It was good while it lasted….
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?
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.
It’s a wonderful way to bond with your baby and enjoy some mummy-baby time.
It’s convenient – no bottles to sterilize, formula to mix, milk to heat – it’s always there ‘on tap’ at the ready.
Zero food miles and no packaging.
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….
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: