I found breastfeeding really easy with my first child. She latched on from the minute she was born and continued to feed well until I finished feeding at seven months.
I thought Margot, my second baby, would feed just as well but this wasn’t the case. I came out of hospital feeling okay about feeding, but knew it wasn’t going well. Our first week at home was awful. My nipples became cracked and bled, Margot seemed like she was constantly hungry and my breasts were always full and I couldn’t understand why. I became very distressed, I cried a lot and doubted myself as a good mother. I couldn’t grasp the fact that I was able to feed one child, but not the next. I didn’t want to stop breastfeeding, as there is such a high expectation from society that “breast is best” and began to wonder if I had postnatal depression due to feeling like I was failing my daughter. I felt alone, frustrated, inconsolable and bitterly disappointed. It started to take over my life, as I was unable to focus on anything else.
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After a few weeks of struggling, I called a private lactation consultant and as luck would have it I was able to see her that afternoon. A lactation consultant is a health professional that holds an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) qualification. They work in hospitals, child health services or in a private practice and offer information, practical help and ongoing support to breastfeeding mothers. I went to my appointment with full breasts and a baby who hadn’t put on any weight. The consultant spent more than an hour with me during our first session. She looked for any ongoing tongue or lip ties as Margot had mild tongue-tie when she was born that had been addressed while we were still in hospital. She then watched me feed and could see that Margot wasn’t latching on properly, which was why she was constantly feeding and my nipples were getting sore and cracked.
She showed me a better position to feed in, which immediately felt better, and gave me some advice on how to get Margot to open her mouth wider. Then, she showed me some strategies to get Margot to latch on better and I felt by the end of the session we were on our way to success. Five days later I called for a second appointment as my nipples were still very sore and Margot was feeding all the time but still hadn’t gained any weight. I was terribly worried. My lactation consultant and I decided I needed to invest in a good breast pump and bottle-feed Margot with my expressed milk. I pumped four to five times a day to keep up with feeds and still put Margot on the breast at each feed hoping that she would finally “get it”. Expressing worked an absolute treat! A week later she was gaining weight rapidly and I was starting to feel sane.
I persisted with breastfeeds, but ended up giving her the expressed milk in a bottle. I wanted to continue with the breast milk as I had a lot and I didn’t mind pumping every few hours. Sometimes it was difficult as I own a homewares store and I’m usually there by myself, but I took my pump in with me and made it work. I also started to see a physiotherapist who gave me laser treatment for my cracked nipples. Laser treatment speeds up the recovery of the cracks and I found it really helped.
During this time I had a customer come into the store and she mentioned an osteopath helped with her baby’s breastfeeding. I decided to give it a go. The osteopath found Margot had a lot of tension and strain in her neck; the tension went up into her jaw and prevented her from opening her mouth widely. The tension and strain was probably due to Margot’s delivery as she was posterior but turned at the last minute. The osteopath worked on Margot to help relax and move the tension. Two sessions later I am down to one bottle of expressed milk a day and I am doing the rest of the feeds on the breast!
Society places a huge amount of pressure on women to breastfeed and when it doesn’t work it can make you feel helpless. I have spent more than $1000 on my breastfeeding struggle. I think it would such a great help if breastfeeding mothers had access to Medicare rebates for lactation consultants. The support I got both mentally and physically from my consultant was amazing, I would not be where I am today with breastfeeding without her. My lactation consultant was worth every cent but seeing her was expensive. I was reluctant to seek her out at first because each appointment cost $150. There was no rebate available from my private health insurance either. I was desperate so my husband and I found the money, but I have to wonder how many other struggling mums aren’t financially able to get help and have had to muddle through alone, or give up on breastfeeding altogether. Currently, Medicare rebates are not payable for services provided by International Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLC’s) unless the IBCLC is also an eligible midwife—a midwife with additional registration standards.
I think if the government is going to actively promote “breast is best” as a key strategy in preventative health care then perhaps they should do more to support mothers by offering a Medicare rebate for lactation consultants and pumps. Better breastfeeding rates have the potential to save the health budget millions of dollars, so some financial relief would be a solid investment for the future. There’s a petition at Change.org, drafted by Australian Lactation Consultant Jenny Lynn, asking that Medicare rebates be implemented for lactation consultants. I would encourage those who are interested to read the petition and consider signing and sharing it.