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
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
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
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.
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
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,
* * *