Breast is best. You can’t have a baby these days without hearing that and it’s not some sort of rubbish propaganda, it is true.
So we know breast is best, but then how long is it recommended for a women to breastfeed her child? The World Health Organization recommends a minimum of two years per child! Let’s assume a woman only has two children and they are two years apart then ideally she should be breast feeding for no less than four years of her life. Now let’s take a moment to let that sink in. Although there are ways that fathers can help their breastfeeding spouses the majority of the work and responsibility of breastfeeding will rest squarely on the mother’s shoulders. The same way pregnancy will. This is unavoidable biology.
So if a women wants to give her child the best nourishment what does she have to endure? Few people, who have not recently been through this, actually understand what all breastfeeding entails. Mostly because western society is still so closed minded about the whole idea of breastfeeding (or at least it is seen by many to be improper to discuss or do in public).
Just because it is natural does not mean that it always comes naturally – to you or your baby. You will be told that it should be pain free if your baby is latching correctly and if not something- usually the latch- needs to be fixed. It was not smooth sailing for us due to some complications and in fact it was so painful that I would get myself something to bite on and then balance my baby on a breastfeeding pillow before latching him to stop myself from shrieking or putting pressure on my child when the initial pain of latching set it. After a few weeks we got the hang of it and both of us now actually enjoy the special bonding moments breastfeeding allows us. The first few weeks were crucial for establishing our breastfeeding ability, my milk supply and bonding. Many mothers can’t afford to take maternity leave and can’t live off of UIF and so are forced to return to work before breastfeeding has been successfully established. Let’s not even talk about the double whammy of lack of sleep and recovering from birth which can often entail major surgery.
A newborn needs to feed often (think every 2-3 hours and depending on how long your child feeds for – that can sometimes only leave just over an hour between feeds). Then SLOWLY over many months they often start dropping or stretching feeds. So for example, after about six months my child dropped his 10pm feed so that meant he slept from 8pm until 12pm before resuming his 2-3 hourly feed schedule. Let’s not even mentions growth spurts…
Now let’s presume the mother now wants to leave the house. How does she feed her child? Maybe she is brave enough to nurse in public and risk the scorn and judgement of perverts who are unable to see breasts as an organ that nourishes babies and only as something sexual. Said mother will often be labeled an exhibitionist. What if her child doesn’t like having his/her meal under a hot blanket? Where can breast feeding mothers nurse their children if they are understandably not comfortable enough to nurse in public (because society is so freaked out by it)? There are sadly not many decent spaces to do this and many mothers resort to using a bathroom stall. We are encouraged to limit the germs our babies come into contact with in the early months and yet so often society shuns new mothers to feed their babies where everyone else urinates and defecates.
Then comes the next hurdle, I have seen mothers brave enough to nurse in public but never brave enough to express in public. For working mothers to rejoin the workforce they need to be able to express whether it be at an office, between business meetings at restaurants, at the station or airport. Where does one do this? I for one am a lot less comfortable expressing around strangers.
Laws only protect a women’s rights to breastfeed until their child is six months old and yet the world health organization says two years. And if many of my friend’s experiences are anything to go by most companies are not breastfeeding friendly. Most offices do not have private clean spaces to express nor facilities to store expressed milk and sterilize equipment. Let’s not even mention the judgement for insisting on breaks to actually be able to breastfeed. Even though the law supposedly protects a mother’s right to breastfeed until 6 months few companies even make provisions for this.
Women have only recently been allowed into the workforce (if you look at it from a generational perspective) and particularly in more senior roles. I think we would be silly to think that a work space designed for men would be a fair space for women. Some things need to change and one of them is that of catering to a woman’s right to give her child the ideal nourishment. Just because men are not physically built to fulfill this parenting function does not mean a woman should be discriminated against because she is.
What are your thoughts? I would love to hear about your breastfeeding journey!