’t have milk and give up. If she doesn’t pump or attempt to put the baby to the breast and baby goes straight on the bottle, it can even appear as if the milk never arrived at all. But it would have, given half a chance.
In these hot, hot holidays, I’ve been fielding heaps of questions about what to feed babies in the sweltering weather. It seems a lot of worried grandmas out there are telling their daughters their babies need cooled, boiled water to stop them becoming dehydrated.
This week a mum presented me with a dilemma. ‘Why do I feel so ashamed of the fact that I’m still breastfeeding at 12 months?’ she asked. ‘I love breastfeeding, the closeness of it, the fact that it not only nourishes my daughter, but comforts, protects and heals her too. I have no idea how I’d deal with teething or starting childcare without it.’ Yet, when friends asked that question ‘Are you still breastfeeding?’ she felt the need to make excuses, and felt paranoid that she was being judged by them.
Have you ever seen a woman let out a ‘look over here’ whistle, lift up her top, wave her bosoms around and then, once she’s got everyone’s attention, attach her baby for a suckle? No. But I have seen a woman all twisted up in a cover-up blanket, peeking in and out of it, adjusting it so there’s breathing room for the baby, then struggling again to find her bra to clip up and performing a shrouded Houdini move beneath to change sides. To me, that was drawing a lot more attention to herself than simply lining up her baby for a drink, getting her breast out and latching him on.
There’s been a lot of mums with babies turning one in the breastfeeding group I facilitate — now that they’ve reached this milestone, these mums are reluctant to wean, yet are finding themselves under scrutiny now that their ‘baby’ is growing up.
When your baby is a tiny newborn, breastfeeding just seems to take ages, doesn’t it? They usually start off with a bit of a sucking frenzy, move into some slower, more leisurely sucks, a few light fluttery ones with a bit of a doze, a nappy change between sides, some burping time, then much of the same on the other side. Before you know it, more than an hour has passed. By the time bubs is settled to sleep, and you can draw breath, it’s time to start unpacking your boobs for the next one.
The very first time I rang the ABA Helpline was when I was a first-time mum in the throws of a horrid gastro bug. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to pass on the virus onto my daughter by breastfeeding her, which the counsellor assured me I wouldn’t. I was relieved by the accurate, factual information she gave me, but what I didn’t expect out of the phonecall, was the warmth in the counsellor’s voice, her empathy of my situation, her asking about my support networks, was there anyone who could look after ME? I hadn’t thought about that part, I was so focussed on my baby.
Introducing solid food is your baby’s first step towards weaning — and it’s OK to feel a bit sad about this. This baby you’ve solely nourished is suddenly able to get food from places other than your hardworking breasts! It’s also a time where mums become confused about how often to breastfeed, when to offer food and how much. They get worried when their baby won’t eat, or even the opposite, that their baby loves joining in with family mealtimes so much, breastfeeding loses its novelty and mums fear their babies will wean prematurely.
Mums are always asking me about the best way to express their breastmilk. There is a huge range of reasons why they want to do this. There are prem and sick babies, babies who aren’t attaching, mums going back to work, underweight babies who need top-ups, women wanting to increase their supply, women who'd like to build a stash for times when they're separated from their baby, mums who don’t want to breastfeed in public, engorgement, the list goes on and on.