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Breastfeeding – beautiful but not always easy

Breastfeeding – beautiful but not always easy

By CASSANDRA CHARLESWORTH

All right ladies, set down the judgmental glances and discard the defences, this week is Breastfeeding Week – a beautiful ode to a natural act that raises more than the occasional hackle in otherwise rational women.

It’s a week when we talk about all the health benefits of breastfeeding babies, marvel at the incredible capability of the human body and reflect on our own CHOICES as mums. I’ll come back to the C-word later.

So, let’s start with the facts…

The health benefits

There’s little doubt breastfeeding has a wealth of health benefits for babies and mothers alike.

From increased immunity in the child to the reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancer in the mother, these benefits have been well-documented over recent years.

According to statistics, this sees most mothers attempt to breastfeed.  

The 2010 Australian National Infant Feeding Survey found 96 per cent of mothers initiate breastfeeding, but after that, the rate drops off.

Less than half (39 per cent) of babies are still being exclusively breastfed to three months and less than one quarter (15 per cent) to five months.

The experience

Every woman’s experience with breastfeeding will differ. For some it comes easy, for others it starts out rough but gets better, and for others still, try as they might, it just doesn’t pan out as they’d hoped.

And let’s be frank, there’s a lot of pressure involved. There’s the rapid induction into motherhood and the relentless questions of: “Am I doing this right?”.

There’s your own new motherly body that seems to have a mind of its own. There’s a beautiful newborn learning the art of feeding just as much as you are.

And then there’s the external pressure…Oh, the pressure - the expectation, the lactation specialists, the endless recounts of what others did.

Well that was unexpected

A friend and I were recently chatting on the phone. She was sitting 1000km away in the passenger seat of her hatchback, outside the local shopping mall, feeding her newborn child.

It was a conversation laced with self-doubt. We were reflecting that despite it being totally natural and the benefits so well-known, few women feel entirely at ease starting out.

“I don’t feel I’m doing this very well, and it’s not coming naturally to either of us,” she quietly remarked.

And therein lies the rub, the pinch, the painful attach and the cracked nipple of breastfeeding. If we’re being really honest, it takes a bit of getting used to.

The first few weeks can be tough, downright frustrating and sometimes painful.

Then, just when you think you’ve nailed it, you’re standing in the middle of a supermarket with leaking breasts and a screaming child.

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t

Those are only tiny “titbits” of what can potentially make breastfeeding harder than the ideal would have us believe. Some boobs just aren’t built for it, sometimes the body won’t deliver enough supply. Sometimes that baby just needs to be fed something by the nearest person available.

Yes, breastfeeding is beautiful, natural, and amazing. But so are the women finding their feet in the first days of motherhood. Without doubt, breastfeeding should be celebrated, but in doing so let’s dial down the pressure and also celebrate women doing the very best they can.

CASSANDRA CHARLESWORTH

Cassandra Charlesworth is a features writer with 20 years’ journalism experience. She loves a good old-fashioned story and getting to the heart of a great yarn. She’s also a mum to three children who have encouraged her to hone some secret skills. Nimbly navigating Lego pieces left on her loungeroom floor and creating stylish Barbie attire from all manner of household objects are just a couple of credentials she’s recently added to her resume.

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