*I know that how we feed our babies is a hot topic, one that is laced with judgement and shame. Please, please know that this blog post, my entire blog, and all of my A&L platforms are free from judgement. I’m a mom, I’ve been on the receiving end of looks, remarks and unsolicited opinions about my pregnant body, how I’m going to deliver my son and how I’ll feed him. My intention in sharing information about breastfeeding is not to shame any mothers who formula-feed their children. I gave Kai formula too! So, please read and watch the following (and anything else I may share in future) as information and opinion, and do with it what you’d like. None of us are experts. And I’m just here to help where and if I can.*
Last week, I had the honour of attending a World Breastfeeding Week conference with UNICEF. It was a gathering of VIPs, policymakers and caregivers, discussing and listening to important talks on breastfeeding. First Lady Dr Tshepo Motsepe and Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize both delivered speeches and how they envision making South Africa a breastfeeding country. There were stalls from different orgnaisations and charities such as Save the Children and the South African Breastmilk Reserve (SABR) for human milk donation. It was held in Kalafong Hospital in Pretoria.
I’ve been working closely with UNICEF for the past few months on this breastfeeding campaign, leading up to this week. I’ve learnt a lot, especially from my trip with them to Port Elizabeth. Breastfeeding, as I know personally, isn’t easy for a lot of women. What I didn’t know are the different reasons why so many mothers aren’t breastfeeding or those who do, stop soon afterwards. It’s revealed itself to be a very complicated issue, and one that needs a lot of work to improve. Currently, the country’s exclusive breastfeeding rate is 32% of mothers, while the global rate is 40%. For many, the drop off point comes when they have to go back to work and they don’t have a clean, safe and private place to express their milk. Nor are they given the time to do so. In order for South Africa to reach the United Nations target of 50% by 2025, there’s a lot of work to be done.
I’m working with UNICEF because breastfeeding and the struggles mothers face in doing it are big issues, close to my heart. I want to keep my spaces open for women to discuss problems they’re having, or to find comfort knowing they’re not alone in having problems with nursing their children. I was one of those mothers, who begged for help, who knew I should’ve gotten it and who persevered only because I wanted to make sure that if I gave it up, it was because I tried everything I could. As I said before, it is absolutely soul-destroying, not being able to feed your child. In order for us to truly become a breastfeeding nation, we must listen and understand all of the issues mothers are facing and offer solutions on how to resolve them. Here are my thoughts.
Men Need to Step Up
I was impressed by Dr Mkhize’s talk and felt inspired by his words. In a nutshell, he’s called on society as a whole but especially fathers to also be involved in the breastfeeding process. It’s something I believe many women have been thinking and feeling for centuries but maybe it takes another man to say it for it to have an impact. Men are notoriously absent when the topic of breastfeeding and other parental responsibilities are raised and I think this needs to change. Considering we give birth, men should be doing more than many of them currently do. I honestly believe the more involved he is from the beginning, the more bonded he’ll be to the child – and this so-called “babysitting” that he’ll do in future won’t be that. He’ll know exactly what to do and how to care for his children. There are men who’d like to help, don’t know how and feel useless.
Here are some breastfeeding tips for men:
There Are SO Many Breastfeeding Myths
I didn’t know this before I went to PE, but another issue that’s affecting thousands of South African mothers is the wide-spread myth that having sex while you’re breastfeeding contaminates your breastmilk. Because of this belief, many men are using the excuse that his partner is breastfeeding to sleep around. On the other side, many women are choosing not to breastfeed so they can keep their men from wandering. I was deeply disturbed by this, especially with who helps in perpetuating it – the older generation.
Here are some popular and dangerous myths around breastfeeding:
Know Your Rights!
Did you know that it’s the law that your employer gives you 2 half-hour breaks during your workday to nurse or pump milk? I didn’t know that. And no one at my former office told me that either. So when I went to ask to get breaks so I can express milk to keep my supply up, it had to be relayed back to my manager and signed off in a letter. I know not everyone is me and may not feel confident enough to ask that of their employer, but know that it’s your right. And it’s legally stated in labour laws. You know what is also legal? Breastfeeding your child in public. Your child has every right to feed wherever you are. So, those people who ask you to go somewhere else don’t have a right to do so. If they have a problem with it, then they must just look away – and mind their business while they’re at it.
More on breastfeeding rights in the video below.
“Breastfeeding is a matter of pride, not shame. Mothers should be able to feed whenever and wherever they need to.”
– Dr Mkhize, South African Minister of Health
All in all, after learning how not so long ago, the breastfeeding rate in South Africa was just 8%, it’s definitely encouraging that we’re moving in the right direction. For me, I think the biggest thing (if I could pick only one) is the information and misinformation that surrounds breastfeeding and the amazing benefits of breastmilk. I didn’t know half of them before I started working with UNICEF.
However, at the end of the day, it’s really up to the mother. In order to make this a breastfeeding nation, more support needs to be readily and easily available to her so she can have the best chances of successfully feeding her child. That includes the partner, the employer, family and others. There’s already so much pressure and expectations placed on new moms. And needless to say, so many things to overcome – breastfeeding shouldn’t be one of them.
What’s your breastfeeding story? What are some of the challenges we’re facing as moms? How do we get men on board with this? Drop me a comment below, I’d love your thoughts. Drop them below.
Photography by Robert Steenporte.