A woman is pregnant, a man is becoming a father, a life-changing event is about to happen and all eyes are on the big day, birth.
How is it going to be? Will there be pain? Where will I give birth? Will I make it back from my business trip in time? Will our baby be healthy? I hope I don’t faint in delivery. What comes after birth will be easy, breastfeeding is a natural process, let’s not worry about it. And if there is a problem, google is your friend.
The baby is here! Beautiful, healthy, happy. Boom, we realise, we are parents. We have the responsibility for this helpless, trusting human being. Not only is a baby born of the mother but a mother is born of the baby. Now breastfeeding begins. Lucky are the mothers and babies who just seem to figure it out or who have good support by their side to assist them in learning to breastfeed. The rest of us have google.
I wake up, its feeding time, I can hardly bear the pain, one side is beginning to bleed. I google “nipple pain breastfeeding” – 3 million hits, among the first hits I read that most women have painful nipples during breastfeeding, that it needs to be treated and, oh, that it’s not normal at all.
Women have posted their stories and every person seems to have a different idea about what I need to do. 240 thousand videos are there, right by my fingertip showing me how it’s done, I watch two of them but my baby does not behave like the babies in the video.
So I grit my teeth and soldier on, at least my baby is getting food, right? On the day of the baby check-up my baby is not back to birthweight, my doctor recommends formula supplementation, I am in tears, worried about my baby. I google “low weight gain breastfeeding” – only 600 thousand entries to work through this time, I am drowning in numbers, causes, tips on what to do, but none of the entries can tell me anything about what my baby needs.
I give up and feed formula. My baby sleeps tightly. Two weeks later my milk supply seems to be dwindling, I am feeding more formula and more often. I google “low breastmilk supply” – yay, 8.2 million webpages that are there to help me solve my problem. I read and read, my head is spinning, I am being told it’s in my head, I am being told I’m not breastfeeding often enough, I’m being educated about many reasons why my supply is low and I’m being told I can buy something that never fails to bring my milk supply back.
I am exhausted, lack of sleep is catching up, I wonder if I have not done what I could and get up to mix a bottle of formula for my hungry baby. I wish I would have gotten well-founded help from the beginning. Someone who supports me and explains to me how exactly breastfeeding works. Someone who explains the risks of supplementing and giving a dummy, someone who is affectionate and caring, someone who takes away my fears.
The story of this mother is the story of many mothers. As natural as breastfeeding is, it remains a learnt skill. So take advantage of the people around you who are there to help. Find a nurse or midwife at the hospital who you have a good rapport with and ring for her when you are struggling, organise follow up care in your home, surround yourself with women who have breastfed their own babies, join a support group and attend meetings to learn and share with others.
Harare has monthly La Leche League mother to mother support meetings and weekly midwife led meetings. Always check the credentials of the people who publish on the internet before you trust the information. Bookmark some well-researched webpages to consult if you have a problem. Here are some worth bookmarking:
Never forget that you are the expert for your baby and almost every breastfeeding problem can be solved.
Your breastfeeding support in Harare:
- Lactation consultation in your home contact Katinka 0784-921717
- La Leche League breastfeeding support group contact Katinka on 0779-530524
- Antenatal classes, midwife support group and midwife home visits contact Laurie on 0772-901775 or Merete on 0772-363989
First published in Harare Magazine, May 2017