Archive for the ‘breastfeeding’ Category

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?”

Are our positive breastfeeding stories feeding the guilt?

Celebrate World Breastfeeding Week with Fusion Parenting!


I am fairly confident that some, if not most of you will know what I mean.

Whether it’s a news item, online news article or mainstream parenting forum post about one’s positive experience of breastfeeding, there is the barrage of insults from some women flinging mud at any breastfeeding success stories. There are cries of guilt, of indignity, of anger. How dare we rub salt into the wounds of women who couldn’t breastfeed? How dare we mention the normalcy of feeding a human infant human milk? Breastmilk as the biological norm? I would think any person could grasp the legitimacy of that. Afterall, how long has the human race survived because of the female production of breastmilk to provide essential nourishment to our young? Why else are we blessed with these beautiful and womanly vessels on our chest that contain mammary glands with milk-producing potential?

But you can’t say that in the mainstream without reprimand or disclaimer. Why is that so? What do we have to be ashamed about? Why can’t we shout from the rooftops our love of something, the amazingness of it, the feelings associated with it, the complete normalcy of it.

*long pause*…….oh….that is right. To say such things would imply that the opposite must hold true then, right? If breastmilk is the biological norm, then babies who are bottlefed must be somehow abnormal? If you mention that breastfeeding for a year lowers your likelihood of breast cancer, those women who didn’t breastfeed will get breast cancer right? And surely all those formula-fed kids must be destined to a life of obesity because in all likelihood, breastfeeding lowers the incidence of childhood obesity?? Every non-breastfed baby must be riddled with gastro-intestinal illnesses, because you guessed it, breastfed babies are less likely to have GI illnesses.

NO! NO! NO! It does not mean that at all! Every quote, every statistic, is so often taken personally- misconstrued and reconstructed as a personal affront- an insult to the integrity of the mothers who couldn’t, or didn’t. But… are most definitely welcome to mention the wonders of the bottle. Oh, the myriad benefits to both mother and father! Dad gets to bond with the baby! Mum gets more sleep! She is not beholden to a baby who needs her 24/7! You know what the baby is getting!  Feeding on demand?Who would let a baby dictate when they were fed?

And if you do breastfeed, you have permission to speak loudly of the difficulties. It makes you human right, to admit a bit of defeat? A rough patch? A hurdle you managed to overcome? It makes you easier to like, to relate to somehow because you did the hard yards and battled through and got to the other side. That is the stuff of back-patting- cautious back-patting mind you, because be warned- if you then go on to champion the cause, you run the risk of quickly going from acceptable sob-story to self-righteous and smug do-gooder…or even worse, to be called a bully and someone who lacks empathy for those who didn’t make it. You have crossed the invisible line of acceptability, and have now joined that so lovingly named faction-  “the breastfeeding nazi”… will be named and shamed, have no doubt. She who dares mention the wonders of breastmilk risks a fireball of collective outrage cast forth in her direction. You can only speak of such things in whispered tones amongst those “in the club”….you know, all the smug do-gooders that got lucky, whose breasts managed to work properly, who had the luxury of leisure time, lazing around on the couch with a baby on boob watching midday t.v………..

aaaah breastfeeding- its a very emotive act isn’t it? I guess anything to do with parenting is really. And you can never please all people all of the time! My only aim has ever been to ensure the health and happiness of my children. Most of us do what we feel is best for our kids. I don’t care how anyone else feeds their baby- but I am passionate about breastfeeding advocacy and education. So how do I reconcile those things without giving the appearance of smugness? I empathise totally with the struggles of other women when it comes to breastfeeding. I too have been there with my second son. 6 weeks of tears and uncertainty, it was a steep learning curve for both of us. But one thing I was always sure of was this- I would fight tooth and nail to breastfeed him- and there was no external influence on that decision- it was mine and mine only. Heck, I had an army of doubters trailing me all the way. “Helpful” friends who’d never breastfed a day in their life, telling me to “just put him on the bottle” “why are you doing this to yourself?” “you’ll be much happier if you stop”……umm no, I don’t think I would. I want to do this. If I didn’t want to, I would not be persisting through all this ill-conceived and unwanted advice- and there was plenty of that!

But thankfully too there was plenty of support where I needed it most- from my husband. I also sought expert advice where I knew I could find it- a lactation consultant at the local child health clinic, and the midwife who saw me throughout my pregnancy. They held my hand through those tears, showed me time and time again how to latch him on correctly. Explained the ins-and-outs of breastfeeding. How I appreciated all their help. I recall the very moment I put him to the breast, and bracing myself for the pain, all I felt was the let-down. He suckled contentedly, I leant back against my pillow and the weight of the world flowed out from my breasts…..success at last- how sweet it felt!  I couldn’t wait for the next feed- would we do this easily again? Yep- we sure did! I wanted to shout from the rooftops and run down the street shrieking like a woman gone mad “we did it!! breastfeeding is easy now!!!” yet somehow managed to restrain myself. But does any of this make me extra-special as a mother, better than the women who went through hell with the pain and could not go on? No, of course it doesn’t! I am no martyr. I just did what I chose to do, and thankfully I succeeded. 

But fast-forward to my experience with feeding my 3rd child, my daughter, and I am silenced by some fairly harsh critics. We had no trouble from the start. It was always easy. No painful letdown, no pain at all. No trouble with latch, no supply dramas, no confusion….just milky bliss from the first breastfeed, to today- where at 22 months, we are still going strong, and will continue for as long as it works for both of us. What is so wrong with saying that, publicly, with some pride attached?

I confess to finding it a bit puzzling as to why people find their personal choices or circumstances when it comes to parenting- or anything else in life really-so hard to bear when it comes to other peoples success….sure, everyone loves the underdog- I get that. But what about those who got where they are because they sought out information, armed themselves with education, and surrounded themselves with loads of support? Should they not be recognised, applauded and embraced for their proactive approach?

The same thing happens with birth…but hey, thats a whole other blog!

There have been quite a few articles recently, reporting on the “myths of breastfeeding”…and the cries of “yay, finally we are validated!” ring loudly in my ears. Take that breastfeeding brigade- strike one! Well, I have to say we have had numerous strikes against us well before this- breastfeeding rates are appallingly low in Australia at 4 months….there is still discrimination against breastfeeding women feeding in public, and try feeding a toddler or older child- you must be some weird hippie or part of some cult, or even worse, a deviant mother. And we are a minority group, without financial backing or corporate support. All we have is the health system backing us (and often inadequately), and the wonderful advocacy provided by volunteer organisations like the Australian Breastfeeding Association.

So what is the point of all this you might ask? In an ideal world I wish for mothers to support each other through the minefield of parenthood…we all have one common denominator- a love of our children, and their best interests at heart. Why do we need this great divide over one small aspect of our mothering- how we feed our babies? If you didn’t want to breastfeed, bottle feed with pride! If you tried and couldn’t and feel sad about it, I hope you get loads of  hugs and support to deal with those feelings so you can bottlefeed your baby without guilt or sadness. 

But please, please, please do not deny me the ability to profess the absolute joy I have at breastfeeding my daughter. It is mine and hers, a time of total connectedness and quiet appreciation of each other. And I will shout it from the rooftops if I so desire. All I ask for is mutual respect.

Breastfeeding – Prepared for LIFE!

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

Welcome to the Carnival of Breastfeeding readers.  I hope you enjoy this piece, there are further links to other carnival posts at the bottom.


There’s so much that could be said on this topic.  It could be interpreted as preparing the baby by giving them a healthy start in life.  In spite of what some commentators are trying to say, breastfeeding is healthier, and it is important.  And don’t even think that all this is just something those poor plebs in the third world need to worry about – note that one of those references looks specifically at developed nations. 

It could be interpreted as preparing the baby for the rest of their life by looking at the long term benefits, you know the decreased risk for later obesity, diabetes, some cancers and increases in intelligence.  (A variety of references can be found here.)

Then there are they psychological benefits, the bonding and close relationship with their mother, which prepares the whole family for the turbulent toddler years.  Breastfeeding may be protective for child abuse  and abandonment.

Or the fact that breastfeeding decreases the risk of SIDS , which is definitely preparing a baby for life.

And there are all the ways it helps the mother, which keeps her in the best condition and prepared to look after her baby, including reducing her risk of breast cancer, osteoporosis and the (surprising?) fact that exclusively breastfeeding means both parents get more sleep

And then of course there are all the tiny little things that happen normally and naturally, because breastfeeding is the normal way to feed a baby.  So it does the whole developmental job it is designed for, not just feeding, and prepares the baby’s jaw for talking, gives the mother’s body a break before the next pregnancy, gives the baby the sleep needed for development, allows the baby to experience a wide range of tastes and prepare for family foods, and generally gets the baby ready for the rest of this adventure called life.

Like I said at the beginning, there is so much that could be said on this topic, and I’m sure it will be admirably said by the other contributors to the carnival.  What I want to talk about is Breastfeeding – Prepared for LIFE!  A life that is as big and as bold and as exciting as I can make it.  Because isn’t that how life is supposed to be?  I don’t want a boring life, a mundane life, a routine of an existence.  Sometimes that’s what I get, but it’s not the life I plan and prepare for, and it’s not the life I plan and prepare for my children. 

Because I breastfeed I can be spontaneous, just grab the keys and the change bag and off we go.

Because I breastfeed it doesn’t matter if we’re stuck in the waiting room or a queue for a couple of hours, I’m completely portable.

Because I breastfeed we can camp on whatever beaten track we like, it comes sterile and pre-warmed.

Because I breastfeed I can have dinner with friends and spend the night chatting over philosophy and a nice glass of red, a sated baby cuddled in my lap. 

Because I breastfeed I fit into those ridiculously small airplane seats for a long haul flight, it doesn’t have to be made up and mixed.

Because I breastfeed I don’t worry about the quality of water at my destination.

Because I breastfeed I can live in a cyclone and flood prone area, serene in the knowledge that when the trucks don’t get through for three weeks my baby will be fine.

Because I breastfeed I can take my one year old to a restaurant, certain there’s something on the menu that will appeal to her.

Because I breastfeed I can go to a concert or show, we’re experts at attaching quickly and quietly in the dark.

In other words, because I breastfeed we are prepared for living.  Babyhood is not something to be hidden, scheduled, confined.  It is an introduction to the whole wonderful world, a celebration to be shared, something that allows adults to step back and rediscover life as their children experience it for the first time.  Through breastfeeding we are prepared for life, prepared to begin the new journey with our children in the same way we intend to go on.


Other Carnival of Breastfeeding posts:

Motherwear Breastfeeding Blog: Breastfeeding in Emergencies
Hobo Mama: Prepared for Life: Breastfeeding in local and global crises
Zen Mommy: How breastfeeding has shaped my toddler’s view of breasts
Pure Mothers: Marketing away real milk
Chronicles of a Nursing Mom: Tips for consistent & long-term breastfeeding success
Cave Mother: Three moments that make me thankful I breastfeed
Breastfeeding 1-2-3: Breastfeeding as a lifesaver in emergencies

Mothering without Breastfeeding

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


This post is really a bit of a ramble brought on by World Breastfeeding Week. It’s come at a time when my breastfeeding relationship with my daughter is drawing to a close, and caused me to stop and reflect on what breastfeeding means to me.

I’m about to lose the biggest tool in my parenting toolbox. Actually, it’s more like the magic wand in my box of magic tricks. For the past 2 years, I have used breastfeeding to solve just about every problem my daughter has had.

I used it to help put my daughter (and myself!) to sleep, and back to sleep for all night wakings.

I’ve used it to calm her down when she was having a tantrum.

I’ve used it as a nutritional filler on days when her solid intake was poor.

I’ve used it to make her forget the pain when she was hurt.

I’ve used it to keep her quiet during events/shows.

I’ve even used it to keep her in one place when it was unsafe for her to run around.

Before I became a mother, I never thought too much about how I would feed my baby. I always assumed that I would breastfeed. After all, that’s how my mum fed me, and her mum fed her, and her mum fed her all the way back until Eve. It was also important to me that I feed any child of mine for at least 2 years, as per Qur’anic guidelines.

What I didn’t know though is that breastfeeding, like everything else that is important in life, needs work. It took a bit (or a lot) of effort in the early daze to establish our breastfeeding relationship, and then I was able to sit back and experience the joy of watching my child thrive on my milk.

This was largely due to a great family support network, the Australian Breastfeeding Association, and my own determination to succeed. I vividly remember the many calls, emails and home visits I made to various Breastfeeding Counsellors and Lactation Consultants.

I also didn’t realise how much more there is to breastfeeding than just milk. And how it would become an essential part of how I view myself as a mother.

Weaning is naturally the next step on the road to independance for all breastfed babies, the only thing that varies is the time of completing the transition. For us, it started with her first taste of pureed apple at the age of 6 months.

And now that she’s almost 2, we’ve begun actively weaning. Setting limits is something I’ve been trying to do with her in other areas for a while now, and it seems strange to exclude breastfeeding from that. We’re both mostly happy with the flexible arrangement we have, and I’m trying to make the transition as easy as possible for both of us, regardless of how long the process may take.

Which means I need to find other ways to meet her emotional, nutritional, and physical needs. If she’s hurt, it’s going to take me a lot longer to comfort her and help her forget. I’ll have to pay far more attention to her diet and try to ensure it’s as balanced and healthy as possible. I’ll also have to be more careful about making water available for her to drink. And hardest of all, I’m going to have to find another way of getting her to sleep!

But that’s life, I guess. And as we both move slowly into the next chapter of our relationship,  I know that I’ve given her the best possible start to life.

No regrets.

Why is formula the saviour?

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


I have had 2 friends in the past few days tell me that they’re so tired they almost gave their baby formula. Both of them have children under 16 weeks. I haven’t slept more than 4 hours in a row for over 17 months and it has never once entered my mind that formula would be something that might be my saviour.

Not that this is a sleep-deprivation competition! There seems to be many other reasons why people state that formula is their saviour whilst in the same breath saying “I wish I could breastfeed though, I would have if I could have”. However if you sit down and nut it out with them their love for formula seems to stem from either ill-advice or expectations of their baby that just weren’t realistic.

I do not judge parents who feed their baby formula – that should go without saying. We’re all trying to do the best job we can do and that also goes without saying. However when I get my back up is when I’m accused of making someone feel guilty because they fed formula. “Not everyone’s as lucky as you Tiff” or “I wish I had as much milk as you” are comments I have heard frequently. Why have I not needed formula? Why do I have so much milk? Could it be because sleeping through the night is not a priority for me but feeding my baby regularly whenever they tell me they need me is? Sure, what I wouldn’t give for a block of sleep longer than 3-4 hours but not at the expense of my milk supply and certainly not in the first 6 months. That’s not to say that breastfed babies don’t sleep through the night (considered a 5-6 hour stretch) and formula fed babies don’t wake during the night but by and large it seems that many people consider formula to be the sleeping through the night saviour. Formula top-ups for babies that could be exclusively breastfed without a problem seem to be becoming the norm. Recommended by child health nurses and GPs are routinely as the reminder for your 2, 4, and 6 months vaccinations. Why? I have no idea! My breasts work just fine, my babies love breastmilk and it wouldn’t occur to me to buy a tin of formula let alone hope for better sleep patterns after giving it!

The old “breast is best” debate seems to be frequently rehashed when it comes to the question of whether formula was necessary in a breastfeeding relationship. This is where the guilt-trips come into play too. I hear “I was exhausted and it was best for my baby because I wasn’t the best mother I could be. You are not going to make me feel guilty for doing what was best for my family”. Ummmm no. I have no intention of making you feel guilty. In fact a guilt-trip was never on my list of things to impart when we sat down and started chatting about our babies yet it is the first thing I am accused of giving when I dare to mention that I have been breastfeeding my 2 children for 39 months.  Why is that? Are Mum’s feeling guilty for their own choices and looking for someone to blame? Is the media responsible with it’s “breast is best” message? I read an opinion piece in Saturday’s West Australian Newspaper that ended with (paraphrasing) “it doesn’t matter if my baby suckles on a human nipple or a silicone one” – well of course it doesn’t but what is coming out of the nipple DOES matter. Breastmilk can come out of the silicone nipple in the form of expressed breastmilk or it can come straight from the breast and there is no debate that that IS best for both baby and mother.

If you chose not to breastfeed and you made an informed choice then own it. If you ended up not breastfeeding due to misinformation and poor advice then own that. The more we place formula on a pedestal as the saviour when it comes to infant (and toddler) feeding the more I believe our breastfeeding rates will decline. With only 1 – 2% of women actually medically unable to breastfeed there is either a lot of women given poor information so that they think they couldn’t breastfeed, had no milk, their milk dried up or was bad or their crying baby wasn’t crying because that’s what many baby’s do but because of a problem with their milk supply or that figure of 1-2% is incredibly inaccurate.

On Breastfeeding and Formula

Warning and disclaimer: This post discusses breastfeeding and formula.  It does not discuss mothers who use formula, mothers who need formula, babies who need formula, breastfeeding in public or any other variations.  If you feel it is putting you down, please read all of it carefully.  Please comment, but it needs to contribute to the discussion, not sidetrack it.  If I feel it is sidetracking, I won’t post it but will let you know.  Any comparisons to genocidal regimes will be ignored.

On breastfeeding:

There have been a few incidents recently to bring breastfeeding up again, especially feeding older children.  And girls, I have to say – we need to stop playing the formula companies’ game.

Formula is a very good nutritional substitute for breastfeeding.  I mean that sincerely – if I couldn’t breastfeed I would be thankful for formula, it is far, far better than the options that used to be available (without getting into wet nursing).  But it is only a nutritional substitute.  It cannot provide the immunological benefits, it cannot promote sleep for both mother and baby, it cannot calm a distressed child, it cannot act as a contraceptive, it cannot promote bonding through hormones, it cannot regulate the digestive system, it cannot help jaw muscle development for speech, it cannot do any of the myriad other things that breastfeeding does.  If I couldn’t breastfeed I would be thankful for formula, but I would need to parent completely differently to fill the other gaps.

So when someone starts to compare formula and breastfeeding, why on earth do we even mention nutrition?  Formula does it pretty well, let’s accept and admit that.  It doesn’t do it perfectly, it doesn’t do it the best.  It isn’t responsive, and we don’t even know all the things that are in breastmilk so we don’t know how close it is.  But it does a good job of helping human babies to grow and develop, especially when there is no better alternative.  So when we are trying to explain that breastmilk really is better, why do we fight on our weakest ground?

We do it because we are allowing the formula companies to control the debate.  It’s that simple.  They have a product that can compete nutritionally but not anywhere else, so they talk about nutrition.  And we let them do it.  The very term ‘breastfeeding’ lets them do it, because it implies that it’s all about feeding, which it isn’t.  Unfortunately my Mum’s a nurse, so I personally can’t use nursing, and I don’t know what else to use.  We need to find or invent some term that includes all the things breastfeeding does that have nothing to do with nutrition.

And it’s very hard to argue with someone who’s agreeing with you.  So when faced with all the reasons that formula isn’t that bad … nutritionally … smile and nod.  Agree.  “You’re right, it’s ok nutritionally.  So how do you …?”  or “It’s a pity you have to find another way to …” or even be blunt and say “Unfortunately, it can’t ever provide …”

And the World Health Organisation recommendations DO apply to us – most of us don’t feed ourselves or our older children properly, what makes people think we can feed our babies appropriately?  But even so, what does breastfeeding an older baby or toddler have to do with nutrition?  Why bother arguing nutrition, when Karleen Gribble’s study showed mothers don’t feed older babies for that reason anyway.  They feed for comfort, for bonding, for sleeping, because the children enjoy it.  These are the things we should be arguing, these are the things that formula can never, ever provide.

Now it may sound like I’m saying mothers who use formula don’t comfort their babies, or put them to sleep, or whatever.  I’m not, in fact believe it or not I’m admiring.  You see, you have to find other ways of doing the things that I can do easily through breastfeeding.  And I think that you should be getting the credit for that, not some multinational company.  Because that’s the other half of this post.

On formula:

We need to stop calling a spade a manual earth arranging implement.

I don’t mean debates about whether it’s ‘formula’ or ‘artificial baby milk.’ I mean it is a commercial product sold by companies that are trying to make a profit, and doing very well out of it.  They are continually studying and trying to improve it – because they have competitors who are trying to make money too.  And they are continually marketing, marketing, marketing, and cleverly focusing on the bits they do well.  Of course they are, we all do.  Focus on the positives and hope no-one notices the negatives.  But the really clever bit is that they have managed to co-opt their consumers into doing the marketing for them for free.

Let me show you what I mean.  Most of the readers of this blog are Australian, and grew up eating vegemite.  People in other countries eat marmite, or promite, or some other type of yeast spread.  They are all fairly similar nutritionally, all do the same job, have fairly minor taste variations.  Yet Australians will ship vegemite around the world and have stand-up fights trying to prove its superiority.  This is not because it genuinely is superior in any way, but because of its emotional status as an Australian icon.  It is unAustralian to not defend vegemite.  We eat it and defend it because in a symbolic way we are defending Australia and what it means to be Australian.

Formula is a commercial product.  It is produced purely to make a profit, not out of the goodness of anyone’s heart.  Yet it has come to represent, for many women, motherhood.  This is completely understandable.  There are so many emotions tied up with such a basic thing as feeding our babies.  On a primitive level I’m sure we’ve all asked ourselves – if I can’t do this, then can I really be a mother at all?  So in defending formula, women are defending their own status as mothers.  And so they make wonderful unpaid advertisers.

It can be hilarious in a painful way to read some of the discussions about baby feeding.  The question was asked – what would happen if formula were $100 a tin?  And there were all sorts of answers about ‘the government.’ But what on earth has the government to do with the price of formula?  It’s set by the companies that make it, and you can bet they’re doing more than just covering costs.   In fact, they should be setting it as high as they possibly can before they lose customers – that’s how supply and demand works.  They’re not giving it to you cheaply because they’re worried about your baby.

And statements about breastfeeding mothers not drinking, or smoking, or taking medications, or having to eat perfectly!  You don’t need to be pure to breastfeed – have a look at what’s given to the cows!  And the factories certainly aren’t pure, they aren’t even sterile, which is why you have to use hot water to make it up.

I’m not trying to make mothers who use formula feel bad, I’m trying to tell you not to be conned.  Because all the formula is replacing is the nutrition.  You are still the one getting your baby to sleep, comforting them, helping their speech develop, taking care of them when they have a tummy ache.  In other words, you are the ones doing the mothering.  You don’t have to defend yourself, your defense is your happy, healthy, amazing children.  You don’t have to work as a marketer for formula companies.  Any other product in your pantry (especially one you are feeding your children) you wouldn’t defend to the bitter end.  As parents we question, we hold companies responsible for their claims, force them to make better products, and generally try to make them accountable (except Vegemite, that would be unAustralian).

A spade is a spade, and formula is a very expensive commercial nutritional substitute that makes a great profit for its makers and leaves you to do all the work.

On mothering:

So in the end, we’re all pretty similar.  We all need to do the same things for our children, and that includes so much more than nutrition.  So let’s give nutrition a rest for a bit, hey?  I’ll agree that formula does a reasonable job of it, if you’ll agree that breastfeeding does all sorts of other things as well.

psst –> weak

Children copy their mothers

Another breastfeeding post, I know most of our audience will appreciate them and feeding (of any sort) seems to be a major part of my day.  And it ties in nicely with “The Octopus Myth,” seeing it is a toddler who has indirectly caused this flap.

Apparently in the UK it is National Breastfeeding Week.  So to celebrate someone in a hospital made up a little poster to put on the notice board.  A fairly innocuous poster I would have thought, with a picture of a little girl breastfeeding her doll under the heading “It’s Normal.  Children copy their mothers.”  Apparently this is “distasteful, inappropriate and crude.”

Let’s take them one at a time.

Distasteful: unpleasant, provoking dislike, disapproval, or mild disgust

This actually says a lot about the people who are making the complaint, doesn’t it?  If a picture provokes disgust, then it means they find breastfeeding disgusting.  Or at least a child pretending to breastfeed is disgusting.  So I wonder which it is – do they find the sight of breasts disgusting?  Do they find the thought of a baby sucking at them makes them sick?  Or do they see it as disgusting for little girls to play with dolls?  I wonder what they think of dolls with nappies?  Is that disgusting too? 

Inappropriate:  not fitting, timely, or suitable

Well it was definitely timely, if you can’t put up a poster about breastfeeding in National Breastfeeding Week then when can you.  Obviously some people would prefer never.  As for fitting, hospitals have a public health responsibility.  That’s sort of their reason for being.  And the WHO describes their infant feeding guidelines as a “global public health recommendation.”  Their recommendation is for exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months, then the introduction of suitable complementary foods while breastfeeding continues until 2 years or beyond.  So a hospital would actually be obliged to promote breastfeeding, and particularly to normalise it.  So then we consider suitable, and this is obviously the one that has people upset.  It’s not the time, it’s not the breastfeeding, it’s the toddler.  We’re back with her being caught doing something not quite right.

Crude:  vulgar or obscene.

And here we have it.  The upsetting thing.  The reason that toddler is being disgusting and unsuitable.  It’s all about sex.  They might as well have put up a photo of her masturbating, I mean we all know that some unfortunate toddlers who haven’t been well brought up do that.  Not mine of course.  But it’s certainly not something you promote.

So breastfeeding is really all about sex, and not something that little girls should be indulging in.  In fact “it isn’t normal. Children copy their parents but I don’t think any little girls should be breastfeeding their dolls.”  So what should they be doing with them?  Using a good old bottle?  Starving them? 

Without sarcasm, I think this quote actually sums up the problem neatly.  Children copy their parents.  That little girl was almost certainly breastfed and it’s a pretty good bet she’ll go on to breastfeed her children, because she already knows that that’s how you feed a baby.  We don’t object to them learning how to sweep or wash the dishes.  We don’t object to them learning how to shop, or garden, or drive a car.  Surely caring for a baby is an important skill they’re going to need in the future?  Selfishly, I think most of us want grandkids one day. 

My toddler can change a nappy.  She can wrap her baby up and cuddle her, she feeds her solids (and doesn’t quite get why the real yoghurt isn’t a good idea) baths her, and comforts her when she falls over.  She’s also taught her to fly off the slide, so maybe she isn’t quite ready for motherhood.  But she breastfeeds quite regularly.  She will also offer me a feed, and I know this is ringing alarm bells for the sex obsessed among us.  Incest!  How terrible!  Save those children!  But do unto others as you would be done by.  Breastfeeding is a minor part of her life timewise, but it is incredibly important to her emotionally.  It is her comfort, her reconnection with Mummy, her good start to the day.  And that is what she is offering me, in her own toddler way she is trying to make me feel better.

And it’s not just me, a year ago any baby who cried at playgroup was fair game.  Up went the shirt and she would offer them a feed.  And that’s really what is meant to happen, our critic is quite correct.  Toddlers shouldn’t be breastfeeding dolls, because there aren’t any out on the savannah.  They should be practicing their skills on little brothers, sisters and cousins.

Let’s drag our minds out of the gutter and think about what they are practicing.  The least important thing they are learning is the mechanics of breastfeeding.  Anyone who’s watched a toddler knows that they do a lousy job of attaching and quite often miss the breast completely.  Their poor little dolls would starve, if their nipples weren’t horribly cracked.  Rather they are learning the emotions of breastfeeding and the place of breastfeeding.  They are learning that breastfeeding is about comfort as well as food.  They are learning that it is about closeness.  They are learning that it is about sitting down and spending time with your baby.  And most importantly, they are learning that that is how babies are fed.

And if they don’t learn that, they are way behind when they have their own children.  Quite simply, they won’t know how babies are fed.  They might think babies feed out of a bottle.  They might think it is a choice.  There is a fundamental core of support they are missing, because they don’t have the surety that ‘I will breastfeed my children.’  Of course things get in the way, of course plans can change, of course some people will breastfeed successfully without it.  But starting out with the assumption that you will breastfeed is a big step towards being successful.  And starting out with the idea that it is disgusting, inappropriate and crude is only going to make it harder.

That’s the attitude that’s easy to argue against or ridicule, but there is another argument in the article that is more insidious.  We don’t want to upset new Mums who can’t breastfeed for medical reasons.  How could we be so mean.  New Mums are so vulnerable, so hormonal, so fragile.  And they are.  The baby blues are horrible.  And I was one of the lucky ones with problems that were relatively easy to fix, 24 hours of expressing let the grazes heal and it only took a few weeks to sort out the oversupply and fast letdown.  So we should definitely be gentle with new Mums.  But I really question how many of them can’t breastfeed for medical reasons. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying everyone can breastfeed.  There are definitely mother/baby pairs for whom it doesn’t work, there are women who need medications that would be dangerous, there are babies with tongue tie or who don’t have the muscle tone to suck, there are women with insufficient glandular tissue and ones with hormonal problems that mean their milk does not come in properly.  But that is incredibly rare.  Breastfeeding in the form of mammals has been around for well over two hundred million years, and depending on your definition humans have been doing it for a couple of million years.  Any species that couldn’t feed half their babies would have died out by now.  And if you believe in creation by an omnipotent God it’s even worse – are you really saying the Creator only got it right half the time?  So not being able to breastfeed for medical reasons is extremely rare, and even rarer to find out while you are still in the maternity hospital rather than when you are home and have tried desperately.

Then why do we have such a high failure rate?  There are a lot of women out there convinced they couldn’t breastfeed.  This is obviously too complex to go into in this blog, which is already too long, but a part of it is the support women receive and their own attitude to breastfeeding.  And a big part of that comes from their mothers and starts when they are toddlers playing with dolls.  By stopping people seeing that, we are stopping them seeing that breastfeeding is just a normal part of the things that toddlers learn, about what grownups do.

And while that may upset the very small number of women who cannot breastfeed for medical reasons, isn’t it far worse to convince large numbers of women that their bodies don’t work?

The octopus myth

When I was pregnant, I spent a long time waiting for the day when I would start to feel like a hippopotamus – large, uncomfortable, waddling and enormously heavy…though I’m sure that if you were to ask any hippo they would strongly dispute such a characterisation. Anyway, I waited and waited and waited, but before I knew it, the baby was born, no hippos in sight. I never felt uncomfortable or awkward or waddling…how I may have looked is a different matter entirely.

A similar thing has happened to me with breastfeeding. When I started breastfeeding my newborn daughter, I soon learned that the recommended age for feeding was a minimum of two years. I looked down upon the tiny little creature nestled so comfortably in my arms and everything just seemed to ‘fit’ so nicely…a newborn baby just seemed to be the perfect size for breastfeeding. How on EARTH would I be able to breastfeed an ENORMOUS two year old???

I looked around to get an idea of what a two year old was actually like and I tried to imagine what it would be like to breastfeed a child of that age and size. I was, to be honest, slightly alarmed – all those ARMS, all those LEGS…all that WRIGGLING about – WAS IT REALLY POSSIBLE TO BREASTFEED A TWO YEAR OLD??? It seemed to me that it would be rather like trying to put a wetsuit on a thrashing octopus…awkward, unwieldy, frustrating and quite frankly, nigh impossible. Nevertheless, I set my goal as reaching the magical age of two and I figured that I would somehow work it out.

I now have an eighteeen-month old daughter. Somehow, somewhere along the way, my newly born baby slowly morphed into this ENORMOUS creature, with all those arms and all those legs and all that wriggling about. Somehow, somewhere along the way, she just FIT. Nope, she doesn’t curl up neatly in my arms like a newborn baby…her legs hang over my lap and she usually fiddles with a toy in one hand while poking and prodding at me with the other. But somehow, it works…it feels comfortable, natural and normal. I now no longer worry about how on earth I’m going to breastfeed a two year old, or even a three year old for that matter. I know that they will still fit. Because they’re meant to.

A few days ago, a friend of mine dropped in for a chat. Somewhere in the conversation (I think we were talking about my desire for my husband to take my daughter camping for the night so I could have an evening in on my own) it became apparent that I was STILL feeding. My friend, a childless male, looked slightly perplexed and then commented “Oh well, she won’t be needing that for much longer”. Then, a short pause, as he cocked his head to one side, looked at me and said “How old is she again?”

And so, in a very subtle, quiet, unobtrusive way, I was given the message, yet again, that YOU MUST NOT BREASTFEED A CHILD AFTER THE AGE OF ONE. The message was so clear that it could have been written in big, bright flashing neon lights. Because, of course, as everyone seems to know, Breastfeeding After the Age of One is Dangerous. Unsafe. Unnecessary. For Your Own Reasons. Weird. Just Plain Wrong.

I know that I have now entered that territory in which I feel that I need to be a little bit more secretive about the fact that I am STILL breastfeeding. In the small town where I live, many mothers do breastfeed, but the age of 1 is definitely seen as the upper limit. To venture beyond this point is seen as being, well, quite frankly, weird…perhaps even bizarre. Why on earth would you keep breastfeeding when they can have cows milk at that age???

Personally I’ve got nothing against cow’s milk…when it’s given to baby cows that is. But the idea that I would wean my child from my milk on to the milk of an animal…well, quite frankly, I find that weird…perhaps even bizarre. I feel slightly ashamed of myself that I am not more open about breastfeeding my toddler. I have told some friends who I know have breastfed past the age of one and I’ve mentioned it casually in conversations to strangers, but I don’t feed my daughter ‘in public’ anymore and I am careful about what I say and to whom. Partly this is because we are still fairly new to this town and I know that whatever I say will eventually do the rounds. I’d like to think that if I had the anonymity of life in a big city I wouldn’t care less about where and when I fed my daughter and whom I told.

I’ve never yet been openly and directly challenged by someone about why I’m still breastfeeding my daughter, but I thought that if and when the moment arrives, I’d like to be really clear about it….so here’s a short list of MY reasons…

*Because the World Health Organisation recommends that babies are breastfed for a minimum of two years, and thereafter for however long the mother and child desire. To be honest, I’m not usually one for following ‘the rules’ – they have to make sense to me first and be backed up by good research (hopefully one of my fellow bloggers will blog about ‘the rules’ of starting solids and how Baby Led Solids turns all that on its head). Anyway, this is one recommendation that does make sense to me and is backed up by good research.

*It provides immunological support. I suppose I see my breastmilk as being almost like the ‘other half’ of my daughter’s immune system. Children are so susceptible to infections and illness in their early years of life and the consequences of recurrent infections can be quite serious for bodily systems that are still developing (think ear infections here). I know that breastfeeding has ensured that my daughter has had an amazingly illness-free start to life – she has been sick just once in eighteen months – no ear infections, no gastro, no vomiting, no skin problems. And she isn’t ‘protected’ from snotty-nosed kids either. She recently picked up and sucked on the dummy of a child who had two rivers of green snot streaming from his nose…she didn’t even get a sniffle. So the other part to this story is that my daughter has never needed medication or a trip to the doctor and I haven’t suffered sleepless nights tending to a sick child.

*It provides ideal nutrition. Everyone who has a toddler knows how fussy and finicky they can be about food. By continuing to breastfeed my daughter, I know that even on days where she hardly eats, she is still receiving proper nutrition and isn’t likely to starve!

*It provides comfort in times of distress and it is still a surefire way to calm her and soothe her into sleep – even if she rarely feeds to sleep nowadays, it does slow her right down before bedtime and makes the night-time routine that little bit easier.

*It provides some quiet spaces in the day where the two of us can just be peaceful, still, and enjoy some beautiful mother-daughter moments together. Actually this is more of a ‘perk’ than a reason for breastfeeding per se.

*OK, this is an aside, but if we were ever caught in a natural disaster situation where we didn’t have access to food or water for a while…well, my daughter would be fine.

I’m sure there’s a lot more reasons that others could add to this list and I’d love to hear from any other mum’s who have or are breastfeeding past the age of one. What have your experiences been and why did you decide to keep going past the age that our society considers to be the ‘norm’?

For my part I’m just glad that I’ve experienced the seamless transition from feeding a newborn to feeding a toddler, without letting my preconceived notions (about the octopus) get in the way…