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Feeding at Work in the Corn Field

Corrie Swanepoel
Pretoria, South Africa
From New Beginnings, Vol. 28 No. 3, 2009, pp. 4-7

I don't recall making a conscious decision about breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is the natural and normal way of feeding a baby, and I didn't see it as something one could choose not to do. I didn't really give it too much thought and, before the arrival of our baby, I focused all my energy on the birth, thinking breastfeeding would come naturally.

Albert's birth was an amazing experience. As I expected, we had no trouble with breastfeeding. We went home from the hospital the same day, and for three blissful days breastfeeding was just great. Then my milk came in and the breastfeeding dynamics changed. I was surprised to find how often Albert wanted to nurse. I was constantly in demand and found it exceptionally tiring. From the little that I did read, I learned that a baby would probably feed every two to three hours. Albert often "cluster fed" and it totally confused me. Instead of having long relaxing breaks between feeds, my baby was nursing for a few minutes, and then taking a break for a few. I often didn't know when one session ended and the next started!

When Albert was three weeks old, I got mastitis. Unable to even stand up straight, dizzy with pain, flushed with fever, disoriented and nauseous, I couldn't take care of myself, not to mention my baby. I spent this time at my parents' home where my mother took care of Albert and me, only bringing him to me if he needed to nurse. Nursing was painful and I would cry before Albert even latched on! After medical treatment, I soon felt better, although it took about two weeks before the pain in my breast was completely gone.

Shortly thereafter my trouble with plugged ducts started. They were very uncomfortable and the problem stretched over several months. I would find part of my breast engorged and still full after a feeding session. It would take several days, sleepless nights, and many tears before the ducts would clear. My poor husband, unable to do anything to help me, worriedly asked if breastfeeding were worth all of this, and said he would understand if I wanted to quit.

Finally, after five months of breastfeeding challenges, I started attending La Leche League meetings. I was very happy to find such valuable interaction and support. One woman casually talked about how she fixed her plugged duct problem (by gently massaging the breast, applying heat, getting plenty of rest, and by nursing frequently). Something I had struggled with for weeks could have been solved in a day had I attended LLL meetings earlier. (See Care Plan for Mastitis LLLI, August 2009. Publication No. 10221 available from www.llli.org and Blocked Ducts and Mastitis, LLLGB, 2008. Information Sheet No. 1928 available from www.lllgbbooks.co.uk.)

The Return to Work

Going back to work when Albert was four months old was another difficult challenge, but I was determined to continue breastfeeding. Back at work, I developed a confusing and complex relationship with my breast pump. I hated the darn thing; it was noisy, uncomfortable, and not very pretty. I wanted to feed my baby myself, not express milk with a pump and have someone feed my baby from a plastic bottle! * Worst of all, I could hardly express more than a few drops at a time. It was only after I changed my attitude toward the pump and realized it was there to help -- allowing my baby to drink breastmilk instead of formula -- that I started expressing more milk.

My breast pump became my friend. I prepared a corner at work (where I couldn't be seen through the window) and made it cozy with baby blankets and pictures of Albert. Here I spent my tea breaks and lunches expressing milk. Occasionally I had to spend the day out of the office. I work as a researcher for an agricultural research institute and every now and again I must tend to my field trial on the experimental farm. Being outside all day and not being able to express is an uncomfortable challenge. Sometimes I take Albert along on these outings, since it is easier to hide among the dense maize plants for a quick feeding session than to express milk out in the open. I once took my husband along to help look after Albert. He secretly took a picture of me feeding Albert in the middle of our maize trial.

Albert is now 15 months old and we are a very happy breastfeeding couple. I would not dream of quitting, although more and more people are asking when I will stop, or telling me how to go about weaning. How on earth will I put my baby to bed, or soothe and calm him if I cannot breastfeed him? And what better way to unwind after a long day than cuddle a busy boy? I hope we can continue this relationship until he is ready to self-wean.

* Many brands of infant feeding bottles contain Bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical used to prevent polycarbonate plastic from shattering. Repeated heating of polycarbonate plastics may cause leaching of the BPA. BPA is an endocrine disruptor that can mimic the body's hormones and can thus interfere with the endocrine or hormonal system, which regulates the development of the body's immune and reproductive systems. Even at very low doses, adverse effects have been observed. To avoid these risks where bottles are used for feeding babies, use PVC free or glass bottles. For more information visit www.ibfan.org

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