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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.”

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

This is Elmarina

South African, age 33
Location Outside a house in Delft, Cape Town, South Africa
Feeding her three-year-old child
Photographed August 2018

Whenever you give a child a bottle [that contains formula], they get sicker, more quickly. It’s because you get moms who don’t close the bottles properly. Flies get attracted to them, and there are more germs.

I’ve got three children. I didn’t breastfeed the first two, the boys. I had very small nipples and it wasn’t easy for me. For the first week, my eldest did drink from my breasts, but he couldn’t really get a grip on the nipple because it was so small. And I used to struggle with him the whole time.

But when my girl here came along, my husband hadn’t had work for a few months, so we decided we were going try the breast again. I couldn’t afford to buy the formula that worked for my two boys. I told myself, “Now Elmarina, you have to think. You must rather put her on the breast or what are you going to do? There is no money for formula.” So I had to try, and just do it and even though it was painful, try not to panic. But I would panic sometimes because my daughter would cry you know, because the nipple was so small, nè[not so]? I went to the clinic to speak to one of the ladies who works there. She really tried to help me with technique.

It was still really, really hard to feed my daughter, and she is still underweight. I cried with that nurse, asking her to just help me try to figure something out, because I didn’t have the finances for the milk. She told me to come whenever I’m ready, like every day, I could go to her for help. She was a little old lady, but a very nice one. You know how older people are: They know how to explain things to you down to the last detail. That’s why I think she showed me those techniques with my finger. She knew about my situation, the money, that there wasno money to buy a breastfeeding pump, you understand.*I wish the hospitals or clinics would give us pumps, or pills to help with the milk. I have a friend who was offered help by the clinic in Bishops Lavis. She didn’t have milk but she really wanted to breastfeed and not put her child on a bottle, so they gave her pills [probably sulpiride, believed by some doctors to increase serum prolactin and aid milk supply]. But I didn’t get that in the hospital I was at. Nobody even asked me: Do you want a pill to help you breastfeed? Nothing like that. I had to find a way to breastfeed.

My daughter was born very small, so I was often at the clinic, trying to get her weight and her iron right the whole time. When she was two, the doctor said she could drink till she’s five. She loves it; she doesn’t want to give it up [laughs]. Sometimes I tease her and tell her that she’s getting too big now and she says, “No, no!” and shakes her head [laughs].

<sidebar note>

South African public hospitals do not supply mothers with breastfeeding pumps.

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