Tag Archives: supportmothers

Guest Post- Using Your Village

Breastfeeding was something I was determined to do with Bennie. I won’t pretend for a minute that it was easy and although it was me putting in the hard yards, I was never alone in it. I had my husband and some wonderful friends to support, encourage and advise me. Marissa is a mum of three and breastfeeding has never come easily but this time around, things are different…

I was going to write about my previous struggles with breastfeeding. I was going to write about poor advice, scary nurses and mummy guilt. I was going to write about how, three babies in, I have overcome my struggles and am now breastfeeding my third baby. I was going to explain how proud I am, how great it feels to have finally succeeded at something that has been so difficult for me.

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I was going to write a lot of things, and then I realised one important thing: I could never have made it this far without my village.

As the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child. For me it has taken a village to feed a child. From the obvious people in my village like my husband and my parents, to the less obvious ones like strangers on the internet, this village has been behind me every step of the way.

Before I had Jared, I started thinking about how I was going to breastfeed him. I have two other kids, one of whom is in primary school, and at times the logistics of adding the 24 hour requirement of my mammary glands into the equation just seemed impossible. I considered formula feeding from birth. I considered giving him colostrum and expressing a few times a day for as long as I could. How would I do it all? How would I care for a five year old and a two year old, at the same time as feeding an infant? How would I manage school run? Cleaning? Cooking? Eating?

My village came to my rescue. When I was tired after a night with a constantly feeding my son, my parents picked up the slack and took my daughter to school. My husband took extra time off work, and cooked and cleaned while I sat and fed. My brother and best friends entertained my children.

My village was varied. The ladies I talk to in my Facebook mother’s group supported me through long feeds at 2am and crazy sleep deprivation. They offered loads of practical advice and support, empathised with me in hard times and celebrated the good. One of my best friends is a breastfeeding advocate, and the other is a midwife. Both were on hand with emotional and practical support. When Jared didn’t gain “enough” weight, they encouraged me to keep trying. When he was hospitalised with various health issues, they researched and helped me understand the issues.

I recently read this article. The author laments the loss of the traditional village and yearns for a time when we supported and helped each other through hard times. I don’t think the village is lost, I think it has evolved. We may not be washing clothes together at the riverbank while our children play; however we are still offering laughs and kind words to our fellow mothers through blogs, forums and social media.

If the concept of breastfeeding your child is daunting, prepare you village now. Prepare it even if you are not considering children or breastfeeding. Gather it around you in whatever form it may happen to come. Ask your village for help and receive it gratefully when it inevitably is provided. Breastfeeding is a beautiful, natural and amazing thing to do. We are biologically designed to breastfeed. This I know, I have been told hundreds of times and seen on many information handouts. But we are not designed to do it all alone.

Don’t forget to link up your blog post for #WBW2014 here

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Formulating the Right Support

Recently, it was reported that a 6 month old baby was admitted to hospital following life threatening seizures. Her mother had reportedly replaced some of her formula feeds with cordial as she was unable to afford to buy sufficient formula.

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It’s important to note that the cause of the seizures was the water in the cordial- as opposed to the cordial itself- generally speaking, babies get all their water from formula or breastmilk. From all I have read, it’s very easy to overdose a baby under 12 months on water. Doing so can lead to a condition called water intoxication, where excessive water consumption leads to sodium being flushed out of the body which disturbs brain activity and results in seizures. This condition is potentially fatal.

I don’t know why this mum thought that cordial was a suitable substitute. I have no idea of her situation. I can think of many scenarios to explain it and many that do not but I don’t have the all the facts.

One thing that is blindingly obvious though is that she did not have the education and support she needed to safely formula feed. I always talk about the education and support needed to breastfeed, because I needed a lot of both to do it successfully.

When I bottle fed my eldest, it wasn’t terribly difficult. I didn’t find I personally needed much help- a midwife explained how to sterilise bottles, recommended a good brand of bottle and a type of formula, told me to follow the instructions on the tin and off I went. Other than mild reflux, we didn’t have a great deal of feeding issues once on the bottle- but that is just my experience and obviously it really isn’t the same for everyone.

In the ensuing discussion over this mum, I’ve seen people say how much they struggled with formula feeding- from finding the most suitable formula to the most suitable teats and bottles for their babies- reflux babies, colicky babies, windy babies, babies prone to constipation or it’s opposite, babies with CMPI– they’re all different and all need something different. One woman recalled spending upwards of $50 on teats alone when she switched to formula in her search for one that suited her baby. 

The articles I read stated that this child was initially breastfed until around five weeks of age (a noted fussy period, from memory) and the author connected this case to the poor rates of breastfeeding in Australia, saying that mothers are being pushed or recommended too early on to wean onto formula. The article quoted a statistic too- that although around 90% of mothers initiate breastfeeding, only 15% are still breastfeeding at 6 months. 

While I agree that many mums switch to formula very early on (and there are many reasons for this) what the article didn’t mention was that this statistic refers to exclusive breastfeeding– which means the baby has had nothing but breastmilk, excluding medications and vitamin supplements- so it’s misleading because many people start to introduce solid foods between 4 and 6 months of age. So while it’s true that only 15% are exclusively breastfeeding at 6 months, the percentage of those still breastfeeding while introducing complimentary foods is likely higher. 

To get an idea of our rates, at 3 months old, it’s it a rate of around 39% that are still being exclusively breastfed. (I imagine there are very few babies being given foods at this age-I hope, anyway- so by not being exclusively breastfed we can assume they are on some if not all formula). By 12 months (the minimum Australian recommendation) only 28% are still breastfed (which is still higher that the 15% quoted by the article) so we can estimate that somewhere between 28% and 39% are actually receiving some breastmilk at 6 months of age. This drops to around 9%at 18 months and 5% by 24 months (the minimum World Health Organisation recommendation and a whole other topic).

It may be true that this wouldn’t have happened if she was still breastfeeding. It may be that she was advised to stop breastfeeding at 5 weeks. She may have complained about the increased fussiness to her GP who recommended weaning. She may have had a friend tell her that formula would lead to a more settled baby, she may have read something similar online- we don’t know. Perhaps she had to stop for medical reasons, perhaps she just didn’t want to breastfeed any more, as is her right. Is this where she was let down? Breastfeeding mums have the ABA to turn to and lactation consultants- where does the bottle feeding mum turn to if things aren’t going well?  Some women I spoke to said that they struggled to get bottle feeding information as nurses and midwives were reluctant to give it out, citing hospital policies as a reason. Others said they felt judged for bottle feeding, despite the fact that most Australian babies are formula fed for most of their first year of life, and were therefore reluctant to ask anyone. 

All that aside, it’s not useful to turn this sad situation into a breast vs bottle argument. This happened not because of formula or because breastfeeding had ceased- it happened because a mother did not know what else to do when she couldn’t afford to buy enough formula.

So where to go for help? Your Childhood Health Nurse should help you. Your GP should help you. Your Paediatrician can help too. But if for some reason you don’t want to ask, there are lots of online resources. There are forums and Facebook pages where you can talk to other mums. There are some great online resources. Similar to getting breastfeeding information and support, sometimes you just have to take the bull by the horns and seek it out for yourself. Don’t have internet access? How’d you get here? (Kidding! But maybe you don’t have regular access or want to help someone that doesn’t?) The good news is that most public libraries provide free internet, which is fantastic on many levels. I didn’t know that until recently- spread it around!

And here are a bunch of useful links for the formula feeding family:

A Bottle Feeding Guide from the SA Govt

Bottle Feeding- Nutrition by Better Health VIC

Bottle Feeding- All about Infant Formula

The Fearless Formula Feeder

A quick search on facebook showed quite a few support groups you can join too, and there are forums you can join for free at

Bubhub – Raising Children Network – Essential Baby – BellyBelly – Kidspot

NB- If you are in financial difficulty and can’t afford food or formula organisations like the Salvos and FoodBank may be able to help you or point you in the right direction. You might feel there is shame in asking for help but there is not. Nor is there any pride to be had in starving. There are people and organisations that are there to help you get back on your feet.

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Guest Post: Because I’m a mother.

I often write about nursing- nursing in public, nurse-ins, nursing education and support… This post is about the other kind of nursing- nursing as a profession- and the unique set of challenges faced by mothers in this profession. This profession is arguably the backbone of our healthcare system; from hospitals to clinics to aged care and more. While we certainly have male nurses it is still a female dominated field and where there are women there are invariably going to be babies and children.

Is it possible to be a mother and a nurse? Yes…but not without often significant disadvantages.

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Take my guest blogger, pictured above with her family, who wrote the piece below. April Abbott is a Registered Nurse with extensive experience in her field who has effectively been forced out of the hospital system in order to meet the needs of her family. Recently the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling compiled research showing that some mothers are earning as little as $3 – $4 an hour once childcare fees are taken out. In April’s case, a typical week’s take-home pay is completely obliterated by childcare fees, she must keep working a certain amount of hours to maintain her professional registration- yet she cannot work in her chosen specialty area. Here’s what she has to say.

April:

Let’s face it; the future of healthcare in Australia looks bleak. As a society we’re getting older and sicker, and we keep expecting more of a system that just can’t keep up with the demand. When you add an ageing nursing population and the very real prospect of a healthcare workforce shortage the picture looks pretty grim. So why is it that, in the midst of a national debate about health care funding, a Registered Nurse (RN) with over 7 years experience in Intensive Care and an extra 3 in other areas of nursing can’t get a permanent job in a hospital? The answer – because I’m a mother.

I’ve always known that being a nurse is about sacrifice. And like all mothers, I understand that working takes away from time with my family, and that’s fine. It’s not just about the money, I love my job. I love knowing that I make a difference, that I can spot when a patient is about to deteriorate and take action to stop it. But I can’t be available 24 hours a day anymore and that means I can’t work a rotating 24/7 roster which that means I can’t get a job.

Let me share a conversation I recently had with a Nurse Unit Manager of an ICU unit who was advertising for RN positions. I highlighted my fairly extensive experience and explained I was looking for a job closer to home following a period of maternity leave. Her immediate response was “I don’t allow any of my staff to work regular shifts so you will have to work a fully rotating roster”. I explained that was impossible due to child care requirements and her response was “The rule applies to everyone”. Effectively – Do Not Apply. So here I was, the perfect candidate for the position but for one small detail, I needed to work the same shifts each week. This isn’t a one-off for me, I was bullied in my previous position for being too “needy” with my shifts, and I’m not alone. One colleague tells of how she is forever swapping afternoon shifts because they don’t work for her family, and has seriously considered leaving the profession. Another talks about the lack of childcare for shift workers, saying:

“It’s a struggle [arranging childcare] and it takes a great deal of planning and patience before I even get to my job, which takes even more out of me.”

I need to put it out there; these issues aren’t exclusive to nurses. No matter what the job, every mother faces challenges trying to find a work-life balance but shift workers are particularly at risk of facing this difficulty. There are, however, a few differences for nurses. Firstly, we are notoriously selfless and rarely complain in any significant way about our working conditions. Secondly, we are more likely to suffer from health problems than people of other professionals at the same age, probably because we are so willing to sacrifice our own needs for the job, not to mention our higher than average exposure to illness. Thirdly, and most importantly, we simply cannot afford to lose our experienced nurses!

I made the decision to switch to practice nursing and I love working at a local medical practice. It’s a shame that my years of intensive care experience aren’t being utilised but I can’t live with the uncertainty of not knowing who is going to look after my kids so I can work week to week. It would seem that I’m a minority, others in my situation are leaving the profession or putting up with the inflexibility, but at what cost?

We need to tackle this issue now. Nursing was always known as a family friendly profession that supports mothers. Now it has become inflexible and even hostile, and it must stop. If we continue to push away our experienced nurses we will be left with a serious skill shortage in 10-20 years. We will be left without the most valuable nurses, the Clinical Nurse Specialist, the Team Leader, the Senior Nurse on a night shift who you know you can count on in an emergency. And we will be left with a junior workforce who haven’t been given the opportunity to learn from the more experienced and specialised nurses. Even if we don’t see a continuation of the trend for nurses to leave the profession, then stresses of the job and trying to balance it with family life are just too high. With recent reports showing 63% of Australians and 24% children being overweight, obese or morbidly obese, this is an issue that affects us all. The current “Return to Work” rules aren’t adequate and often aren’t followed. 

We need to value our nurses. We need better legislation and, more importantly, better support from hospital management. We need to change the culture of expecting nurses to put up with it or leave. What we can’t do is close our eyes and hope the problem goes away. So how can make things better and retain nurses in the future? Well, you might not like it, but the answer is providing nurses who are mothers of young children with ‘Special Treatment’. Yes, you read that right, Special Treatment for working mothers. Do we want it? Not really. Do we feel entitled to it? Huh! You think I became a nurse for all the entitlements? The truth is, nurses who are mothers of young children NEED special treatment, and you need us to work.

We can make it happen by providing mums with regular shifts for the short time during their career that they have dependent children. We can provide child care in hospitals to suit shift workers, and ease the financial burden of childcare on shift-workers. Most importantly, we can stop labeling working mums as “selfish”, “difficult” and “entitled”, or lump the responsibility of establishing a work-life balance solely on the mother because “she chose to have children”. These statements show that, as a society, we place little value on the care of young children, or their role as our future workforce. Some of the best nurses I know are mothers. They are patient, empathetic and highly skilled at multi-tasking. They love their work, they are passionate about the profession and they are in the unique position of being involved on both sides of the nursing station, with frequently sick children. Please let’s not toss these nurses aside because it’s too hard to make the roster work! With only a few small changes we can ensure that our future nursing leaders remain in the workforce, and remain at the forefront of a world class health care system.

If you want to see more flexibility for nurses with families, consider emailing the Australian Minister for Health or the Minister in your state:

NSW Minister for Health The Hon. Jill Gell Skinner 

VIC Minister for Health The Hon David Davis

TAS Minister for Health The Hon Michael Ferguson

SA Minister for Health The Hon Jack Snelling

QLD Minister for Health The Hon Lawrence Springborg

WA Minister for Health The Hon Dr Kim Desmond Hames

ACT Minister for Health The Hon Katy Gallagher

NT Minister for Health The Hon Robyn Lambley

Australian Minister for Health The Hon Peter Dutton

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Let’s stop demonising formula

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Let me preface this by saying I have both breast and formula fed and both methods have their benefits and drawbacks.

My first was exclusively formula fed from a few days old after a tongue tie and failure to latch left her losing scary amounts of weight and jaundiced. My second was mixed fed due to under-supply for the about 3-4 months. In hindsight, I could have stopped the top ups before I did- but I didn’t realise that at the time. Just another part of infant feeding where there isn’t much consistent advice or support.

When I was comp feeding with formula, I looked in to donor milk. A bottle of donor milk that had been pasteurised through a milk bank was going to cost me $8. It would have worked out costing in excess of $50 per week. I could claim part of that back through the tax system at the end of the financial year, but that doesn’t help much when living or a reduced maternity leave income. My other option was informal milk sharing through the HM4HB sites. In theory, I thought this could be a viable option- if I could find a local trustworthy regular donor- but something in me was not just not 100% comfortable with the idea. So we decided to use formula and *anecdotal evidence alert* my daughters are both healthy and happy children.

The breast vs. bottle debate is just one battle being waged in the infamous “mummy wars” (I refuse to dignify that with capital letters) and I really think it needs to stop. I personally support babies being FED. If you breastfeed- fantastic. If you bottle feed with expressed or donor milk- fantastic. If you use a commercially produced formula- fantastic. Your baby is being fed an appropriate type of milk, well done you!

I’ve written and spoken a lot about breastfeeding discrimination. It is still alive and well and I think my views on it are clear- it’s unacceptable and illegal. Formula feeding discrimination- does that exist? I’m not sure discrimination is the right word. I haven’t read or heard about formula feeding parents being asked to leave cafes, but the condemnation some have received for formula feeding is pretty appalling, all the same.

I do think that if there was better, more consistent support and education available for mothers with regard to breastfeeding, more women would breastfeed and/or breastfeed longer. However, even if this existed across the board, some women would still opt for formula. There are a myriad of reasons. Some mothers need medications that are incompatible with breastfeeding, some have personal or psychological issues (for example-past abuse) that mean they opt to formula feed, some find breastfeeding to be full of obstacles and just too difficult to continue, some just really don’t like breastfeeding. Exclusive pumping is a happy middle ground for some people but it’s not a viable option for everyone. I can’t express a full feed to save myself. My body just doesn’t respond to pumping and I’m far from the only one out there. Even if it did, pumping full time is very demanding and not always practical and comes with its own set of difficulties.

It comes down, also, to bodily autonomy. A woman should not be coerced or pressured to breastfeed against her will. It is ultimately her body, her baby and her choice. What she should be is educated and supported to decide how she will feed her child.

Whatever reason a person has for feeding their baby one way or the other, shaming them for their choices or requirements is counterproductive. Lecturing someone for formula feeding will not inspire them to re-lactate and breastfeed. Criticising a breastfeeding mother should not be a factor in her decision to wean (though it sometimes is, which is a terrible shame).

You might have some really firm beliefs about why it’s better to breast feed. I’m cool with that. Breastfeed away. Similarly, you might have firm beliefs in favour of bottle and formula feeding. I’m cool with that too. Bottle feed away. There is every chance that someone out there will disagree with you. And that is okay too. What is NOT okay is trying to force those beliefs on another person. Especially when your argument is designed to shame and denigrate the mother for her feeding choices.

I know several women who have been approached in public by strangers and criticised for feeding their children.

One friend was publicly abused for giving her baby a bottle of expressed milk when the stranger assumed it was formula.

A member of my mothers group was chatting to another mother at her local pool when she was roundly criticised for using disposable nappies and then questioned as to why the 15 month old was bottle fed. This stranger dismissed the medical reasons behind the mother’s decision to formula feed as “rubbish” and reduced her to tears.

This demonstrates a really skewed perspective. What does criticising a formula feeding mother achieve? Does it inspire her to ditch bottles and try breastfeeding again? No. Does it inspire her to want to breastfeed future babies? I doubt it- who’d want to join the ranks of the breastfeeding tyrant brigade? Will it rectify any problems she had breastfeeding or help her overcome the obstacles that may have stopped her in the first place? Of course it won’t. As far as I can tell, all it does do is give an aggressive person a misplaced sense of superiority. When you see a stranger bottle feeding a child, you have no way of knowing what is in that bottle or why that mother, father or caregiver is feeding a child a bottle. And you don’t NEED to know. The baby is being fed, that’s great, be happy that they aren’t starving and move on.

Sometimes the criticism comes from friends or family and again, even if it is your sister or your best friend in the whole world- your criticism WILL NOT HELP. Supportive comments, offering to be there for them, offering practical assistance and letting them know they can come to you for advice if they want to- these are the things that help. It’s okay to offer to lend a breastfeeding book or to offer to send a link to helpful resources to someone who is having troubles with it- it’s not ok to do these things unsolicited to someone who has chosen to formula feed because it smacks of judgement and will not help. All it does do is create or add to the guilt they may already be feeling and feelings of guilt or shame can definitely contribute to depression and post-natal depression.

I think most people know that breast milk is the optimal food for babies. However, milk banks in Australia can be prohibitively expensive and difficult to access for many families and many people are uncomfortable using informal milk sharing as the milk isn’t screened and pasteurised. So formula is the next logical step- it’s easy to access, it must meet certain standards, it’s affordable and it is designed to meet the nutritional needs of infants. It’s not a live food like breast milk and doesn’t contain the antibodies and enzymes that breast milk does, true. It’s not the same thing. But it IS food for babies that aren’t breastfed, and that is no small thing.

Feeding is just one aspect of parenting. Parents that formula feed still love their children, still nurture them, care for them, clothe, house and educate them. Isn’t that the important stuff?

I believe we should advocate for breastfeeding education and support mothers in breastfeeding but I do not believe treating mothers who cannot or do not breastfeed like crap is an effective way to encourage or promote breastfeeding. No more judging, stop the assumptions, forget the snide remarks. As  a breastfeeding mum I don’t like copping any of that and I wasn’t fond of it as a formula feeding mum either, so here’s an idea- why not all just be supportive of each other? A little understanding, empathy and acceptance goes a long way.

Exclusive Pumping info:

http://kellymom.com/bf/pumpingmoms/pumping/exclusive-pumping/

Bottle Feeding Support:

http://www.fearlessformulafeeder.com/

http://www.bottlebabies.org/

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World Breastfeeding Week

Yup, nothing is sacred in our household. image

World Breastfeeding Week is this year focusing on support for breastfeeding mums.
I think support is paramount in being able to breastfeed and often goes hand in hand with education. You don’t need a degree to pass on knowledge or to support a new mum.

The vast majority of Australian babies are breastfed from birth, but somewhere in those first few weeks, the rate of exclusively breastfed babies drops off significantly. And it’s important to note that many mums who stop early on don’t want to. With my first baby, despite pretending otherwise, I was one of those mums. The second time around, I read, I listened, I asked and I still struggled with it, but I was lucky enough to be so very well supported- by my husband, by the community LCs and by a wonderful group of women on a parenting forum. This third resource was such a wealth of experience and knowledge. The support and understanding offered to me so freely by other mums who had breastfed is something I couldn’t have persevered without- it is a big part of why I’m still breastfeeding today. The knowledge and support of peers carried me through the painful bad latch, the low supply, the difficulties of comp feeding, the bout of mastitis and the struggle to rebuild my supply again.

I’m not the only one who has been able to breastfeed thanks to the advice of other mums-far from it. Historically, this is how women learned to feed- during their day to day lives, they saw breastfeeding constantly and helped each other to learn when the time came- other than wet nursing, there was no alternative. There was no infant formula or lactation consultants-just each other. The trend of successful breastfeeding from a strong peer support network, while not new, is now being actively encouraged, such as the trial being conducted by La Trobe University, where they are setting up new mums with a peer mum experienced in breastfeeding. The idea being that new mums can ring the more experienced mum for advice. I think it’s a fantastic idea and you can read more about it here.

I guess the message is, if you have breastfed and know a thing or two about it, the most valuable thing you can do with that knowledge is to share it. I bought a few books about breastfeeding and most are kind of intimidating to read. It’s a block of information, almost like someone delivering a speech and then not answering questions afterwards. Whereas reaching out to another mum, something as simple as “Hey, my baby wants to feed for like 3 hours in the evening- NON STOP!! Did that happen to you? Is it normal?” And hearing (or in my case, reading) that yes, it is, is so reassuring. Supportive mums groups, peer groups and online parenting forums are like a brains trust that we all should be able to access when it comes to breastfeeding.

I have heard so many stories of GPs being unsupportive of breastfeeding past the first few months, and experienced it myself when my own doctor shrugged off my supply issues, refused to prescribe motilium and told me to formula feed my 6 week old. I think the fact that Australian GPs receive little to no education in this area is also reflected in our low rates of full term breastfeeding. The World Health Organisation says:

“Breastfeeding is the normal way of providing young infants with the nutrients they need for healthy growth and development. Virtually all mothers can breastfeed, provided they have accurate information, and the support of their family, the health care system and society at large.

Colostrum, the yellowish, sticky breast milk produced at the end of pregnancy, is recommended by WHO as the perfect food for the newborn, and feeding should be initiated within the first hour after birth.

Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended up to 6 months of age, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond.”

And this is exactly what I told my doctor. If your GP is unsupportive, maybe direct them to this information. Hopefully it will spur them on to doing their own research and they might be more supportive of the next struggling mum to sit in their office.

If you know someone that is breastfeeding but haven’t done so yourself, you can still be supportive. You can not freak out if they feed in public or you can just tell them they are doing a great job. Every bit of support helps!

Human milk is the perfect food for babies, contains immunological benefits and is just generally awesome, makes children smarter, more attractive, gives a keener eye for real estate purchases and almost guarantees future instant scratch lotto ticket wins will always be above the purchase price of the ticket. Ok, maybe not all that. But it is easily digested, good for baby’s immune system and free! Breastfeeding is also instant comfort for most babies and that in itself is worth just as much as the nutritional benefits for me. It also has health benefits for mum, helping to protect against certain cancers and allegedly helping mums to shed their baby weight sooner (I’ll let you know when that one kicks in haha!) So if you’re hoping to breastfeed or struggling with some aspect of it- reach out. Ask another mum you know, ask your mum, ask your mums group, go to an ABA meeting, ask online- just ask, because the support is there and with breastfeeding, the support of your peers is invaluable.

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