Breastfeeding is often described as “the most natural thing in the world”, but it is not… Moms need to be guided and supported along the journey, because it could be overwhelming and frustrating sometimes. And for expat-moms could be even harder, being in a not-familiar country. However, even now in 2018 there is still so much misinformation about breastfeeding. Anne Kathryn, an American living in Genoa (Italy), shares her experience as mom of two and as doula. Thanks Anne Kathryn!
Anne Kathryn, tell us a little bit about you and why do you live in Italy now.
I’m Anne Kathryn Rice, wife, mother of two, teacher, doula, and passionate about all things related to birth and parenting. I came to Genova, Italy 10 years ago to work at the International School in Genoa for what I thought would only be 2 years. I met my husband during that time and after a lot of consideration (talks, tears, changing my mind, then changing my mind again), I decided that I definitely wanted to go through life with him by my side. Now that we have kids (ages 4 and 5) I am even more appreciative of his supportive and loving nature because parenting has really turned me upside down and inside out and he’s been strong by my side the whole time.
So I felt very lonely. I was also very sensitive. I lacked self confidence. Deep inside I knew that what I was doing was good, but there was always that little drop of doubt because I had never done this before. I felt sort of like a baby myself.
What was your personal breastfeeding experience? Where you in a host country at that time?
I was in Italy, and it was a really beautiful and wonderful experience… when I was alone with my nurslings or husband. I was very aware that the way I breastfed (when we felt like it) was very far from what my Italian friends had experienced. So I felt very lonely. I was also very sensitive. I lacked self confidence. Deep inside I knew that what I was doing was good, but there was always that little drop of doubt because I had never done this before. I felt sort of like a baby myself. So when people said, “Are you feeding him/her again?” “You’re still breastfeeding?” or “Two at once? Isn’t that dangerous?”, it really got to me. I cried a lot firstly because I felt misunderstood, and secondly because it was just so sad to me that there are so many people that think that breastfeeding, if done in a certain way, can be harmful. Once I got really mad about this and I wrote a blog post about it. Someone blamed my son’s waking up at night because of breastfeeding and I just sort of flipped out. I wanted to defend breastfeeding. As if breastfeeding were a person that needed defending. I was a knight in shining armour trying to defend this wonderful and beautiful thing. haha.
The beginning was tough, how did the journey get on?
So, Gianina was 18 months old and still nursing when Steven was born. Gianina and I were at a happy place in our nursing relationship and I was feeling confident. When Steven was born you can imagine that history sort of repeated itself because I started nursing them both, which was a very strange thing for a lot of people. Once someone took a picture of the three of us and I felt like I was some sort of show at a circus. So I only tandem nursed at home and when I was alone with my kids or husband. Little by little we gained confidence. We got in a rhythm. I learned how to nurse so that the kids were comfortable and also me, too. It was like a dance. Too much, too little, yes at night, not at night, this is how you should ask, etc. I found it to be a very enriching and bonding experience for all three of us. And I’m very glad that Gianina still had breastfeeding when her little brother came along. She could watch us nurse and know that this was something that she could also do with me. And it was beyond adorable when they would nurse at the same time and hold hands.
I think that breastfeeding is simply not for everyone. Many times, in order to breastfeed, you have to completely let yourself sort of melt and mold into this new role. You have to be mostly naked with your baby a lot and give up a lot of freedom….. It’s frustrating
Did you look for and have any support from local groups?
I did seek out several local La Leche League groups in my area. At first I couldn’t believe that they existed. I was home reading The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding and in the back there was the international website with a mention of groups all over the world. When I looked them up and found 3 groups meeting all within an hour of me I went to all of them! I was so thirsty for interaction with people who understood me!
A quite large number of women chose not to breastfeed. What could be the reason, in your opinion?
I think that breastfeeding is simply not for everyone. Many times, in order to breastfeed, you have to completely let yourself sort of melt and mold into this new role. You have to be mostly naked with your baby a lot and give up a lot of freedom. You can’t really plan anything very well. Babies seem to want to nurse as soon as you sit down to eat or hop in the shower. It’s frustrating. Having someone attached to you for hours a day can be overwhelming. Some mothers mold willingly, some mothers mold reluctantly, and for some mothers, molding is not an option. And I don’t think that this is a bad thing. We’re just all different. Most mothers do make life changes after having a baby, but for some breastfeeding is just not where they want to bend.
Unfortunately I think that some mothers would have liked to have breastfed longer, but they did not have the right kind of support. Maybe they had misinformation, or maybe they even had encouragement to stop. I think that the vast majority of new mothers (myself included) do not think that it’s normal for babies to want their mothers, or to be held, or to nurse, all the time. It almost always seems like so extreme. And we tend look for something to blame. Sometimes we blame ourselves and our parenting style, and sometimes breastfeeding gets blamed. We get convinced that we are spoiling them, that we are doing them (or ourselves) a disservice by nursing a lot. Somewhere along the way, mothers lose confidence for whatever reason, and then the milk supply diminishes. Because we can’t breastfeed if we are tense. Prolactin and oxytocin, the two main hormones involved with breastfeeding, shy away from stress and tension. Mothers need to feel relaxed, supported, and confident in order to breastfeed. Which is not easy if you are alone or surrounded by people who make you question your parenting decisions.
If you are still unlucky enough to get looks that make you uncomfortable, just remember that people who don’t think that you should breastfeed in public are people that have zero experience with breastfeeding. They simply do not know that it’s normal
Breastfeeding in public places…a very natural act of love, but still a controversial topic. What would you suggest to a new-mom?
I feel like I should just copy paste a couple of pictures from popular ads involving women dressed in scantily clad clothing to answer this question. If it’s okay for them to show some skin, it is okay for you to feed your baby. You can actually do it without showing any skin if you have one shirt under and one shirt over. Just pull the top shirt up and your nipple will be showing for half a second before your baby latches. If you are still unlucky enough to get looks that make you uncomfortable, just remember that people who don’t think that you should breastfeed in public are people that have zero experience with breastfeeding. They simply do not know that it’s normal. They’ve not been around it and it’s new to them. Newness for some is scary. Social change is slow because of this. But for every adult that scoffs at a breastfeeding mother, there is one child who walks by and will remember you when he becomes a mother or father. And that’s what we should focus on. Educating our children. So that they don’t think it’s scary or new. For them, hopefully it will be normal.
How could an expat find help in her host country?
I would recommend any sort of mother’s meetings or parent support groups. Even if you don’t speak the same language as the parents in the group, if you all have kids, you’ve got something huge in common. Being with others as they go through the same kind of journey is priceless.
Professionals that might be able to help you are your local IBCLCs (International Board Certified Lactation Consultants ).
Birth and Postpartum Doulas also offer support for new mothers. All doulas offer in home support, but many also offer support via phone and video calls. I am happy to say that have just recently started offering this service myself (Love Grow Discover , both in English and Italian). A doula will give you space to find your way in parenting, without telling you what to do. We are not health professionals, but knowledgable about childbirth, lactation, and many topics that new parents worry about such as infant sleep and adjusting to life with a baby. If you hire a local doula, she can also put you in contact with local groups and professionals that can help you.
I also highly recommend The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, Mothering Your Nursing Toddler, and Adventures in Tandem Nursing all publications by La Leche League.
Is there any international breastfeeding association that provide support to women in different countries?
That it was so magical and special but the healthcare professionals around me were going about their jobs as if it were just another day. And for them, yes, it was just another day, but for me it was one of the most important and transformational days of my life.
How did you end up writing for Breastfeeding World ?
I found them on Instagram! They always post wonderful photos and one day they did a post asking for volunteer blog post contributors so I wrote them. They are based in New York City but organize “Latch Ons” in several cities around the world. I enjoy writing for them because they are very supportive and they are helping me learn about social media… something I know very little about!
Why and when did you decide to be a doula?
When I gave birth to my two children here in Genoa (2012 and 2013) I had this profound feeling that something was missing. That it didn’t have to be so hard. That it was so magical and special but the healthcare professionals around me were going about their jobs as if it were just another day. And for them, yes, it was just another day, but for me it was one of the most important and transformational days of my life. And so I decided that people giving birth should have support. And not just any kind of support. Support from people who hold sacred space for the birth. Because women who are supported can move mountains, literally. So after I came out of the newborn haze I decided to take this amazing course offered by Mondo Doula.
Since taking the course I now realize that I have always had a “doula” mentality. I am an elementary teacher, and my approach has always been one of listening. I listen, ask guiding questions, and offer support, but the learning journey is ultimately the child’s. And now I am doing that with mothers. It really pleases me to no end to see a mother relax and believe in herself. In childbirth, it makes the birth easier, faster, and safer. In the postpartum months mothers are in this phase of learning unlike any other time in their life and it is an honor for me to be by their side.
Anne Kathryn Rice
Love Grow Discover
Family Photo ©ErinandGabri
Anne Kathryn and Steven Breastfeeding Photo ©EleonoraVaschetti
The other Photos ©AnneKathryn
Interview by Deborah Patroncini (Deborahexpat)