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Bernice Mene and Leilani Rorani: Breastfeeding champions

Former Silver Fern Bernice and Commonwealth double gold medal-winning squash champion Leilani discuss breastfeeding issues.
Former Silver Fern Bernice Mene

It wasn’t only natural talent that helped Bernice Mene and Leilani Rorani get to the top in their chosen sports. It also took dogged determination to persevere, no matter what obstacles were thrown in their path. Now both women say that same determination has been very handy when it’s come to mastering something many people assume comes naturally – breastfeeding.

Former Silver Fern Bernice, who has three children, and Commonwealth double gold medal-winning squash champion Leilani – a mum of four – are both breastfeeding their youngest offspring. As they sit and chat in the living room of Bernice’s Auckland home, the two former sports stars make this vital part of motherhood look so easy. There have been times when both have found breastfeeding difficult, but they’ve kept it up because they recognise how important it is.

Now they’re lending their support to a Ministry of Health campaign aimed at encouraging women – Maori and Pacific Island women, in particular – to breastfeed.

Perseverance is the key, says Bernice, mum to Solomon (4), India (2) and her youngest, six-month-old Jett.

“You expect it to be easy, but it does take work. It’s worth it though – it’s so much more convenient than bottle-feeding. And it’s a lovely way of bonding with your baby.”

Bernice (35) says it took Solomon a while to latch on properly. She felt more relaxed when it came to breastfeeding India, but it took some time to get used to feeding Jett because she’d only recently stopped feeding India, and she had to get used to the difference in their sizes.

“I was so used to feeding bigger babies, and it’s quite different with a newborn.”

She says every baby can be a whole new experience. “What works for one baby may not work for another – ask for help when you need it and go easy on yourself!”

This is a lesson Leilani had to learn. Breastfeeding has been different every time, with Joseph (7), Pearl (5), Jasmine (3) and Esther (4 months).

“Just when you think you’ve got the hang of it, along comes the next one and it’s a bit like starting again,” says Leilani (36).

Leilani assumed breastfeeding would come naturally. “It didn’t. Instead I felt like a tangled-up mess trying to position myself and Joseph, to feed him properly.

“I remember that first day at home, trying to feed him, and he was crying and I was crying too. Luckily my sister Wanita had a three-month-old baby, and she was able to coach me.”

Leilani went on to feed Joseph until he was 22 months, and had Pearl shortly after. She felt confident, but wasn’t prepared for how strong her newborn’s sucking was. She had sore nipples, but persevered, and fed Pearl for 12 months.

Then came Jasmine, and breastfeeding became a nightmare, giving her cracked nipples and sore breasts. “It got so bad I sent my husband Blair to the supermarket to get some formula.”

While Blair was trying to decide what to buy, a woman asked if she could help. “This complete stranger sent him to the vege aisle to buy a cabbage. She said putting the leaves in my bra would help with the pain.”

Leilani followed the advice and in 48 hours the pain was gone and she could feed again. “I’m so glad I could keep going.”

It hasn’t been plain sailing the fourth time round with Esther. “It’s been difficult feeding her from the right side, so I’m only doing it from the left, which doesn’t seem to affect her or me.”

Leilani admits she’s wondered why breastfeeding has been so tricky for her. “You do feel there must be something wrong with you, but we women are all wired differently.

“In sport you look to role models to inspire you, and it’s exactly the same with parenting. It’s good to be able to talk to other mums about how they’ve managed, and learn from them.”You just want to do what’s best for your baby, and that’s why I’ve kept on keeping on!”

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