Emergencies In Breastfeeding

It’s World Breastfeeding Week and we are celebrating at Fusion Parenting.  Come back for a new post on breastfeeding every day!


It’s World Breastfeeding Week. You may have noticed, particularly if you read parenting blogs or websites often. This year’s theme is “Breastfeeding in Emergencies”.

Being serious for a moment, breastfeeding is critical to the survival of babies in emergency situations. Breastfeeding is a complete source of nutrition for babies; it doesn’t require clean water or bottle washing facilities; it’s free, it’s always available – access to enough or appropriate infant formula is a serious issue in emergency service provision. The World Health Organisation says,

“Children are among the most vulnerable groups during emergencies, and small children are the most vulnerable of all, due to the combined risk of deat due to diarrhoea, pneumonia, and undernutrition… The best way of preventing malnutrition and mortality among infants and young children in emergencies or otherwise, is to ensure that they start breastfeeding within one hour of birth, breastfeed exclusively (with no food or liquid other than breastmilk, not even water) until six months of age and continue breastfeeding with appropriate complementary foods up to two years or beyond. Even in emergency situations, the aim should be to create and sustain an environment that encourages frequent breastfeeding for children up to two years of age or beyond.”

You can read more of the statement here.

On a less serious note, though, the idea of ‘breastfeeding in emergencies’ naturally brought me to thinking about ’emergencies in breastfeeding’. Because I’m like that, you know.

Breastfeeding is one of those things. It’s like changing nappies. Well, it isn’t – it’s very different, because breastfeeding is about yummy stuff going into a baby rather than yucky stuff coming out of a baby. But nappies and poo are an endless source of amusement and “oops!” stories that parents laugh about together. We’re all in the club – we all know about it, and it’s pretty darn funny. Similarly, breastfeeding has some amusing moments too, and it comes with its own set of ’emergencies’ that you just don’t know about until you get there.

New mothers tend to be sleep deprived. It goes with the territory. It makes it hard to remember which boob you’re up to, if you’re making sure to swap sides regularly. But forgetting to switch sides didn’t worry me so much as forgetting to do up my bra again after feeding. I went into McDonald’s once, where I was served by a teenage boy. He had an odd expression on his face, and seemed a little uncomfortable. I didn’t think much about it – adolescence and feeling awkward are basically flatmates who don’t really like each other much but can’t move out on their own for a few years. It wasn’t until I returned to the car, and noticed that my right breast was hanging a good two inches lower than the other, that I realised one side of my bra was still unhooked.

Random leakages can be amusing, too. If you’re someone who leaks milk all the time, I think you get used to it – you wear bra pads all the time and make sure you always have some on hand. But I rarely leaked at all, so it was always quite a surprise when it happened. Possibly my favourite episode was the one where my landlord dropped by unannounced, and I answered the door wearing a singlet and clutching the baby. About halfway through the conversation I realised my front was very cold: the breeze was blowing gently across two great wet patches on my singlet. I shifted the position of my baby, using him like a shield, all the while acutely aware that the wet patch was spreading. I couldn’t end the conversation and get back inside fast enough!

Even at home though, the sudden leakage can be an emergency situation. Baby on one breast, hand clapped over the other in a hurry, all the while calling out, “get me a cloth nappy! NOW!” to whoever is within earshot. Because of course you can’t get up and get it yourself – even if you are at the stage where you’ve mastered getting up and carrying the baby around while feeding him (this skill is a prerequisite for eating regularly, I discovered), you’re still faced with being hands-less, as your ‘free’ hand is busy stanching the flow from your offside.

Needing to pee is a breastfeeding emergency, if, like I did, you have a baby who likes to feed for very, very long periods of time. Unlatching a baby mid-feed is never a happy solution; but after an hour or two of leg crossing and uncrossing, sometimes you’ve just got to go. I knew that motherhood would teach me many skills I didn’t have before, but going to the toilet with a baby latched on is not one I’d envisaged learning prior to motherhood. For the record, I can undo and do up my jeans one handed while feeding an insistent baby. Maybe I should put that on my resumé.

The unexpected spray of milk is always a winner. Around four months of age, my son did what many babies do – he got very interested in the world around him, and consequently if we were out in public, he’d pull off the breast constantly to look around him. It’s hard to know exactly what to do when your baby pops off the breast, and a great arc of milk sprays across the table and over the chair opposite. Do you try to wipe it off, thereby drawing attention to the fact that you’ve spray painted your surroundings with milk? Do you pretend it never happened, and keep talking in the hopes that your café companions will treat it like a fart – best left unacknowledged?

I was faced with an interesting conundrum recently. I was away from my son, actually in an emergency department of a hospital with a friend. I got to the point where I needed to express some milk for comfort, and there really weren’t too many options to hand express privately. It was not so much that finding privacy was difficult – it’s that I needed to catch the milk somewhere. I was unprepared for this, being that I don’t normally express milk… the only option I could come up with was to hand express into the bathroom sink. Seemed like a reasonable enough option, until I discovered that the bathroom was a unisex facility.

Now in theory at least, I see nothing wrong with hand expressing milk into a bathroom sink, whoever might walk in. But let’s be honest. Even given that breastfeeding is perfectly normal, no matter where you are; and even given that expressing milk needs to be treated the same way, because it’s something you do when you can’t breastfeed; if a strange man walked in on me while I had my breast hanging out over the sink, and I was manually milking great squirts out of it, aiming for the plughole… I’d feel a bit odd. I think he’d feel pretty odd about it, too, and that’s putting it very mildly.

Now I object in principle to expressing in toilets. It’s food, after all, and we don’t make sandwiches in the loo. (Well, I don’t: if you do, please let me know so I can avoid ever having lunch at your house). But in order to express some milk privately – and remember I wasn’t keeping this milk, I just needed to get rid of it for comfort – the toilet was my only option. In fact, I needed to express the milk into the toilet.

I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to do this. It’s really rather difficult. The angle is all wrong, for a start. The height is really very awkward, and I was faced with all sorts of uncomfortable options – leaning over forward, basically bent in half; kneeling on the floor (and I could just imagine the reaction of anyone who entered the bathroom and saw my feet sticking out under the stall door); and sitting down anywhere just wasn’t an option.

I’m not really sure how I managed it, in the end. I think I crouched down halfway: I know I went for speed rather than accuracy.

I’m sure I have more stories, and probably funnier stories too. But tell me yours – when have you had breastfeeding ’emergencies’? When have you thought to yourself, “I never expected to be doing this – what on earth do I do now?”

4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by DellaWellaWoman on August 6, 2009 at 9:54 am

    PMSL!! And I have a sleeping baby on my lap so it’s your fault if she wakes up!!

    I don’t think I can top your expressing into the toilet story – if I even tried that I can guarantee just about all the milk would have NOT made it into the toilet – my boobies just don’t seem to ‘aim’ properly in that respect!

    Regarding breastfeeding in emergencies though, I really am glad that I’m feeding both children (3 yrs, and 2 months) – if we’re hit by any sort of emergency situation where the water supply’s compromised (or non-existent) at least I know I can still feed my children.


  2. Posted by Michelle on August 6, 2009 at 5:18 pm

    Nothing as good as expressing directly into a toilet! Were there no cups around? LOL!

    I’ve expressed in a toilet cubicle at a wedding, not to keep, just to relieve the pressure. I’m sure I looked a little weird wearing a backpack with a formal dress (it had the pump and bottle) and I was fairly relieved that I didn’t need to explain to anyone what it was I was tipping down the sink! I also had a leakage problem whilst having lunch at the house of our minister from church. Thankfully he had 4 kids of his own, so I guess if he noticed he was considerate enough not to say anything!


  3. My worst was while travelling. For the first and only time in her little life the 15 week baby slept through about 6 hours, so I was already engorged, then proceeded to sleep all day in the car. I kept trying to express in the car, but that’s a lot of fun. By the time we got somewhere she wouldn’t feed much, so her delighted big sister was told to go for it to put Mummy out of pain. So I fed the toddler on the side of the road at a tourist spot with people taking photos all around me.


  4. Posted by Smoz on September 5, 2009 at 11:16 am

    Brilliant read! thank you!!!! I have done that exact baby on one hand on the other screaming for ANYTHING to stick in my top to ‘catch’ the flow…..i remember once my husband had a clean cloth nappy and i was like gimme that and he thought it was gross and wouldn’t give it to me so i just stood up and started dripping milk onto the carpet till he did heehee

    as far as emergencies goes BF whilst grocerie shopping was an interesting one. We were late for dinner i had DS3yo and DS9month with me…little one decideds that whilst im maddly dashing through the store he wants to scream so it was bubs on boob with one arm whilst my other arm grabbed groceries, held 3yo hand and pushed trolley….and not one person offered to help 😛


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