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

This is Joleen

South African, 34
Location The Pier, Simonstown, Cape Town, South Africa
Feeding her four-month-old child
Photographed August 2017

“Breastfeeding meant I got to see my son more often – during work hours. He just would not drink a bottle, even with breast milk in it. Fortunately, I live five minutes away from work. So, every day, every tea time and lunch time, I’d drive home and breastfeed. This allowed me to not feel so guilty about being at work. Breastfeeding has made me feel more connected to my sons in a deep, almost spiritual soul-touching type of way. My nine-month-old son has the habit of giving me a little bite on my nipple when he’s had enough and then giggling when I say ouch. That was our first communication; it made me realise this little one seems to have sense of humour. At the expense of my nipple of course [laughs].

I was breastfeeding at Spur one day and some of my students came past. I am in the navy, and juniors need to [salute] seniors as a mark of respect. The looks on their faces was priceless. I said to them afterwards that I may be a sailor and wear a uniform, but outside work I am a person and a mom just like any other mom.

My duties in the Defence Force can take me away from home. I had to write letters requesting to be excused from some of these. Sometimes seniors or male colleagues thought I was making excuses. I once had to ask my boss to be excused during an almost four-hour-long meeting to go and express: my breast pads were saturated and milk was starting to show through my shirt. A male in charge of a meeting does not understand that when a breastfeeding mom comes back fresh from maternity leave, the milk ducts don’t just get into the work routine immediately. I hope to get to a senior enough position to make changes for breastfeeding mothers in the military.

As I have small breasts I try to ignore the sexual way breasts are portrayed. When I became a mom, all of a sudden I got boobs. I was so proud, not because they were bigger, but because these small boobs have such a lot of milk. I had my baby at the military hospital where the nurses do not allow formula or discharge you from the hospital until baby latches well and breastfeeding is established. My son’s nanny always encouraged me to continue breastfeeding until he was at least two years old. She would make comments such as, “You are doing so well, this baby loves his tiettie.” It was like a reconfirmation for me, every day.”

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.

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