The Quest for Breast

When I discovered an Australian Breastfeeding Association counsellor described formula as ‘a little bit like AIDS‘ to a class of impending parents, my first reaction was not one of surprise.

Australia has a very high breastfeeding initiation rate of 92%, a rate comparable with other OECD countries.  But with rates dropping to 14% at six months there is the occasional impression that some breastfeeding advocates are on an ‘educate at all costs’ mission.

The Australian National Breastfeeding Strategy 2010 – 2015 sees the Australian government ‘working with communities to protect, promote, support and monitor breastfeeding in Australia’.  Addressing key issues such as workplace flexibility, education, cultural and environmental factors the main objective is to rectify this drop off of percentage at six months.

My own trials with breastfeeding two children unearthed a number of failings in the system.  One of the strategy’s goals during the immediate post-natal period (birth to 4 days) is to ‘improve the consistency of breastfeeding advice provided by health professionals’.

My first experience with breastfeeding involved bruising after a midwife attempted to milk my colostrum like I was some sort of farmyard animal.  The use of nipple shields was equal parts criticised and commended (I successfully used them both times).  Frustrated lactation consultants denounced the shape of my nipples as they would try to teach me attachment methods via confusing analogies like “around the barn and over the fence”.

The second time around involved smuggling in contraband like nipple shields and breast pumps.  I frequently had to justify their use and despite sounding like I came more prepared, I was yet again left bamboozled with conflicting opinions.  Where one nurse praised my progress, another made a different set of assumptions based on a newborn not sleeping through the night – informing me that “unfortunately some women just don’t produce enough milk”.  Some babies also take two weeks to get their night and days sorted out.  Something my child did before managing to breastfeed for 13 months.

Growth charts are another issue addressed in the strategy.  Debate surrounds the rigidity of the charts and its inability to take into account the differences in weight gain between a breastfed and formula fed baby.  My son sat in the lower percentile for weight gain and I was frequently told I might need to top up with formula.  I ate fenugreek seeds and pumped milk like a mad woman.  Or cow.  I sold that pump on Ebay last month despite wanting to perform a sacrificial burning in the backyard.

I appreciate that there are many wonderful midwives and maternal health nurses in Australia.  I found one that I had a great rapport with until she was forced to move onto another centre as part of my municipality’s current structure.  Given that continuity of care was another issue addressed in the strategy, I query what local councils are attempting to gain by regularly moving health care professionals around.

My own personal experience has led me to question whether I successfully breastfed despite the system, not because of it.  While it’s commendable that we have the levels of support and education that we do, what does it say when research suggests that new mother’s often refer to other mothers as a preferred resource?

For any new mother who ever questions her choices, or is let down by conflicting advice I implore you to find someone who listens and supports you.  Who absolutely knows where you are coming from, whatever your choices are.  If you don’t want to breastfeed, stand your ground.  If you do, know that it is legal to breastfeed in public in every state and territory of Australia and that most states have specific laws against discriminating breastfeeding mothers. Know that there are failings in the system and that you can overcome it.  Even despite of it.


Do any of these issues sound familiar to you?  What parts of our system worked or didn’t work?


  1. Guest says

    Great blog! I am not a Mum. I am disgusted at the way that some nurses treat new Mums. I thought it was Mums choice weather to Breastfeed. And to be bruised? Horrific.
    If we decide to become parents, I hope that I am not bullied into Breastfeeding if it isn’t working. I’d love to give it a shot – but if it isn’t working I don’t wanted to be treated like an outcast.

  2. Krystle Sky says

    Fabulous post! I completely understand where you are coming from. I felt on the defensive when justifying using a dummy. But I did it with both and will do it with future babies. I also mix fed after a period of exclusive breastfeeding. I think mix feeding lead to me feeding for longer, so as far as I’m concerned it was a good choice for me. However I have had the tut tutting from child nurses and felt like I failed despite ‘knowing’ the choice was right for me. Breastfeeding is hard enough without receiving conflicting advice and judgements. Sadly I don’t think these are things that are likely to change anytime soon.

  3. says

    I could write an essay on this! I have a similar pic and yes I kept my nipple shield as a middle finger to the system – its tucked away in a special box with the umbilical cord clip and the name tags. I was discharged after 24 hours with my girl, bleeding nipples, no clue what the hell I was doing but I had a lovely midwife who popped in every day for a week and encouraged me to keep trying and to keep crying. I think my daughter drank a mix of milk and my tears for the first few weeks. With my second child, 5 years later, I knew that I would have problems and I was prepared. The midwife who was with me for his delivery wrote on my notes about previous BF problems and by the time I was settled in my room a lovely lactation consultant appeared at the door with a kind smile and a new nipple shield ‘just in case’. It was like my insurance policy. I didnt feed my boy for as long as I wanted to, at 4 months I got hassled by the GP for his low weight but as a healthy but short 2 year old I just should have realised that he was going to be a little man not a big boombah. I haven’t weighed into the ABA debate as its on every parenting site today, I like how you’ve mentioned it without jumping up and down. Every organisation has its out there people. the ABA seem to have dealt with it swiftly. x

  4. Lea says

    Excellent post Carli…..I had very similar experiences to you by the sounds of it (and I too want to now sell my Pump on Ebay but I can’t even face looking at it at the moment!). The ABA should be held to account for frightening parents with propoganda such as this AIDS comment, it’s disgraceful. New parents are vulnerable enough without being told this kind of rubbish. It’s very disturbing.

    • says

      I wasn’t too impressed with their response that the comments were “inappropriate in this situation” either. Are they ever appropriate?!

  5. says

    Your image for this post made me laugh out loud… all too true!
    I had a similiar experience and in the space of 48 hours was given advice from 6 different nurses ranging from – you are doing great to having one pushy, bitter nurse force me to feed and standover me for the next 30 minutes criticising my every move.
    Thankfully my own mum was the most patient, helpful, non judgemental support I could of asked for. Surprisingly once I got my confidence back my feeding improved.
    Your advice is spot on. It is so important to find the right person you can trust who will support but not judge or criticise, even if this person isn’t a professional. Honestly how anybody can claim to be better or be a professional in this area is mind boggling. We are all so unique and approch things in our own way that works for us that I don’t think there should ever be one set of rules.

    • says

      I spent an entire afternoon with the head of the nursing department, who commended me on my progress – only to have two separate nurses come in during the night and f&*k with my head. And that was the second time around! It makes me so irate that when women are at their most vulnerable this sort of stuff continues to happen.

  6. says

    What a fantastic post! Love, love, love it. I’m currently breastfeeding my 3rd baby and I’ve learnt to ignore everyone and just go with it. ”
    The use of nipple shields was equal parts criticised and commended” – so true! And the growth charts – they need to be burned. I have such a love/hate relationship with my breast pump. It affords me the occasional dinner with friends but at the same time it’s a horrible chore tied to memories of pumping night and day to ‘increase weight gain’.
    Love your work x

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