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THE death of a British mum in despair at not being able to breastfeed properly should well shock the world but will not surprise some mothers … Sitting among the flowers and cards, clutching her first-born child, my sister Lia could do nothing but sob.
Left alone in her hospital room and attempting to breastfeed her new daughter for the first time on her own, she felt her anxiety skyrocket, the mother guilt take over.
A broken emergency buzzer didn’t help, nor post-birth hormones and lack of sleep.
But almost two hours after she’d begun trying to attach her baby’s small mouth to her painfully engorged breasts, my niece was screaming and so was her struggling mum.
… Her experiences with the births of her next two children were equally traumatic, marred by a recurrent sense of inadequacy and in the case of her third, mastitis so bad she was forced to temporarily relinquish care of her family to seek medical help.
News, then, of the death of 30-year-old British mother Katy Isden, who fell to her death from a New York apartment block after becoming depressed over her bid to breastfeed, should well shock the world but will not surprise mothers with tales like my sister’s.
… “The pressure to breastfeed, the anxiety to be this super person, is just no way to live.”
The coroner said that although Mrs Isden had been depressed when she died, it was not clear if she fell or jumped. He therefore recorded an open verdict.
… The research about the benefits of feeding babies “naturally” – delivering vital nutrients and a bond between mother and child – appears black and white.
But for many it’s anything but a natural experience; rather a grey area of conflicting advice and a trauma that can torture women.
… there is no doubt support is the key to relieving the pressure.
Extra funding for the Australian Breastfeeding Association’s national helpline resulted in a 30 per cent increase in those seeking help since March, with more than 28,328 calls taken between October and April.
… “So many of us have issues,” she said. “This is a matter of seeking assistance, not being left to feel like a failure.
“The solution is for the community to get behind mothers rather than patronising them with the ‘breast is best’ slogan. It’s what’s best for you and your baby that counts, not breastfeeding at any cost.”
The ABA’s 24-hour helpline is 1800 Mum(686) 2 Mum (686)
Support is most definitely the key to successful breastfeeding, which is, without a doubt, the safest way to feed a baby – safest for mother and safest for baby. But I do wonder if we set women up to fail. Our current obstetric system churns women out as mothers who have “failed” even before they hold their baby for the first time. They “failed to progress” in labour, they were a “failed induction”, they had an “incompetent cervix”, they “failed to dilate”, their pelvis was too small. However you phrase it, the message is clear: women’s bodies don’t work; their bodies are broken. Is it any wonder that with this mindset in action, they also fail at breastfeeding?
To look at it from another perspective, breastfeeding can be effortless and enjoyable. If we look at what goes on in birth, before the breastfeeding experience, we see that a relaxed and healthy breastfeeding experience is correlated highly with a natural birth (no induction, no epidural, no caesarean etc). If you like, natural birth primes mother and baby for breastfeeding. Maybe we’re expecting too much of mothers and babies to breastfeed successfully after their induced, pethidined, epiduralised, and surgically-extracted birth. Babies are traumatised by their birth experience, as are mothers. The cocktail of natural hormones that lights the path for a successful breastfeeding experience is grossly absent. Not just absent, but the very hormones that are the anti-dote to the natural-high-hormones, are present in ever-abundant quantities.
Women report feeling a disconnect with their baby when they meet their baby for the first time after a labour and birth that has been marked with various interventions. They report not bonding. That they really had to work at the relationship with their baby. And some women even resent their baby. All of this is very uncommon after a natural birth without drugs, induction, epidural, forceps, episiotomy and of course caesarean.
The best way to achieve a natural birth is to choose a care provider who specialises in natural birth. Currently, we have 2 types of maternity care providers: midwives and obstetricians. Obstetricians are surgical specialists. That may come as a surprise for some! But it’s true: obstetrics is not a medical specialty. It’s a surgical specialty. Obstetricians, on the whole, do surgery. And most do it very well. Thankfully!! Midwives on the other hand, are natural birth specialists. We’re trained in recognising normal, keeping pregnancy and labour normal, and in getting help when things are no longer normal. If you see a midwife and have a natural birth, you’re highly unlikely to ever have the issues with breastfeeding that are described in this article. Not to mention, if you did have problems with breastfeeding, your private midwife would be following you up for 6 weeks after your baby is born, so you would have a midwife on the end of the phone, 24/7 who knows you well, who has known you the whole of your pregnancy. The continuity of care provided by a private midwife is known to reduce breastfeeding complications and postnatal depression, whether you birth at home or in hospital.