I gave birth in the maternity unit of a private hospital – the same one that I was born in exactly 30 years and 16 days before. The hospital’s website proclaims that it “is recognized as a ‘Baby-Friendly’ hospital”. This means that the hospital practises all ten steps to successful breast-feeding as established by the World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations Children’s Fund.” (I hope you get the chance to read through the ‘Ten Steps’ here.) As a part of the services offered at the hospital, I was visited a few times a day by the lactation consultant, but I came away from the experience with disappointment on two counts:
1. After my baby girl was born and I was taken to my room, I asked the midwife if I would get the chance to feed her, after they had finished making their checks on her. I was told that I would, but waited for the next 3 hours before Mwalimu was brought to me. They may have assumed that I wanted to sleep instead of nurse, but this was in conflict with step 4 on the list.
2. When the lactation consultant noticed that I was not experienced at hand-expressing the milk (into a cup), she quickly left my side then returned with a cup of baby formula and proceeded to feed it to my child. She may have assumed that I wasn’t interested, but this was in conflict with step 6 on the list.
I later reflected on the experience, and realised that the large majority of young women who are giving birth these days have no desire to breastfeed their babies – even if they have no medical challenge that prevents them from nursing. So, it seems that I had become a victim of the sweeping generalisation that many healthcare professionals make in regards to breastfeeding.
The next challenge I faced came from my older relatives, who encouraged me to supplement with baby formula. They told me that I was being stupid and unrealistic with my desire to breastfeed exclusively and that my body, which had nurtured and nourished my child through a very healthy pregnancy, was incapable of supplying enough milk to sustain her appetite. I was also warned that my body would become emaciated, because the baby would drain everything from me! By the time Mwalimu was 3 months old, there had been so many attempts and requests to give her solid foods – but, I never caved in.
I struggled with learning how to get my baby to latch properly for the first 3 weeks of her life. Still, I never gave up! I spent most of the day pumping milk and feeding her with a bottle. But I was determined to give her only breastmilk – even if it meant ‘exclusive pumping’. I really am indebted to my little circle of young-mommy friends, because they were the ones who supported me like steel columns beneath a sagging bridge. Finally, after reading dozens of articles, watching video after video, and trying day after day – Mwalimu latched on and never looked back again. She remained exclusively breastfed until she was 6 months and 2 weeks old. As a 10-month old, she continues to be breastfed, while enjoying meals and snacks from the family pot everyday.
If you want to breastfeed your little one, don’t let anyone – not even a disillusioned lactation consultant – discourage you! Like every other significant milestone or skill we gain in life, breastfeeding will not come easily. Still, don’t give up! Draw on the strength of all our mothers who have done it for millennia. Utilise all the resources that are at your fingertips – through the internet – and you will find droves of advice, personal testimonies and medical documentation on all the benefits of breastfeeding – for both you and your baby. As much as you can, avoid the baby formulas and try to delay the introduction of solids. Please mommas, make the sacrifice to breastfeed.
Didan Ashanta is a natural living enthusiast who blogs at DidanAshanta.com. She currently lives in Tokyo with her husband and 9-month-old daughter.