What’s so hard about breastfeeding?

When I was pregnant, I remember filling in a form for my midwife. ‘Do you plan to breastfeed?’ she asked. ‘I’m going to try,’ was my answer. I’d been warned by people: Breastfeeding is actually quite hard. You’d think it comes naturally but it’s actually harder than you think. Don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t work out. And so I thought it best to be (what I thought was) realistic. It was like planning to cook a fancy dinner for friends but hey, if it was a flop, I could always hit Woolworths. I’ll give it a go, I thought, but I wasn’t too bothered either way.

Then I birthed a baby. Hello, hormones. If you think that hormonal stuff is hard during pregnancy, wait till Day 3 postpartum when your milk comes in. (All the emotions. All of them.) Birth changes you, in numerous and nuanced ways, and motherhood, it turns out, is a mindfuck.

Things that didn’t seem that important pre-baby were now everything. One of these things for me was breastfeeding.

With the right advice and support, breastfeeding is possible for most women, but I’m not going to downplay how hard breastfeeding was for me at first. It was hard. There was lots of crying (from both Reid and me).Thankfully, I didn’t suffer from cracked and bleeding nipples (a common horror), though I did experience nipple blanching due to vasospasm, which I don’t wish on anyone.

I did hate breastfeeding actually. I hated it – everything about it – for three full months, until one day, something changed and I started to feel it: that bonding experience everyone had been telling me about. I was battling with postnatal anxiety and initially, I’d actually thought breastfeeding was making bonding with my baby harder, because breastfeeding itself was so hard and frustrating. But after three months?

Breastfeeding was the best.

So yes, the early days were tough, physically and emotionally, and ‘giving it a go’ with breastfeeding turned out to involve a lot more perseverance than my pregnant self thought would be necessary.

But as it turned out, that wasn’t the only difficult thing about breastfeeding.

One of the hardest things about breastfeeding for me – and not one person warned me about this part when I was pregnant – was other people.

The judgy, uptight, unsupportive people who think that breastfeeding in public has more to do with them than it does a hungry baby who just happens to be hungry right here, right now. Motherhood is really hard enough without having to worry about offending strangers (who, hey, can just look away) when your starving baby is screaming.

The misinformed people who tell you your baby will sleep through if you stop breastfeeding. (Some quick research will tell you that this theory has been debunked.)

The misguided people who ask you when you’re going to stop being a cow. (Um, I have never been a cow. I am a mammal; a cow is also a mammal.)

The nosy people (strangers, sometimes!*) who ask you if you’re breastfeeding your newborn, like it’s any of their business, and nod approvingly when you say yes; often the same people who, a few months later, will note again and again that you are still breastfeeding, not in a ‘You go, Mama!’ kinda way, but like this is new information to you, like you hadn’t realised, and now that they’ve pointed it out to you, you will surely start weaning.

[*When Reid was a few weeks old, a complete stranger in the pharmacy not only asked me if I was breastfeeding, but if I’d had a natural birth. I was too sleep-deprived to point out her rudeness, but as I walked back to the car, I did wonder in amazement what she would have said if I’d said no. Why do people think it’s okay to be so intrusive?]

This week is World Breastfeeding Week. We need World Breastfeeding Week because breastfeeding is not easy.

When I was breastfeeding, I was lucky to get good advice and a lot of support. I attended a breastfeeding support group every single Wednesday for three full months. One Saturday, with stinging nipples and a screaming infant, I was really ready to give up. I emailed my lactation consultant, who responded (on a weekend! What a lovely woman) with encouragement and a sign-off that still sticks with me: ‘Lactationally yours, Laura’. It implied: ‘I’m here to help you breastfeed your baby. You’ve got this.’ I went on to breastfeed for another year because of that email.

Sometimes all we need is a little support. And that’s why we need World Breastfeeding Week.

But while World Breastfeeding Week does a lot to educate moms about breastfeeding and offers valuable support, World Breastfeeding Week is not just for moms. Oh no, it’s for everyone.

It’s about normalising breastfeeding. It’s about showing dads and grandparents and siblings and even strangers not only how to be supportive, but why it’s important to be supportive. (And yes, sometimes ‘being supportive’ means not imposing personal opinions but letting moms develop their own personal breastfeeding relationships with their babies.)

I’m no longer breastfeeding, but the breastfeeding relationship I had with Reid remains one of the most special experiences of my life. I’m grateful that I received encouragement when I needed it. I’m also glad I was able to (mostly) ignore the unsolicited ‘advice’ and unhelpful opinions, although it wasn’t always easy.

So mom friends, wherever you want to breastfeed, whenever you want to breastfeed and for however long you want to breastfeed, you won’t hear a peep from me. Reach out if you need to, but remember, breastfeeding is about you and your baby. You’ve got this.

Breastfeeding

Facebook groups for South African moms

When I was pregnant, some of my lovely mom friends added me to a few baby-related groups on Facebook. At the time, I didn’t think they would be particularly important, but I thought, hey, I’ll stick around and see if they’re useful when the baby comes. And a lot of them were.

Here’s my list of some of the most popular Facebook groups for South African moms. Note that this is by no means an exhaustive list. I know I’ve left off groups from other parts of the country, and I’m sure there are support groups for c-section moms, preemie parents, and NICU parents. Please leave a comment below with the details of any other groups you can recommend or contact me and I’ll update this post.

Birthing

  • Natural Birthing South Africa: One of my favourite groups. In a country with such a high c-section rate, a group like this is a great resource and a good place to start finding out the facts and the misconceptions around natural birth. ‘This is a group for women seeking to have a normal vaginal delivery (NVD), or needing more info regarding NVD. Feel free to ask questions, ask for advice, give support and share your resources. We would like this to be a safe space where we can discuss our fears regarding NVD, any problems experienced, share our positive experiences and resources and information.’
  • VBAC in SA: I’m not a member of this group, but here is the info for others. ‘This group focuses on mammas who want to or might have had a vaginal birth after they have experienced a c-section. Everyone is welcome to chat and talk and share info regarding VBACs. We also want to dispel the wrong info that after one c-section you HAVE to have another c-section.’

Breastfeeding

  • La Leche League South Africa: Breastfeeding support and information from La Leche League Leaders as well as other boobin’ moms. ‘The mission of La Leche League International is to help mothers worldwide to breastfeed through mother-to-mother support, encouragement, information, and education, and to promote a better understanding of breastfeeding as an important element in the healthy development of the baby and the mother.’
  • Breastfeeding RSA: Another breastfeeding support group, but quite a lot smaller than the LLL group (perhaps a bit more personal?). ‘Breastfeeding RSA was started as we hope to create a breastfeeding friendly community in South Africa, uniting breastfeeding consultants, midwives, doulas, doctors, paediatricians, breastfeeding moms, friends and family, everyone who comes in contact with breastfeeding mothers.’
  • Exclusive Pumpers South Africa: I’m not a member of this group but here is the link for those who don’t hate pumping as much as I did. ‘A support structure for Exclusive Pumpers and mothers who have to pump for baby while working as well as those transitioning from EPing to breast and vice versa.’

Formula-feeding

  • Formula feeding mommies SA: A non-judgy group where moms can share info on formula and bottle-feeding (it’s more complicated than you think). ‘Feel free post any and all questions on formulas, bottles, feeding and burping techniques, as well share stories of your bonding experiences with your babies and success stories of your child’s development on formula.’

Babywearing

  • Babywearing b\s\t and chat South Africa: When Reid was born I didn’t have a wrap. Madness. By the second week, I’d secured myself a mei tai and my life changed. There’s plenty of info about wraps, carriers and slings on this group, as well as where to buy them (they are so difficult to find in the shops!). ‘Welcome to the place to buy, sell, and trade your wraps, slings and carriers and babywearing accessoires, ask questions or just have a chat.’
  • NINO Babywearing South Africa: ‘NINO South Africa, is a non-profit group dedicated to continue the vision of NINO International, by promoting babywearing through education and advocacy in South Africa.’

Starting solids

  • Baby Led Weaning – A place for Local Moms practicing BLW to connect: A South African group for parents who have chosen to introduce solids using the baby-led weaning (BLW) method. Don’t mention purées here! ‘This is a group for parents to learn about the Baby-Led Weaning method of introduction solid foods. BLW is ONE method of introducing solids. There are other methods; BLW may or may not be a suitable choice for you and your baby. Our aim is to provide information about the BLW method so that parents can make an informed decision about how and when they introduce solids. We also aim to provide a safe and respectful space where we can ask questions and share our experiences without fear of judgement.’
  • Official Baby Purée And Solids Page: A general group about introducing solids. ‘A safe place to share any fears concerns and questions on solids! Be it purée or BLW etc – share ideas, share anything!’
  • Little Munchkins Recipes: ‘This is for mommies to share their recipes to make lunches, dinners and snack time easier…’

Buying and selling second-hand baby and toddler goods

Getting confident about cloth nappies

  • South African cloth nappy users: This is a superb resource if you’re considering cloth diapers. There are plenty of helpful documents in the group’s files section and the moms on this group are ready to answer all questions. The lingo can be a bit intimidating at first, but once you get going, cloth nappies are really not as complicated as they look. ‘This group was created for South African parents whose children wear cloth nappies. It’s a space to ask questions, share experiences and create awareness.’
  • South African Cloth Diaper Businesses: ‘This page is a platform for cloth diaper retailers (businesses and WAHMs) to advertise, promote and sell their products.’
  • South African Flat and Prefold Diapers: ‘A group to help with troubleshooting, learning new folds, and to just celebrate the simplicity of the humble flat.’
  • South African Cloth diaper Buy/Sell/Trade: ‘This group is for buying and selling of mostly second hand baby cloth diapers and related accessories.’
  • South African Cloth Group Buys: ‘This group’s aim is to get the best prices on bulk buying by combining orders on baby and mamma related items.’
  • South african Cloth Bums B/S/T -SACB: ‘This page is for moms or retailers to sell their new used faulty once-offs.’

Being a parent

  • Body-Positive Parenting – with  Casey Blake: ‘A parent’s group to talk about “The Talks” and get input from fellow parents and Casey Blake. The focus is on empowering parents to have open and honest discussions with their children, in age appropriate ways.’ 
  • Mamahood South Africa: Mamahood South Africa, through its Facebook groups, is probably the biggest and fastest growing mom network in the country. The Mamahood groups are divided into provinces, from MAMAHOOD GAUTENG to MAMAHOOD CAPE TOWN. More here.
  • Mom to Mom Gauteng Business: ‘This is a networking group to help moms support each other in their business endeavours.’
  • Baby Product Specials Gauteng: ‘Here you can post and share specials on baby necessities like nappies etc with the shop and area information. Together we can all save some money.’
  • South African Multiple Birth Association: ‘SAMBA is an organization made up of volunteers that offers support to parents of multiples. This page has been set up for parents and families of twins and higher multiples who are paid up SAMBA members to network and share stories, triumphs and challenges. Multiples themselves are also welcome to join to share their advice, views and experiences to others.’

Have I left any great groups off this list? Please leave a comment below or contact me and I’ll update this post. Thank you!