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Friday, 3 January 2014

Uncovered: Why the world needs to see breastfeeding

Breastfeeding my toddler at the beach.
Look at all that boooooob!
Allow me to begin by making a statement on which I'm sure we can all agree: 

Our world could be better. 

We watch the nightly news and what do we see? Wars. Guns, riots, bombings. Environmental heritage areas being torn apart. People being discriminated against for who they love, or the colour of their skin, or what is between their legs. Epidemics of mental and physical illness. Murder. Suicide. And so on and so forth.

Some days, it's hard not to feel hopeless about the state of our world. With over 7 billion people on the planet, it's easy to feel like it's out of our control. What can we do to make the world a better place, for ourselves, and for our children?

Well, we can begin in our own backyard. We can refuse to stand by when inequality and oppression happen, even the most seemingly-small of incidents.

A few days ago, a friend of mine was breastfeeding her infant son at the park, when two women sitting nearby began to talk about her. Loudly. And quite rudely. Apparently, my friend shouldn't have been doing "that" (breastfeeding) "without a cover". Now, this friend has been breastfeeding for a couple of years, so she's not exactly a tender new mother. But how were they to know that? My friend could have been suffering postnatal depression; she could have struggled with breastfeeding for months and this was her first pain-free feed. She could have been sexually abused as a child, and has finally overcome her pain to be able to breastfeed. She could have lost a child. Any number of things. My friend got up and left, quipping something about the rudeness of other people on her way out, but for several days felt embarrassed and upset. She felt as though on some level she'd done something "wrong," despite knowing that she really hadn't.

And today, I was alerted to yet another incident of a mother being discriminated against at yet another cafe. This time, it was Sake Restaurant & Bar at The Rocks in Sydney. Whilst eating her lunch with family, Larissa Bakewell was approached by a waitress and asked to finish feeding her child "in the bathroom", after apparent "complaints from other customers." Larissa and her family left, with the mother feeling "embarrassed, sad, angry and flustered."

Sigh. Yes, folks. This is still happening. I shall peel my head from my desk long enough to write something ranty for you. But more importantly, what I really want to do is just show you some beautiful, normal, breastfeeding mothers. So that if you're a breastfeeding mother, reading this, you know we're all right here alongside you. Cheering you on.

I'll start with a beautiful picture: a woman breastfeeding her child.
Breastfeeding nurtures an unparalleled bond between mother and child.
Breastfeeding women can often face a difficult road in our culture of breasts-as-sex-objects. We see breasts everywhere—advertising, in the media, all over magazine covers at the check-out—yet conversely, we would have to look more closely to see breasts doing what they are actually supposed to do: feed human young. The sight of a woman breastfeeding can turn some people into squeamish prudes. Why? Because patriarchy says breasts are for men's sexual pleasure. The sight of a woman breastfeeding makes some people think of sex—and that makes some repressed individuals think uncomfortable thinky thinks. 

Criticising or policing a breastfeeding mother represents more than a little out-dated squeamishness—it represents the oppression something inherently female. It's about taking down someone else in order to make the person doing the criticising feel bigger. Patriarchy benefits from the oppression of women. Think about it. How much of our big industry is devoted to perpetuating doubt, fear or even hatred of women's bodies? Clothing, food, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics. And much more. There is a lot of money to be made in convincing women to remain uncomfortable in our own skin, to distrust our ability to function and behave as mammals. This meme says it beautifully:

(Image source)
Conversely, loving our female bodies can be an ultimate act of patriarchal disobedience. Freedom to breastfeed, free of criticism or scrutiny or scare-mongering or doubt, is just one way of releasing women from that oppression, and of standing for equality and human decency.

I've written on the issue of repressed individuals having a hard time separating boobies-as-male-playthings from breasts as mammalian body parts before, at length, (amongst other posts, here, here and even here), so I'll instead share a brilliant article that sums up the frustration, boredom and irritation of this discourse by Daily Life's Clementine Ford:

"...The health benefits of breastfeeding are well documented, not to mention the emotional bonds created between mother and child. And both of these pale in comparison to the weight of conflicting messages women receive about the act itself. ... hordes of women who suffer the paternalistic finger wagging of people who continue to equate breasts with sexuality ... for it is buffoonery to suggest mothers have a moral obligation to feed their babies in private so as to prevent discomfort in the repressed masses, just as much as it is intellectually exhausting that this boring conversation is occurring at all..."
The positive thing is that we live in a culture of change. And we can be a part of that positive change. Hooray! We live in a world where breastfeeding rates, although low, are increasing. We still see a breastfeeding mother booby-trapped at every turn—but we're working to change that every time we talk about breastfeeding, or about motherhood, or about being a woman. But something we can do with relative ease is to support women to fight off their patriarchal persecution by normalising breastfeeding. The more we see something, the more normal and unremarkable it becomes.*

So let's encourage the normalising of breastfeeding by seeing women breastfeeding their children. 

Breastfeeding causes surges of oxytocin—'the love hormone' in mama and babe.
Breastfeeding our children is one of the most influential things we can do to have a positive influence on public health. Whilst in Australia 96% of women initiate breastfeeding, there is a dramatic decline in exclusive breastfeeding rates within the first few weeks. 

Human children are physiologically designed to breastfeed for several years.
Breastfeeding is something we need to see. It needs to become normalised. And in order to normalise it, we have to have it incorporated into our every day life. I'm not just saying this as a breastfeeding advocate who wants breastfeeding rates to increase for the sake of public health and wellbeing (although I do), I'm saying this as a human being who wants other human beings to be better people, for the good of the world.
Breastfeeding is loving, normal, natural, and sublime.
I've been a breastfeeding counsellor for just over four years, and a breastfeeding mother for six-and-a half years. I've counselled hundreds of women through many, many points of their breastfeeding journeys. And I can tell you that the single most influential factor on the motherbaby breastfeeding dyad is this: confidence. 

A confident breastfeeding mother is one who doesn't doubt her milk supply, or the quality of her milk. She doesn't worry about her baby's behaviour as being a reflection of her ability to produce and transfer milk. She doesn't worry about how often to breastfeed or for how long to breastfeed. She doesn't worry about breastfeeding around friends and family or in public. She just does it. As women have, for many thousands of years. But how does a breastfeeding mother gain confidence in a culture such as ours? With the right support. With the right information. And with people standing up for her.

Even women who face a rare physiological challenges to breastfeeding, such as in cases of insufficient glandular tissue (IGT), some cases of breast surgery, or severe hormonal imbalances such as polycistic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), may be able to fully or partially breastfeed or breast-milk feed with the right information and support. And with confidence.

But what is the single most influential factor in stripping a mother of her confidence? Criticism. So let's take a stand against that.
Lactation is a normal metabolic state for women of reproductive maturity for many years.
So yes, more breastfeeding will ultimately make healthier human beings. More breastfeeding will also make more emotionally intelligent, compassionate human beings. But the reason the world needs to see breastfeeding is because the world needs to learn to be decent human beings—a world who sees women as equals and inherent female behaviour as that deserving of respect.

Some days, it's hard not to feel hopeless about the state of our world. As a parent, all I can try to do is raise little people who might grow up to be adults who are more loving, more compassionate, and who might leave the world in a better state for their own children.
Me again. Multi-tasking. Saving the world.
So, get your boobies out! Do it for yourselves, for your sisters, for your women friends. Do it for your daughters and sons and granddaughters and grandsons. Dissolution of patriarchy will benefit everyone.

Peace and love to you. xo

*A little on breastfeeding covers: I am personally not a fan of breastfeeding under a cover. My children hated it—as did I. We couldn't have eye contact with a cover in the way. I wouldn't like eating my dinner with fabric over my head so I can understand why they wouldn't. But, allow me to say this: whatever makes a breastfeeding mother feel comfortable, I support. If a woman wants to cover up, and her baby is okay with it, then I unequivocally support her right to do so. (Provided she makes an unconditionally autonomous decision to cover—and not because anyone else has told her to.) 

Monday, 21 October 2013

Comparing apples to chicken giblets: Why public breastfeeding is nothing like public urination

Image source

... or public nose-picking, defecating, spitting, farting or even having sex.

Hello there, this is a post dedicated especially to enlightening those of you who struggle with the concept of breastfeeding in public. This is for those of you who jump onto comment threads, frustrated and declaring that breastfeeding is natural, but so are lots of other things best kept behind closed doors. Those of you who might say:

"Sure it's natural – but so is urinating, and you don't see me piss in public, do you?"

I want you to walk with me, here. I want to share something with you. Because I don't want you to have your eyes closed forever—you're missing out.

Let me begin by saying yours, or versions of yours, are probably one of the most commonly cited arguments in response to some kind of breastfeeding discourse.

Funnily enough, I can actually understand how some people might see it this way. Given that open-mindedness about and knowledge of human lactation is still limited to a minority of the population, as well as our culture of breasts-as-sex-objects before their primary mammalian function, although I don't condone these opinions, I do feel a kind of pitying sympathy for the ignorance of your viewpoint. You're just a product of your culture, of your statistically very likely bottle-fed upbringing. (And I don't intend that as a dig at bottle-feeding—it's a simple fact. Most of us were bottle-fed.)

For example, today The Daily Mail Online posted an article featuring a collection of breastfeeding portraits by photographer Stacie Turner. Whilst the point of the photography collection is quoted to be aimed at breaking taboos around public breastfeeding, it also presented a shining opportunity to bring out the antiquated, but unfortunately not uncommon, opinions of you and your cohorts who feel squeamish at the sight of a woman breastfeeding her baby or child.

Don't worry, you needn't feel so uncomfortable! Stick around and prepare to relax.

Let's start with a few basics. Biology 101: the difference between secretion and excretion.

Secretion noun. a process by which substances are produced and discharged from a cell, gland, or organ for a particular function in the organism 
Excretion noun. the process of eliminating or expelling waste matter

Breastmilk is a secretion. It has a function in the human organism. It is a clean, whole, life-giving substance that not only contains the building blocks essential for human cellular development, but it also contains anti-infective and anti-bacterial properties that mean, on the exceptionally rare event that you might get some on you, you might actually be better off. Cleaner, healthier. Thanks, Mama!

Urine and faeces are excretions. They are waste products expelled from the body, containing bacteria and toxins. Quite simply, there is a reason we have toilets—because to ablute away from others is clean and safe and our bodily waste is supposed to be removed from our immediate environment. Which is why cats poop in their litter tray, horses often trot to a particular corner of their paddock to lift their tail, and your dog might try and bury it under your neighbour's rose bushes.

You with me so far?

Now, here's the low-down on what breastfeeding is: Breastfeeding is nothing more than the act of a baby or child taking in nourishment and fluids from her/his mother, releasing essential, comforting, feel-good hormones such as oxytocin (the love hormone) and prolactin (the tender, mothering hormone) and cholecystokinin (CCK—the sated, sleepy hormone) in them both.

In other words, breastfeeding is in the same category as eating, drinking or cuddling a loved one. And none of those things offend your eyeballs too much, do they?

Have a think about this: Does anyone insist a mother bottle-feeding her babe cover up or move somewhere private? No. What does this demonstrate? Could it be that it's the baby sucking at a bare breast that offends your sensibilities? Why is that?

Humans, by the time we've reached some semblance of cognitive maturity (upper pre-school age) understand waiting for appropriate places to urinate or defecate, or to ask for a tissue for their nose, or to pass wind silently and point at the dog. Moreover, adults also understand that sexual acts are private (for the most part) and are also capable of something called delayed gratification—quite simply, the ability to wait for something your really, really want.

Young children, babies most especially, are incapable of delayed gratification. They simply cannot wait for something they really, really want—and when it comes to the comfort and sustenance of breastfeeding, why should they? Why make your (supposedly adult) inability to work through your misguided discomfort a problem of an infant or small child?

To compare the biologically unremarkable act of providing clean nourishment to an immature human incapable of delayed gratification to the excretion of waste, to a private sex act, or to to just a downright lack of manners such as nose-picking or loud farting, is not only ludicrous, it demonstrates a basic misunderstanding of the human body. I'd also hazard that your misguided assertions are a cover for a deeper, more insidious prudishness about an inability to see breasts as anything other than sexual. In other words, when you see boobs, you think sex. And a baby sucking on a boob causes all kinds of freak-outs in your head.

But it doesn't have to be that way. You need to understand—breastfeeding rates are increasing. Breastfeeding is protected by law. If you don't want to keep feeling confronted, please try looking inward.

If you feel uncomfortable when a woman is simply mothering her child in the most biologically normal way possible, have a think about why it bothers you. And then open your mind.  You might surprise yourself. Welcome to a better world.

Peace and love to you. xo

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

This September, I'm voting for Julia Gillard. Here's why:

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, during her now-famous speech in parliament on October 8, 2012

I was having a conversation yesterday with my dad about this. Just another cringe-worthy moment in a string of sexist denigrations Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has faced during her time in office.

My dad expressed concern over the current Gillard-led Labor government's "backflips and broken promises". He also said that the current government needed to go before we "end up with a debt our grandkids will be paying off."

It's a fair concern. Money—or lack thereof—is a valid thing to worry about.

But it got me thinking. The idea of Tony Abbott's Liberal party taking over as the government of Australia this September scares the living daylights out of me. So by default, will I be voting for Julia Gillard's Labor?*


If the current Labor government are guilty of a few unmet election promises, it's hardly a sin of which every other previous Australian government hasn't been guilty. (Howard and GST, anyone?) Moreover, considering that we are currently governed by a hung parliament, the chaos that is Australian government is often unfairly attributed to the Labor party alone. 

Now, I'll admit I'm not a political commentator, and sometimes the specifics of politics goes right over my head. Nor am I particularly savvy on all things finance and economy. I am, however, a voter in a democracy—and a human being.

Whilst money is important, it isn't everything. No matter how much money one has, there's no guarantee that excess financial padding makes a good, honest, happy person. Or country, for that matter.

It's important to remember that Labor came back into government in Australia in 2007, on the back of the global financial crisis (GFC) of 2007-08. According to Wikipedia:
"[the global financial crisis] resulted in the threat of total collapse of large financial institutions, the bailout of banks by national governments, and downturns in stock markets around the world. In many areas, the housing market also suffered, resulting inevictionsforeclosures and prolonged unemployment. The crisis played a significant role in the failure of key businesses, declines in consumer wealth estimated in trillions of US dollars, and a downturn in economic activity leading to the 2008–2012 global recession..."
After Labor came back into power in 2007, after 11 years as opposition, Australia indeed went from a national surplus to debt in a matter of years. However, I think it's important to keep in mind that following the GFC Australia's debt is one of the lowest in the world. Our economy isn't immune to the monetary happenings of other countries, most especially the US. So, whilst I don't necessarily agree with everything that Labor have done since coming back to office, and whilst I believe they have, at times, been more reckless with spending than I would have liked, I also don't think they've done anything in a vacuum and can't be held solely accountable for the state of the economy.

See Australia? Second from the top. Source

I don't think a justifiable debt holds a country back. What holds a country back is intolerance: racism, sexism, homophobia, and misogyny amongst other 'isms and prejudices. I am genuinely afraid that a Liberal government, led by Tony Abbott, will set us back decades in these important social areas. Intolerance is the handbrake of social progress. 

Tony Abbott has, time and time again, demonstrated to be of dubious moral standing on these arguably critical issues. Inherent misogyny and fear-based prejudices are not qualities I seek to employ in the person I'd like to run the country in which I live. (Neither is the inability to, you know, answer a question.)

There has been several areas in which Julia Gillard has taken a stance with which I disagree (marriage equality and birth choice legislation being just two.) I'll admit my feelings on Gillard have always bordered on lacklustre. But her recent misogyny speech perked my attention. Within this impassioned speech was what seemed to be a rare glimpse of a politician's true human side. How often do we see that? Politicians usually pontificate and carry on but it always seems so scripted and fake. This speech was different. Gillard had a point and it was valid and long overdue for discourse. Misogyny hurts everyone—not just women—because a society that oppresses one entire half of it's population will never be truly in balance. A society out of balance can never reach its full potential.

Furthermore, and even more admirably, Gillard has stood strong in the face of some of the most incredible shit one could imagine being dealt. To be the first female PM of Australia is to break a 200-year-old male dominated mould. That takes a fair whack of guts. It's worth pointing out here that Abbott has not appeared on ABC's Q&A for over three years.

I believe that a lot of Gillard's criticism is a result of deeply ingrained, unconscious patriarchal conditioning that tells us that women are inherently flawed, incompetent or substandard in positions of responsibility or power. Ask someone who is voting for Abbott because they 'don't like Gillard' why they don't like her, and many won't be able to pinpoint exactly why. They just don't like her—they just think her government is crap. The conditioning of the patriarchy can run hidden within our marrow.

Shit or spinach?

I don't mind if my daughter is one day paying off a bit of reasonable debt, so long as she lives in a society where she has a legal right to unconditional bodily autonomy—a society where her sexual, reproductive, and life choices are not a matter for political discourse. I would rather my son was paying off a bit of debt than living in a culture where his peers are not afforded an equal level of rights and respect simply because of the colour of their skin, their accent, their sexual preference, or what genitals are between their legs.

Money helps, yes it does. But it's tolerance that breeds tolerance. It is a progressive, forward-thinking government that has the capacity to foster this tolerance. It is empathy and compassion that make better people. And it is better people who will make a better world.

*I am not in any way aligned or affiliated with Labor or any political party. I just give a shit about humanity.

Friday, 5 April 2013

How to get your baby to sleep through the night

Image source
A Google search for this phrase brings up over 59 millions results. So I thought I'd add one more!

I give you the tried and tested* 5-step method, proven to get your baby sleeping through the night.

Step 1
• Have a baby

Step 2
• When you are ready for bed in the evening, take your baby to bed with you.
• Turn out the lights.
• Put away the clock.

Step 3
• When the baby makes a noise, pop out a boob. Attach baby.
• Get comfortable, and doze off back to sleep.

Step 4
• Repeat Step 3 as required until the sun comes up.

Step 5
• When your baby is 18 years old, I guarantee you, he/she will be sleeping through the night without needing you! (Unless of course she/he calls from the pub at 2am needing a lift home. Then popping a boob out might not work. And besides, someone else may have already tried that with them earlier that evening.)

In other words, let it go, mama. Babies wake; some a little, some a lot. But it's normal, normal, normal and you have the perfect resources to cope with it. It'll pass. In the meantime, get people to look after you. You deserve it!

Happy sleeping!
Peace and love to you. xo

*Sort of tested, my oldest baby, with whom this method was employed, is almost 6 years old. So no phone calls from the pub yet.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Put away the clock: The beauty of nighttime breastfeeding

"Is she sleeping through the night?"

This is probably one of the most common phrases a new parent will hear.

I just typed 'baby sleep' into Google, and it returned 362 million results—with the top hits headed 'getting a baby to sleep', 'help your baby to sleep', 'teach your baby to sleep'.

Where does this obsession, this market, this world-wide 'problem' come from? Homo sapiens, human beings as a mammal, have been breeding for thousands of years. We need little encouragement to eat or drink or to reproduce. Have we really evolved into such an intelligent, complex species yet managed to somehow make a complete mess of something as essential to survival as sleep?

Baby Sleep—a highly lucrative market recently published an article that perplexed me somewhat. Entitled Broken sleep 'normal' for parents with breastfed babies, the article was an attempt to reassure parents that it is perfectly, biologically normal for breastfed infants to wake multiple times during the night to breastfeed. However, after citing the study that claims to reassure parents of the normalcy of night-waking in breastfed infants, the article summarises with a quote explaining the success of introducing solids to seemingly solve night-waking, and a quote from Tizzie Hall claiming baby routines have some benefit in persuading a baby to conform to adult sleep stretches: 
'"In my experience, breastfed babies who follow a routine will sleep through the night sooner than a baby fed with a bottle," Ms Hall said.'
In other words, it might be 'normal' ('s use of inverted commas would imply otherwise), but you can (and probably should) try and fix it.

Anyone who has cared for a newborn could probably tell you why we are so obsessed with 'baby sleep'. The sun goes down, and the digits on the clock glow like accusations into the night. Counting the minutes, adding up the hours, pacing the halls with an infant who cries or stares happily at you, and you wonder, as your eye-lids droop like paperweights, if you'll ever sleep more than forty-minutes in a row again.

Babies don't sleep like adults. Babies snatch little snippets of sleep around the clock, waking irregularly and requiring parental assistance to be soothed to sleep. A newborn in particular still runs on 'womb time': where in utero they were held and fed constantly, 24/7. So newborns often take a bit of adjustment to get used to the outside world, the day/night cycle, and the strange and unsettling new sensations in their digestive system that is hunger, fullness, wind, bowel movements.

Additionally, more often than not, our adult lifestyles simply aren't conducive to accommodating the tiredness that results from prolonged interrupted sleep. We have work schedules to adhere to, we have other children to take to school and to care for. We have large houses to clean, meals to prepare, mountains of clothing to wash. And more often than not, as mothers we're alone in those houses and our partners are held to their work commitments by rules and regulations that leave little wiggle-room for parental flexibility.

In an article that explores the discrepancy between biologically normal infant sleep and western cultural infant-care practice, Dr James McKenna et al write:
'... evolutionary pediatrics makes it clear that notions about what human infants need and why, especially as regards nighttime sleep and feeding patterns, seems to reflect far more about what societies want parents to be and infants to become (self- sufficient and independent) rather than what infants actually are—exceedingly dependent, and unfinished ‘‘extero-gestates’’ to use Montagu’s (1986) description. Indeed, especially in early human infancy—and from an evolutionary point of view—reference to the mother’s body is critical to understanding not only what infants need but what they can and cannot do and why. After all, as Hrdy (1999, p. 69) aptly puts it: ‘‘For species such as primates the mother IS the environment . . .’’ meaning that practically nothing about a human infant makes sense except in light of the mother’s body.'  (McKenna et al, 2007)  
The way we expect our babies to sleep (separately from parents, without breastmilk, independent of parental assistance, and for exceedingly long stretches) is at complete odds with how our biology instructs babies to sleep: close to mother's body, rousing frequently for the survival and comfort of mother's breasts and nutrients of breastmilk.

As a society we do, however, show a tolerance to some level of interrupted sleep in the early weeks. But for some reason, our culture tends to frown on this pattern continuing any longer than a handful of months. By the time our babies are several months old, most people expect the baby to sleep long stretches uninterrupted, and to need little or no parental assistance to settle upon waking. Consider again the article linked above:
"... breastfeeding mum Melanie Lawrence managed to get daughter Scarlett, now six months, to sleep through the night only at five months when she introduced some solids."
Despite the fact that the World Health Organization (WHO) continue to urge parents to breastfeed exclusively for a minimum of six months, many parents feel pressured to feed solids earlier in order to achieve longer stretches of sleep. For other parents, the well-meaning advice might be to give a bottle of formula to a breastfed baby, or to leave baby to cry, or to pat baby in the cot, or any other manner of 'fix' to 'get' a baby sleeping longer stretches.
'The dominant expectation for these initial months is parental sleep deprivation—their infant’s sleep patterns do not match their own, and parents, desperate for a ‘‘good night’s sleep,’’ seek the magic solution for achieving a somnolent baby. Baby’s grandmother advises a large bottle of formula at bed time so that baby will not wake to be fed in the night. Others suggest adulterating the formula with baby ce- real for greater infant satiation or medicating baby with proprietary infant pain killers or colic remedies ... to ‘‘knock the baby out.’’ Friends sing the praises of ‘‘Ferberizing the baby’’ or similar infant sleep training programs employing an oxymoron known as ‘‘controlled crying.’’ Parents, who feel all else has failed, resort to the painful approach of ‘‘crying it out’’—and while their infant screams alone in an adjacent room, they lie awake racked with guilt, forcing themselves to resist respond- ing, reassuring each other ‘‘it is for his own good’’—until the infant eventually collapses from exhaustion into sleep.'  (McKenna et al, 2007)  
It stands to reason, then, that anyone with a wakeful older baby or toddler feels like a complete failure. I've been there!

I recall hearing a saying amongst natural horsemanship circles: 'people don't have problem horses—horses have people problems.' I think the same is true with human infants. It's not the baby that has a 'sleep problem'—it's that the adult/s in the house aren't equipped to deal with the biologically normal interrupted sleep of an infant.

How are babies so different from what we culturally expect—and try desperately to obtain via a myriad of sleep 'programs'? And what affect does this have on our babies, and our mothers?
'.. arousals lead to the baby breathing more stably over time, and to more variable heart rates and breathing. Variability in breathing patterns of infants is good and a sign of health, ordinarily, and such variability is  often associated with more substantial inhalations of oxygen, leading to shorter apneas in deep stage of sleep from which awakenings can be difficult (see Richards et al  1998). Moreover, if practice makes perfect than the more arousals induced by various forms of co-sleeping the better the arousal skills that potentially can act protectively in response to a cardiac or pulmonary crisis.  
Babies are not designed to sleep through the night in the first six months, at least, of life. They are designed to wake often to breastfeed. Breastmilk does not have dense calories i.e. caloric staying power that keeps a baby sleeping, in the way that cows milk does, for example as it is obviously designed for optimal cow brain growth and development.' (Dr James McKenna)
Human babies are designed to sleep alongside their mother, to breastfeed frequently, and to wake frequently to ensure survival. Breastfeeding reduces the risk of SIDS. But our (patriarchal) cultural preference is for babies to sleep independently and to re-settle alone. We have a high breastfeeding initiation rate that drops significantly within weeks—thusly stripping parents of Mother Nature's intended sleep-inducing mechanism: the close, quick and easy comfort of a mothers breast throughout the night.

Human infants are born exceptionally immature. Human infants are designed to receive breastmilk; breastmilk is designed to be quickly and completely digested, and to be consumed frequently and in small doses to aid such digestion in an immature gastrointestinal system and to accommodate and nourish the rapid body and brain growth human young undergo in the early years.

Breastfeeding releases a hormone called cholecystokinin, (CCK) in both mother and baby. CCK causes both mother and baby to feel sated at the end of a feed. Breastmilk also contains CCK.  (1) Moreover, prolactin, the hormone responsible for lactogenisis II (milk production) and sometimes referred to as the 'mothering hormone' naturally occurs in the mother's body in higher levels at night. (2)

Quite simply, babies and their mothers are designed to stay close to each other, and to rouse frequently to breastfeed throughout the night.

There is no truth to the myth that a co-sleeping baby will never sleep independently. Otherwise, mosts humans would still be sleeping alongside their parents. It's what we've done as a species for pretty much the majority of our existence, and what most of the world continues to practice. It's just we in the West that do things (oddly) a little differently.

My now five-year-old slept alongside me and breastfed frequently through the night since birth. She began to go longer stretches at night without breastfeeding some time in her third year, and she was gently night-weaned when she was about three. She remained sleeping alongside me in bed, sometimes in her own bed that was pushed up to mine, sometimes rolling right over to sleep under my arm. Just recently, she quite suddenly declared that she would like her own room. She goes to sleep with a cuddle from myself or my husband, in her own room, and stays there until she wakes in the wee hours of the morning and creeps in alongside me, usually without waking me at all.

Feeling exhausted? From one breastfeeding mother to another, from one mother of wakeful babies to another, I suggest you put away the clock. Time serves no purpose in your bedroom but to remind you of something that our culture, despite all it's good intentions, just doesn't have biologically right.

Learn about safe co-sleeping and breastfeeding laying down. Minimise your priorities in the day (do you really need to mop that floor today, or can it wait until tomorrow?) Ask for practical help with cooking and housework, surround yourself with nurturance and good support. Forgive yourself for not being perfect, remind yourself that you are wise and your baby is normal—and will outgrow this. Eventually. And in years to come you will look back and miss those cuddles.

Peace and love to you. xo

(1) Bodribb, Wendy. Breastfeeding Management (3rd edition). 2006. Pg 101.
(2) Bodribb, Wendy. Breastfeeding Management (3rd edition). 2006. Pg 7.

Friday, 18 January 2013

The problem with what Kochie said

If you live in Australia, you've probably seen the furore whizzing around social media in the past two days.

The Courier Mail, 16 January 2013 reports:
"A mother of three has been forced to leave a public pool in tears after staff insisted she stop breastfeeding her 11-month-old baby..."A staff member came up to me and told me I wasn't allowed to feed there, that I had to refrain from feeding out in the open,'' Ms Webster said."
Can you believe this is still happening? Right here in Australia, in 2013. For crying out loud!
"I said I was sure it was illegal to tell me to do that but she said it was a grey area...and had to insist I didn't feed there.''
"Grey area" my ... elbow. What that staff member did? Absolutely illegal in Australia.

Australian law states:
In Australian Federal Law breastfeeding is a right, not a privilege.
Under the federal Sex Discrimination Act 1984 it is illegal in Australia to discriminate against a person either directly or indirectly on the grounds of breastfeeding. Direct discrimination happens when a person treats someone less favourably than another person.
Yesterday morning, David 'Kochie' Koch, a presenter on Australia's leading breakfast television programme, Channel 7's Sunrise, had this to say following an interview with the mother in question:
Koch: "I think that's fair enough, to say, hey, can you be a bit discreeter, sorta go up on the grass or something like that..."
Co-presenter Samantha Armytage: "Really? ... I think if you want to breastfeed on the side of the pool you should be allowed."
Koch: "Well, no, not in high traffic areas, I know my daughters are really discreet and things like that, would go to a quieter area, that's a high traffic area on the side of the pool in the middle of summer on a hot day..."
Later that same program, Koch went on to say:
"Ladies I wonder whether she should have been more discreet. I totally agree with breastfeeding in public, but I think you've gotta be a bit classy about it, that feet on the edge of the pool, isn't discreet enough.... but I'm concerned for the safety if the baby wriggled and fell in the pool...I think there's a safety issue there... I think, theres, em, like, that's why you have mothers—or move back that's a high traffic area, I can understand how people were uncomfortable with it in such a high profile place."
Although he tried to backtrack and cover his words with a half-hearted attempt at safety concerns, clearly, his main point was that a breastfeeding woman should do so out of the public eye.

Social media is aflame with emotions and opinions from all sides of the fence. Overwhelmingly, most commenters are in support of breastfeeding mothers. But there are plenty that have taken Kochie's comments and run with them. And not in a good way for breastfeeding women the world over. There is always the negative minority, clinging to their almost clich├ęd ignorance in comment threads (for example here and here and here).

Here's the first problem with what Kochie said:

Stating that a woman needs to exercise discretion when breastfeeding confirms the misguided belief that breastfeeding is something that needs to be hidden.

Breastfeeding is breastfeeding. Nothing more, nothing less. Breastfeeding is simply a baby taking in nourishment and comfort from his or her mother.

However, to suggest a woman needs to be "discreet" about breastfeeding implies that breastfeeding is, somehow, a naturally exhibitionist act—it isn't. Breastfeeding only becomes explicit when someone else views it that way. And how does someone become offended by breastfeeding? By having an unnatural view of what breasts are actually for.

Despite what they'll tell you, those narrow-minded neanderthals who have a problem with the sight of a woman breastfeeding her baby don't have a problem with a bit of a flash of breast skin. Lets face it—breasts are everywhere.

The reason that those narrow-minded neanderthals get so uppity about the sight of a woman breastfeeding is because they believe the baby is committing an adult act. They cannot see breasts as anything other than sexual.

For far too long, there has remained a patriarchal assumption that a woman's body is, first and foremost, for the purposes of a man's sexual pleasure. Breasts are seen as sex objects before their primary mammalian function. So for a vocal few, the prospect of a baby sucking on a nipple causes all kinds of cognitive dissonance. 

In my opinion, the only time that breastfeeding stops being a naturally discreet act is when woman believe they should cover up—because then it's like a freaking neon sign pointing to something they are doing, that they are purposely covering up.

The only way that breastfeeding will become as uncontroversial as it should be is by seeing it happening. Breastfeeding is not a big deal. A breastfeeding mother is not 'flopping' her boob out, or 'flashing', or trying to prove some kind of political point. She is simply feeding her child.

Here's the second problem with what Kochie said: 

A celebrity stating that a breastfeeding woman needs to be "discreet" enables the continued oppression-via-ignorance of breastfeeding women.

It doesn't matter how well-intentioned or benign Kochie's comments were in his own mind. Outwardly, what he said was critical of breastfeeding in public. His suggestions that a woman be "discreet" or "a bit classy" confirm the misguided viewpoint that breastfeeding should be hidden. So, for those with a problem seeing a breastfeeding dyad, it's a very slippery slope from Kochie's personal 'opinion' of: "I  totally agree with breastfeeding in public, BUT..." to this:

Or this:
Yes, because excreting bodily waste is totally the same as providing life-giving sustenance to a child.
I hope these people don't operate heavy machinery with that mindset.
You see my point? Kochie (and his supporters) can believe that what he said was mundane and respectful, but he's forgotten the reach of his opinion. As a prominent public figure, he has a responsibility for—and a very powerful ability to persuade—public opinion.

Implying that a woman needs to be respectful of others when breastfeeding her child is a little bit like victim blaming. The problem with someone's sensitivity to public breastfeeding does not lie with the breastfeeding mother — it lies with the person who finds it offensive. In those instances, that person has a right to exercise that thing that holds their head up, and look away. Or move. And then, get some therapy.

Breastfeeding rates in Australia are depressing enough without having prominent public figures, such as Kochie, adding to a mother's burden. Breastfeeding mothers face enough roadblocks without having to worry about what a few other narrow-minded neanderthals people might think.

Oh okay, Ryan, if you have to.
Support for breastfeeding must be unconditional. Caveating "support" with a "but" totally negates that support. Kochie, unless you acknowledge that you committed a rather large faux-pas, you will always be yet another roadblock in the true liberation of women.

To pump or not to pump? When is expressing really necessary?

This article was published in the Australian Breastfeeding Association's Essence Magazine, January 2012.

When you're expecting a new baby, it is easy to be overwhelmed by the abundance of baby products and information on the market. Almost every item is marketed as essential. It can be confusing to work out exactly what you are really going to need for your new baby.

I am often asked by expectant or new mothers about expressing milk for their baby ‘How do I express? What sort of pump do I need?’ Breast pumps and associated equipment are marketed alongside sippy cups and baby blankets — firmly entrenched it seems, within the ‘essentials’ category. The aim of all marketing is to create a sense of need in the consumer — even if the product is not really necessary(1).

So when is expressing breastmilk really necessary?

In some cases that answer is relatively simple; for example, if the mother will be away from her baby for any length of time and the baby will need to be fed her breastmilk by a caregiver during her absence — in instances such as returning to work or study. In other fairly common scenarios, a mother of a prematurely born infant may need to regularly express her breastmilk in order to establish her milk supply and supply her breastmilk for her baby to be fed in hospital. Some mothers find that a breast pump can help keep milk flowing to clear a blocked duct and pumps can be useful to help increase milk supply — but more often than not, the baby is perfectly equipped to manage those tasks.

So why are breast pumps so commonly available on the market? Does every breastfeeding mother need to purchase a pump and learn the art of expressing as part of her breastfeeding relationship? The answer is no! It is perfectly possible to breastfeed your baby throughout his childhood, right through to weaning, without ever even touching a breast pump.

It seems that a school of thought exists in our culture that expressing, or pumping, may be necessary to maintain a mother’s milk supply. This is usually advocated as part of a regimented breastfeeding schedule or routine. But if we look at how breastmilk is made and a mother’s milk supply is maintained, we can see that, provided the baby is given unrestricted access to the mother’s breast, expressing is not actually necessary.

Breasts contain three types of tissue. Firstly, there is fatty tissue, which determines the size and shape of the breast. Secondly, there is glandular tissue. This is where breastmilk is produced and, unlike fatty tissue which varies enormously from one woman to the next, most women have roughly the same amount of glandular tissue. And lastly there is connective tissue, holding it all together.

During pregnancy, glandular tissue grows and develops, preparing to provide nourishment for the baby. Once the baby is born and the placenta is out, the body is given the message — make milk!

As the baby suckles at the breast, nerves within the mother’s nipple are stimulated, causing hormones to be released into the bloodstream. One of these hormones, prolactin, stimulates glandular tissue into milk production. Another hormone, oxytocin, causes rhythmic contractions of the milk ducts within the breasts which causes milk to be pushed or released out of the nipple. This is known as the let-down or milk ejection reflex. The more often the let-down reflex is stimulated by a baby’s suckling and the more milk that is removed, the more milk will be produced. This is known as supply and demand — milk ‘supply’ regulates to equal the ‘demand’ for milk.

Just like breastfeeding your baby, expressing breastmilk is a learned skill, and something that takes time and patience to master. Additionally, it can take quite some time and a lot of practice for a mother’s body to become conditioned to ‘let down’ milk for a breast pump, as a pump is not nearly as effective at milking the breast as a human baby!

As a result, it is quite common when learning to express, or only expressing very occasionally, that mums are unable to express a lot of milk — or even any milk at all. This can often cause a mother to feel unnecessarily anxious or worried about her milk supply. A mother may also often assume that the fault must lie with her, or her breasts, rather than what is more likely faulty or potentially even harmful (if used incorrectly) equipment(2). Given how differently a breast pump works at the breast when compared to a human baby and how the let-down reflex works within the mother’s body, the amount of milk that can be expressed is not at all an accurate indication of the amount of milk that a mother can actually produce for her baby.

Even in instances such as the mother returning to regular work or study, expressing may not always be necessary. Perhaps the baby is old enough to have solids and water while she is away and can ‘catch up’ on her breastfeeds at home or when they are together. Alternatively, a mum may find that hand expressing yields a sufficient amount of milk to provide for her baby during her absence so a pump may not be needed.

In instances where expressing with a breast pump may be necessary, there is a wide range of pumps available. For short term, occasional expressing, many mums find that a manual, hand-powered pump works well. For longer-term, regular or frequent expressing, such as instances of returning to work while the baby is young, an electric pump would be recommended.

Whatever the case, chatting to an ABA breastfeeding counsellor will help you work out firstly if there is a need for expressing during your breastfeeding relationship. Secondly, she can also help you decide what may be right for you and for your baby.

(1), (2). Thorley V 2011, The dilemma of breastmilk feeding. Breastfeeding Review 19(1): 5–7