I recently attended an antenatal class where the course facilitator went around the room and asked what people thought about breastfeeding and when the course attendees had last actually seen someone breastfeed. The class were honest in their responses, and noted that they understood breastfeeding to be hard work, painful, unpleasant and in some cases inappropriate. Out of the 8 couples, only 3 had seen a woman breastfeed recently, but all regularly saw mothers bottle feed their child in public. This blog explores some of the real issues around breastfeeding, in an honest, unbiased way to help you understand what its all about... Mummy style!
Do you want to breastfeed? You say you do... I know I did. Why? Because everyone tells you that you should. That phrase “breast is best” adorns every leaflet in maternity units, is splattered over the pages of every book about pregnancy and birth and rolls happily off the tongue of every healthcare professional that you speak to.
Why? Because it is. The evidence is there that proves it, but there are also other reasons that this message is hammered home and I’m not convinced that the message given to new mums is the right one, or conveyed in the right way. It seems more than coincidence that despite the huge focus that the NHS has on increasing the number of mothers that successfully breastfeed until their child is 6 months old, the UK and US see the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world.
Let me give you an example.
As a new, first time mum, I was keen to get my hands on a baby book, read all about the miracle happening inside me and start reading up on being super mum! The book I chose had a carefully constructed chapter on breastfeeding, with carefully directed photographs of a happy smiling mother, gazing lovingly into her fresh, clean newborn’s eyes, whilst the picture perfect infant latched on perfectly, suckled happily, and all was well. There was a small box assuring me that breastfeeding should not be painful, and if it was I was doing it wrongly!
This image is what many first time mothers, even those committed to breastfeeding from the onset, who are aware of some challenges, have in their mind when they begin their feeding journey. The books do not discuss the exhaustion, the appetite increase that leaves feeding mothers rooting through the fridge for a jar of nutella to take to bed with them, the pressure of feeling that you and only you are responsible for your infant’s welfare. They just tell you that breast is best! They find a whole new language that means nothing to an excited mummy to be- johnsons baby-style images surging through her brain. Colostrum, latching, areola, fore milk, hind milk... the list in endless. They give you the medical reasons that its best to breast feed your baby, but they actually omit a whole host of other reasons that I intend to share with you now...
-The weight loss, I jest not... within 5 days of giving birth I was back in my jeans, despite eating 3 times the amount I had done prior to pregnancy.
- Prior to feeding I was a modest bra size -34C... milk came in... 34E! You think your partner wants to feed the baby? Mine was certainly not in a rush to...
- Visitor management- In the early days you will be inundated with visitors, some of whom you will be happy to see, others you will not. Some visitors will give you wonderful advice that you will readily accept, and come armed with beautiful gifts. Other visitors are so painfully annoying that you will wish someone would tear your vagina open for a second time if it means that you can go back to hospital to escape them. This is where breastfeeding can be very useful. “Please excuse me I need to go and feed the baby...” This can be dragged out for as long as you choose, and can often turn into a lovely nap with your little one while your partner can strategically manage the intruders until they take the hint and leave.
Laziness is a wonderful breastfeeding bonus. I did not sterilise one bottle, nor did I have to take bottles of water and powder out with me. More importantly I did not have to mess around during the night, pouring boiling water all over the place, or worse, all over my partner’s penis, which a friend of mine did whilst trying to prepare a bottle in bed in an exhausted stupor when her child was 8 weeks old.
Your partner must also run around after you fetching you food and drink on request in order to help you to nurture your offspring...laziness..justified and un contestable!
The Johnsons baby moments do happen, and its usually after your baby’s first (6 week) growth spurt, when you feel as though your nipples have been ravaged by a pirana, you would happily sacrifice all your worldly goods for a night of sleep, and it suddenly becomes easier, convenient, and actually enjoyable.
One of the things that I regularly hear pregnant ladies discussing is the mystery of the breast pump. Hideous looking things with enormous plastic shells that the instructions happily tell you to insert your boob into. Like many other mothers I was no different. I unwrapped by shiny new breast pump, assembled it as per the instructions, pushed my enormous boob into the cup, and was all ready to express enough milk so my husband could feed our baby while I went out for a few hours... hooray!
On switching on the device I was horrified at the sound that erupted from the machine. To say it was bovine would be an understatement, more Jurassic park I felt, but my horror increased further when I realised that my entire boob appeared to be being swallowed by the plastic funnel and tube! I literally felt like a farm animal, but in the interests of those few hours of shopping with a friend I allowed the pump to do its work. I held it in place and drank my cup of tea- feeling very proud of my soon to be independence. 15 minutes later I had a teaspoon of milk in the bottom of my bottle.
What the instructions do not tell you is that a breast pump, (no matter how good!) is not as efficient as a baby, and that it will never get the same quantity of milk from you as your child will. Here are a few tips on how to get the most out of your pump.
-Put your pump on one boob while your child feeds from the other- it is amazing what a difference this makes at how fast your milk will flow.
-Don’t express as night when you have been feeding all day and your milk is lower- I used to find that first thing in the morning after our daughter had fed from one boob, and I pumped the other yielded optimum results.
Feeding in public was also one of my early quibbles. The thought of flopping out my lactating breast in Costa, or in front of my husband’s friends turned my stomach just thinking about it. I needn’t have worried- breastfeeding is a perfect excuse to buy yourself a new wardrobe. I know many women who weren’t sure if it was worth investing in the clothes as they weren’t sure how long they would feed for, yet to me having clothes that kept the whole experience modest and dignified meant that my daughter and I were free to go about our business as normal. Many of the breast feeding tops available on the high street are flattering and make it virtually impossible for bystanders to tell whether you are feeding your baby or just giving them a cuddle. There are some rather bizarre “apron” style garments that you can buy for use in the early days when you might struggle to get your baby in the correct position, but personally I felt that sitting in a restaurant and draping myself in something that resembles a marquee was only going to draw more attention to myself...
Safety In Numbers
There is nothing more reassuring, when facing your public feeding fears in the early days as gathering all your antenatal buddies and heading out for lunch, taking over a huge area of a venue and facing these fears together. You might feel isolated and embarrassed if you were out alone, but if there are 10 of you feeding and caring for your babies, you will probably be the majority.
So why is breast best?
It’s true that the health benefits for both mother and baby are uncontested by experts. As a new mother there is nothing more distressing that your child being unwell and its true that breastfed babies are less susceptible to a multitude of problems than bottle fed children. However Breast is also best for the NHS... why? Because if every child in the UK was breastfed it would save the NHS millions of pounds every year in treating avoidable problems.
So why do more women not breastfeed? A recent documentary by a leading celebrity revealed that women in the UK feel that their partners will feel left out, that they will lose their freedom if they feed, that their child will wish to feed until an inappropriate age, (Yes I do love Little Britain!) and that they do not have enough milk. They worry about going back to work and that their child might refuse a bottle, they worry about not being able to drink alcohol and losing their social lives.
My feelings are that none of these issues are addressed appropriately in the literature and media aimed at informing mums- to- be about feeding options. It is all formal, one sided, black and white. “This is how to breastfeed... go ahead and do it.”
Why doesn’t information talk about the health benefits of feeding to a mum as well as a baby, how it makes her lose the weight that people spend hundreds of pounds buying strange foods, on exercise classes to try in vain to shift. Why doesn’t literature on breastfeeding tell you in bold letters that it can help reduce your risk of cancer? Why don’t the tv programmes that we all love feature the yummy mummies we love to watch feed their babies? Why is the literature and information available so dull? If new mums were better prepared for the bizarre and emotionally draining first few weeks then this would undoubtedly change. Breastfeeding could be cool.Something for people to aspire to do.
Antenatal classes are a good way to address these issues, it gives you the chance to air your concerns and get quality information about a serious and important subject in a light hearted manner and an informal setting. Healthcare resources are often so stretched that many areas do not provide antenatal education or breastfeeding support. This is where my antenatal friends and the classes I had attended became a lifeline. I knew who to contact if I had questions, I had friends going through the same thing, friends I could crowd round the table with at the Waitrose cafe and feed my child without feeling embarrassed or isolated. To me the fact that someone can sneeze on my child in a public place, and within hours my milk provides antibodies that will protect her from that specific bacteria is amazing, yet I was unaware of this superb piece of trivia until I was 3 months into my feeding journey. At Down 2 Birth you learn these things, things that help you make choices, your choices, but with help and support when you need it.
Relax and enjoy your time as new mums, and be confident in your choices. Whether that is where your babies sleep, what they eat, what you call them, or how you dress them- everything changes so fast...oh... apart from my boobs, which are still a 34E!