World breastfeeding awareness week runs in the first week of August. One of the themes has been about how breastfeeding is a key element in getting us to think about how to value our wellbeing from the start of life.
A joint statement from UNICEF’s Executive Director and WHO’s Director-General quote The Lancet, which argues that improving breastfeeding practices makes the world healthier, smarter, and more equal. They go on to say that “in low-, middle- and high-income countries alike, the benefits for individuals, families and societies include ending preventable child deaths, improving maternal and child health, boosting educational attainment, and increasing productivity”.
Sounds like a no brainer, right? Then why do we not have higher breastfeeding rates? Well, I only have a few paragraphs here and people write pages on the subject – some filled with academic research, others with emotional stories of women made to feel to made guilty for bottle feeding or others made to feel embarrassed for breastfeeding in public. No mother should feel guilty or embarrassed about how she feeds her baby. At the end of the day a baby needs feeding, and if a mum can’t breastfeed, then of course you have to bottle feed. ‘Can’t’ however as I personally see it doesn’t mean ‘I’m not even willing to try’ – it means ‘I have tried and for whatever reason, and after seeking help, it’s not working out’. The reality is breastmilk is purpose-made human milk that changes to be just what a baby needs throughout their year, their day, even through their feed and mums need good support to make that happen, both at a personal level and as a society.
At a community level – why on earth does a breastfeeding mother have to hide away anywhere? I’ve heard stories of mothers going into toilets to breastfeed their babies. When my youngest was born 13 years ago she got a bit fussy and needed feeding during the obligatory NZWW photo shoot. I said ‘shoot it if you like – great to see a baby has to be fed here and now, whatever your day holds’. So they shot it and it went in the mag. I would breastfeed my babies anywhere. I recall doing so at the table at a Starship Foundation when the same bubby in the NZWW pic was 3 weeks old. Most people didn’t even notice. She was all tucked in and feeding happily then went off to sleep. More fuss would have been made if she started crying and got overtired due to me not giving her what she needed, and I had to leave.
And at a one-on-one level, it needs specific support. Breastfeeding is a learned art and mums need to be taught how to do it. You’d get help for any other new skill you learn and breastfeeding is no different. I used to be a nurse in the maternity wards almost 30 years ago and the charge nurse I had at the time was a bit new age in hindsight. She said she was the only one that could sign off a bottle for a newborn. Her rationale was that mums would ask for a bottle in desperation that the baby was hungry and thought they could not do it, which they most likely could. 99% of the time mother and newborn simply needed supervision, support and teaching on how to do it, and that was our prime job as post-natal nurses. I heard our ward had the highest numbers of mums going home breastfeeding – probably the same number of issues during their stay as other wards I would venture, but we had a charge nurse who wanted the issues addressed, before mum went home. Plus we didn’t encourage mums to head home till after the milk came in at about day 3, and got through the baby blues of day 4 or 5. By day 6, things were usually on an even keel.
So if you’re a mum to be – upskill yourself before the baby comes – I have a set of videos on the how, what, why, when of it all on the Raising Children site.
La Lache League are a fabulous resource and so are lactation consultants. And if you are partner or mother of a new mum support her to give it a go – you are a big influence.
Written by: Jude Dobson
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