Earlier today, I read an article shared Darlena Cunha on the her experience feeding her newborns formula and the guilt that followed. Reading her story I realized that, though she wrote it due to the trauma and her experience from the U.S, its a story that any woman in the world can tell you as so many have gone through it.
There are some things we take as the norm when growing up. One of them is that, any woman with breasts should be able to breastfeed their own child. The topic of breastfeeding and all the benefits is one that, thanks to the World Health Organisation, is one everyone including the men know very well.
So why would a woman carry a pregnancy for 9 months, give birth successfully only to refuse to breastfeed their child?
Women who have not been able to breastfeed their children all have valid reasons, most of then medical or psychological.
When we had our first born daughter, I knew that my milk flow would start naturally as my body had been preparing since her inception. The doctors will tell every woman this soon after delivery. However, getting that ‘let down’ ( when the milk finally fills up the breasts) is usually not as easy especially if the mother had a long and troubled labour then had a natural birth. The wait can be anywhere from 4 hours to days.
Latching is another huge challenge for first time mothers. Many who don’t know how to latch a baby well or those who don’t think its very important (some of our parents didn’t know this) end up with sores and cracked nipples which are quite painful. My milk flow was good for the first 4 months until I had to go back to work. Despite expressing the milk any chance I got, and breastfeeding in the evenings and on weekends, my girls eventually refused to breastfeed by the time they turned 6 months.
With the first born, I had to make a tough choice of whether to introducing her to formula or cow milk. The debate over which is less evil still still raging as it has mostly to do with the financial ability of the mother as well as which has more health benefits, after breast milk that is. This was despite the a lot of discouragement from everyone around me including the nurses despite sharing with them my frustration. The worst experience was whenever I had to take her to the clinic for immunization or go for some event or visiting.
A lot of women have gone through a similar or worse experience. My 2 Aunties could not get their kids to breastfeed a week after their birth. For my older Auntie, it was her 3rd born who completely refused to breastfeed on day 5 and would cry any time she was offered the breast. My Auntie just gave her cow milk( this was in 1986 and there were no pumps then). For my younger Auntie, this happened with her first born. It was quite a traumatizing experience for her because she had seen her our grandmother raise 7 kids with no such problems.
Darlena’s experience made me think of various ways in which, we, who see a mother take out a bottle to feed her young one, sneer or even take it upon ourselves to give her advice, assuming that we are helping her.
1. Do not sneer, click, stare or disregard a woman for bottle feeding her infant.
2. Do not assume you know why she is doing it. The basic assumption is that some women do not want their breasts becoming shapeless (theory is no scientific proof to back this claim)
3. Appreciate the fact that, by her giving birth to the child, she has the child’s best interest. How many other women do you know who have terminated their pregnancy?
4. This goes to the hospitals and care givers – do not force a mother to breastfeed if she has already shared her challenges and they are reasonable. Do not assume she is being lazy. I kept getting this every time I went to Aga Khan, that I was simply not trying hard enough. I almost went into depression believing I was a bad mother.
5. Do not offer advice to any mother before trying to fully understand if indeed she has a genuine reason.
6. Know that, the most important thing is to keep the child alive and growing as well as ensuring that the mother is able to do keep her child alive and well.
7. Do not demonize formula and cow milk. Given the option between a child starving to death and giving them cow milk, what would you, as a human being do?
8. Know and appreciate the fact that a child can stop breastfeeding for various reasons, many of which have nothing to do with the mother’s decision or preference.
The last 2 appliy to maternal health care centers;-
9. Offer support centers and/or groups for women who are not able to breastfeed especially first time mothers without using the same centers to further insist that women breastfeed, instead , offer other healthy and safe alternatives.
10. Create a solution for working mothers who have to resume work after only 4 months or less of giving birth, who cannot afford electronic milk expressing machines.
I seriously considered starting a Milk expressing center in Nairobi’s CBD when I was trying to look for ways in which I could still offer breast milk using a bottle. I’d envisioned a center equipped with several electric milk expressing machines and fridges where women could quickly express their milk and store it to pick as they go home or give an address where a courier could take to their homes. When I realized how much the machines cost because no company would lease them out, I decided to put my idea on hold.
This could help women like me whose biggest challenge is maintaining a steady supply of breast milk to their baby even after resuming work.
We need healthy babies and happy mothers.
(breast feeding mother image courtesy of newsone.com)