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It was good while it lasted….

January 3, 2009

After 18 months of breastfeeding, my daughter has finally decided that she’s had enough. Although I’m happy to think I’ve given her the best possible start in life and feel it was right to let her determine when it was time to move on, I can’t help feeling a bit sad too. I miss all that cuddly, cosy mummy-baby time for one thing! Anyhow, to cheer myself up I’ve decided to finish a post on breastfeeding that I’ve had brewing for sometime now. I realise this might not be everyone’s cup of tea – many of you read this blog to hear about my crafts, not my boobs, but I ask you to indulge me just this once – if not, look away now… 

I was always adamant that I was going to breastfeed, even before I’d heard about all the wonderful health benefits for both baby and mother. It simply felt the right thing to do. I admit, it wasn’t easy to begin with: despite planning for as natural a birth as possible, I’d ended up having to have an emergency c-section and was rather tender (the best laid plans…). As a result, I found it hard to find a position that was comfortable for both the baby and me. I persevered however, and with the help of two wonderful health visitors I found a suitable feeding position. The thing is, no matter how difficult it seemed at times, the benefits for the baby seemed to far outweigh any temporary discomfort on my part. I don’t want to sound all self-sacrificing but giving up simply wasn’t an option! So what exactly are the benefits?

Health

For the baby: breastfeeding helps protect against respiratory infections, gastro-intestinal infections, childhood diabetes, eczema, asthma and obesity. Breastmilk also contains all the nutrients your baby needs. Some studies also link breasfeeding with higher IQ.

For the mother: Less risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer. As breastfeeding burns an extra 500 or so calories a day, it helps you get back in shape.

Emotional

It’s a wonderful way to bond with your baby and enjoy some mummy-baby time.

Practical

It’s convenient – no bottles to sterilize, formula to mix, milk to heat – it’s always there ‘on tap’ at the ready.

Environmental

Zero food miles and no packaging.

Economic

It’s free!

The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of a baby’s life, yet Britain has some dismally low breastfeeding rates. According to figures published by The Office of National Statistics in 2008, only 35% of UK babies were exclusively breastfed at one week, 21% at six weeks, 7% at four months and 3% at five months. I certainly found myself to be something of a rarity breastfeeding at 6 months and as we approached 18 months, well, judging by some people’s reactions, I was bordering on the freakish!

I don’t know precisely why we have such low breastfeeding rates but, judging by my own experiences and those of mums I know, I’m guessing that some of the following factors are involved:

Social acceptability – living in a society where breasts are highly sexualized, it can be a bit daunting to get them out in public for the first time. I must admit, I never felt entirely comfortable with it but, as I wasn’t prepared to go and feed my baby in the toilet (well, I wouldn’t want to have my lunch in a toilet, would you?), I had to brazen it out.

Discomfort – breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt. If it does, it probably means that the baby isn’t latched on properly. Good positioning can be tricky to master but there are plenty of sources of support and advice (see below). 

Getting back to work – I realise that I’ve been very lucky as I haven’t needed to return to work. For many mums, however, this simply isn’t an option. Some of the mums I’ve met have breastfed their babies up until the point when they go back to work and others have simply chosen not to breastfeed at all, feeling that there’s little point starting and then having to stop soon afterwards.  

Thankfully, none of the above are irresolvable. If feeding in public is an issue, consider ways to feed your baby discreetly. There are some great breastfeeding tops out there which are stylish as well as practical and allow you to remain pretty well covered whilst feeding your baby. Take a look at  Mamaway and Frugi (great for baby clothes too!). If you’d rather not splash out on new clothes, something I did regularly was simply clip a muslin square to the neckline of whatever I was wearing, and draped it over the baby as she fed. Like so….

bf-coverup

If you’re suffering for sore nipples, don’t be afraid to ask your health visitor to sit with you and check that the baby is positioned well. If the usual position isn’t working for you, experiment and try a different one – your health visitor should be able to demonstrate some alternatives. For the few days that my scar was still very tender, I found the rugby-ball position very useful.

Going back to work doesn’t necessarily mean that breastfeeding has to stop. Breastmilk can be stored in the fridge for up to 3 days or freezes well, ready for whoever looks after the baby to heat and give to the baby in a bottle or doidy cup. You can start building up a supply in the freezer well before you go back to work. 

I think by far the biggest factor for successful breastfeeding is support and encouragement. This can come from family and friends but there are also a number of other options:

Your Health Visitor – As I’ve mentioned above, your health visitor can be a wonderful source of support and advice concerning breastfeeding and is someone who you’re likely to see quite a bit in the days following the birth. 

Breastfeeding Counsellor – The National Childbirth Trust runs a breastfeeding support line, open 7 days a week, which you can call to talk to a qualified breastfeeding counsellor. There may also be local representatives available for face-to-face discussions. 

Local Breastfeeding Support Groups – many areas have Breastfeeding groups which can be a great source of support and are also a wonderful way to meet other new mums. Ask your health visitor or doctor what is available in your area or contact your nearest NCT group.  

You may also want to take a look at the following online resources:

National Childbirth Trust 

Breastfeeding Network 

Baby Friendly Initiative

Baby Centre Breastfeeding Advice 

La Leche League 

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. January 3, 2009 7:37 pm

    Kittyboo this is a fantastic post.

    I don’t have my own children… yet, but am passionate about how young people are nurtured. I’ve never understood why, with so much information out there these days, women would choose anything other than the very best for their new babies. Breastfeeding, to me, is amongst the most important things you can do for a new human bean. Personally, I could never consider anything other than breastfeeding, for as long as the child felt they needed it.

    Good on you Kittyboo, in my opinion you’ve given your beautiful little girl one of the best nutritional and possibly emotional starts in life.

    :o)

    hen
    x

    p.s. have you had a look at these three blogs, they’re along these lines and are fantastic…

    http://annie.paxye.com/
    http://unprocessedfamily.blogspot.com/
    http://paxye.com/blog/

  2. January 3, 2009 8:03 pm

    Thanks Hen – I was a bit nervous about posting in case it was ‘too much information’ for some. Thanks also for the links – will enjoy checking them out.
    x

  3. thegardensmallholder permalink
    January 3, 2009 8:11 pm

    Hi Kittyboo, I also had an emergency c section (with my second child) so I sympathise how uncomfortable breastfeeding can be after such surgery. My first child was easier than my second, but as you have said the benefits far out weigh the negatives. I did not stick at it as long as you though so well done x

  4. dowhatyoulove permalink
    January 3, 2009 11:15 pm

    I have not had children, and am not sure that it is an experience I will happen to go through during this lifes adventure. But it only would make sense to me to breast feed, isnt that how nature intended, and how it was done up until 60 or so years ago? I really do not understand the formulas personally……
    Good for you sharing information that you feel passionate about, thats what these blogs are for, and if someone is squeemish about something they dont need to read it……

  5. January 4, 2009 10:07 am

    Thank you both – I’ve been really taken aback by just how much I miss feeding her. The wonderful closeness I felt when feeding her was worth all the initial discomfort ten times over.

  6. January 4, 2009 1:09 pm

    It’s not surprising you feel like you do Kittyboo, but I’m sure you can still have your cuddle times. Maybe it’s missing that feeling that eases people into making new little people! ;o)

  7. January 4, 2009 2:22 pm

    I loved breast feeding my two boys but had to give up sooner than you. I managed 8 months with No 1 then my milk dried up as I was already 2 months pregnant with No 2!! And I managed 10 months with No 2 who then became a killer bitter and nothing on earth would stop him so I had to give up. I just don’t understand why anyone would not want to feed their own baby – it is the most natural, beautiful (and cheap) thing to do in the world. And I have 2 wonderful, healthy, energetic, rarely ill boys which in part I attribute to breast-feeding.

  8. January 4, 2009 3:36 pm

    Hen – oh no, don’t you start! 🙂 I’ve been having relative after relative asking me when we’re going to have another! He he! I must confess, now that I’ve stopped feeding, I do feel more inclined towards having a second child. Must be the hormones……

    Rosie – Ouch! I was lucky and escaped the biting phase! She did it once and I squealed so loudly that I think it frightened her into never doing it again!

    x

  9. January 4, 2009 4:42 pm

    Great post! It’s such a shame that long-term, exclusive breast-feeding is so rare…you deserve a good-mummy award for feeding your daughter the way nature intended! 🙂

    I was curious about US breast-feeding rates…the CDC has data for 1999-2004, showing a slight upward trend. Let’s hope that upward trend continues!

  10. January 4, 2009 7:01 pm

    Thank you wil. Interesting to see the US rates – seem to be doing better than over here. I really can’t understand why the UK has such low rates (although, to be fair, they are improving) – in the past I’d have put it down to women perhaps not knowing the benefits, but these days new mums are given so much info about the benefits and so much support and practical advice. The nhs hospital where I had my daughter, for instance, encouraged women to stay until they’d established breastfeeding and I then had follow-up visits from my Midwife then Health Visitor to check it was going ok…. so I really can’t believe that women are unaware of the importance. It’s a mystery and a great, great shame.

  11. January 5, 2009 1:46 pm

    Not sure of the rates in Australia, but the hospital where I gave birth was VERY supportive of breast feeding, which made it all a lot easier. I can’t even begin to imagine how I could be organised enough to sterilse bottles etc. As for ‘whipping it out’ I was initially going to use the muslin wrap technique, but a lot of the time now I can’t be bothered.

  12. Michelle permalink
    January 5, 2009 3:43 pm

    Amen!!! What a great post! My son will turn a year in a couple of weeks, and he shows no signs of slowing down, so I imagine we’ll be continuing on for at least a few more months.

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