First of all I would like to say THANK YOU. I was overwhelmed yesterday by how many of you decided to share your story via Facebook, emails, private messages, commenting on this blog. It really shows how big this is. How important and how deeply affects us. There is a link in between all the stories I read yesterday. You all stressed the importance of SUPPORT. How a simple 5 minute chat with somebody who knows can change everything. How things would have been different if you had had the support you needed and the right information.
I am now even more determined now to do this. So thank you again!
It is such a privilege to have Lisa on board with us this week. We both sat down and talked about so many aspects of this journey, and I am delighted to be able to share this with you.
Remember that as a way of spreading the word I am collaborating with Frank&Nora for a fantastic give away over on Instagram. I am giving away a free baby/family session and Stephanie is offering a 10% discount on her gorgeous products (featured on my images). All you have to do is follow us both on Instagram and tag a friend that may like to participate. Go over and check all the details here!
What is the biggest obstacle for mums when it comes to breastfeeding?
In Ireland the biggest barrier is the lack of support. The biggest and most direct line of support for new mothers are generally their own mothers, aunties, sisters...But over the last few generations most women in Ireland didn’t breastfeed, so that direct line of support is gone in most cases.
The next line of support we find are public health nurses, midwives and doctors. Even though there are great health care professionals out there, there are a lot who simply don’t know enough about breastfeeding and they quite often get their facts wrong. This leads to women completely giving up at the first hurdle or not even starting at all. I always think it is a shame when a woman wants to breastfeed her baby but before she finds the right support, somebody gets in the way with the wrong information. People don’t mean it. They don't mean to sabotage the breastfeeding relationship, but they do this by giving inappropriate advice.
I hear it all the time. The classic one is ‘you don't have enough milk’, which has a huge impact and can have a dramatic effect on the mother. The feeling of wanting to feed your baby is such a primal and powerful thing. Saying or implying those words to a mother- that she doesn’t have enough milk, that she cannot feed her baby- has a massive impact.
I have had mums on the phone and at the breastfeeding group thinking that their own milk was not good enough.They feel they have failed. Quite often, it’s just a case of reassurance that everything is going as it should -for example, that it is completely normal for a newborn baby to feed very frequently at the breast, day and night during the first few weeks. Other times there might be an issue affecting the breastfeeding, such as a poor latch, but this can usually be resolved with the correct help.
How can women educate themselves to avoid reaching that situation?
I would encourage mothers to attend local breastfeeding groups during their pregnancies. It is so lovely to meet them at that stage. If a pregnant woman comes to the group and sees other mums breastfeeding, gets to talk to the mums, discuss a few hurdles they may face; or even if we can give her access to the right information (websites, contact numbers, etc.) she can educate herself and have the support ready if/when she needs it. I have witnessed that myself. I have met a few pregnant women who did run into problems on day one or two and we were able to help them straight away. That is key with breastfeeding. Sometimes a problem can go on and on for weeks and first time mums may think that is normal to experience ongoing pain or discomfort. But this is not normal! If the issue is identified in the beginning it is much easier to rectify and the mother is more likely to continue breastfeeding. It is more likely to be a positive experience for her.
When should women trust their bodies and their instinct?
For some women the trust in their bodies is so strong, and the willpower is so strong, that they will do anything they can to continue. But new mums are so vulnerable and it can be hard to plough on, despite problems, if they are not getting the right support.
I think it is a good thing to tell mothers to trust their bodies, but it is hard to translate that into reality. I think there are also cultural factors responsible for this. In my opinion, and I could be completely wrong, women in this part of the world are more self conscious about their bodies, and the whole idea of breastfeeding, especially breastfeeding in public, can be major hindering factor.. It always makes me sad when I hear of mums that had no problems with the physical aspect of breastfeeding (baby latches on, baby feeds well, baby is gaining weight) but she is embarrassed to feed in public. The women will after a while feel confined to the house. I often hear women say ‘I can’t go out’, ‘I have to plan the feeds’, ‘I can only go in between feeds, so I can’t meet a friend for coffee’...I remember being at a coffee shop with a group of female friends who didn’t breastfeed. The baby needed to be fed and I remember thinking ‘how am I going to do this? I wasn’t in my comfort zone, I was embarrassed. I thought about going to the car but the baby was getting frantic, so I thought the nearest place was the toilet. So I fed my baby in the toilet. I wouldn’t eat my dinner there, but I fed my baby there. A foreign lady came in to clean and saw me there and asked me ‘why are you feeding your baby in the toilet?’ I felt so bad. I thought, you are right! Why?
We know that we have the right to feed in public, but many people can feel embarrassed. I remember feeling that way, because people may look at me and disapprove.
Ana shares that one time a young lady saw her breastfeeding in a shopping centre and said to her friends “look at her. Agh, that is disgusting’.
It is a very powerful word to use. Imagine for women who are struggling with breastfeeding in public to get a disapproving look or a comment like that. It would be enough to put you off, unless you had it in you to say no, I am going to do this no matter what!
The funny thing is that now on my third baby I would feed anywhere and I wouldn’t care, or look to see if anyone is looking at me. And if someone did come over I’d be well able to address it.
I read somewhere of an incident in which somebody said to a breastfeeding mum “that’s disgusting; you wouldn’t urinate in public’. They were likening breastfeeding to urinating. For some people this seems to be associated with something dirty somehow.
How do you overcome this?
We need more women to breastfeed in public. To normalise it. The more you see it the less strange it becomes. I am all about normalising it. When a woman comes to the groups and shares this insecurity, I would say, yes, I understand that. A lot of women feel that way, I felt like that too. We show them ways to breastfeed discreetly. And actually, most of the time people won’t notice if you are breastfeeding. You can use a shawl, a wrap, breastfeeding clothes..most of the time it looks like you are just holding your baby. It is important we give women confidence. And we can achieve that through the support groups and by getting mums to support each other.
If they don’t get to breastfeed in public, it is going to impact on their journey. The milk supply may drop or they will just become so fed up of staying in the house all the time!
What can we do when your own family doesn’t support your decision to breastfeed?
Educating them can help. I heard someone say that she left some print outs and books on the topic out on the coffee table for people to read. You can try informing them and explain that it is very natural, beneficial, etc. But there has to be an element of carrying on doing what you want to do. Not everything you do must win the approval of your family. But you can surround yourself with people who are doing the same as you. Other mums. It takes a village to raise a family. I am very much in favour of that, and of mums seeking out support from other mums and almost making each other family because otherwise it can be a very isolating experience. If you are the only one in your family breastfeeding and no one is supporting you, you must seek that support from elsewhere. Sometimes the families will gradually accept what you have chosen to do and be on board with it.
We will continue our conversation tomorrow, bringing in a big topic for all parents. SLEEPING! Until then, thanks for reading. Please feel free to comment or ask any questions!