I am a failure! These four words kept playing in my mind when I made the decision to switch to formula instead of sticking to breastmilk seven weeks after the birth of my firstborn.
When I told my mummy friends this, the wagging of their fingers began without them really trying to explain how I could benefit. Perhaps if someone had shown some understanding then, I might have listened more.
Fast forward to my second pregnancy, I am now more aware of the benefits of breastfeeding. In fact, the goodness of providing breast milk is so established that the World Health Organisation says all babies should be exclusively breastfed for at least sis months. Breast milk is believed to be packed with all the nutrients your baby needs during these months, as well as antibodies so he or she can better fight off infection.
It also prepares the baby for a healthy life. Research shows that adults who were breastfed have lower cholesterol levels and blood pressure, as well as some protection against being overweight and developing Type 2 diabetes.
Mothers benefit from breastfeeding, too. It reduces the risk of breast and ovarian cancers, as well as being a natural aid to getting back to the mother’s pre-pregnancy weight and trust me, after a few months of not seeing your own toes while standing up, you’d be more than delighted to lose the extra pounds gained as soon as possible!
And good news for those who are frugal — breastfeeding costs nothing and can help develop that mother and baby bond. And hey, traveling is so much easier when you are breastfeeding. Just whip out God’s gifts — and voila — instant milk at just the right temperature, so there is no need to lug around luggage for bottles and stuff.
So with all the pros, why then, is the rate of breastfeeding still quite low in some parts of the world, even in Malaysia?
Back then, I don’t think formula milk was readily accessible as it is today. I am pretty sure Eve had only her mammary glands to offer Cain as his source of food instead of a tin of milk in the Garden of Eden. So breastfeeding should be a natural process, right? Well, not exactly.
Though nursing does come naturally, it comes naturally a little later for some mothers and babies than for others. Sometimes, there are physical factors like engorged breasts and sore nipples that foil those first attempts; at other times it’s just a simple lack of experience on the part of both participants.
I was the epitome of this malady. There was fumbling and bungled efforts and tears from both Isobel and I. I gave up and switched to cow’s milk.
This is not the only reason why some mothers retire from breastfeeding before the six-month mark. Some find it cumbersome to breastfeed once they start work a month or two after confinement. There is the need for pumping during the baby’s ‘feeding time’ to ensure the breasts are stimulated for a constant supply of milk. This gets harder if the mother has a hectic job and worst, no condusive spot to pump or breastfeed.
Aishah Sinclair, TV host and mother to one-year-old Soraya is frustrated with the lack of baby friendly care rooms in public areas.
“I hate it that in Malaysia, they don’t have nursing rooms especially in malls. In Jakarta, most malls have a nursing room on every level!”
Actress and founder of Dynas Nursing Attire (DnA), Dynas Mokthar searched high and low for a place to breastfeed her daughter in a mall one day, and settled for a surau. She was unceremoniously chased out. This also happened on a public bench at a shopping centre in Kuala Lumpur even though she had a poncho on top of the baby.
“We are encouraged to breastfeed as it’s not just good for mother and baby, but in my religion, mothers receive pahala for breastfeeding. It’s frustrating that there are not enough public facilities or areas for favorable feeding and pumping.”
Sazzy Falak, celebrity newbie mum to twins Imaan and Tiara agrees with both Aishah and Dynas.
“Breastfeeding requires a comfortable, quiet location. I find it disturbing that the nursing rooms are inside toilets that are quite often smelly, dirty and cold.”
I went to check out a few popular malls in the Klang Valley to see how true this was — and sadly, my celeb friends were right.
I am surprised that although breastfeeding is given the thumbs up — the act of breastfeeding in public is frowned upon in some cases. I recall a mother scowling at me when I first breastfed Isobel in public (mind you, breast and baby were covered under a nursing shawl) and scowling mum said to her son, “Ish! Tengkok nak… tak senonah nak menyusu dikhayalak ramai!” (See son… how disgusting that she is breastfeeding in public!)
Unfortunately, despite knowing the benefits of breastfeeding, the rates are not going to change overnight, particularly in deprived places. Hence the important need for breastfeeding in public to be accepted with the proper amenities provided. Working mothers should also be granted flexibility from the workforce to allow them to express their milk accordingly.
It would also be great to have a stronger and more prominent breastfeeding support group here in Malaysia, too — to help mothers like myself to not give up on giving their child — the best nature has to offer.
* Daphne Iking is looking forward to breastfeeding her baby exclusively for at least a year. Email her your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org.