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Overcoming breastfeeding difficulties
Friday 7 May 2002

Dear Melbourne Child,

Thank-you for printing Jenny Edward's brave, honest and heart-felt article in Melbourne Child. What Jenny's article shows us all is that what new mothers need above all things is support, empathy and choices, and not, as is too often the case, zealots who will only support one way of doing things. In Jenny's case this meant that she had to breastfeed even when, as was clearly the case, no one was benefiting.

Eight years ago I could have written this article myself. But my parenting journey, indeed my breast-feeding journey, did not end with my first child. My wish is that Jenny too will find the courage to have another child and to once again give breast-feeding a go. It is for this reason I have decided to share my story here.

After the birth of my first child, I too spent weeks trying to establish breast-feeding I went in and out of hospital, had mastitis and thrush in both breasts, used pumps, supply lines and anything else any could come up with and listened to plenty of advice. In the end after my baby had lost a full kilo and the nursing staff were recommending antidepressants, I decided that enough was enough and that I was not depressed I just had a very sick baby, was completely exhausted and I wanted my life back. My eldest child, now 8, was bottle fed and flourished.

But I still felt somewhere deep down in my soul that I had failed and I found that image of the contented breast-feeding mother in the trendy café very hard to surrender. As my friends went on to have children and to successfully and easily breast-feed their babies, I was just simply jealous and wanted still to breast-feed too. More importantly I just could not imagine having a second child if the same scenario was to unfold - and I did not want to fail again.

So four and half years after my first child was born, I finally gave birth to my second child. I thought I had done everything I could to ensure that I would this time breastfeed successfully. I had read, I had changed to a more sympathetic doctor and gentler hospital, I had seen a lactation consultant and I had spoken to the hospital, so they knew that I was anxious. My second child arrived and within four days the same roller coaster had begun: he was not feeding well and I left hospital anxious but with lots of support at home and a positive attitude. After two weeks he was still losing weight, refusing the breast and I was, to put it mildly, very stressed. I remember clearly my husband saying "we are never going through this again."

Now I would love to tell you that suddenly overnight a miracle happened but this is a very honest letter. So: sorry. No miracle. But what did happen was that I made a choice: I decided I would see one lactation consultant and if she had no useful advice I would accept that I could not breastfeed. So when my second child was two weeks old I met Margaret Callaghan (lactation consultant at Naturally Breastfeeding).

Margaret walked into my home and calmly assessed the situation. She listened to my story and took my baby from me. She said the first goal was to get my baby putting on weight and that my baby's health was to be our first priority. I knew that as long as my baby was putting on weight I could and would be happy to follow her advice.. She then did the one thing no lactation consultant had ever done before - she examined my baby's mouth. My child, she said, had a short tongue and high pallet, this meant that he could not suck properly and therefore was not getting enough milk or stimulating my milk production.

Her message however was clear: it was not me, it was the baby. Strangely this was all I needed to hear, I was not the failure and yes, we needed to teach this baby to suck. And that is what we did. It took ten weeks, it involved a great deal of expressing, supply lines and quite a few tears but my baby put on 700g the first week under Margaret's care. I now had a thriving baby and the rest was incidental.

My second child was breastfed for 17 months and I am still deeply proud of my tenacity. I will forever be in debt to Margaret and trust no one else for breastfeeding advice. Many of my friends could not believe that I would bother and my lovely doctor claims he has had no other patient quite so stubborn.

In December last year I gave birth to my third child and I was quite prepared to once again hire the pump and train a baby to suck but finally I have my happy ending. My third child has breastfed like a dream from day one and now I understand how easy it all can be. My days are total bliss and parenting with three children has never felt better.

So dear Jenny and any other mother who has experienced what is so wrongly and trivially called "breast-feeding difficulties" here is my advice for what it is worth:

Have another baby one day,
get the right advice (i.e. see Margaret)
and do try again.
but most importantly, in the meantime, hold your baby close.
The sadness of the bottle fed baby for me is not what it drinks, but that all babies should be held and cuddled while they are fed, and not, as I sometimes see them, left in their pram, bottle propped in their mouths while their mothers do something more important.
What could be more important?
That's what they can't measure in all their stupid studies and that's what will count in the end.
It's the babies who are held and loved who will thrive whatever they drink!
And no one is going to ask your child at their twenty-first if they were breastfed,
and if they do ask, they can honestly say they were ( just not for very long).

I have breast-fed all my children, just like you, and I love all my children and so I'm sure do you.

with all best wishes,

Cressida Crossley

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