by Allison Verney, Technical Advisor, Global Technical Services
When I first found out I was pregnant, like most first-time moms, I was over the moon and racked with worries about how I’d adjust to this new addition. Dreaming of life with baby meant trying to prepare for almost anything – would my delivery go smoothly, would they be a good sleeper, would I be able to breastfeed the way I had planned?
I pictured breastfeeding to be this beautiful interaction between a mother and her baby. I imagined I would socialize at a park with my friends, holding my baby close while they smiled up at me, drunk on mother’s milk. I wanted this picture for myself, but also my baby because I know how important it is to feed them only breastmilk for the first six months.1
Working for Nutrition International as a Technical Advisor in the Maternal and Newborn Health and Nutrition Unit and having completed a Master of Science in maternal and child nutrition, I figured I would have no trouble. I could recite the World Health Organization recommendations around breastfeeding by heart. However, even with my background, I knew that knowledge alone was not enough. I needed in-person support to make sure that I could breastfeed properly.
Like many new moms, I didn’t know where to start, so I sought out information by attending local prenatal classes, reading and discussing breastfeeding extensively with my midwife, friends and family, and finding out where the nearest lactation consultants were. As my due date approached, I thought I was well prepared for a beautiful journey of breastfeeding.
The reality and expectations did not align.
At first, things seemed to go as planned. Right after delivery, my midwife placed my baby on my chest and with her support, my baby latched for the first time, feeding greedily on colostrum and bonding us together as mother and child. Colostrum, the first form of milk that is produced by the mom, provides antibodies that help protect the baby from disease just like a natural vaccine. With all the nurses and hospital staff surrounding us, I felt protected and secure. But then, within 24 hours, I was sent home, now responsible for another human. Before I knew it, I was in my living room with a crying baby, nipples chapped and bleeding, peeling cabbage leaves for my sore and engorged breasts. After just a few days into motherhood, I was up all night trying to nurse, with one of my breasts so engorged my baby could not latch. My whole breast had become red and hot to the touch. Not exactly the idyllic, park bench picture I’d envisioned.
Fortunately, I had an excellent support team surrounding me. My midwife was exceptionally encouraging and came to my house several times to ensure the baby’s latch was strong and to demonstrate various holds to make breastfeeding more comfortable. Having access to lactation consultants helped with identifying breast engorgement and early signs of mastitis. This prevented an infection that could have developed if I’d been trying to figure this out on my own. Having continuous support and encouragement from family and friends also made all the difference in the world.
After a few weeks of dreading every time my baby wanted to feed it did eventually get better. I was now experiencing the wonder and benefits breastfeeding brings to my little one and myself. I was thankful that breastfeeding was possible for me and that I’d been given so many tools to support my decision in breastfeeding.
While my story eventually came close to that picture in my head, I know many women around the world struggle with breastfeeding. Not everyone has the same access to knowledge and support, especially new moms in developing countries. That’s why the Global Breastfeeding Collective, a partnership of prominent international agencies, is promoting the use of a skilled lactation consultant as their key advocacy message of 2020. As a member, Nutrition International supports and promotes breastfeeding in our work — from prenatal breastfeeding counselling, to training healthcare workers, to creating support groups with new moms led by a health worker.
As a new mom, I’m aware that my parenting journey has only just begun and the challenges I faced with exclusive breastfeeding will be replaced with new challenges. But still, I’m so happy the picture I imagined for myself did eventually come true: I could sit in parks, hold my little one close and enjoy the convenience of having food readily available, at the right temperature and the right amount. Finding a way to give my baby the gift of exclusive breastfeeding allowed us to begin this journey together: healthy, happy and ready to take on whatever comes next.
1 World Health Organization (WHO). Infant and Young Child Nutrition. Geneva: WHO. 2002. https://apps.who.int/gb/archive/pdf_files/WHA55/ea5515.pdf?ua=1https://www.who.int/health-topics/breastfeeding#tab=tab_2