Annually the World Alliance for Breast feeding Action (WABA) coordinates and organises the World Breast feeding Week (WBW) between Aug 1-7. The aim is to promote and support breast feeding worldwide.
Breast feeding is a topic that everyone has an opinion on; ‘Breast is Best’, ‘Not in public’, ‘Cover up’ ‘Formula has all the nutritional requirements for baby’. It seems that everyone has an opinion and they are not afraid to share it. In a time when many are experiencing feelings of overwhelm, these opinions can have an impact on a mother’s wellbeing.
To recognise World Breast Feeding Week, we asked our Preparing for Parenthood facilitator (a midwife with a back ground in Occupational Therapy and Mental Health) to share some thoughts.
A word from our midwife
Speaking from the perspective of a midwife and a mother who struggled greatly with breastfeeding, I think the biggest thing I would like to encourage is open conversation about breastfeeding and parenting in general. People have a baby, and they don’t know what to expect and have never seen feeding and parenting in reality. We get such sanitised images of the whole experience. We can’t understand what we can’t see. Breast feeding, especially in the early days, rarely looks like it does in the movies. There is no floaty gowns and perfectly styled hair. In reality it can be unwashed hair, mess, a screaming baby and a struggle to get baby to latch.
The first six weeks are hard. Sleep deprivation is intense, and you are trying to learn a whole new skill set. You need to have realistic expectations of what those weeks will be like. Babies are 24-hour creatures, and they need to feed regularly. Their tummies are tiny, and they use breastmilk efficiently, so they need to eat frequently, up to 12 times in 24 hours. Night feeds are really important for your milk supply and babies’ growth.
Breast feeding is a commitment
To exclusively breastfeed or breastmilk (expressed) feed your baby is a huge commitment in today’s society because we are expected to be doing so many other things as well. If you commit to breastfeeding, you are also committing to stopping what you are doing multiple times a day, often for prolonged periods of time.
People often do not anticipate how much time breast feeding takes and that commitment to not rushing around can add to a feeling as though you are not being a “productive” person out in the world. You will need a support system (or village) to help you manage the other things you feel need to be done. Having a hands on, supportive partner is one of the biggest keys to successful breastfeeding.
In an ideal world we would learn from Eastern cultures and nurture breastfeeding people and try and remove all other work from their agenda. Until we get there a support system/family/village can be a huge influence in a successful breast feeding journey.
The positive health impacts of breast feeding are well establish. For some mums, after the initial steep learning curve that comes with breast feeding a new baby, breast feeding can be an amazing, positive experience that helps women bond with their child and really strengthens their connection.
Struggles with breast feeding.
Breastfeeding works smoothly for some people, practically and emotionally it is a positive part of their parenting. They master the process and can participate fully in the other aspects of life that they need/want to do.
This is not the case for everyone.
Breast feeding can be hard; cracked nipples, engorged breasts, blocked ducts, difficulties with latch, pain, mastitis, too much milk, not enough milk, the list goes on. Society would have us believe (this decade at least) that breast feeding is natural, our bodies are designed to do it so when women struggle they feel shame and are less likely to ask for help or know who to ask for help. For some women the struggles with breast feeding are enough to lead her choose not to breast feed.
Breast feeding and mental health
Struggles with breastfeeding are closely linked to mental health issues in new parents. It is so important that we understand what we are going to be doing and can talk about how our experience is playing out. We don’t need to keep the hard things secret. We don’t need to feel guilt and shame. It is hard and the more we share that, the easier it gets for everyone. The more we talk about these things the less stigma is associated.
If you chose not to breastfeed your baby, then you do not need to justify this decision to anyone. Make the decision that works for you, your family and your life.
There are services to help you prepare for becoming a parent, to help you work through breastfeeding issues and to manage your mental health. Please use them and talk to your social group about the realities of pregnancy, breastfeeding and parenting.
The more we share the less we stigmatise.
Attend antenatal classes through your hospital or a private agency.
Attend Preparing for Parenthood classes at WACPPS
Centre for perinatal mental health and parenting support-
Consider using a postpartum doula if you have not got a support network.
Look for a private lactation consultant in your area.
Up coming Facebook Live
On the 9th August Emma will be hosting a Facebook live event. This will then be available on our Youtube channel.