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Monday, 20 October 2014

Dear Tizzie: From one mother to another on breastmilk supply – you are enough

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Dear Tizzie,

I came across your post on Facebook today about starting your wee babe on solids. They grow up fast, don’t they?!

You shared your concerns:
'I was worried about starting CiarĂ¡n on solids, I didn't know how I was going to fit it in to our already full day. But ... I feel like a weight was lifted off my shoulders now he is getting food from somewhere else other than me, I don't have to be as worried about how much he is getting and was it a good feed, did you feel this relief?'
As many of your fans commented, it is reassuring for your readers to know that you suffer the same insecurities as them: How will I find the time in my busy day? Is my baby getting enough milk from me? Is my milk ‘good’ enough? Am I enough for my baby?

It’s okay to feel this way! After 200 years of aggressive artificial baby milk marketing, breastfeeding knowledge and confidence is at an all time low. That’s sad, huh?

But the good news is, many mums find relief from these common worries by being reassured about how their milk supply works.

Essentially, breastmilk supply works like this: milk removal causes milk production.

Pretty straight forward, right? The baby sucking at the breast stimulates nerve endings in the nipple, which causes a surge of milk-making hormones in the mother’s body. These hormones, combined with the removal of milk from mother’s breast, give the body a clear message: make milk for our baby!

Breastmilk contains, amongst that huge host of great stuff, a protein called Feedback Inhibitor of Lactation (FIL). Sounds fancy, but it’s really just a chemical that, when left sitting in the breasts, tells the body to halt milk production for now. Because if the body kept making milk while there was lots of milk still sitting in the breast, the woman would end up with mastitis, you see. A woman’s body is very clever like that! So when breastmilk is removed, the volume of this FIL protein is lowered, and the body is free to make milky abundance.

Babies need to go to the breast for many reasons: sometimes they’re thirsty and they will have a quick drink, sometimes they’re hungry and they will take a longer feed, sometimes they’re uncomfortable or unhappy and need the comfort sucking at mama’s warm breast can provide.

Humans evolved for our bodies and our babies to match perfectly. A baby is driven by instinct to control his mama’s milk supply by signalling for the breast when he needs it: some babies will need to suck frequently (almost around the clock!) and others a little more infrequently, or at uneven times throughout the day. But you can relax—all babies eventually fall into their own pattern and daily rhythms as they grow older.

So, the more milk removed, and the more frequently the baby suckles, the more milk mama’s body will make. It really is that simple!

Another reassuring fact to remember is this: breastmilk is a constant secretion. Like blood, it is something our bodies produce constantly. So the breast is never truly ‘empty’. Provided baby goes to the breast when baby needs, you cannot ‘run out’ of milk.

So how do we know if our baby is getting ‘enough’ from us? We live in a culture of fear that a crying baby, or a baby who wakes frequently or needs help getting to sleep, is a baby lacking milk. This simply isn’t true. (Again, you can blame the formula manufacturers and 19th century doctors for this myth.)

The signs of a well-fed baby are: lots of wet, clear nappies (a sign of good hydration), the occasional soft poo (breastmilk is a natural laxative—a well-breastfed baby will never be constipated!), good skin tone and bright eyes, crying with energy and gusto (a dehydrated or malnourished baby will have a weak, high-pitched cry or may not have the strength to cry at all), and a baby who has some content periods and communicates well for the breast. And finally, a baby should be expected to grow in length and head circumference, and gain some weight, over the space of a month.*

The use of dummies, 'top-up' bottles of formula or EBM, or scheduling feeds can all negatively affect a breastfeeding relationship by stopping the baby from directing mama's milk supply as he needs. So it's best to just toss any of those things away, okay?

Now, let’s talk a little about the ‘right’ age to introduce solids. Indeed, there’s a bit of conflicting advice about, isn’t there? After all, there’s a lot of money to be made in convincing parents their baby needs food! ($117.7 million in Australia alone in 2012) But rest assured, despite the occasional junk-science study saying otherwise, the World Health Organization still recommends exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months.

Now of course, this isn’t a fixed-to-the-day date that will suit every baby. All babies are different, and some might display readiness for solids earlier than 6 months, and others much later. (Neither of my children were much interested in solid foods until they were about 12 months old!)

Back in the days before parenting ‘experts’, human babies began eating solid foods when they showed they were ready: sitting up, able to bring their hand to their mouth purposefully, and when their tongue-thrust reflex was gone. The tongue-thrust reflex is that pesky reaction that causes baby to spit rice cereal back at you, no matter how much you spoon it in! It’s a survival response that nature designed to stop baby from choking before they were able to chew. In other words, until they have the readiness to chew, push food to the back of their throat and swallow it, their tongue will reflexively poke it all back out.

All of these things demonstrate a gastrointestinal readiness for foods other than breastmilk. Again, for parents, it comes down to watching your baby. Most parents I know understood their babies were ready for solid foods when the baby kept stealing their dinner from their plate!

A healthy baby with free and unrestricted access to the breast will, in almost all cases, do just fine. Rare instances where breastmilk supply may be compromised by physiological conditions include mastectomy or some breast surgeries, rarely in cases of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), or insufficient glandular tissue (Hypoplasia or IGT). Now, granted, I don’t know you personally so perhaps one of these rare cases apply. Even if that is the case, there are ways to ensure baby gets a good supply of human milk.

I hope this information—things women have known inherently for all of human existence—helps you feel more confident.

Lots of love,

Kim xo
Cert IV Breastfeeding Education (Counselling) | Mother of two | Breastfed for 7 years

*It goes without saying: if in doubt, get it checked out. See a good doctor.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

The Sleep Doctor isn't alone

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Earlier this week, the now-controversial Australian GP Brian Symon, aka ‘The Baby Sleep Doctor’ was removed as a speaker from Melbourne’s Pregnancy, Baby and Children’s Expo following an onslaught of concerned parents, professionals and public approaching the Expo.

Alarm arose over Dr Symon’s appearance at the PBC Expo after a story was aired in The Daily Telegraph on 11 October 2014. In the article, that has since been removed from the site, Symon’s advice to parents of healthy, well-fed children over than six months was quoted as:
‘The steps start with the child having dinner at about 5.30pm, followed by a bath and being in bed about 7pm. They are then read a story and given positive reinforcement before the light is turned off and the bedroom door is closed … As hard as it is, do not re-enter the room until 7am the next day—unless you fear the baby is unwell … The child will cry but do not enter the room. If your baby cries for three hours and you eventually go to them they will know their reward—you—will be given to them if they cry for long periods.’
Several parents then went on to detail their experiences using Dr Symon’s advice, and their accounts included hours of babies screaming and crying, vomiting, and even one parent having to hold the door closed whilst the child threw objects at the door.

While the discussions that are now taking place regarding Dr Symon and his techniques are important, what isn’t being said is how entirely unoriginal his advice actually is. Although one recent unfortunate-for-him article has seen him receive backlash, Brian Symon is far from the first person to spread this kind of advice, and nor is he alone.

‘It is with great pleasure I see at last the preservation of children become the care of men of sense,’ wrote Dr William Cadogan, British physician in his essay An Essay Upon Nursing and the Management of Children in 1748 ‘…this business has been too long fatally left to the management of women, who cannot be supposed to have proper knowledge to fit them for such a task.’

Although Cadogan was a proponent of exclusive breastfeeding, he warned against ‘overfeeding’ for fear of diarrhoea, and therefore advocated only four-hourly feeding and forbade feeding at night.(1)

Gabrielle Palmer, author of the bestselling The Politics of Breastfeeding, writes, ‘Cadogan pioneered a dynasty of well-intentioned but dogmatic men whose ideas influence ... to this day. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, Doctors Budin, Cooney, Pritchard, Truby King and many more strove with amazing energy and zeal to manage infant feeding the way they thought best. Somehow they ignored, or were frustrated by, the fact that women’s bodies had their own way of working.’

From these early pioneers of rigid schedules and routines, we have evolved over two centuries into an industry that today gives us so-called ‘baby whisperers’ and ‘sleep experts’ that includes Dr Brian Symon with authors such as Tizzie Hall, Gina Ford, Elizabeth Sloane, Tracy Hogg, Jo Tantum and many others.

So whilst children enduring Symon's advice are locked in rooms uncomforted, Tizzie Hall has often been quoted as advising of babies vomiting for "attention"; Elizabeth Sloane forbids eye contact and instead utilises loud knocking on the door as comfort; Gina Ford reckons women should just 'grin and bear it' in more ways than one.

And to be honest, between Cadogan's 4-hourly feeds and nothing overnight, to Tizzie Hall's 3-hourly feeds and only 1-2 feeds overnight (2), have we really come very far?

As society becomes increasingly wary of the risks involved with sleep training such as cry-it-out and controlled crying, those making huge whacks of money from this advice distance themselves from the concern by arguing semantics, claiming their techniques don’t use those methods.
"I'm not a fan of controlled crying, and for most people that term conjures up horrible upsetting images of screaming babies being left in their room for hours. I call my program 'controlled comforting' ... I think the longest I ever ask parents to stay outside the nursery is maybe 10 minutes." Elizabeth Sloane
‘I do not recommend controlled crying, as walking in and out of the room will only tease your baby. It will make him emotional and he will continue to sob after falling asleep. Rather than this ‘cry yourself to sleep’ method, I recommend the ‘laying down approach.’ Tizzie Hall
‘Nowhere in Gina's book or on this website does she say that controlled crying should be used with young babies of three weeks old. She advises that as a last resort controlled crying could be used with older babies…’ Gina Ford
And so, whilst researchers, physicians, psychologists and a host of neuro-specialists increasingly share the science behind why sleep training being a bad idea (hint: learned helplessness), those who stand to make money (a lot of money) selling this advice label their techniques something else and counter claim their own science to convince parents that their particular brand of advice is gold:
Brian Symon's Facebook page
Now, we could all sit around and argue science all day. I don't doubt that there is evidence that suggests sleep training 'works' in achieving a baby who sleeps with minimal (or no) parental involvement, because if any animal is denied something for long enough they will eventually cease signalling for it. Furthermore, with a baby who appears outwardly 'fine' and who sleeps more according to the biologically-warped views of social expectation a parent is more likely to report feeling more confident, of having improved mental health outcomes.

But at what cost?

And more to the point—why has the simple fact of being biologically human become a topic for which we need scientific approval?
Robin Grille, Australian psychologist and author says, ‘Does it not seem a little eerie that we treat this as an issue of “science”? … do we need a laboratory report to tell us it is OK to respond to a child? What else? Do we wait for test results to confirm that we need a hug? Do we argue the statistical significance of our need to breathe clean air? Do we need to cite medical journals to endorse our urge to eat?’

Before I became a mother, my perceptions on infant care were that of dominant culture: don’t worry if/when breastfeeding doesn’t work, quickly establish routine and independent sleep habits, and don’t let the baby change you.

And then, I had a baby of my own. While my entire body cried out to hold her, to be with her, society told me that she was being 'spoiled', that she was not a 'good baby' simply because she cried. And suddenly, the child in me who’d been left to cry-it-out as a baby, who’d always apparently been ‘fine’, actually wasn’t fine. I wasn’t fine at all.

And nor are the 1 in 5 adults at any one time suffering metal illness—nor the almost 100 per cent of adults who will in their lifetime suffer mental illness. Take a look at the nightly news, or your social media feed, or the newspaper headlines—violence, intolerance, hatred, disconnect, fear—to see just how ‘fine’ we as a society we really are.

It wasn’t science or studies or peer-reviewed double-blind randomised controlled trials that convinced me to hug my baby, it was the warm voice of another mother, another woman, comforting me to do so and validating how I felt.

The quiet power of positive voices is a heartening triumph. That a group of concerned individuals can murmur, ‘hey, this isn’t right’ and have their voices heard is a wonderful thing for parents and their children, and for us as a society.

Because this advice is still so widespread, we need to keep being that voice. Keep being that source of comfort in a sea of disconnect that says, ‘of course it’s okay to hold your baby.’

So, in the words of Peggy O’Mara, “Don't stand unmoving outside the door of a crying baby whose only desire is to touch you. Go to your baby. Go to your baby a million times. Demonstrate that people can be trusted, that the environment can be trusted, that we live in a benign universe.”

1) Palmer, Gabrielle. The Politics of Breastfeeding: How Breasts are Bad for Business Pg 23-24. (Pinter & Martin, 2009)
2) Hall, Tizzie. Routine Breastfed Baby Aged 1-2 Weeks (2008)

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

How breasts are destroying the world

You know how that pesky World Health Organization keeps recommending six months of exclusive breastfeeding for all human infants?
Well, they’re WRONG ALL WRONG some people suggest from time to time.
Because here’s the thing about breastfeeding.
It’s MEAN.
Breastfeeding, especially for those loooooong eight weeks between four and six months, selfishly denies profits to hard-working companies that have, for about a teensy century in the half-millennia of human existence, strived tirelessly towards mind-numbing profit to save us from our utterly flawed women’s bodies.
For instance, infant formula sales in 2009 in Australia alone equalled a mere $132.8 million.  Pffft.  Wet baby food came in at a pitiful $117.7 million in 2012. Imagine if that extra 15 whole per cent of babies selfishly hoarded by razor-wire fences of exclusive breastfeeding between four and six months were released into the loving, well-meaning arms of that market of artificial baby milk and jars of cutesy-labelled mush.
Won’t somebody think of the infant food industry?
Breastfeeding, when it is discussed in the media as though this perfectly unremarkable bodily function is worthy of public debate, causes furore: An up-swelling of hurt adult feels, as though adults are incapable of handling the sometimes confronting feelings of regret or grief or frustration.
Imagine if all kinds of accusations of ‘mummy bashing’ weren’t tossed around, ‘correlation does not equal causation’ was to dissolve from public rhetoric and the trump card of ‘this is just making me feel guilty’ could be quietly picked up and slipped back in one’s pocket for another time.
Won’t somebody think of the adult feels?
Breastfeeding, especially when taking place in public, erodes eyeballs like laser beams and causes crippling offense to delicate 1950s’ sensibilities. Moreover, it confuzzles the menz who believe breasts are THEIRS ALL THEIRS for the sexing.
Breastfeeding might mean that a partner might find his or her sexual playthings altered in availability or function for a while.  Imagine if this didn’t happen? Imagine if breasts were released from the manipulative clutches of infants and returned to their rightful place as sex things?
Won’t somebody think of the eyeballs? And the sexing?
I mean, imagine if incidences of obesity, diabetes and cancers—the world’s biggest killers, projected to bankrupt the globe’s health care systems by 2030 at a cost of USD 47 trillion—could be reduced by one simple life change?
Wouldn’t that be ludicrous?
Imagine if about 800,000 infants weren't dying annually from insufficient breastfeeding? Imagine if, in Australia alone, $60 million–120 million could be saved each year in hospital treatments?
Imagine if incidences of mental illness and attachment disorder could be reduced, so perhaps one in five adults wouldn’t be suffering anxiety and depression right now. Imagine if incidences of learned helplessness and shutdown responses could be reduced. Imagine if children as young as four weren’t being diagnosed with mental illness. Imagine if suicide wasn’t one of the biggest causes of maternal death.
Wouldn’t that be awful?
Damn you, boobs. You don’t make anyone any money when you do what you’re designed to do. How unthinkable.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Invisible woman gives birth: News media deems this unremarkable

So, a baby was born. Actually, according to the NewsOn6 report, a grandfather “delivered” a baby in an Oklahoma service station car park. 

Firstly, I want to extend my warmest congratulations to this new mother and her family. The birth of a baby is a precious and often ineffable time for a woman and her intimate family and I wish for them all the joy in the world.

Reading this article, however, one could be forgiven for thinking the woman to which I extend these wishes actually doesn’t exist. In fact, she’s so poignantly absent from the story I can’t help but wonder if she was deliberately excluded for some reason.

In this retelling of one woman amongst a global 360,000 on any given day expelling a baby from her body, there is not one mention of her. Nothing. Not even an obligatory pronoun. Granted, the article is only 150 words, but surely one or two could be spared to acknowledge the owner of the uterus that pushed the baby out?
 "... as they crossed the river he pulled into a gas station parking lot and started to deliver.“OK, I've watched National Geographic, I can do this,” Rocky said.Sure enough he did; that night he and all the rest welcomed London Faith Anderson into the world."
It would seem what is desirous of clicks in this story is a man undertaking some ostensibly heroic event. And bravo to him, I'm sure he's a nice man. And certainly, this isn’t the first time such an oddly-slanted birth story has aired. (Janet Fraser does a much better job here than I ever could of highlighting the news media phenomenon of the invisible birthing woman.)

Although it's an area where women should surely be most notable (you know, uterus ownership and all that) invisible women isn’t a concept unique only to birth. One needn't search hard to find examples of the gross underrepresentation of women where equal gender representation should be reasonable. Australia's current Federal Cabinet, for instance, containing one woman and 18 men. Or news stories such as British-based international and human rights lawyer Amal Alamuddin relegated to a qualification of "engaged to George Clooney" in a news story where her male colleagues were afforded relevant descriptions of their legal qualifications. And hands up who else's parents-in-law still insist on sending joint correspondence addressed to ‘Mr and Mrs [His initial] [His surname]’? (It would seem I've disappeared so completely that I no longer even warrant a first initial of my own, let alone the fact that my name hasn't changed since birth. But don't get me started.)

This daily, entrenched, universal invisibility of women sends a subliminal yet powerful message to society: Women aren’t people. Women aren’t worthy of the treatment people should expect and deserve.

And it is precisely because of this woman-as-invisible-object acceptance that one in five women have experienced some form of sexual violence, that obstetric violence is so prevalent, that courts can overrule an autonomous adult woman in favour of a foetus. It’s why the cognitive dissonance of a woman making an independent, seemingly unconventional choice causes such public anger. (I won't link, but just look for any opinion articles about homebirth.) It’s why the Steubenville rapists futures were lamented, instead of their actions condemned. It’s why when rapists rape, we ask what she was wearing.

And so, to return to my original point. I want to acknowledge the woman who was neglected in this news story, so I’ve rewritten the story for her: 
Muskogee Woman Births Daughter In Gas Station Parking Lot
MUSKOGEE, Oklahoma—Grandparents love to tell stories about their grandchildren, but one Muskogee family has one they'll be telling for a long time.(Woman's name) birthed her daughter in a gas station parking lot, with her baby's grandfather, Rocky, alongside her.It all started when (Woman) cried, “It's time,” awakening her family. She laboured while her family took a few minutes to get ready, but they eventually made it on the turnpike heading for Tulsa.“We just rounded the big curve, I can see the McDonald's up ahead,” Rocky said, and then (Woman) knew her baby was on the way, and told him so.As they crossed the river, the driver pulled into a gas station parking lot and (Woman) pushed out her baby, with Rocky offering a joking kind of support.“OK, I've watched National Geographic, I can do this,” Rocky said.But he didn't need to, because (Woman) was clearly perfectly capable; that night she and her family welcomed London Faith Anderson into the world.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Abortion reduces crime, expert* says

There's a link between abortions and breast cancer, Cabinet minister Eric Abetz and Leader of the Government in the Senate reminded us during a television interview on Thursday night. **
"I think the studies, and I think they date back from the 1950s, assert that there is a link between abortion and breast cancer." – Senator Abetz, 7 August 2014, Channel 10.
Now, I'm no scientist, but the tremulous "link" to which Mr Abetz refers ostensibly goes a little something like this: In early pregnancy, new breast tissue grows to prepare for lactation. If an abortion is performed, that breast growth then stalls, leaving immature cells in the breast to pose a greater risk of developing into cancerous tissue.

Granted I'm only using my lady-brain to analyse the above-mentioned theory, but that "link" seems to me to have the strength and structural integrity of an over-ripe banana.

Abortions are linked to breast cancer, in the same way these bananas make good bridge pillars

However, if an Australian Government cabinet minister deems that argument valid enough to warrant mentioning on national television, I posit that similar logic can be effectively utilised to reassure Senator Abetz—and some of his concerned colleagues (MP Geoff Shaw, who fears for our tummy eggs, our beloved*** Prime Minister Abbott, who believes abortion is merely an "easy" solution to an "awkward situation")—of the social and economical benefits of abortion.

Abetz logic: Abortion benefit 1: Reduction in crime
Although the tens of thousands of abortions performed in Australia annually are done so for a myriad of complicated and individually personal reasons, Abetz's logic allows the hypothesis that an unwanted pregnancy leads to an unwanted child and therefore a lack of secure attachment between parent and child. The resultant attachment disorder could be a precursor to antisocial behaviour. Therefore, abortion leads to a decrease in antisocial behaviour—and a reduction in crime.

Abetz logic: Abortion benefit 2: Increase in workforce productivity
Abortion offers the opportunity to control population over-inflation, thusly controlling public transport over-crowding. Commuters who have spent their 45-minute train ride on a seat, as opposed to up a fellow commuter's arm pit, are more likely to arrive at work rested and satisfied, thusly increasing their daily workplace productivity.

Abetz logic: Abortion benefit 3: Reduction in salmonella poisoning
There is an estimated five million cases of food poisoning in Australia each year. (Source). Abortion prevents the possibility of these babies growing into adults who might work in a kebab van.

But the list doesn't stop there. Really, by the extension of Abetz logic, the benefits of abortion are infinite. Because if we abort all the babies, there'd be no humans to create war. And no war means world peace, right?****

*The expert is me. Because uterus ownership.

**Mr Abetz has, since the now infamous interview, denied claims that he endorses the abortion-breast cancer link.  But the point is—as a senior government minister, why is he quoting antiquated studies from the 1950's at all? Shouldn't he know better?

*** <sarcasm>

****Yes, this post is mostly satire. Mostly. Unfortunately the parts about senior cabinet ministers saying dumb things on national TV, 'tummy eggs' and Tony Abbott being our Prime Minister are entirely factual.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Breastfeeding: Can’t or won’t? It should be up to her

I read a thoughtful and honest article on Essential Baby today, from a writer sharing her painful experience with breastfeeding.

On this blog, I’ve written predominantly about breastfeeding from a positive perspective: the how and the why and the what’s-so-awesome. I’ve written like this because as a breastfeeding counsellor, the most overwhelmingly common phrase women come to me with is, ‘I’m having XYZ problem – please help me keep breastfeeding.’

But what about when women don’t want to breastfeed?

In her article, 'I stopped Breastfeeding because it felt awful', Amy Gray writes:

'I feared judgement from others and quickly learnt to tell people I couldn't, instead of wouldn'tfeed. I’d tell them I just didn't have the fuel in my breasts to make milk ... It was easier to tell these people “I can’t” instead of “I won't'"
I think this is an incredibly important point. There is a huge distinction between can’t and won’t. The most commonly cited reason for early weaning is, “I couldn’t.” This isn’t technically accurate—most women are biologically capable of breastfeeding. And when I hear women’s experiences and stories (and as Gray astutely points out in her article: There will always be armchair experts who will softly cluck they could have saved someone with their wisdom...) often the reason is more accurately, ‘I didn’t want to.’

There's two reasons why I believe it's important to differentiate between 'can't' and 'won't' when it comes to not breastfeeding. Firstly, because saying "I couldn't" when technically one could perpetuates common myths about why breastfeeding doesn't work, potentially at the detriment of other women (who might really, really want to breastfeed, but falsely believe they 'can't'.) And secondly, because women should have an unconditional right to dictate what they do and don't do with their own bodies. And a woman who chooses not to breastfeed, for whatever reason, should feel supported to own that choice.

But of course, we live in a culture where women are damned if we do, and damned if we don't.

A woman’s choice not to breastfeed doesn’t happen in a vacuum. And women choose not to breastfeed for a myriad of complicated and deeply personal reasons.

Anyone who’s ever breastfed, or is close to anyone who has, would be aware that in our culture, we perpetuate two main messages about breastfeeding:
1)   Breastfeeding is best
2)   Breastfeeding is hard.

And surrounding these two conflicting messages are a vast and complicated web of other, equally conflicting and emotionally nuanced messages: ‘Feed like this, feed like that. Baby should behave like this, baby should behave like that. Feeds should be X long, at X intervals. No, feeds should be XYZ long, at XYZ intervals. Baby should gain X amount of weight, at X days/weeks/months. Don’t feel guilty, don’t judge, don’t neglect your husband, don’t do it in public, and whatever you do, remember that all good mothers breastfeed.’

Just as a woman’s body is policed in day-to-day life (size, shape, hair, and countless more) and in pregnancy (what foods to eat, what tests to have, what not to do) and in birth (time limits, cervical dilation progress, interventions) so too is a woman policed in breastfeeding.

In our culture, breasts are seen primarily as sexual objects, as play-things for men. A significant proportion of women suffer sexual abuse in their lifetime. For most women (myself included), a baby’s sudden and intense longing for her breasts is incredibly confronting – when for all of her post-pubescent life, her breasts have been mostly tucked away as little more than a fashion accessory. We rarely grow up around, or see in every day life, breastfeeding women. 

With the burden of all the above – along with the overwhelm of constant, insidious formula marketing, the ubiquitous bad breastfeeding advice, and the sleep-deprived, emotionally-difficult and hormonal state of new motherhood – it is little wonder that breastfeeding can cause many women discomfort, revulsion, pain, and even trauma.

More often than not, breastfeeding hurdles can be overcome with the right information and support.  (And here I'm being a softly-clucking armchair expert.) However, finding the ‘right’ information can be incredibly difficult—mostly because the inherently female act of breastfeeding has been long-derided and written-off as flawed in our patriarchal culture. But the right information helps only if the mother desires it.

And admittedly, this is something that has taken me about five years as a breastfeeding counsellor to understand.

For many years, I have joined breastfeeding discussions armed with what (I hope) has been empathy and helpful, positive breastfeeding information. But increasingly I wonder if my direction is not quite right. I staunchly, unconditionally support a woman’s right to do only as she wishes with her own body. So what about when she doesn’t want to breastfeed?

Although most women do inherently wish to breastfeed, for many, when breastfeeding aversion becomes so severe it’s because the experience of breastfeeding has, from birth, snowballed in a cascade from slightly difficult to supremely horrific. For other women, breastfeeding aversion exists from the start, due to highly personal trauma or other reasons. However, regardless of what a woman’s reasons are for deciding not to breastfeed, she should be supported to own that decision, unconditionally, and owe no explanation.

My youngest child has just recently weaned, ending almost seven years of continuous breastfeeding for me. I certainly haven’t loved every moment of it. Some of my breastfeeding moments downright sucked. (Pun intended). Just like parenting often sucks. Just like my work. Just like my writing. Just like everything in life, breastfeeding has its ups and its downs and it isn’t always romance and earth-mother flowy-haired bliss.

Absolutely, breastfeeding comes with its science-backed list of healthful things. But for me, breastfeeding was about discovering that I wasn’t the flawed women and mother society said I was. Alongside the physiologically unremarkable normalcy of it, I breastfed to remind myself that I was actually capable, and functional, and the sole authority to make decisions for me, my body, and my children.

But I’m sure other women have other reasons to breastfeed. Or not.

I would love for our cultural messages about breastfeeding to be this:
1)   Breastfeeding – it’s why we have breasts
2)   Breastfeeding – they’re your breasts, and you know best.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Dear Mr Hockey: Addressing some home truths about welfare recipients

On Tuesday May 13, Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey revealed the Liberal National Party (LNP) Government’s Budget for Australia 2014-15.

And oh, boy. We're all a little pissed about it.

Perhaps most notable about this so-called “brutal” budget are changes that will negatively affect low income families, the unemployed, those on a disability pension, students, the sick, and seniors. 

Ostensibly, this Budget is delivered in an effort to pull Australia from debt and deficit. This in itself would not concern me, or many other concerned Australians, if this so-called 'budget emergency' were not a concept manufactured firstly in an effort for the LNP to gain Government in September 2013, but secondly as an excuse to take money from the poor and line the pockets of those whose pockets are already quite well-lined. Like some kind of Robin Hood-ism in tragic reverse.

A meme shared on The Australian Greens' Facebook page

I think Australians are fundamentally generous people. I do believe that we are a nation of citizens and residents who feel an unconscious and genuine desire to help out our mates less fortunate. You only need to observe our response to crises such as the tragic Black Saturday bush fires that struck Victoria in 2009, where public appeals raised more than $372 million, or to the tsunami that struck the Indian Ocean on Boxing Day 2004 and donations from Australian businesses, community groups and private citizens raised $313 million (1) to help tsunami-affected countries recover, to see that Australians are always willing to help those in need.

However, there remains within our culture a conservative-fuelled notion that those on lower incomes— those relying on social security benefits and/or pensions—are some kind of self-indulgent drain on tax-payers, and undeserving of Australia's usual dose of empathic generosity. Hockey said in his budget speech on Tuesday, "the age of entitlement is over." As one blogger eloquently puts it: 
"Hockey likes to portray Australia's welfare system as a bloated tick hanging off the side of a virtuous government that is only trying to protect the 'taxpayer'."
Anecdotally, we hear stories of people 'rorting the system,' living a lifestyle of responsibility-free luxury, rolling in government cash, whilst hard-working tax-payers prop them up, funding their beer and cigarettes and lack of moral compass. This is an image our current Government makes little effort to dismiss, as an "astounded" Mr Hockey himself reinforces the stereotype by likening the new GP levy to a third of a packet of cigarettes, or a couple of beers.

In response to Mr Hockey's aforementioned astonishment, one Melbourne mother shared her story and her honesty and eloquence moved me to do the same. I’m not sure I can be as polite, but I’ll try.

I am 32-years-old, and have been working (and paying tax) since I was 15. Seven years ago, I left the paid work force to stay at home with my first baby. Now I have two children, and I live in a regional town with a population of less than 2,000, in South Australia.

I have collected small fortnightly allowances of family tax benefit (FTB) since having children, and since September last year, my husband and I separated and I have been collecting a Centrelink sole parenting payment along with child support from my husband, and continuing FTB.

My children are 6 and 3-years-old; I have a registered exemption from schooling to home educate my eldest.

I am a self-employed writer and freelance graphic designer, although sole-parenting two children leaves precious little time for not only searching for work, but actually doing it.

I have a Certificate IV in Breastfeeding Education (Counselling) and have volunteered as a breastfeeding and maternal counsellor for over five years now.

I am studying a Bachelor of Arts (Psychology) externally through Deakin University.

I have, by Australian standards, a small mortgage. Each fortnight, once I have made payments on home loan, council rates, electricity and water, insurances (home, contents and car), car registration (I drive a 2003 Holden Astra hatch, paid off when I was working full time pre-children, just FYI), ISP and telephone, I have about $300 remaining.

This is $150 per week to spend on food, petrol, clothing and other unlisted expenses, such as taking the kids to the local bakery, or saving up to buy a paperback for myself.  And each week, I manage it. Just. I watch every expenditure closely and keep all my change. Even my five cent pieces. (So it's frustrating when parking meters refuse that denomination.) It’s common for my debit card to decline in the last 72 hours before ‘pay day’, but I am exceedingly grateful for each and every dollar.

I don’t smoke cigarettes or take recreational drugs. I do drink the occasional glass of wine, perhaps two or three glasses a fortnight. (Jacobs Creek Sauvignon Blanc, about $10.90 from my local pub. It's nice, but it's no Grange.)

I also acknowledge my privileged position in having an exceptionally supportive separated (and securely salaried) husband. Whilst I hesitate to use the word ‘lucky’, it would be ignorant of me not to point out that many, many sole parents in my situation, for a myriad of reasons, cannot rely on an ex-partner for support financially or physically. He helps with work around the house, he brings me take-away when I'm struggling and takes extra care of the children (and me) if I am sick. Again, I am grateful.

I am but one of many. My circumstances are as unique and nuanced and unremarkable as thousands of others. We all hope we'll live a comfortable and blessed life, but sometimes, we can never know when we might be hit, and need help getting back up.

Do I want government income? No, not really. Do I feel entitled to it? Despite having paid tax for 17 years, no, I actually don’t. But do I need it? Yes. Absolutely. Without government income, my children and I would not survive. I need government support while my children are young and require my 24/7 focus, and while I find my feet again in a life that has knocked me around at times.

So am I grateful for my government income? Absolutely. I feel incredibly blessed to live in a country where low incomes are taken into consideration and supported. Where those less fortunate can be helped by those who can.

Happily in the past I have paid tax. I still, today, pay tax. I look forward to the day, hopefully in the not too distant future, when my income is such that I can pay more generous amounts of tax again.  And hopefully, not rely on Government income at all.

But as my best friend said today, I don’t want to live in a country that lacks social conscience.

Australia is an affluent and privileged nation. We enjoy one of the strongest economies in the world. I refuse to believe that not only can we not afford to support our less fortunate, but that we fundamentally don't want to. Moreover, we seem to be a nation where the vast majority of the population work to create the wealth that a significant minority control.

Certainly, there are those whose government incomes will be spent on alcohol, drugs, or iPads. Who are we, however, to judge such unfortunate life circumstances? Rather than isolate and stigmatise, shouldn't we empathise, listen, and help? 

Mr Hockey, cutting social security benefits does not generate within an already struggling individual a sudden intrinsic desire or ability to achieve paid employment. Don't you think that if a person's social, physical, or psychological circumstances dictated they could—and if there was a job available—a person wouldn't want to support themselves?

Mr Hockey, rather than condemnation, why not demonstrate compassion? Rather than espouse paternalistic policy and finger-wagging, why not recognise that hardship is a state in which no-one, no matter how seemingly-engrained or antisocial their socioeconomic status, actually wants to live?

My Hockey, please remember that from a person in your position, your words matter. Your implied sentiments matter. You were elected by your people because your people believed you could progress the nation for the better. Instead of perpetuating stereotypes, instead of inciting intolerance and doubt, please celebrate that Australians are warm-hearted, generous people who don’t begrudge others for needing help. I am grateful for them. My friends are grateful for them.

I am one of them.

1) Australia’s response to the Indian Ocean Tsunami, June 2006, Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade,