Being a long time breastfeeding mama myself I couldn't resist weighing in on the matter, particularly as I'm still breastfeeding my youngest son Sol who is two and a half (he and I pictured above). I breastfed Sol's older brother River until he was two and then for River's second birthday I decided the gift I was going to give both he and I was: weaning. Within two nights our breastfeeding days were done. We were both ready for that to happen.
Not so with Sol who is far more attached to being breastfed than River was. I am growing physically weary of feeding and am looking forward to having my body back. Slowly, slowly.
Today I came across this article 'Getting rid of the breastfeeding taboo' written by Australian author and mother Tara Moss about her experience of breastfeeding her daughter, the article also includes a lot of facts and figures about breastfeeding in Australia and the general lack of support many new mothers experience in their effort to breastfeed. Tara is the UNICEF Patron for Breastfeeding, for the Baby Friendly Health Initiative which aims to protect, promote and support breastfeeding in Australia.
Before having children I didn't imagine I would breastfeed for more than the first year of my children's lives. I've been very fortunate that my experience of learning to breastfeed was very straight forward - no cracked nipples, no difficulty with attachment, no mastitis.
The Natural Way to Better Breastfeeding by Francesa Naish and Jan Roberts is the number one book I recommend to any breastfeeding mother. I referred to it daily in the beginning months of feeding. Franseca and Jan are natural health and fertility practitioners and have written a number of excellent books about conception, pregnancy and birth.
If you haven't yet visited Marvellous Kiddo, one of the series I enjoy on this great blog is the art and photography series celebrating breastfeeding mamas such as this photo by Dorothea Lange.
This has turned into a long post! And its not over yet, below is a story I started a few years ago about breastfeeding and I've just finished it now.
Feel free to leave a comment if you have something to say about your experiences of breastfeeding or the media's role in making it look unnatural.
Would you like a glass of water love?
When pregnant with my first child I wondered what will it be like to breastfeed? Would I be able to? Would my baby take to it easily? I felt nervous at the thought of it not happening easily. So, during my pregnancy I read books on breastfeeding, browsed the internet and studied the Australian Breastfeeding Association website. I listened to stories from my aunt and sister-in-law who breastfed their children for two or more years. I also heard friend’s stories of suffering cracked nipples, back, neck and shoulder pain, having difficulty attaching their baby to the breast, not enough milk or too much milk. My aunt and my sister-in-law were really the only two women who spoke of the experience with fondness. Despite my quiet nervousness I knew breastfeeding my baby was the natural thing to do, I also knew reading and hearing stories were one thing, doing would be another.
On July 29 2006, after 10 hours of labour our beautiful son was born naturally and to my relief he latched on to my breast and sucked with strength. From day one I felt no pain, within two days I had an abundance of milk, my nipples didn’t crack and my baby gained weight literally before my eyes. As perfect as this experience sounds, in my early newborn daze I felt twinges of how women can feel depressed when first attempting to breastfeed.
Recovering from labor was a greater task than I imagined: the physical pain of sitting, standing, walking and even laying down left me craving just a moment to breathe, to have my body to myself. But no, my body was working round the clock to produce milk and the little being I had brought into the world wanted and needed to be fed, wanted to suck at my breast at anytime of the day and night regardless of how exhausted I felt. The support and encouragement from my partner cannot be underestimated. He brought me countless glasses of water while I fed River and reminded me that the feeling of exhaustion would pass and encouraged me to sleep while River slept.
In decades gone by women learned to breastfeed by watching their mothers, aunties and sisters, who were supported by other women to do so. Today some women will not have held a baby til they have one of their own, much less regularly witness women breastfeeding. It seems what is natural has become unnatural. Breastfeeding takes time and commitment, you have to want to do it, you have to be supported to do it by your family, friends and community. An example of this kind of support happened when my son was four months of age we were walking along a local shopping strip and it came time for a feed. I sat on a bench outside a hairdressing salon and began to feed, the salon owner came out and asked, ‘Would you like a glass of water love? I remember how it was.’ I was so touched by her support.
My friend Maria who breastfed her three beautiful girls gave me a valuable piece of advice before I gave birth to River at a birthing centre and that was, for the time I stayed at the birthing centre each time River was to feed to ask a midwife to be by my side. That way, I had support from the very first feed and my nipples were less likely to be damaged if someone was there to guide me through those early feeds.
At first, I felt quite overwhelmed that my baby depended on my milk to survive and thrive. What if I didn’t have enough? What if he didn’t gain weight? As River and I settled into our breastfeeding rhythm my overwhelm eased and I was thrilled to see him grow and know that I really was sustaining him. I loved the convenience of breastfeeding. No bottles to carry around, no need to make sure there was enough formula in the house or packed in a bag if we were going away. Another aspect I totally value about my experience of breastfeeding River and now Sol is the way it connected us, fulltime breastfeeding meant I had to be with them.
I’ve chosen to be with our boys around the clock during the formative years of their lives and that has included breastfeeding day and night. I count my blessings it was easy for me to do. To new or pregnant mothers reading this, like everything else in parenting, breastfeeding is a ‘season’ a period of time that begins and ends, for some it is a smooth, enriching season for others it is stormy; whatever shape the season takes for you speak up early when you need help (or if you have too much ‘help’ speak up) and above all else trust your instincts and enjoy your baby. All too quickly you’ll be wondering what to put in their lunchbox.