Tag Archives: breastfeeding

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

This is Emma

South African, age 43
Location At work, Claremont, Cape Town, South Africa
Expressing breastmilk
Photographed September 2018

Emma donated 532litres of her own breast milk to South African breast milk bank Milk Matters over seven years.

Once I got my milk supply going, I became the mother cow. I probably started expressing milk around seven weeks after giving birth. Of course I always made sure that my boys got first chance breastfeed, but the majority of my additional expressed milk was for those premature babies. It all started when I went to Milk Matters and saw the abandoned babies there, weighing under a kilo. In other countries, babies that weigh up to two kilograms are given donated milk, but here in South Africa there isn’t enough, so it’s saved for babies who weigh under a kilo. I’d get tired and think ah, do I really want to give up another 25 minutes, up to five times a day? But their tummies are so small and some are abandoned; they are too sick to feed, or their moms have passed away. I just wanted to help; it was important. There are so many good things about breast milk that you can’t duplicate with formula.

I had happy times and difficult times expressing milk. I had to travel all over: Madagascar, Zimbabwe, Malawi and even further, the UK. Before I left home, I’d express and build up stock for my own baby. Sometimes he couldn’t come with me – you know, with the outbreaks of polio and ebola and stuff. Then while away, I had to keep my milk supply going or otherwise I’d have burst! I would express four to five times a day. To save time, I used two separate pumps at the same time: I’d express from both breasts in 25 minutes. Did you know that there was nowhere at O.R Tambo airport or Cape Town International other than the toilets to express milk? Sometimes I’d make a point and sit on the floor at check-in as they all have plug points. I didn’t want to be one of those women [makes sounds of pump expressing]; the point is there should be a place.

While travelling, there was the mission of trying to find hotels where I could put my milk in the freezer. I would have to go through health and safety [protocols] and avoid contamination and mark it carefully. Even when I did a psychology postdoc at Stellenbosch University, I would put milk in the refrigerator during the day and a few times people would steal it for their tea and coffee. After I labelled it “Please do not drink – Breast Milk”, it never got touched again. It is also important to keep [containers] sterile, especially when travelling. I would have to sit with a kettle and a microwave in the middle of rural Madagascar, sanitizing equipment.

When travelling through borders, I used to have to explain what the breast milk was – and then I’d be asked, “Where is the baby?” If the baby was with me, I wouldn’t need to carry the milk! Now, I actually grab my boob as the universal sign for breast milk. In a good number of countries, I have had to sip it, just so they can see it really is what I say it is.

I think three quarters of the luggage I took on my travels was to deal with my breast milk expressing and storing. I had a whole system in place to keep it frozen. I’d wrap my clothes around my ice bricks and ice packs to keep it frozen, then get it to Milk Matters as soon as possible.

Eventually I stopped when I had to go away to Dar es Salaam for ten days. I’d actually wondered whether I should take the job or not, but then I thought, “Emma, you have given years to this. It is okay. Other moms need to come to the party.” I can’t carry the world.

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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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