About 28 years ago I was privileged to become friends with a fantastic group of women. We were all new mums, learning the tiring, challenging and beautiful art of mothering together. We were passionate about our role as mothers and were all members of the Nursing Mothers Association, now the Australian Breast Feeding Association. I can’t remember what I learnt at our regular meetings but I well remember the support, understanding and bond I shared with these women. On the days that I doubted my ability and when I felt as if I was going crazy from lack of sleep they were the ones that made the tea and passed the tissues.
We all breastfed our babies. The five of us suckled 14 babies. We weathered mastitis, sore nipples, counted wet nappies to work out if our low weight gain babies were getting enough and fed on demand. Some tandem fed when the next baby came along, some fed toddlers who were running around and others stopped feeding earlier. We breastfed in public and advocated for the right to feed our children. We marched in the street to represent the Nursing Mothers Association. We believed that “breast is best” and made no apology about it.
It saddens and infuriates me to hear today of any woman who is made to feel uncomfortable breast feeding her baby in public. When I see a breastfeeding mother I want to applaud and encourage her, I want to tell her that she’s beautiful and that she’s giving her baby the very best start in life. I want to honour the struggle she may be enduring because breastfeeding is not always easy, it requires trust in your body, tolerance of discomfort and a willingness to relinquish control and respond to the (often confusing) needs your baby. In a world where women’s breasts are flaunted and exposed for commercial gain, to say that a breastfeeding woman is embarrassing in heinous. Those who are embarrassed by this beautiful and loving act should leave the room, and allow the mother to continue to feed her child. In 2015 no breastfeeding mother should be relegated to a dark corner unless that’s where she chooses to be.
In Papua New Guinea, where I lived for 8 years, you cannot buy babies bottles without a doctor’s prescription. This has maintained the high rate of breastfeeding in a country where poor sterilisation of bottles and lack of education regarding the use of formula would increase infant mortality. I remember standing behind a woman in the checkout at the supermarket, she had a baby suckling on her breast as she did her shopping and no-one batted an eye lid. Imagine the outcry if we implemented a similar requirement for a bottle prescription here, even though breast milk is the only true superfood, far better than goji berries, kale or a paleo diet.
Clearly breastfeeding was also great for us women and the bond we made 28 years ago remains strong. What impressed me most when we met up this week was the passion with which these women continue to live their lives. They are all smart, insightful, creative and proactively engaged in nurturing their families and community. They continue to inspire and delight me.