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An Interview: Breastfeeding101 – A portrayal of the pleasures & pains of breastfeeding

This is Alyssum

Zimbabwean, age 18
Location Outside a fuel station, Athlone, South Africa
Feeding her two-month-old child
Photographed December 2018

I was having an argument with my baby [laughs].  He’s so used to drinking pumped breast milk out of the bottle that he doesn’t want to nipple feed. I think he must get confused. He has to bottle feed a lot because I work. Sometimes he will want the breast when I’m home, but mostly it’s when he’s really hungry. Then he sucks so hard, he ends up choking – it goes down the wrong pipe. So we have arguments about how to feed [laughs]. It’s fun being a young mom. I don’t mind any of these frustrations because I am just so happy we have him.

This baby was planned. My husband and I had a stillborn baby boy in 2014; it was incredibly traumatic. Having our second born has been a healing thing. He was 2.8 kilograms at birth. And at the six-week check-up he weighed five kilograms. He’s solid. I think I’ll probably exclusively breastfeed him for four to five months. We believe that boys get quite hungry [for solids], it’s a Shona thing. At that stage sometimes women will give their babies a kind of porridge: They soak maize meal with water overnight and then feed the baby the strained, cooked water. It’s also a Shona thing to feed your baby cooking oil [sunflower/canola predominantly] for his tummy; it helps his intestines release easily, it really helps. You warm the oil on the stove a little bit and add a little salt. He had oil a couple of times after he was born, probably about two times a day for the first two weeks, just a little bit on a teaspoon. (Mothers also “make a way”, make it easier for the baby to be born by drinking a cup of warmed cooking oil before the birth. I didn’t do that though, because I’m fussy.) We don’t tell the nurses in the clinic because they freak out. People here in South Africa, they don’t understand because they’ve never heard of it. We’ve known about this method for a long time. Some Xhosa people know about the oil as well. But you know, where we came from people didn’t have access to any other options. It’s actually an alternative to colic drops which are really expensive, even when on special in the shops.

In 2019 I published my first book, Breastfeeding 101, which features candid portraits of 101 breastfeeding women as well their honest stories. In this blog post you see one of the mothers represented with her blurb from the book.

The idea for this book was unexpectedly sparked three years ago when I started seeing a lot of controversial social media content about breasts, nipples and breastfeeding.

Looking forward I hope my book can help normalise what is already a women’s most natural act. I would love to see the breastfeeding percentage rate in South Africa double. It came as a surprise to learn that, according to the 2018 statistics of the World Health Organisation (WHO), our country has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world.

Breastfeeding 101 features mothers from South Africa as well as around the globe and serves as a first-hand body of information – an unintentional handbook – directly from the women it captures.

Breastfeeding 101 is a book that wasn’t intended as a manual but may serve as one.

Basic info about the book:

Title: Breastfeeding 101
Publisher: Self-published via Staging Post
Format: Hardcover, 22 x 27cm, 224 pages
Price: ZAR385
Available for purchase via Exclusive Books, The Book Lounge and directly from the author.