The Challenge of Exclusively Breastfeeding on 45 days Maternity Leave.

Today I woke up in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates at 5.30 am for the very last time. For the past four months I’ve woken at the crack of dawn in order to pump so that in my absence there is enough milk in the fridge.

Today I walked home from work at lunch time in 45 degrees of sweltering desert heat so that I could feed my baby. This was the last time I will ever have to do that. I’m now free for the summer. I will never again have to whip off my sweaty sticky top and quickly feed my hungry baby before rushing back to work.

Giving birth was hard. Going back to work after just 45 days maternity leave was very difficult. But exclusively breastfeeding these past 4 months has been an enormous challenge. Like anything though, I survived by getting on with it and by having a positive mental attitude.

As difficult as exclusively breastfeeding can be, the reward is probably the greatest and most tangible reward I’ve ever experienced in my life; a healthy, happy, chubby, sturdy bubs. Every time I consider packing it all in for even a split second (a bout of mastitis or engorgement will do that) I take a look at my sweet boy and know that it is all worth it.

Lots of people said it wouldn’t be possible of me; “Your milk supply won’t be established”, “I’ve never heard of anyone doing it after such an early return to work”, “You’ll have to exclusively pump”, “How are you going to store the milk?”, “Where are you going to pump?”,“How will you cope taking on the responsibility of all the feeds day and night?”. For any mother out there who is in my position I would say nothing is impossible. With the level of negativity that is aimed at breastfeeding moms, no wonder BF rates are so low in Ireland.

Of course I have been lucky enough to live on campus not far from my baby and I am blessed to have an amazing nanny that worked with me throughout the day to ensure I could feed as much as possible and not have to pump. I have an incredible husband who has supported my breastfeeding journey whole heartedly and without reservation. My good friend Louise (a BF veteran) has been there to guide me in the right direction when I was ever in need of help. There are times when I could not have functioned without the help and support of these people. The care and consideration they have shown me in washing bottles, sterilising pump parts, grabbing sick cloths, throwing on a wash and packing changing bags has been unbelievable.

I am also grateful to the UAE government who has ensured that breastfeeding Moms are entitled to two extra half hour breaks per day for the first 18 months of their childs life. They are pioneers in this regard and I hope they continue to support new mothers. This law has enabled so many mothers like me to continue to provide the best for our babies. We cannot overlook the importance of men; men who have the power to change laws, men in positions of authority who can change company policy in support of breastfeeding moms,men who have the ability to support their wives in their BF journey and who can make a difference in even the smallest way such as giving up their seat to a tired, breastfeeding mom with a cranky, hungry baby.

Every new breastfeeding mother is in a situation that has its advantages and disadvantages, there is no perfect scenario for us in this day and age. Some of my friends have had six months maternity leave but I didn’t for a second compare their situation to my own because each person’s journey is different. I recognised that they too have their own struggles no doubt-perhaps the baby has tongue tie, maybe the mother suffers from postnatal depression, maybe her partner doesn’t support her breastfeeding journey in the way that he could, maybe she is at home alone all day and tearing her hair out or maybe she is a single mother struggling to cope. I don’t know. I could only work with what I had and if I focused on what I didn’t have I would not have been able to go down the road we did.

This whole process has opened my eyes to the amazing strength and power of women. I am in awe of women like my mother and mother-in- law who have been through this themselves and flew from Ireland to Dubai to see their new grandson with multimam compresses in their bag, I am so thankful for women like my sisters who propped up my shawl in restaurants when it fell as I flapped about the place like a headless chicken or who stared back at people when they gawped uncomfortably at me as a I struggled to breastfeed outside of the house. Even the women who shared their successful breastfeeding stories with me so that I knew that I was not alone had a part to play.

There are women all over the world every single day who give their time running support groups, manning online forums, donating breastmilk to NICU’s across the country and dropping off breastpads and lanolin cream and all sorts to their new mom friends. Without these women how would the babies fair?

I must mention the “Breastfeeding Q & A UAE” group on Facebook who have been such an amazing support to me during a difficult and scary early return to work. The women in that group helped me figure out a breastfeeding solution to every breastfeeding problem I encountered. I am very grateful for their support. I encourage any new breastfeeding mom in the UAE to join and bask in the positivity and wisdom of those women.

Of course, not surprising, it has been an incredible experience seeing my body function at the level it has for the past 16 weeks. Seeing it work in tandum with the baby to find the answer to every obstacle faced has been mind boggling to say the least. Breastfeeding moms have a powerful connection to their children. I have felt a pang in my chest as I teach a class of thirty students and have known in that exact moment that wherever my baby is that he is awake and hungry. That is a primal experience that is hard to put into words. It didn’t actually “get it” until my boy was sick and I saw the increased milk supply (all of its own accord) and altered milk composition which helped rid the baby of a cold. Only those of us who have experienced this can truly attest to its magic.

My goal is to exclusively breastfeed my son for at least six months. Who knows what will happen after that. I will have to use every resource available to me in order to achieve my goal. It takes a village to raise a child for sure and it’s such a pity that our society has moved away from this ideology choosing instead a lone wolf type existance where we find ourselves living in apartment blocks surrounded by people but with no one to help us.

Let’s support these Moms as best we can for the benefit of society as a whole.