Last week we sat down with local mom Sarah Merkel and her 2 month old son, Ryker, to have a discussion about what it is like to be a breastfeeding mom in Perth County. Sarah has a Master’s Degree in Public Health from the University of Waterloo, where her final project delved into the public perception of breastfeeding as well as determining innovative ways to normalize breastfeeding in our society. Needless to say, breastfeeding is a topic that has been on Sarah’s mind often but, it isn’t until recently that she got to experience what it is actually like. When not on maternity leave, Sarah works for the Perth District Health Unit as a Health Promoter.
Sarah’s interview is part of the SFHT’s summer initiative to promote Breastfeeding Awareness Week (Aug.1st -7th).
Question: Why did you decide to feed your baby breast milk?
Answer: My main reason for breastfeeding was the health benefits for [Ryker]. Breastfeeding provides exactly what he needs as that is what [my] body is designed for. If Ryker requires specific antibodies to fight off illness, my body is able to produce the nutrients he needs in that moment, which is very cool. There is also a closeness from the skin-to-skin contact that breastfeeding gives mom and baby. Convenience was also a factor, as we can breastfeed anywhere, anytime. Breastfeeding is also less expensive, which is an added bonus.
Q: Do you feel like there is a stigma around breastfeeding?
A: I have never felt as though there was a stigma around breastfeeding in Stratford.
Q: Have you set breastfeeding goals? How did you decide to set them?
A: My breastfeeding goal is to exclusively breastfeed for 6 months, as well as to pump every day around my schedule. I have been following Ryker’s cues for needing to nurse rather than a set feeding schedule […] I knew pumping was going to be an important part for me to reach my goal of exclusively breastfeeding but still living my life. I had set my goal on my own, but that was mostly due to having a lot of background knowledge about the World Health Organziation’s recommendations for new mothers. As important as setting breastfeeding goals are, I’ve already learned that you must be okay with whatever happens, and that you can’t feel too guilty if everything doesn’t go as planned. There are already too many opportunities for “mom guilt” as it is. Women need to do what is right for them and what works with their lives.
Q: Did you use any community resources?
A: Community resources [see list below] have been really helpful for a number of reasons. Meeting with other moms is great because you can come together to troubleshoot any issues you’ve come up against, as well as learn new tips for unforeseen challenges. Another vital role of these groups is that they help remind you that others are struggling with the same challenges you are and that you aren’t alone. With so many things about your life and your body changing, sometimes all you need is a group of women to remind you that you are normal. Both you and your baby are learning this whole breastfeeding thing for the first time, and support groups are so important to keep up the persistence to keep trying.
Q: Have you thought about your back to work plans?
A: Working with the Health Unit certainly gives me an advantage for heading back into the working world. As I am planning on exclusively breastfeeding for 6 months and to be back at work after 9, I don’t see balancing breastfeeding and working as an issue. However, I am absolutely able to appreciate the challenges of mothers who are returning sooner or work in shifts.
Q: Is there anything you would do differently for the next feeding experience?
A: There is nothing that I would do differently for future births. I am proud of myself, for setting my goal of not introducing formula and sticking to it. I knew it wouldn’t be easy and would be a challenge—I came into this with patience and a realistic mindset that has worked out well for us. I knew that there would be plenty of challenges but I also knew that there was tons of support available if and when I needed it. This was hands down worth any of the challenges that have come our way. Ryker had difficulty latching for 4 weeks, but being persistent and patient has really paid off as he is now an incredible and speedy eater.
(disclaimer: these are resources used by Sarah throughout her pregnancy and have no affiliation with the SFHT or our care providers. For further suggestions on community resources, please contact your health care provider or set up a consultation with our SFHT lactation specialist Andrea Thompson at 519-273-7017)