Tag Archives: South Africa breastfeeding

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 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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