The B word

It’s World Breastfeeding Week, so I’m throwing my coin into the pool of  breastfeeding experience.

Breastfeeding is a controversial topic in Australia. I’m sure everyone knows that. Except perhaps for the babies. I didn’t quite realise how controversial until I found myself pregnant in a foreign country. Germany enjoys a very supportive breastfeeding culture, there is a discernible difference in public perception. No one bats an eyelid when a baby is breastfed in public and I never saw anyone trying to cover up. During Theodore’s short stay in the NICU I was relieved to find lots of breastfeeding support and impressed to find a milk bank operating.

The controversy within Australia over breastfeeding reached boiling point early this year when Mia Freedman published her erroneous and unhelpful article. Thankfully, Tara Moss who happens to be patron of the Baby Friendly Health Initiative (which Freedman confuses with the Australian Breastfeeding Association), wrote a cogent and timely response. If only as many people had read that.

As for most mothers, breastfeeding and I had a rocky start. Having been carefully educated by my midwife Rachel (and the ubiquitous hospital propaganda) on the importance of early skin-to-skin contact to the breastfeeding relationship, I spent Rose’s first two hours crying alone in a recovery ward. But we managed to get back on track and three days later I left the hospital with a baby, a surgical wound and two silicone nipple shields. My life savers. I remember Rachel telling me I would soon be breastfeeding whilst hanging from a chandelier. I clung to those words.

breastfeeding a newborn

Rose was a reluctant feeder. Sometimes, she flat out refused. I spent hours expressing and trying to feed her the expressed milk from a bottle before I realised that she was just done. At nine weeks we sought help from a community nurse to wean ourselves from the nipple shields. At last, I was a proper breastfeeding mum. Just me and Rose with nothing in between.

I can remember feeling terrified, thrilled and at times, resentful that I was this little person’s only source of food. But the terror and euphoria of being needed is the both best and worst of parenting. I didn’t love breastfeeding, but I kept it up until Rose was fifteen months and we were living in Stuttgart. As an aside, fifteen months of breastfeeding had left me lighter on the scales than I had ever been pre-baby.

Theodore was a born breastfeeder. After a couple of minutes (“how do I do this again?, Oh, right”) he was away. He spent two awful days attached to tubes in a plastic box instead of in my arms. Breastfeeding was our secret code, our way of tuning out the droning and beeping of machines, the lights, the intrusions of doctors and nurses. He fed well and grew quickly. In the traumatic months that followed I tried and failed to comfort his constant, enraged screams. Often I couldn’t comfort him, but I knew at least he had the “best”.

As it comes time for Theodore to turn one I’ve turned my thoughts to how and when I’ll wean him. He’s very committed to breastfeeding, that much is certain. There’s more than a little stigma around extended breastfeeding in Australia. There’s a general perception that it’s not necessary and therefore, not worth doing, despite a wealth of evidence to the contrary. Extended breastfeeding is the norm for most children worldwide. Not least of the benefits are immune factors in breastmilk, especially when every child (adult, dog and cat) seems to have the flu. But for me, in the end, it’s even simpler than this. Cows milk is made by cows for for little cows. Goats milk is made by goats for little goats. Koala milk is made by koalas for their babies and human milk is perfectly made for little humans. With this in mind, Theodore and I will keep going until one of us comes up with a reason to stop. And yep, I’m pretty sure if I had a chandelier, I could swing with my free arm.


4 Responses to “The B word”

  1. 1 margareteaudrey August 5, 2012 at 1:38 pm

    such a nice and interesting article, you should get somebody to post it on the Breastfeeding week page, if there’s something like that.
    Love the Photo and we had a very good love thinking of you swinging one armed 😀

  2. 3 Ali Smith August 6, 2012 at 10:57 am

    Congratulations on your almost-year of breastfeeding this time around, Ali. Great post. Your kids are lucky to have such a thoughtful and loving Mum. I remember when I got into the breastfeeding swing thinking “oh, right, we’re mammals. This is how we work.” I’m glad I’m not a chook or a crocodile.

    • 4 mavisandfrank August 6, 2012 at 11:48 am

      Thanks Ali! Hope things are well with you and yours. I put my breastfeeding perseverance down to the lovely times we spent together breastfeeding our little ones as a group. So glad we learned together 🙂 Sometimes, I wouldn’t mind being a chook.

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A girl with a camera, a toddler and a sewing machine. Making sense of Germany... and life in general.

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