Breastfeeding is probably the top controversy issue of early parenting these days. There’s constant research being published – and then being publicised by media outlets that haven’t read them properly. There’s a constant stream of articles criticising pro-breast feeding associations. Then there’s still places in Australia where women are threatened, insulted and intimidated when they feed in public.
The other day, at my ABA meeting, we talked about how hard it is to get a positive breast feeding message out there. If you talk about breastfeeding at all, in general conversation, you run the risk of being accused of making other people guilty. And one mother added that she’s constantly being bombarded with stories about how other people can’t breastfeed. Just the other day I had to breastfeed at the counter at Spotlight (because the woman serving me was letting everyone else’s purchases be put through before mine – despite the fussing baby!) and was treated to a 5 minute speech on how ‘natural’ it was while making it rather clear that I shouldn’t be making other people feel guilty.
Truthfully, I’m proud that I breastfeed. It wasn’t easy. I missed out on a natural birth, missed out on skin to skin and didn’t get to try and feed until 8 hours after Squirm was born. Although he latched on and fed well at first, we had big trouble for the rest of the week. I kept being told that what I was doing was fine, but he just wouldn’t feed! It took a lesson with a lactation consultant and a lot of feeds to even start to get comfortable. Then we had a painful oversupply problem, complete with Squirm gumming down on my breasts in an attempt to stop the milk flowing so freely.
I’m proud that I persisted. I’m proud that I researched breast feeding so I had some idea of what was going on and how to fix it. I’m proud that I talked to people when I needed to.
And I think any mother who tries their hardest to breastfeed should feel proud about it too.
But I also think that there’s a lot of places where different systems are letting us and our babies down. Media reports sensationalising breastfeeding make people cranky and less open to thoughtful information let us down. Hospitals which make it hard for parents to have skin to skin with their babies let us down. Baby food companies who promote feeding from four months, when the WHO recommendations are 6 months – and then provide posters to doctors surgeries – let us down. Even the old saying ‘almost everyone can breastfeed’ lets us down. I think it should be changed to ‘almost everyone can learn to breastfeed – but they need all the support our collective societies can provide’.
The other side which needs to be considered is that there are people who find breastfeeding prohibitively difficult. PCOS, CFS, fertility issues can all cause difficulties. In these cases, we need to support the parent to do the absolute best for their baby – and themselves. And we need to have the honest conversations about it – the way we do other medical and care issues affecting babies.
How do you think we could promote breastfeeding better in the community?