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  • Writer's pictureLiz Thomas

Mama, you weren’t meant to do this alone

Credit: Sergei Vassilev

Yes, breastfeeding is natural but that doesn’t make it easy 

We’ve all seen the pictures: A newborn baby nursing blissfully nestled in the arms of a serene, glowing mother. Beautiful but probably one of the most misleading images of motherhood.

Breastfeeding is beautiful, natural, and incredible, but it can also be exhausting, painful, and time-consuming. So yes it is natural – but that doesn’t make it easy.

It is a learned skill for both mama and baby. And yes, for the most part, we instinctively know what to do, but how to do it takes time, perseverance, confidence, and above all HELP, to master.

Breast milk may well be the wondrous result of millions of years of evolutionary biology, but our social lives no longer match. We were never meant to be doing it alone. We were never meant to be cooped up in a quiet corner of our home desperately wondering to ourselves if we are doing it right, if the latch is good, why it hurts, and if they are getting enough.

Breastfeeding is the biological norm and yet somehow today we are fighting to normalize it. It was always meant to be public, social, woven seamlessly into our daily lives – done whenever, however, and wherever was necessary. We were meant to support each other, share the knowledge, the burden, the pain and the joy. How has it come to be seen as an act to be ashamed of, to be hidden away?

Our generation – you and I feeding now – were invariably raised by people who were told that formula was best and that if the baby was unsettled, cluster-feeding, or fussy then it was because mama wasn’t producing enough milk, that bub needed ‘filling up’, that they should be sleeping through the night.

They were told wrong.

Sad for them, but also sad for us – because the generational support that should have been the bedrock of boobing has been lost. If we struggle to breastfeed now, the people who might once have been the traditional support network that helped us – parents, relatives, older friends – parrot back the inaccurate advice they received. The last thing a new mother needs (however many children she has had) are opinions that undermine her feeding, but those are still the ones she’s most likely to get.

I’ve heard them all: “He’s obviously still hungry”; “I don’t think he’s getting enough milk”; “Are you sure you are making enough?” and many more in that vein. Delivered innocently enough, but each one a dagger to my heart and to my already anxious, exhausted mind.

If we want to increase breastfeeding rates across the world, and there are many important reasons why we should, then what new mothers need (however many babies they’ve had) is educated support. I nursed my eldest till he was 2 and a half (and still nurse him now when he asks).

It’s not easy. How can it be?  You are trying to grow a human with your own specially created super fuel at a time when your body has been through its biggest, most brutal challenge.

What can you do?

1) Go into this prepared, if breastfeeding is something you would like to do, read about it when you’re pregnant, talk to breastfeeding mothers about the challenges they faced, find your local La Leche League or lactation consultant before you deliver, and perhaps see what’s possible soon after birth.

2) Online there is a multitude of support groups – for mums with younger babies, for mums with older babies, in your village, in your country, on your continent. Seek them out, ask questions, don’t be fearful of wanting the help. Someone somewhere will have been in your position and they can give you an informed answer on what worked for them.

3) Read up on the experts – invariably I have found answers to most things from these three respected sites:

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