Breastfeeding Then and Us

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Breastfeeding with TineThe joyful and relatively guiltless pleasure of opshopping and the adventure it entails is something that my and I kids enjoy together. Last week in the local opshop we found a little wooden Thomas still in his box, a fire engine big enough to push around the floor on all fours, a faux fur bright red fluff coat for my daughter (she swears she will wear it) and a pile of books. Most had titles like ‘Puffa Goes to the Farm’, but one was entitled, ‘The Illustrated Family Doctor,’ and dates from 1935.

The latter volume, a medical advice manual for the home, is encased in a thick blue cover and contains an extensive entry on tuberculosis, nutritional advice that is largely focused on two main food groups, that of meat and that of ‘Farinaceous Food Stuffs’, or foods containing starches, and the advice to any kind of invalid that the taking of milk can only improve things. It also, somewhat ironically, contains a good deal of advice on breastfeeding.

‘The baby should be put to the breast some hours after its birth, and when the mother is sufficiently rested.’


My daughter was born four and a half years ago, after my epic eleven hour fight with Syntocinon, which drug had been attached to me for the sin of gestating for 42 weeks. There was no respite from the pain, the fanged thing gripped me constantly with no rest between peaks. The experience was one of fear, humiliation (my naked arse was waving in the doorway through which a parade of strangers seemed to pass all day) and utter powerlessness. My daughter was finally dragged from me via ventouse by a surprisingly kind doctor who cut me first, so when she was finally laid on my chest, tiny and thick with vernix, my joy and the wave of incomparable love was experienced with my feet still in stirrups and lying in a pool of my own gore.

Our midwife, keen to get home, to my surprise grasped my left breast in one hand and my new precious daughter’s head in the other. She brought the two together with what felt like a slap, and when my child latched on, ticked the box marked ‘breastfeeding initiated’ and went along home. It was, after all, an accredited ‘Baby Friendly Hospital’.

Thus was our breastfeeding journey begun, with a cymbal clash

For about the first three days the flow from the breast is somewhat scanty, and does not consist of proper milk but of a secretion known as colostrum. Suckling encourages the formation of milk, and the colostrum appears to assist in clearing the infant’s bowels.’

My tiny daughter (and the memory of the top of her head with its soft brown swirl radiating from a single point at the back sits warm and softheavy in my belly still) certainly got that bowel clearing colostrum. She attached, inexpertly but with great determination, frequency and enthusiasm. I kept her, naked but for a nappy, wrapped inside my dressing gown, propped up in the hospital bed for three nights. Thus we slept, walked about, and repelled even the thought that this might not be ok. No-one questioned us, except one nurse who insisted in the dayroom one night that she must be cold and should be dressed. The duckling yellow toobig suit she helped me put on her was removed upon arrival back at my room, skin contact resumed. Neither of us needed that thing in between us.

Until the milk is flowing the baby should therefore be put to the breast at intervals of 6 hours; if it is not content with this it may be pacified by giving it a teaspoonful of water sweetened with white or with milk sugar.

On the second and third nights my tiny already spirited person attached herself to my breasts with a frequency and vigour that brought the milk tingling in by day four. Her enthusiasm was not matched by correct latching technique, though, and the ends of my nipples were described as ‘grazed’, a euphemism, I felt, that in reality equated to ‘removed with a buzz saw’. She was getting as much blood as colostrum and the pain was … well, imaginably it hurt. But I was feeding her, myself, from my body, and the nurse who told me that blood was safe for her to ingest because milk is made from blood anyway, helped me to feel that it was safe to continue.

‘Thereafter between 6am and 10pm it should be fed at 4-hour intervals, receiving, that is to say, five feeds in the 24 hours… The feed should last as long as the baby is actually taking milk but no longer; this will be about twenty minutes as a rule.’

My daughter didn’t sleep. That is, she catnapped. Her idea of sleep was a series of 20 minute to half an hour naps that continued through the night. At each waking she rubbed her wee face about on my chest until she found her loves, the breasts, and attached with satisfaction and relief. She fed to sleep, and back to sleep, constantly, day and night. Any attempt to take her off and correct her attachment, such as that strongly advised by the domiciliary midwife who visited us upon our return home, was met by a desperate, horrified struggle, her body arching with passion, her entire being shot through with the desperation of her need to get back on to her lifeline. My attempts made it worse, she just attached more quickly and desperately and inexpertly, so I simply let it be.

‘Whichever timetable is adopted it should be punctually adhered to.’

My baby fed through the night. She slept on my chest, boobs at the ready, nipples healing and turning into the elastic, strong useful things they have been ever since. She fed through the day, not letting go of her safety zone, her physical connection with the body she had been forced from too soon, for longer than it took to sleep for a space of twenty minutes. By day I carried her, in my arms or in one of a variety of slings and soft carriers that I tried out. I became adept at doing what I needed to with one arm and a supporting hand.

When she was 7 days old I rang the Australian Breastfeeding Association helpline, asking if this constant breastfeeding was normal. ‘Well,’ the kind woman who answered hedged’, very frequent breastfeeding can happen for a number of reasons.’ None of them seemed to match us, my daughter was simply anxious about the ongoing presence of her comforting breast and felt safe there. So I decided that she would back off when she was ready, when she had got whatever it was she needed from this, and simply went along with it. The payoff for me was the warmth, this concentrated love attached to me, pumping me full of her light where to buy lipitor in singapore and sheer new goodness as I filled her with warm milk.

If it appears that the supply of milk is inadequate the mother should supplement her diet by extra milk, eggs or meat. If the breast milk still appears to be insufficient the baby should get a bottle feed of milk and water proportioned to its age alternately with, and in place of, a breast feed.

It was hard to know whether my milk supply was adequate. The constant sucking hoovered it out as soon as it arrived, and I assumed that she was fed as she was tiny but thriving. Comments on my child generally took one of two shapes, ‘Ooh, isn’t she a wee dot!’ or ‘Ooh, she’s so alert!’ For she had come into the world looking around, and has never stopped.

At 6 weeks I visited our Chinese Herbal Gynecologist with her, and was given herbs to boost my supply. This they did, and later, at 8 months, I took a goodly dose of the herb fenugreek over several days, which brought forth veritable fountains. At that point I wished I had taken it earlier, as I felt, my breastfeeding time was surely in its autumn. I did not know until long after the birth that the use of artificial oxytocin (Syntocinon in Australia, Pitocin overseas) to induce birth can cause oxytocin receptors in the body to become blocked. Oxytocin along with prolactin is a prime mover in the milk production business, so this can interfere with supply as well as bonding (oxytocin is commonly dubbed ‘the hormone of love’).

‘Artificial feeding may become necessary, although it has its drawbacks.’

 When my tiny thriving dot of a daughter was four months old we visited the Child and Maternal Health Nurse for the last time. After weighing her, the nurse said in a skeptical tone, ‘well, I guess you’re doing the best you can…’ this of course left me feeling that I was starving my child. My thriving, strong vigorous child who walked at 10 moths and had thirty plus words that she strung together in short phrases at one year old.

‘When the baby is nine months old it should be gradually weaned, though this should be delayed if the weather is hot or if the baby is indisposed from teething or otherwise. To begin with, he gets a meal of arrowroot, ground rice or barley jelly with milk; then oat-flour rusks, breadcrumb and gravy, bread and milk, veal, chicken or mutton broth from which the fat has been strained…’

My daughter, my first child, my mother-maker, is now four and a half amazing years old and had her last (I think, though it may not prove to be so) breastfeeding about two months ago. She fed through nine pregnant months with my son in between us. After a birth at home, that was as different an experience from my hospital birth to seem like an other thing entirely, my son sniffed his way to my breast at 45 minutes old, naked against my chest, and latched on for the first time. There was no pain, simply feeding my baby. He slept snuggled firmly into my belly, snoozing for several blissful hours at a time before waking to feed back to sleep. Milk followed colostrums on the second day post partum, and my daughter joined us for a tandem feeding adventure after the first few days.

In his first year I fed four children, two to whom we donated pumped milk, and my son and his sister.


>The adventure continues<


The advice on breastfeeding that is quoted from ‘The Illustrated Family Doctor’ is useful only in the sense that it clarifies what informs the advice still dispensed by many grandmothers and mothers of mothers as well as some well meaning but ill informed medical professionals. It is very definitely not what is recommended now for a successful breastfeeding relationship. Scheduled breastfeeding does not produce frequent enough nipple stimulation to get a good milk supply going. Skin to skin contact stimulates oxytocin and promotes both mother – baby bonding and successful breastfeeding. Breastfeeding Colostrum has been found to be vital for newborns, containing a raft or gut flora and other components for general health and immunity. Babies should have free access to the breast when they signal a need for it in order to get enough colostrum and to stimulate good milk production. The links below outline what is considered based on research, to be good breastfeeding practice now.

It should be said, though, that each breastfeeding relationship and journey for each mother and baby is utterly unique.

  • The Australian Breastfeeding Association has a wealth of research and experience based information on breastfeeding, as well as providing advocacy and support for breastfeeding mothers. Their website is
  • Out of Australia, the La Leche League performs the same function;
  • And I found this such a lovely breastfeeding article that I have to share!
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