Tani du Toit.
Tani du Toit.

Kudos to breastfeeding

I THINK every mother, regardless of how long she breastfeeds her child or children for, deserves a little extra love at the moment, and here’s why.

I gave birth to my little one in March and my sister had her son seven weeks later in May. As my journey into motherhood started I would email my sister regularly telling her to read and learn as much as she could about breastfeeding because it all came as a bit of a shock to me, to be honest.

So, when her son was born he lost too much of his birth weight and was given formula at the hospital to get him back on track. For the first two weeks after going home he was given formula top-ups after his breastfeed, and then my sister decided to wean him off the formula completely.  In doing so, she not only encountered a lot less sleep (breast milk digests in less than two hours and formula fed babies sometimes sleep for much longer – hers did), but her big baby boy’s growing needs meant he had to cluster feed (translate: attach to the breast for hours on end) for about four weeks to establish her milk supply.

Through tears and gritted teeth she hung in there. You see, even though breastfeeding is what we’re made to do, it’s not always easy. There are so many issues to deal with – more than I’m going to list here - but cracked and blistered nipples top the list (yes, ouch) and so my sister, like I, learnt quickly what it meant to be a breastfeeding mother.

With the support of a breastfeeding counsellor and other mums at her breastfeeding group, my sister persisted to give what she chose to be the best start in life for her baby boy. He soon flourished and so did she with newfound trust in herself every new mother should have from day one.

Last week, I attended an event held by the Sunshine Coast’s Australian Breastfeeding Association branch to celebrate international breastfeeding week. This year’s theme is ‘Let’s talk’, in other words, let’s communicate about breastfeeding in the community to garner support for mothers and their babies to feel welcome to feed whenever and wherever their babies needed it. In other words, let’s make breastfeeding ‘normal’.

Pardon? Let’s make it normal? Challenging, of course. Rewarding, definitely. But when did it become abnormal?

I asked the question.

Apparently the breast has become so sexualised that it’s OK for a bikini-clad woman to have her breasts out for the world to see and admire on the beach, but the moment she puts her baby anywhere near them, people don’t know where to look.

“Someone, call 000, there’s a breast feeder! Ouch, my eyes are burning!

Tut-tut, that’s too sensual. Send her away … to the toilet block you go!”

Yes, there is a lot to be said for applying tact and respect for the general public and I, for one, try my best to never expose my breast but it irks me that feeding a baby with the possibility that a nipple or breast skin might see the light of day, makes society uncomfortable. Embarrassed. Affronted. The list goes on.

Why is it that when we see a mother care for her child, we feel we are entitled to say something about how she cares for them? As if we know better what goes on between them? But, when we see or hear a child being treated badly, we’re more likely to turn a blind eye and say, “That has nothing to do with me.”

Chances are the mums who encounter looks of disapproval have eaten a few sacks of salt to sit there doing what she’s doing. And if she’s breastfeeding and older baby (six months seems to be the ‘accepted’ cut-off date) those annoyed looks she’s getting are adding weight to the daily stress she’s already trying to cope with from those closest to her: her partner, her family, friends … the list goes on. 

So, on behalf of all the mothers who have decided to keep breastfeeding past the pain and sometimes the desire to stop so she can have her body back, would you please, next time you see her, smile at her? Not out of sympathy but with acknowledgment. For in that moment, you are recognising her choosing to do what comes most natural and normal to her in the world: attaching to her child not only physically to feed but also attaching emotionally to nurture and to love.

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