#Ittasteslikelove: The go-to breastfeeding survival guide

By LTThomas, founder of the #Ittasteslikelove campaign to normalise breastfeeding

Img2019-01-29 Liz breastfeeding photoshoot3482.jpg

Breastfeeding is the final part of a wonderful, exhausting, and life-changing triathlon launching us into motherhood, but while we tend to plan and research for stages one and two – pregnancy and labour – it’s easy to put off thinking about this last bit. It’s understandable, there are wonderful little apps that help you navigate and understand your pregnancy, and there are an array of courses and books to help you plan your birth, but we tend to think of nursing as something that will just come to us.

Yes, breastfeeding is the biological norm, and yes it can be magical and rewarding, but it can also be unexpectedly painful, tiring, and time-consuming.

It is a learned skill for both mama and baby. And yes, for the most part, we instinctively know what to do, but how to do it takes time, perseverance, confidence, and above all HELP, to master. As with any challenge, we have the best chance of success by being prepared before we undertake it

1) Pregnancy preparation

In the same way, we have a birth plan, it’s good to have a breastfeeding plan. This shouldn’t be rigid or become a stick to beat ourselves with if things don’t turn out the way we hope, but simply a guide to help us, and the people around us, cope with the steeping learning curve.

Breastfeeding has been hidden away in many modern societies, so the realities can come as a shock – not just for mothers but for their partners, who may never have seen a nursing woman. It’s helpful to set out and talk about hopes and expectations because as with many parenting discussions, it is best not to wait till baby arrives to make sure everyone is on the same page.

A good time to start research is the second trimester, once the fatigue and nausea have passed, but before the discomfort of the last few months hits.

There are some excellent books to read, but these three come highly recommended:

  • Dr William Sears, TheBreastfeedingBook: Everything You Need to Know About Nursing Your Child from Birth Through Weaning;

  • Dr Jack Newman’s Guide to Breastfeeding,

  • La Leche League International,  The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding.

It might seem bizarre to read about nursing before delivery, but it’s helpful to become familiar with this brave new world in order to better cope with common issues such as tongue-tie, mastitis, and jaundice.

Most ante-natal classes cover breastfeeding in their range of topics, but La Leche League often offers dedicated Prenatal Breastfeeding Classes that tackles core issues including good positioning, latch, and how to know if the baby is getting enough.

2) Hospitals and Paediatricians

Those giving birth in the public system will be allocated a hospital according to residential area, but it still pays to do some research in advance on the breastfeeding policy. All government hospitals purport to support nursing, but the extent they do so varies, plus attitudes vary depending on the duty team during your stay.

Such variables are not in our control, but if we set out what we want, and make sure it’s on the birth plan, it is far easier to advocate when the time comes.

Mothers can make clear no artificial nipples or pacifiers, or formula is to be given to baby unless medically required and agreed to by a parent. If formula is needed or it’s necessary to express milk instead of direct nursing, insist the staff cup or syringe feed the babies to help prevent nipple confusion.

If medically possible ensure the baby has skin to skin and nurses in the first ‘golden hour’ and also request a visit from the hospital’s lactation consultant within the first 24 hours. Make sure the baby stays close to aid frequent breastfeeding and to ensure staff follow the care requests set out.

Assessing weight gain the days following discharge can be stressful, so it helps to see a doctor who understands the breastfed baby.

3) Boob Squad

Assemble your boob squad to help navigate the chaotic early days:

  • Supportive partners: This could be hubby, could be grandma, could it be a trusted mummy friend or a wonderful helper but this core group should provide emotional, physical, and nutritional support. This means getting water to drink and snacks to eat, holding the fort so mama can shower, swaddling, changing and rocking baby, or simply answering texts about ‘what’s normal’ in the wee hours.
  • Lactation consultants: It is worth saving for a private lactation consultant to do a home visit. Some health insurance also covers this but if not it is worth remembering that help from a qualified professional may mean you can avoid spending money on formula, which costs thousands of dollars per month.  Home visits are particularly good if you had a difficult birth and mobility is restricted, but also just as a sanity saver. The first days home from the hospital can be terrifying as the reality of being totally responsible for the tiny person hits you and it can be helpful to have a calm influence advise on latch, creative positioning for mother and baby (options such as rugby hold, side-lying, or laid-back can be feeding game changers), check weight gain, and assess your well-being. If you book a package these occasional appearances can be a welcome breath of fresh air as you navigate the fourth trimester and beyond.
  • La Leche League: Often reachable by email and text, the women here can be a lifeline, plus the regular meetings are a great way to meet other new mothers

4) Self Care and Self Belief

In the early days, women often feel that all they do is nurse, that they’ve managed to do nothing all day. But it’s worth reframing that thought from ‘endless breastfeeding’ to ‘growing a human with a specially created super fuel’ and appreciating the wonder of that achievement. It’s an old adage but it’s true: The days are long but the years are short. Let the housework and life admin wait and just enjoy the newborn bubble. Why worry about getting back the pre-pregnancy body when the post-pregnancy body is doing incredible things. It is an intense period and it’s vital to accept help, where we can, and take time to rest when we can. It’s vital to remember that using formula is not failing, and many people do so and then go on to breastfeed successfully and extensively. Don’t be held hostage to a constructed idea of perfection as the nursing journey will have ups and downs, so it is important to be flexible. Choose what is right for both you and your baby

It’s normal for self-doubt to creep in and to worry about everything from whether baby is getting enough milk, gaining enough weight to why they feed so often,  but it’s worth remembering that the human race would not have survived if breastfeeding failed us as regularly as has been claimed. It’s also worth remembering newborn stomachs are tiny and untested. Colostrum, that first milk often dubbed liquid gold for its intense colour and remarkable nutritional and immunological properties, and the breast milk that follows is easily digestible to account for that. This means breastfed babies nurse more frequently. They also nurse when they are thirsty, tired, need comfort coping with the wild world, or just want reassurance from mama, and they cluster feed to boost milk supply. To the uninitiated, this seemingly constant feeding is taken to mean a problem with their milk production when actually the problem is with society’s expectations of what newborns should do. We have been taught to expect the three-hourly formula feeding schedule as normal, but it simply doesn’t work for breastfed babies, and if adopting it can be catastrophic for your nursing plans.

It’s good to talk to a lactation consultant about any concerns and to keep an eye on wet and soiled nappies, but it’s also good to have confidence in our bodies. Speak with medical professionals about the best way to proceed if your baby is premature, as their requirements can be different from babies born at term.

Img2019-01-29 Liz breastfeeding photoshoot3444

5) Survival Tools

Seasoned breastfeeders will say all you really need are boobs and baby to breastfeed. Arguably it’s true, but there are a few things that will help make it easier for you sail from nursing novice to veteran in a matter of months.

Stock up: Around a month before due date, order a bumper iHerb delivery including your favourite snacks, stack the freezer with easy meals, and stash some sweet treats. The aim is simply to give you easy access to nourishment once bub arrives and commands all attention.

Water bottle: Nursing is thirsty work so it’s a good idea to have a couple of refillable 1l water bottles dotted around your key nursing spots so that you can swig as you go. Keeping hydrated also helps with your milk supply. Some mothers say coconut water provides an energy and supply boost.

Muslins: There will be spit-ups, there will be poonamis, so a collection of these versatile cloths is a must

Breast pads: When your milk comes in, for some there’s no stopping it. Re-usable breast pads are ideal to soak up the overflow without it seeping into your outfit. Some women opt for shells, which can be placed over the nipple and collect any milk that has leaked.

Lanolin or Coconut Oil: It’s rarely mentioned but the truth is for many women, breastfeeding can be painful at first. Put simply our nipples, previously delicately encased in pretty bras, need time to toughen up. In the first few weeks, as mama and baby work on the art of latching, there can be a few seconds of stinging pain. It’s normal and it will fade, but dabbing coconut oil, or lanolin cream on nipples between feeds can soothe in the interim. It’s ideal to have a lactation consultant check for issues such as tongue tie or baby’s latching skills to catch problems early on. If the pain is unbearable, seek medical advice to rule out underlying issues.

Breastmilk and Silverettes: Breastmilk has anti-bacterial properties so can be a useful tool for minor scrapes and ailments for mama and baby. Silverettes are a really helpful product for anyone dealing with cracked, bitten, or chafed nipples. Simply drop some breast milk into the tiny cups, made of 925 silver, which is anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial, and place on the nipples between feedings to help speed the healing process.

Gel Pads: Gel-filled pads that can be gently heated are really helpful if you have persistent lumps or clogs, or are just in need of some soothing. The bonus is that you can use them for sporting injuries once your nursing needs for them have finished.

Lecithin:  Some mothers find lecithin help with issues such as persistently blocked ducts but discuss with a healthcare professional before taking supplements

Supply boosters: Mother’s Milk Tea and Fenugreek are fairly good starting points to improve supply, while lactation cookies have the benefit of being both yummy and helpful. Opt for a recipe with brewer’s yeast, such as this one.

Netflix: Whether its Gilmore Girls, Friends, and Friday Night Lights, a feel-good series (or ten) is helpful to get through the times when the days and nights seem to stretch on endlessly.

6) Online resources

A great benefit of being a 21st-century mother is the ease with which we can access resources. This doesn’t replace the importance of talking to doctors or midwives, but it does mean we have a chance to do some research and make a judgement about seeking further help.

When it comes to breastfeeding, there are a few that are trusted and reliable. KellyMom uses evidence-based research and articles to tackle and answer all the key issues you may come up against when nursing.

Dr William Sears, a passionate advocate of breastfeeding, has an excellent website that looks at all the big questions you may have – from the importance of breast milk for brain development to nursing while pregnant and tandem-feeding.

Low Milk Supply, despite its fairly basic look, is a helpful site for those looking for explanations about their own milk production.

Breastfeeding and Medication, a website run by UK-based advocate and trained pharmacist  Wendy Jones, which helps evaluate what medicines can be taken if you are nursing.

7) Create Your Village

Breastfeeding evolved in a social setting, we were never meant to be doing it alone. But the modern world can be a lonely place for nursing mothers. Somehow we’ve ended up trying to handle the considerable task of nourishing a human – solo. The matriarchal village has been lost, but there are ways to recreate a version that works for you. The online resources above help with all the questions new mothers have, but it is also nice to feel there is a sisterhood to support you.

Useful global Facebook communities include Dr Jack Newman’s page; the Milk Meg; and Breastfeeding Younger Babies and Beyond

ITLL - FULL.jpeg

8) Stepping out 

Going out for the first time solo can be daunting but one of the great benefits of breastfeeding is that we are already carrying what we need in terms of equipment and nourishment: breasts are the original zero waste packaging and the milk is ‘on tap’.

A structured baby carrier can make it easier to nurse discreetly but it’s best to have a few practice runs before heading out as it can take a little time to master nursing on the go in this way.

It’s normal to feel self-conscious nursing in public for the first few times, breastfeeding may be the biological norm but society has forgotten that, and those initial trips can feel stressful. Take a deep breath, focus on meeting the baby’s needs, and remember the world is full of smartphone zombies that rarely look up. Don’t worry about what anyone else is doing or thinking.

Breastfeeding advocates worldwide are campaigning for a situation where women feel free to nurse unfettered, but that remains a push for freedom so that no one is penalised for their personal choices. There are an array of firms selling beautiful nursing covers, but it is worth keeping in mind, not all babies comply.

9)  Pumps and Bottles 

Lactation consultants generally advise waiting until breastfeeding is well established – usually around four weeks – before introducing a bottle feed (it is still possible to syringe or cup feed express milk before this) to avoid nipple confusion.

A less talked about issue is that some babies refuse the bottle, particularly if it is introduced after eight weeks, so women on limited maternity leave should keep in mind that some little ones need to be coaxed to take milk from anything other than the breast.

It’s not unusual to need to try an array of bottles before baby settles on a favourite, with Pigeon, Dr Brown’s, Avent, Nuk, and Mam all regularly featuring on most bought lists. Newer brands, purporting to better mimic a mother’s breast and nipple, include Nanobebe, Comotomo, and Olababy. One baby has settled on an acceptable option, invest in a few, as it will be easier to match parts after sterilisation.

It’s important to spend a little time researching pumps, as there’s a vast array on the market, for varying needs.

Medela, Spectra, and Youha are the ‘big names’, offering everything from hospital grade to ‘travel’ options. Mothers that will be intensively pumping and away from baby for much of the day or night with work, should invest in the more powerful machines – the Medela Symphony and Spectra S1 and S2 – are sometimes provided in Hong Kong public hospitals, even if they are more cumbersome to transport to the office. A dual pump and hands-free pumping bras are also valuable time savers. It’s a big initial financial outlay but worth it to make best use of time, and to protect milk supply.

There are plenty of options for milk storage bags, but Wean Green and Life Factory offer environmentally friendly options. Industrial pumpers may need to invest in a small ‘milk’ fridge which can later be converted into a wine fridge.

For those that pump less frequently, there are lighter, portable styles such as the Spectra S9 that can fit neatly into a handbag but have less power.

Women who prefer a manual option should opt for the Haakaa silicon pump, which enables simultaneous nursing and pumping. But it is worth assessing it’s long term value as some have found the suction fades over time.

10) Returning to work

Paid maternity leave in Hong Kong is woefully short, currently set at 10 weeks (though expected to rise to 14 weeks this year), and many women return to work before they are really emotionally, or physically ready.

Financial realities can mean there’s no way of avoiding that, but being prepared can help. Companies are rarely set up to consider nursing needs so the first step is to have a frank discussion of what those are. Be firm and unapologetic with senior managers or HR, and if necessary highlight government recommendations for pumping mothers.

Do not accept any suggestions to pump in the bathroom, or anywhere that could be unsanitary.

The wider world is not pumping savvy, so colleagues can be a challenge. Some will be disgusted by the idea, others irritated by the ‘extra breaks, others will worry about breast milk contaminating their lunch. Keep in mind that these are the idiotic responses of the ill-informed and try to practice the art of being polite but not giving a damn.

Seek out support from others in the same situation as it can be an invaluable boost on days when pump parts are forgotten and there is crying over spilt milk.

Take heart from the fact there are many working women in the same position, and each step taken to normalise pumping now makes the path so much easier for the next generation.

11) Breastfeeding older babies

There seems to be an arbitrary time period – around three months – where breastfeeding is commended and accepted. But around 12 weeks, just ahead of the 4-month sleep regression where a new mother’s sanity is pushed to the limit, is the precise point that the insidious undermining begins with gusto. This is the time where questions about sleep, size, and schedules, always seem to be answered with the word ‘formula’.  Despite the World Health Organisation recommending exclusively breastfeeding for at least six months and thereafter with food to aged two and beyond, this is regarded as strange behaviour. Six months is usually the point people talk about the need to encourage ‘independence’, and once bub passes their first birthday, then mother’s who continue to nurse are often accused of ‘only doing it for themselves’. Those that breastfeed beyond two years are regarded as freaks.

Isn’t it more bizarre to be disgusted when women opt to give their children breastmilk, which is uniquely tailored for each human baby, rather than cow breast milk?

It’s time to rethink our attitudes: It is wonderful that support at the newborn stage is slowly becoming the new normal, but we should be celebrating every milestone and every hurdle that nursing mothers clear.

It is wrong to say breastmilk loses nutritional value once babies celebrate their first babies. It still retains all the nutritional value it always had. But even if it didn’t, breastfeeding and breast milk still offer immunological, emotional, and developmental benefits.

The age range for natural term weaning in humans is actually anywhere between aged two and aged seven. Most women who continue nursing their smalls in toddlerhood will tell you it is a parenting superpower that helps children in times of illness, anxiety, rage, fear, sadness, as well as boosting confidence for exploration and independence.

Nonetheless, it can be lonely nursing an older baby, toddler, or child as it is less accepted and understood. For those that want to continue, it is vital to find like-minded souls to help navigate the challenges at home, and in wider society.  Breastfeeding Older Babies and Beyond is an excellent and well-moderated group where you will find mothers dedicated to natural term weaning and many nursing kids aged two, three and four.

The #Ittasteslikelove campaign aims to normalise natural term breastfeeding, encouraging women to nurse their children – of any age, however, wherever and whenever they need to.

If you’re looking at fertility treatment and want to continue breastfeeding, this group on Facebook comes highly recommended, and there is also a dedicated group for those already pregnant, or who have multiple children and want to tandem nurse.

 

Advertisements

Want more women to breastfeed? Drop the cover… and the misogyny

11r

“Cover yourself,” she screamed before leaping from her seat, shoving past me and my baby, taking a position by the bus door to glare and tut in disgust.
My crime? Nursing my baby – uncovered and in public.
I refused, adding simply: “I am more covered up than you are”.
In her hysteria at seeing a slither of breast as a mother met her infant’s needs, she had failed to realise her outfit was more revealing than mine and succinctly summed up the hypocrisy that surrounds nursing mothers in Hong Kong – and in cities throughout the world.

Inexplicable disgust 

Breasts are routinely used on billboards to advertise everything from underwear and perfume to jewellery and plastic surgery, and a casual walk through a city where thigh high boots, mini skirts, string tops and short shorts are part of the sartorial lexicon, gives no suggestion women are expected to dress modestly for cultural reasons. This is true across the West and much of East Asia.

But breastfeeding in public is still met with disapproval, and breastfeeding without a cover is often met with outright disgust.
Authorities in Hong Kong desperately want more women to breastfeed and they want them to do it for longer – just 27.9% of women here reach the minimum six-month exclusive breastfeeding milestone recommended by the World Health Organisation, which has long extolled the health benefits for both mother and baby.

#Dropthecover

But even as they invest millions in city-wide health campaigns and education programmes in public hospitals to promote breastfeeding, the practice is being undermined by institutional misogyny masquerading as cultural concerns, inadequate maternity leave, and few workplace provisions for mothers to pump when they do go back.
Other world cities are embracing the #Dropthecover and other campaigns to normalise unfettered nursing, in the realisation that it’s better to support rather than ostracize the women doing it but Hong Kong lags behind – even in the very places instructed to promote it.

Biological norm

In 2015, my eldest was born preterm at Queen Mary Hospital, I needed emergency surgery and he needed special care. My recovery time meant I lost precious hours and when I finally saw him, tiny, in an incubator, attached to monitors due to hypoglycemia, but breathing fine by himself, I instinctively wanted to hold and nurse him. Surrounded by posters hailing the importance of breastfeeding, I assumed I was in a safe place to try.
The nurses had other ideas – and insisted I go into a private room because ‘male doctors may mind’.
What kind of doctors are upset by basic human biology? What kind of message are we sending new mothers when we prioritise imagined offence over maternal and infant wellbeing?
Mine is not an isolated case (it happened again at Princess Margaret with my second) and it’s happened to hundreds (if not thousands) of other women: not just at the city’s hospitals, but with their families, and in public spaces – from museums to the MTR. According to a Unicef poll, some 40% of women who breastfeed in public in Hong Kong have had complaints or unpleasant experiences.

Breastfeeding is NOT easy 

The tired explanation is people might be upset for ‘cultural reasons’, followed swiftly by fears ‘men and children might see’.
Two generations ago, it was not unusual to see women in Hong Kong nurse in the open, so this culture of offence is new and arguably a puritanical hangover from the colonial period.
Breastfeeding is the biological norm and yet somehow today we are fighting to normalise it. It was always meant to be public, social, woven seamlessly into our daily lives – done whenever, however, and wherever was necessary – and our partners and children were meant to be part of it.
Breastfeeding is a learned skill and in the beginning, it is not easy. How can it be? Mothers are trying to grow a human with their own specially created super fuel at a time when their body has been through its biggest, most brutal challenge.
And yet because it is so hidden, it is often a shock to new parents that it can be painful, exhausting, that infants nurse not just when they are hungry, but when they are thirsty, overwhelmed, in need of comfort, or simply wanting to be close.
Nursing in public for the first time is already awkward, particularly in a hot, humid city, and babies don’t necessarily comply with covers.
For those that prefer privacy, Hong Kong’s malls offer excellent nursing rooms, but they are few and in demand.
Far better if we could make it easier on women, and end the stigma as it’s clear the desire to breastfeed is there.

Valuing women

The number of mothers who try before discharge is slowly rising and now sits at 86.7% but the system is working against them.
In some countries, it is illegal to separate puppies from their mothers before they reach eight weeks. Until January this year, Hong Kong’s statutory maternity leave effectively afforded human babies, arguably born more helpless, the same time frame with their mothers.
It’s now increased to 14 weeks but that remains woefully short and fundamentally shows how little what women do is valued.
Authorities expect us to deliver on its goals to grow and nurture Hong Kong’s population, whilst also delivering on its economic targets but has put in few provisions to help them.
The government issues guidelines for employers to enable working women to pump in the workplace but there is no law to insist on implementation. As a result mothers are still being forced to pump in toilets, storerooms, even stairwells or corridors. And instead of being commended for their commitment, they are treated as a nuisance.
Little wonder then that women feel breastfeeding is simply not worth the effort – why persevere through the pain and exhaustion if you’re met with a barrage of disgust at every step.

Time for rebellion 

But there are signs of rebellion against this restrictive and reductive mindset. Mamamilk Baby Alliance organise breastfeeding flashmobs, albeit under cover, and this weekend sees the start of #PumpItUp a collective photoshoot inspired by the bold pictures of actress Rachel McAdams pumping milk while clad in diamonds and Versace. The aim is simply to raise awareness about the realities of nursing, working, and motherhood.
If we insist breastfeeding remains in the shadows, then the only images young people will see of breasts are either to sell or to seduce.
If we insist breastfeeding remains in the shadows, then the only images young people will see of breasts are either to sell or to seduce. We need to change the narrative and bring it into the light.

This article was written by @Itttasteslikelove for the South China Morning Post

https://www.scmp.com/comment/insight-opinion/hong-kong/article/2188687/hong-kong-culture-isnt-blame-stigma-breastfeeding

 

Mama, you don’t need to hide that pump 

Rachel-McAdams-Wears-a-Breast-Pump-for-New-Magazine-Cover-Shoo
Clare Rothstein
I was nervous the first time I did it. Nervous and a little afraid.
Perhaps I was pushing too many boundaries?  I have no problems directly nursing my baby (#dropthecover) but pumping in public?
I worried it was too weird. I was worried it was unchartered territory.
But I was also fed up. Fed up of being directed to the bathroom, the storeroom, the conference room, or the stairwell. I was tired of this bizarre pumping jig – a sort of hokey pokey to gather the bottles, ice bag, and my trusty Spectra, and desperately step in and out of potentially suitable nooks or undisturbed areas to produce milk for my infant son.
And then Rachel McAdams and photographer Claire Rothstein did their thing in a shoot for Girls Girls Girls magazine. Suddenly, emblazoned across print, websites, television, and social media feeds, was a strong, working mother, embracing the reality of modern motherhood. She looked vibrant, she looked proud, she looked uncompromising, and her breast pumps were on full display.
She didn’t just normalise pumping, she glamorised it. 
I’m not normally influenced by celebrity behaviour, but seeing those pictures in full technicolour glory, made me think again about the importance of being the change you want to see in the world. And the importance of being visible.
Yes, pumping is weird. That strange distortion of your nipples, the steam train sound of it in action, and the sheer industrial nature of the equipment can be off-putting.
But pumping is also wonderful. It gives women a chance to earn money, to further hard-earned careers, and it can be a lifeline when direct nursing isn’t possible.
We live in a world where women often have to juggle work and motherhood, where maternity leave is still woefully inadequate and where caregiving is simultaneously vital and undervalued.
But if we aren’t more vocal, and more visible about what we are doing – it’s very hard to bring about change.
How can people appreciate the struggle if they can’t see it?
So much of motherhood – but particularly the nursing and pumping – has been hidden away for too long and it is doing us all a disservice. The more visible we are, the more we show the unvarnished reality of motherhood – nursing, pumping, pregnancy, labour – the less surprising, upsetting, or unsettling the hurdles will be for those coming next.
Many criticised Rachel McAdams’ shoot as unrealistic, but that really isn’t the point. The point is to remove the veil of secrecy and open the door for discussion.
And it’s already happening: her picture prompted debate across the world, her pictures prompted others to share their ‘real life’ pumping images, her picture made pumping mothers stand a little taller, and that is the catalyst for change.
Next month in Hong Kong sees the launch of #PumpItUp, a collective photo shoot inspired by that picture, where women from across the city will celebrate pumping, nursing, and extended breastfeeding in style. The aim is simple: to raise awareness about the realities of nursing, working and mothering.
The day after I saw the Rachel McAdams image, I started pumping at my desk.
I anticipated disgust and annoyance, but what I actually got was curiosity and a little awkwardness.
Within a month that too had subsided and it felt like it barely registered at all.
Today, two months on, I got my first ‘thank you’ for normalising it.
A small victory in the battle for women to reclaim their bodies, but a sweet one.
#Ittasteslikelove

Mama, you don’t have to cover up

Img2019-01-29 Liz breastfeeding photoshoot3408 copy (1)

Eva Portraits

 

When you start nursing it can be all-consuming.

In the beginning, changing out of your nightshirt seems utterly pointless (and frankly it is) and taking a shower seems like the stuff of luxury holidays.

But despite what the celeb mums with their behind-the-scenes style teams might make you think, new mothers aren’t meant to be Instagram ready.

Those early days are a whirl of engorgement, surprise letdowns,  and chafed, sore, bloody nipples. We aren’t thinking about our wardrobes beyond – what’s comfortable, functional, and washable, while the season’s key accessories are breast pads, collection cups and endless tubes of Lanolin

But there is a point that things get easier:

The stress of latching and positioning becomes second nature and you’ll emerge from the house ready to face the world.

A little later there’s another point where nursing weaves seamlessly into your personal style, although high necks are out until you wean really.

Whether it’s bohemian or rockabilly, earth mother or goth. You wear what you want to wear and style yourself how you want to look.

And why shouldn’t you? Yes, you’re a nursing mother – but you are also many, many, other things!

It’s usually at this point when you’ve just found your confidence and are starting to feel some semblance of yourself again that society’s misogyny toward nursing mothers reaches a crescendo.

We know breastfeeding mothers often get a hard time for nursing in public, but the tide is turning.

More and more people accept that soothing your baby while out and about is normal.

Yet there’s still a caveat – you have to do in within the confines of their expectations.

Dare to breastfeed in public dressed in an ‘unmotherly’ style and it is catastrophic.

Suddenly you’ll hear there ‘buts’…  you know the clause people add to their official statement that really gives away who they are and what they think deep down (You know the how it goes… I’m not a racist but; I’m not homophobic but;)

I fully support breastfeeding, but….

If you hear that line, you’ll know that the undercurrent of misogyny is still there beneath the veneer of tolerance:

I fully support breastfeeding, but… it should be done modestly

I fully support breastfeeding, but… if you dress like that it is just to get attention

I fully support breastfeeding, but…. people like you give it a bad name

But here’s the thing: Whether you opt for full gowns and vampy lips or bikini tops and short shorts, your style is your style and that should have nothing to do with how acceptable it is that you’re breastfeeding.

The idea that if you nurse while looking the least bit attractive, edgy, or unmumsy equalling a cry for attention, or an attempt to lure husbands away, is laughable and yet so many still subscribe to it.

Whatever you wear, wherever you are, this simple fact remains: you are nourishing a baby that needs it.

 

Mama, you can do this 

 

img_20190131_150822
veralivchak_photo

 

There seems to be an arbitrary time period – around three months – where breastfeeding is commended and accepted.

Once you sail past 12 weeks, heading straight into that 4-month sleep regression where your sanity is pushed to the limit, that is the precise point that the insidious undermining begins with gusto.

This is the time where questions about sleep, size, and schedules, always seem to be answered with the word ‘formula’. By six months if you’re still breastfeeding, people will tell you to encourage ‘independence’ and if your bub is aged one or over – then you’re ‘only doing it for yourself’.

Two years and beyond, and you are some kind of freak.
It’s time to rethink our attitudes: It is wonderful that support at the newborn stage is slowly becoming the new normal, but we should be celebrating every milestone and every hurdle that nursing mothers clear.

Imagine if our friends were running a marathon, and every time they dipped or talked of fatigue or pain, we said – have you considered giving up? What about driving there instead?

What if instead, we looked at breastfeeding in the modern era as a fantastic achievement, a triumph of perseverance and determination? To be praised and lauded, met with admiration and respect, instead of rolling our eyes and delivering unhelpful putdowns in the guise of ‘advice’.

What if we recognised the determination in nursing on even when you are told to cover up, to give up, that your milk is not enough?

What if we recognised that nursing beyond six months brings so many benefits for baby – including immunological support, emotional support, and developmental support? And sticking with it is a triumph of endurance?

What if we just said: Well done. What do you need? How can we help? You can do this.

Mama, you weren’t meant to do this alone

img_20190118_123356Photo: Sergei Vassilev

Yes, breastfeeding is natural but that doesn’t make it easy 

We’ve all seen the pictures: A newborn baby nursing blissfully nestled in the arms of a serene, glowing mother. Beautiful but probably one of the most misleading images of motherhood.

Breastfeeding is beautiful, natural, and incredible, but it can also be exhausting, painful, and time-consuming. So yes it is natural – but that doesn’t make it easy.

It is a learned skill for both mama and baby. And yes, for the most part, we instinctively know what to do, but how to do it takes time, perseverance, confidence, and above all HELP, to master.

Breast milk may well be the wondrous result of millions of years of evolutionary biology, but our social lives no longer match. We were never meant to be doing it alone. We were never meant to be cooped up in a quiet corner of our home desperately wondering to ourselves if we are doing it right, if the latch is good, why it hurts, and if they are getting enough.

Breastfeeding is the biological norm and yet somehow today we are fighting to normalize it. It was always meant to be public, social, woven seamlessly into our daily lives – done whenever, however, and wherever was necessary. We were meant to support each other, share the knowledge, the burden, the pain and the joy. How has it come to be seen as an act to be ashamed of, to be hidden away?

Our generation – you and I feeding now – were invariably raised by people who were told that formula was best and that if the baby was unsettled, cluster-feeding, or fussy then it was because mama wasn’t producing enough milk, that bub needed ‘filling up’, that they should be sleeping through the night.

They were told wrong.

Sad for them, but also sad for us – because the generational support that should have been the bedrock of boobing has been lost. If we struggle to breastfeed now, the people who might once have been the traditional support network that helped us – parents, relatives, older friends – parrot back the inaccurate advice they received. The last thing a new mother needs (however many children she has had) are opinions that undermine her feeding, but those are still the ones she’s most likely to get.

I’ve heard them all: “He’s obviously still hungry”; “I don’t think he’s getting enough milk”; “Are you sure you are making enough?” and many more in that vein. Delivered innocently enough, but each one a dagger to my heart and to my already anxious, exhausted mind.

If we want to increase breastfeeding rates across the world, and there are many important reasons why we should, then what new mothers need (however many babies they’ve had) is educated support. I nursed my eldest till he was 2 and a half (and still nurse him now when he asks)

It’s not easy. How can it be?  You are trying to grow a human with your own specially created super fuel at a time when your body has been through its biggest, most brutal challenge.

 

What can you do?

1) Go into this prepared, if breastfeeding is something you would like to do, read about it when you’re pregnant, talk to breastfeeding mothers about the challenges they faced, find your local La Leche League or lactation consultant before you deliver, and perhaps see what’s possible soon after birth.

2) Online there is a multitude of support groups – for mums with younger babies, for mums with older babies, in your village, in your country, on your continent. Seek them out, ask questions, don’t be fearful of wanting the help. Someone somewhere will have been in your position and they can give you an informed answer on what worked for them.

3) Read up on the experts – invariably I have found answers to most things from these three respected sites:

https://kellymom.com/

https://www.askdrsears.com/topics/feeding-eating/breastfeeding

https://www.breastfeedingnetwork.org.uk/

https://www.llli.org/