Monday, January 12, 2009


You may have read previous posts where I rail on about the problems in children’s health in the world. As a technical advisor for nutrition, one of the areas I am most passionate about is breastfeeding. Did you know that about 1 million children could be saved each year (10% of all the deaths in children under five) if their mothers were supported to exclusively breastfeed their my life, I have seen too many babies close to death because their mothers had stopped breastfeeding.

A few years ago, in Darfur, I organized and led a training on breastfeeding for doctors, nurses, and community health workers. We taught them the benefits of breastfeeding, how it all works, and how to counsel mothers who are having a hard time. It was one of the most interesting and enjoyable weeks I have every spent working. But I felt a little disingenuous. After all, I had never breastfed a baby myself – what did I know about how hard it could be?

So when I was pregnant, I couldn’t wait to get started nursing my baby. Seriously, I was so much more excited about this than about buying baby clothes, picking names, or decorating a nursery (don’t have one), or all the other things pregnant women seem to get hyped about. Unlike many other women I know, I wasn’t the slightest bit worried that I would have trouble.

Fortunately for me, it has been smooth sailing almost from day one. It took a few days to figure out how to hold Milo’s body in one hand, my boob in another, and his head with my third…hand… Wait, come again?

But being a working, nursing mom has been a real challenge. I bought this fancy breastpump before I left the US and toted it all the way to Africa – then blew out the transformer the first time I plugged it in. Woops! So ever since September, I have been using a small, manual, hand-held pump to express milk for Milo’s bottles. Squish, squish, squish. I have one hell of a strong handshake now.

It would be easier if I spent a lot of time in the office, but in fact I often have to travel for work or go off to meetings and workshops. I have pumped in unoccupied hotel rooms, bathrooms of all states of maintenance, spare offices, even the back seat of the company car, as I held a meeting with one of my colleagues on the road.

I am thinking of all this today, because I have been asked to support a district that is starting a new nutrition program this week. Before Milo, I used to travel at least one week a month. Since he was born, I haven’t spent a single night away from him. Thankfully my office is very understanding, but I haven’t quite worked out how I will manage this time. Yes, I have some milk frozen, but not enough for 4 days. And refrigeration in the field is dicey, so I might not be able to store any milk while I am away.

Most likely, I will choose to commute, driving 1 ½ hours each way. I’ll have to sneak away sometime during the day while I’m out at the health centers, finding some dingy corner where I can sit and drape myself with a chitenje to hide my little workhorse of a hand pump. Squish, squish, squish. Talk about practicing what you preach!


jcelestelay said...

It's awesome that you're committed to this! I pumped until Lucy was nearly 5 months old and had to stop b/c of a new medication I needed to go on. The weirdest place I pumped was in the airport bathroom. I felt bad that there was a huge line and I sat in a stall for 10-15 minutes pumping, but it was worth it.

Jesse said...

I love all my friends showing their dedication to all things natural in their mothering choices. It's awesome. Love you Gwyn and move tickled than ever to still be in touch after all these years!

Tina said...

1.5 hours...dude...I was commuting 400 miles a days for like 3 months last day it took me 9 hours to get home when it was snowing! We have rain and hippos...but I would bet our semi-paved highways are similar to your pot-holed unpaved roads ;p


Joy H said...

Gwyn, you martyr - why didn't you complain earlier? We could have sent you a breastpump with a battery pack. Now that Milo's eating food, it's probably not so critical.

While you're gone, just have Jorge give the baby more solid food and water to drink. At his age, he'll be fine with hardly any milk for a few days.

Oh and just a comment on the above - if a doctor ever tells you that you have to stop breastfeeding because of a medicine, fight back. Get a second opinion, or contact a lactation consultant for backup. Even today, there are a lot of doctors who give out misinformation about breastfeeding! There aren't many medical conditions that actually force you to stop breastfeeding.