It’s the final day of World Breastfeeding Week (1-7th August) – a really important world-wide awareness campaign on all aspects of breastfeeding.
Although I’m yet to experience the lows and highs of breastfeeding (the lowest I’m guessing being the actual lowest point the breast can get post-breastfeeding); I have had many friends go through this incredibly anatomically intricate, yet completely natural process to have a little insight into it. Plus given Alisha and I design maternity clothes to make breastfeeding comfortable and easier for a living, it’s pretty important I know what I am talking about!!
My breastfeeding summary: breastfeeding can be exhausting, difficult, sometimes impossible, and often just a big pain in the bust. It can be a stressful battle of the boob. It can be a mountain of soreness. It can be 2 watermelons of a goddamn bad time.
But it can also be incredibly rewarding, special, heart-fluttering, and is very important for the health of your baby. And it’s this last benefit, I am told, is the good that hugely outweighs all bad.
So why is World Breastfeeding Week so important?
For awareness, education and support.
Although it has to be one of the most natural processes in the world, it can be as confusing as a Vietnamese roundabout at peak hour. And as I’m sure most of you will attest – everyone seems to have an opinion about how to get to the other side still alive.
For some women however, they have no information or support at all and their approach to breastfeeding is largely guided by cultural, social or political influences, rather than the known health benefits.
When I worked with Oxfam Australia they ran numerous projects (one for example, in Timor Leste) that focused on educating women, health practitioners and community leaders on the benefits of breastfeeding immediately from the time of birth. The benefits of colostrum* were particularly poorly understood – some cultures purposely avoid colostrum and it must be completely clear from the breast before the baby is allowed to commence nursing.
*For our non-parenting folk, colostrum is the first yellowish liquid produced by the breast before milk is produced. It contains a high amount of protein, antioxidants, and antibodies to protect the newborn from viruses and bacteria. It is super-rich in energy and absolutely essential for early development.
It’s therefore no surprise that babies who have had colostrum withheld, are delayed-breastfed until after 6 months, or are breastfed intermittently – all which are common practices in many developing communities – have a higher risk of being malnourished or dying before the age of 5.
That’s why awareness and education programs are so important – a little bit of support goes a long way in ensuring the best start for a child.
But in developing countries, you also you have situations where even if the mother wants to breastfeed her baby, she just simply may not be able to – either due to her being physically unavailable (she may have to return to the workforce to ensure ongoing income for her family – and it’s pretty hard to breastfeed your baby while working in rice fields, in a factory, or at a roadside work-plant. Plus there are no express pumps or fridges for storing breast milk!!). Or worse, she herself may be malnourished and unable to produce milk at all. This means eduction during pregnancy for optimal maternal health is also essential.
It’s complex issue – but there are many organisations assisting communities to become educated on what they can do, and develop some solutions (and yep, you can provide a donation to support this work).
Today’s post isn’t a statement on ‘breast is best’ or to make women feel either guilty or empowered on their breast-abilities, but (as per my usual internationally-flavoured posts) just a little reminder how breastfeeding can be tough for some women for other reasons than whether they can produce enough milk, or whether their child can latch on from birth.
Sometimes thinking about how things can be a lot more difficult for others than yourself can help you appreciate how lucky you are for what you have.
No matter your breast-feeding situation (whether it be past, current or future)…
Happy Boob Week!