This week is World Breastfeeding Week 2016. And it has extra special meaning to me because I’ve just enrolled in a Cert IV in Breastfeeding Education so that I can volunteer as a breastfeeding counselor. As I ponder all the hard work expected of me in the next 18 months, the thought that has been utmost in my mind is that breastfeeding is natural … but it doesn’t necessarily come naturally. And that is why roles like volunteer breastfeeding counselors giving mum-to-mum support are so important.
The Western World has lost the craft of breastfeeding. In times gone by, women would have been surrounded by fellow women, mothers, sisters, aunties, friends, who were currently breastfeeding or had done so in the past. Girls would grow up seeing babies being breastfed and when their time came, have a wealth of wisdom at their fingertips from their fellow women. Birthing practices were less likely to interrupt mother-baby bonding and milk coming in, family support was there to ensure mothers could focus solely on their babies and getting breastfeeding off to a good start, they didn’t have to worry about going back to work without their baby or how to be “discreet” breastfeeding their baby in public. Photos and paintings from 100 or more years ago demonstrate that breastfeeding your baby in public was considered normal and acceptable.
If you want to breastfeed, my advice is that you should put as much effort during your pregnancy researching breastfeeding as you would do researching the birth, what cot and pram you should buy or decorating the baby room. In our Western World, it doesn’t come naturally, and women need to be armed with knowledge and a good support network to navigate the conflicting and confusing advice that will undoubtedly be offered them after their baby is born.
1. Go to a Good Quality Breastfeeding Education Class
There is none better available throughout Australia than the Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA) Breastfeeding Education Class. Breastfeeding is the Associations core business and they keep the class up-to-date with the latest knowledge about breastfeeding, and classes are taught by trained Breastfeeding Educators and Counselors (who hold a Cert IV in Breastfeeding Education). Partners are encouraged to go to a BEC because research has shown that a partners attitude is very influential in whether a woman achieves her breastfeeding goals.
2. Surround Yourself with Other Breastfeeding Mothers
Research has also shown that peer support is very successful at helping mothers achieve their breastfeeding goals. Again, the ABA is ideal. As a member, you can network with other breastfeeding mothers either through regular group meetings in your area all over Australia, Facebook groups and a forum, amongst other services available. Breastfeeding counselors are present at local group meetings and can give you one-on-one assistance. Everyone can attend 2 meetings as a visitor before deciding to become a member. My experience is that the culture amongst ABA volunteers is very understanding and inclusive. Go while you are still pregnant so you can meet your local counselors and you will feel more confident with going once your baby arrives (and after the $h!t may have hit the fan!).
If you are put off paying for a membership, consider this: the cost of an ABA membership is equivalent to 3 weeks worth of infant formula (breastmilk or formula are a baby’s primary food till they are 12 months old). Not only will you get a lot out of it, but you will be helping other mums who seek help through the Breastfeeding Helpline because membership fees goes towards training all the volunteers who staff the Helpline 24 hours a day.
3. Get Help Early If You Are Having Problems
Your problems may be minor, and exploring the wealth of information available on the ABA Website, a call to the Breastfeeding Helpline (staffed by ABA breastfeeding counselor volunteers) or a talk to a counselor at a group meeting may be all you need. But if your problem is more serious, a good International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) is worth their weight in gold (or, infact, human breastmilk). IBCLC’s have to do a LOT of training and ongoing professional development to become and stay IBCLC’s. Your doctor, your midwife, or your CHN are required to have very little (if any) breastfeeding training in comparison to an IBCLC. Some will visit your home, some will give you ongoing support for weeks through texts and emails. Don’t struggle on confused and alone. The earlier you get help, the easier it will be to resolve your problem. Get a private IBCLC if you can afford it, go to a hospital one if you can’t. Some health funds will reimburse you for lactation services. A call to the Breastfeeding Helpline will give you a list of at least 3 in your area.
So whatever your breastfeeding goals are, I wish you all the support you need to achieve them.
Breastfeeding Helpline 1800 686 268
Note: The opinions expressed in the blog above are solely the personal opinion of the author and do not necessarily coincide with the position of the Australian Breastfeeding Association. Please see the ABA website for further information.