Māmā of Hiwa-I-Te-Rangi
How has breastfeeding been going for you?
A rollercoaster! I assumed that because no one talked about it there was nothing to talk about it, that is was simple and straightforward. When Hiwa arrived she latched so well, it wasn’t her that was the problem it was me, because I didn’t know what I was doing and it was a few minor things to do with my technique that made it so painful – it was really hard up until only 2 weeks ago. It wasn’t great, but I think I’m lucky that I’m the most privileged mum, I didn’t have to worry about who to go to for referrals because I work in maternal health. I was able to message my friends who are lactation consultants and friends at Plunket, both my sisters are nurses which really helped. I actually think that there is so much more expectation on Māori mothers to breastfeed relative to non-Māori – I’ve really noticed that and I feel that with my friends who are non-Māori, there’s a lot less pressure from what I can see, to breastfeed. That because we are Māori, breast is best and we have to do it how our ancestors did it, and we have to be natural. That was reinforced through so much literature that I was reading. I went online and thought, why am I breastfeeding? Why am I doing this? I was so stressed and pumping heaps to be able to do a top up at night which caused so much anxiety and anxiety meant I was producing less. Is breast actually best? A lot of research is inconclusive from what I can gather, because, YES there are studies that have shown that there are benefits to breastfeeding for baby, but it's hard to tell if that’s from breast milk or because of the sample itself. These are all observational studies and not from randomised controlled trials and a lot of people who are attracted to participate in this type of research are all privileged to begin with, and so all that access to resources that they’d have, are likely to be extraneous variables. I came away from that thinking, why does everyone push breastfeeding? I feel there's definitely moralistic judgement towards it. Im surprised I’m still breastfeeding to be honest, but I ended up sticking with it and it worked out. I just endured the pain long enough to get used to it, but that’s no reflection of me, it’s just I internalised the pressure long enough to keep me in it for that long.
There are a lot of pros to breastfeeding. The practicality of not heating stuff up when you go out, but there are a lot of cons. Last night I wanted to go out, but Hiwa wasn’t having it and I’m the only person that can feed her so I have to stay home. We give her a bottle of formula per night and it’s the best part of my day because it fills her up and stays in her tummy all night and she loves it. She’s full and content and sleeps through the night (7 hours) so we’re 90% breastfeeding and one bottle at night.
Tell us about your intentions with breastfeeding before you had Hiwa-i-te-rangi?
I kept saying to everyone, I know how hard breastfeeding is, so I want to remain open. My intention is to breastfeed, but I'm not gonna beat myself up to breastfeed. I didn’t realise it was going to be this hard. All of my sisters breastfeed so easily – one of my sisters breastfed until baby was 2 and she loves it. I was fully formula fed, but that was out of circumstance because my mum passed away when I was first born, but she was big into breastfeeding - she was the face of La Leche. I was lucky to have a lot of friends who were really honest and encouraging around me and I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t have that support.
What is your advice for māmā who are struggling in their breastfeeding journey?
The advice I would want to hear is f*ck the haters. Do what you want to do! I’ve had many fights with Peter (partner) who is a product of his environment. He’s grown up in Māori spaces and whānau where everyone breastfed. He assumed that that’s the natural, normal thing, but you have to look at the entire picture. If the mum is hating it, guaranteed the child is hating it. She’s stressed because mum is stressed. It took his sister to sit him down to have a word with him about how hard breastfeeding is (sleepless nights, cracked nipples and tongue ties) and it made him see it differently and he now agrees formula was the best thing we could’ve done for her. Do what works best for you. However you feed your baby is not a representation of who you are as a parent, everyone is trying to do the best for their kids, and however that looks, that’s up to you. I was really lucky that I had a midwife that was so open, who asked me ‘where do you think you’re heading with feeding?’ and I said, ‘I’m gonna try give her formula tonight’ and she said, good on you! Not encouraging formula but encouraging the best decision for me. She said she goes into homes and she’ll ask them questions about feeding and they’ll lie to her that breastfeeding is going well but she can see bottles and formula, but I understand why people would feel the need to lie about it because of fear of judgement.
What do you wish you were told about breastfeeding before you had Hiwa?
I wish that at Hapu wā, the focus is less on labour and more on breastfeeding and postpartum (recovery and feeding) because birth is the easy part. I enjoyed our birth, it was so straightforward and then I was left with a baby and then thinking now what!? What am I doing? I wish people would’ve told me about what to expect with feeding, latching and having some sort of information about how to feed and learning about babies hunger cues, full cues. So many mums don’t have that experience and then they’ve gotta figure it out for themselves and that’s stressful.
I feel like it's not PC for people in public health or maternal care to say don’t formula feed because that’s an underlying perspective that’s predominantly held. Even though that isn’t outwardly shared, the fact that there isn’t any information about it relative to breastfeeding, the underlying message shows that formula feeding is bad. I met a friend at hapū wā who was formula feeding who I thought was so brave to sit through a hapū wā that was all about breastfeeding. Relative to non-Māori, Māori breastfeed less, even though there’s a moralistic expectation for us to do it. Clearly somethings not working because of these extraneous social variables like returning to work to look after your family, so it’s a real privilege to be able to breastfeed if that’s what you choose to do, but if you don’t there needs to be more information about diversity of experiences. Different ways to feed, different role models and peoples stories and journeys to feeding their babies - however that looks.