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Worth persevering . . . New mum Emily Hawker (right) feeds baby Arlo (3 months) while Well South peer co-ordinator Lydia Quested offers support, at The Milk Room North Otago morning tea on Tuesday, held to mark World Breastfeeding Week. PHOTO: ASHLEY SMYTH

Breastfeeding is a ”dance learned by both parties” which takes time and effort, community Karitane Megan Phillips says.

This year’s World Breastfeeding Week’s theme was “protect breastfeeding: a shared responsibility”, Mrs Phillips said at a morning tea held in Oamaru on Tuesday at The Milk Room, to mark the occasion.

“And so that’s where we chose to, in a world ravaged by Covid, still be able to hold our event to bring the community together,” she said.

Well South peer co-ordinator Lydia Quested said in previous years the Big Latch On, where mothers around New Zealand gathered together to breastfeed on a particular day, had been held.

The event was held virtually last year, due to Covid, and instead this year The Milk Room North Otago, and the North Otago Breastfeeding Network decided to hold a casual morning tea.

“To help celebrate World Breastfeeding Week and support local breastfeeding mums.”

Miss Quested said since the Milk Room began in 2017, half of the mothers who visited would need help with latching and supply issues, but the other half would just need “a little bit of support” and help “just adjusting to being a mum”.

“A huge amount of mums are just needing someone to tell them that they’re doing a good job, and that what’s going on is normal and natural,” she said.

Lactation consultant and Oamaru Maternity Centre nurse Sarah Knight, who was also at the morning tea, said when mothers left the maternity centre, breastfeeding rates were in the 90-95% range, but after six weeks they had dropped off quite dramatically to about 60-65%.

“Life gets in the way. Mothers want to return to their lives as quickly as they can, and sometimes, there’s a lot of well meaning, but perhaps not very helpful advice from older people in the community,” she said.

“Many people are extremely passionate about breastfeeding, whether it’s one way or the other.”

Mrs Phillips said there was an expectation that because breastfeeding was natural, it was easy.

“But actually it’s a dance learned by both parties and it takes time and effort. It’s really a skill that is learned.”

Social media also meant new mothers could be overwhelmed with all kinds of differing information, Miss Quested said.

“What you’re doing is either incredibly wrong, or the only right thing to do. All extremes.

“It can be difficult to source the right kind of information, which is where trained peer counsellors at the milkroom are a good source, and local lactation consultants,” she said.

New mother Emily Hawker said breastfeeding baby Arlo, who is now 3-months-old, got off to a “rough start”. Although she had been to antenatal classes, she had not realised how hard it was going to be.

She initially struggled with the reality of being solely responsible for the feeding day and night, and had wished her husband could be more involved. He now fed baby Arlo a bottle of expressed milk each night.

Perservering had been “absolutely worth it”, she said.

“A big chunk of your day is spent feeding .. It is about dropping those expectations and going with the flow, but it’s definitely worth it.”

Other mothers at the morning tea said they now felt comfortable feeding in public, although there was an adjustment period, and local businesses were welcoming.

Miss Quested said for mothers seeking breastfeeding information and support, The Milk Room ran a drop-in centre every Tuesday at the Plunket Rooms, and more information could be found on the Facebook page.

It was also offered a place where mothers could just go and spend some time with “like-minded people”.