It’s World Breastfeeding Week.

I’m thankful for being able to feed my girls. Everyone’s breastfeeding journey looks different. I have friends who have fed their twins, donated milk to other babies, been more comfortable with expressing than breastfeeding and other Mums who chose not to breastfeed or couldn’t. Support plays a big part of it, I don’t mean the bra or those awesome Bonds singlets with the flaps. The support system, partner, family, friend (real life or online) can really make the difference. I only came to this conclusion after my fourth daughter was born. I found myself telling my Husband ‘please encourage me to breastfeed and to persevere with it when it sucks’. Because I found there were times when I hated breastfeeding and it made me resentful. Not towards my baby but towards 1.The Midwife 2.Mums who appeared to breeze through motherhood feeding their babies 3. My friends who didn’t have kids and were free to wear whatever they liked.

The last one seems selfish when I write it but I had all my babies in my twenties and fashion and my interest in it seemed to come crashing to an abrupt halt even with a wardrobe of beautiful vintage dresses that I’d collected over the years. I remember wearing my favourite dress at the time to one of my best friends wedding. It fit which surprised me, being a typical 1960’s cut, fitted to the knee, metal zipper in a dusky pink. I put it on in the afternoon after feeding baby Olive, carefully adhered my breast pads to the inside of my bralette and with makeup and hair done, off I went.

At the reception I enjoyed a few wines and knew Olive was being fed with stored breast milk via a bottle I’d left with our babysitter, so I felt comfortable enjoying myself and dancing with friends, one of who asked if I wanted to go to the bathroom. Which I did, so I followed. There she kindly pointed out the huge wet circles on my chest and mortified, I sat in the bathroom stall contemplating what to do. I felt more frustrated with missing out on the party than my stained dress or what people would think, so I committed ten minutes to the inconvenience of having to rise the milk circles and dry them under the hand dryer while in my underwear in the bathroom at the reception centre of the wedding, of one of my best friends. Another friend brought me a wine into the bathroom and the fucks I gave quickly became less and less. My breasts were out of control, ridiculously huge at this point so I expressed by hand almost a whole feed (I was really good at it), put my dress back on and joined the party again. Point being…the what to wear scenario, while breastfeeding is an issue but not a major one. And being savvy with outfits is just another skill that Mums acquire with time. My friends were understanding, helpful and curious. All awesome attributes and this support made it easier.

I’m going to go back to point 1. The Midwife. A challenge to comment on, since I am one, but from experience and talking to Mums, I can give advice on what not to do, what not to accept and what’s not the Midwife’s fault. There really has been a shift in breastfeeding education for Midwives and I was taught a ‘hands off approach’ when educating mothers but I’ve certainly been on the other end and had my breast manhandled and shoved into my babies mouth. And I really believe there is never a time or a place for shoving breasts into babies mouths. At all. This can be subjective, in that one person’s opinion of what occurred is different to another persons but there’s no mistaking gentleness, thats universal.

2. The mums who appeared to breeze through… they probably didn’t. Everyone has their challenges, they really do. But we stick it out as much as we can. With my first it was three months. And I was so proud of myself. She never latched on; and I was never given the option of attaching her. With my expressed milk I fed her in the special care nursery. I had daily visits from a mentor who drove an hour from Brisbane to explain and advise using the special teat on the squeezy bottle that had been especially designed for babies with cleft lip and palates.

I left the hospital with my baby who looked like a little kitten with lips that curled up on either side, in her car seat on one side and the large heavy duty rectangular grey expressing machine strapped in the seatbelt beside her. It was ridiculous in size but in 2002 that was my option and it worked like a gem. I don’t miss the hum off the machine or lugging it with me if I went somewhere for longer than the time the next feed came around but I did my best and my baby was ready enough for surgery at three months old.

For baby number two and three I was the one who appeared to breeze through and four? She was the one who reminded me of variations from normal, cracked and gouged nipples, her looking up at me with beautiful big blue eyes and bright red blood dripping from the corners of her mouth. I had pain and problems and a baby vampire at my breast. My Husband giving me space, taking our other three girls to the kitchen and reminding me of what I’d made him promise. “You got this babe!” he’d shout.

The Australian Breastfeeding Society Hotline was on my phone’s speed dial. I called them crying multiple times and always, always felt better after talking to one of the councillors.

I don’t think you can genuinely empower another person but you can help them to feel empowered, with information and kind encouragement, which, is something to celebrate…

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