Over-exposed: normalising breastfeeding
Breastfeeding is the natural way to feed babies – yet according to a new survey, only a third of Australian women would feel comfortable breastfeeding in a public place like a shopping centre, restaurant or café.
The survey, conducted by Philips Avent, showed that 40% of women preferred the privacy and comfort of a mother’s room.
But it doesn’t have to be this way, says baby feeding and wellness adviser on behalf of Philips Avent, Jane Barry.
‘Since time began, this has been an issue for mothers,’ Jane told PSi. ‘You have some who honestly don’t care: they’re the ones who say “My baby’s hungry, I don’t care if anyone looks at me”.
‘Others see this as an educational role: “if I breastfeed my baby in public, other mothers will see me doing it and feeling quite comfortable, and perhaps be more comfortable doing it themselves”.
‘Then you’ll often get younger mothers in particular, 17 and 18 year olds, who may see a blurrier line between breasts being sexual and for feeding Baby, and want to be more discreet.’
Many women feel embarrassed about feeding in public and fear that they are ‘exposing’ themselves, she says.
They may be worried about negativity from people around them – or about being asked to stop feeding in public. This is still happening around the country: for example, last year a woman was asked to leave a Lifeline charity store in NSW for breastfeeding her son.
Breastfeeding discrimination was outlawed in May 2011: for example, it’s discriminatory for a restaurateur to refuse to serve a patron who is breastfeeding.
But there’s more to helping mothers feel comfortable breastfeeding than simply giving them the right to do so in public, Jane says: community attitudes also need to change.
‘As a society, when we see mothers breastfeeding, we can give them a little smile,’ she suggests. ‘It’s that subliminal reinforcement that what they’re doing is a great thing.
‘I’ve even said to my child, “Look at the baby eating”.
‘Some people – who are often not parents themselves – complain that these mothers flash their boobs everywhere, but I think breastfeeding mothers are quite aware of not doing this!
‘We need to normalise breastfeeding in society: this is the normal way to feed babies.’
However, Jane cautions against ‘ostracising’ mothers who choose to use formula (also known as artificial baby milk) to feed their infants.
‘What’s important is feeding babies,’ she says. ‘Mums need to feel comfortable wherever they are, in being able to offer their babies the breast or the bottle or whatever, and not think twice about it.
‘Honestly, you see people walking around all the time, eating junk food, stuffing sausage rolls into their mouths. Do they feel funny about eating in public?’
Of course, feeding comfortable feeding on demand in public is only one barrier to breastfeeding. Jane says that when mums (or dads) come into pharmacy for their first can of formula, they can be given information which may be useful in continuing to breastfeed.
For example, many parents aren’t given information about cluster feeding, how to boost their milk supply, or how much weight Baby should be gaining.
‘A lot of mothers and fathers may come running into pharmacy at 9pm to get a can of formula,’ she says.
‘We know with breastfeeding nothing boosts supply like a hungry baby. Often breast milk supply declines in the evenings, but the fat content increases: basically supply equals demand.
‘Offering those first bottles can be the start of weaning, but it doesn’t have to be.
‘Sometimes a period of comp feeding, or offering formula, is necessary, but babies are their own best way of promoting their mothers’ breast milk supply. So frequent feeding often applies – and important in this is that Mum looks after herself!’
One phenomenon which often confuses parents is ‘cluster feeding,’ which often occurs around the ‘witching’ or ‘arsenic’ hour of 4pm, and into the evening. Babies may wish to remain on the breast for considerable time, or feeds could be closely spaced – a baby can be fed, then wish to feed again 30 minutes later!
Parents often take this as a sign that the mother’s milk supply is inadequate, but it’s not the case, Jane says.
‘Going back to your health care professional or child nurse is very important,’ she advises. ‘If you have a healthy, thriving baby who in that first 6 months is gaining weight, they don’t need bottles.
‘From birth to 3 months, we want to see a gain of 150g to 200g a week. Then from 3 to 6 months 100g – 150g a week; then from 6 to 12 months 70g to 90g a week. Keep an eye on the percentile growth charts as well.
‘If a baby is thriving on its percentile, is having 6 or more wet nappies a day, it’s fine and doesn’t need bottles.
‘If it’s doing concentrated, strong-smelling wee, it’s not getting enough to eat. But if it’s alert, its mouth is moist, you have a healthy, thriving baby so intake is not the problem.’
The Philips Avent survey found that there were three main issues in regard to establishing feeding: sore or damaged nipples, the baby not latching properly, and milk supply.
Helping in pharmacy
Pharmacy assistants can help by getting informed about breastfeeding and referring to the pharmacist, child nurse or a lactation consultant if necessary.
‘And some pharmacy assistants may feel awkward about talking about breastfeeding. That will influence the quality of the information they give. We find that with student nurses, too.
‘So read what you can, check out the Australian Breastfeeding Association website, have a list of useful evidence-based links they can give to parents and increase your own knowledge base.
‘Sure, there are times when babies need formula. But breastfeeding should be the default way to feed babies.
‘For pharmacy assistants, it’s also just about the quality of interaction with Mum. Staff will often see mothers with PND, for example. Often, the smallest human contact with those mothers, who can be terribly lonely, is very very important.’