It Takes A Village To Breastfeed A Child

Humans have been successfully breastfeeding for thousands of years but today only one mother in three meets her own breastfeeding goals.


Women want to breastfeed, but something is going terribly wrong. And when it’s such a widespread problem we need to stop blaming individual mothers and start looking at the bigger picture.

If you want to breastfeed, here’s how to turn the odds in your favour.

Anthropologist Dana Raphael was looking for an answer to why breastfeeding was so difficult for women in our culture after being disappointed by her own personal experience. What she found is really profound.


Dana went on to coin the word ‘doula’ - in its modern sense - to mean breastfeeding support person. Over time our industrialised hospital system has meant that doulas have stepped into the birthing room and the word is now synonymous with a birth support person.

But it still stands that you need support to be able to breastfeed.

When a mother struggles to breastfeed, our cultures typical masculine response is to look for problems and fix and solve. Women are usually given advice and information, charts, diagrams and routines. Mothers are told to weigh babies and bottles of milk and introduce equipment such as breast pumps and formula.

Sometimes these strategies might be helpful, but I don’t think it should be our first port of call. My approach is radically different.

Often when a mother expresses her breastfeeding challenges what she is really feeling is “I had no idea it would be this hard, I must be doing something wrong, I’m a failure”

You are not a failure. Breastfeeding is natural, but it is also a learned skill and a difficult one at that. We need to stop thinking of breastfeeding as a 'kodak moment' and start seeing it as a marathon.

When someone is running a marathon and they say it’s hard and they are tired what do we do? We cheer them on!! You can do it! Your halfway there! One foot in front of the other! You are doing great!

Generally when a mother is struggling to breastfeed the first place I look is to her support networks. Who is cooking and cleaning for her? Is she getting enough rest and nutrition? Does she have other people caring for her older children? Are the people around her sabotaging her breastfeeding with too much advice, information and personal opinions?

Breastfeeding is a literally a full-time job! In those early weeks, a baby can feed every hour or two around the clock, often for 30-40 mins at a time. Do the maths, that’s easily 8 or 9 hours a day with a baby attached to your breast!!

I’m not trying to scare you off. If you don’t want to breastfeed I respect your choice. But if you do want to breastfeed you are going to have to build your village.

You will need to give yourself plenty of time and get plenty of support. Breastfeeding is a big job, it’s messy and unpredictable and challenging and wonderful.