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HEALTH / Apr ‘2016

Bye-Bye Booby

HEALTH / APR ‘2016

Bye-Bye Booby

96 per cent of Australian mothers initiate breastfeeding yet only 39 per cent of babies are being breastfed to three months and only 15 per cent to six months.

The nursing of high temperatures and annoying colds, the quelling of infantile rage, calming the calamity of a fall, these boobs have been the masters of multi-tasking.

Words ANN MARIE BRADSTREET

A sweaty little head nestled in the crook of my arm drains my knotty aching breast. I am emotional. I’ve been weaning my two year old for the past week and I feel like an elite athlete taking to the field for the last time.

I am sad yet philosophical as I look back over my breastfeeding career, spanning almost thirteen years and yielding three beautiful boys; it is now time to pass the baton onto the younger up and coming mothers.

This last season of feeding has been by far the easiest and the longest of all three stints. Being a veteran and knowing well the state of play, I brought that newborn to my breast still standing by the hospital bed from his birth while praising his brave passage into the world, “What a good boy you are to do so well getting here”, I cried onto his little screeching head as he latched on for the first time. I decided to stay a night in hospital so I would be brought cups of tea, my sole motivation, I kid you not. I held him all night and he fed like he’d been born to it as, of course, he had.

The next morning during a feed, a matronly midwife doing her rounds reached out to grab my breast. “Let me show you…” she said before I firmly arrested her wrist mid-lunge and calmly spoke the words, “Don’t touch me please”. She respectfully apologised, I accepted and got on with my task.

It hadn’t been like that in my first season as a rookie. Countless midwives, lactation consultants and even, horrifyingly, a mother-in-law all traipsed through my personal, physical and emotional boundaries to grab, pull, push and flick at what I was, apparently, doing so wrong.

After eight tear stained weeks of tri-hourly nipple gratings a midwife suggested my son and I may have thrush. A simple treatment had us successfully feeding and within a week we were a contented little symbiotic duo.

It is easy to reduce that time to another parenting anecdote, relaying none of the potent despair I was living at the time but thinking about it now, I understand why mothers become so discouraged and give up within those first crucial weeks, where supply and demand must be met to get that factory up and running.

I would love, if I could, in the swan song of my boobs, in honour of their imminent decline into sad little deflated balloons harking to a party long dispersed, to inspire some mums to push on through those hard times and share in the wisdom and joy of feeding your children the easiest, cheapest, most nourishing and portable food source you could possibly provide.

 

According to the ABA (Australian Breastfeeding Society) a 2010 survey indicates that 96 per cent of Australian mothers initiate breastfeeding yet only 39 per cent of babies are being breastfed to three months and only 15per cent to six months, falling well short of The World Health Organization’s recommendation that babies be exclusively breastfed to six months of age and thereafter with complementary foods up to two years old and beyond. This tells me that the majority of mothers want to breastfeed their babies but six months on, the breastfeeding mother is a member of a minority group.

Breastfeeding can be stressful, difficult and confusing for a lot of new mothers and feeling unsuccessful at something continually described as “natural” can be discouraging but surely the statistics above show that struggling with breastfeeding in our current society is a pretty common situation. Learning to breastfeed can be really hard, at first. Persistence, however, is worth it as breastfeeding becomes the easiest thing in the world and it saves the day, day after day.

The women in my life, other breastfeeding mothers, have helped influence, inspire and inform my choices. Watching other mothers normalised the practice even when negative messages persisted around me. As I have become a wiser and more experienced mother I have become more confident and assured in my choices and ability to trust that my body will provide what my child needs.

The emotional nourishment I have had the privilege to offer through the bond of breastfeeding is something I will cherish for the rest of my life. The nursing of high temperatures and annoying colds, the quelling of infantile rage, calming the calamity of a fall, these boobs have been the masters of multi-tasking.

I look at my three sons and my heart bursts with fierce love, a love – when first encountered- seems impossible to extend until the next child is born and miraculously it multiplies, with the lithe ease of a ballet dancer executing a monumental manoeuvre.

I even feel grateful for the honour of having doughy little hands yank down my top in front of the maintenance man come to fix my pantry door because, despite the odd glitch in my dignity, even though it hasn’t always been easy and it can be tiring and physically draining, it has been so worth it. The positive benefits have far outweighed the bad.

So, it is with sadness and a great deal of gratitude that I announce my retirement, with injury pulling me up short (I have some health treatments on hold until I finish feeding), this two year old and I, despite some considerable bereavement, are saying “bye-bye booby”.