Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Breast IS best!

I watched last nights show on bbc3 'Is Breast Best?' by Cherry Healey. I'm not sure where to start but it's got me pretty worked up.

To make it clear at the outset, I wouldn't judge someone for a choice they have made. Mums know what is best for them and for their baby and should trust their instincts. I've breastfed my two kids and will share my story a bit further down.

It is good to point out that if breast feeding isn't your bag or you find it too hard then you should bottle feed without feeling guilty. A baby needs fed one way or another and so long as mum is happy then baby will be happy. I've seen friends struggle with breastfeeding and the stress they go through can be more damaging than changing to bottles.

BUT I felt the show mainly aimed to ease bottle feeders guilt rather than really support struggling breastfeeders to continue.

Cherry said at one point about the 19 yr old who was persevering with breast something along the lines that she could easily have given up by now because it was sooooo hard and how amazing the girl was. Now I agree the girl was amazing. She was determined and she sought help to get through the first tough weeks of breastfeeding. However, what that girl was going through is part and parcel of breastfeeding. She wasn't having a particularly hard time compared to a lot of other women who still battle through it and succeed. It's sore at first, it's tiring, it's demanding. It can take 6-8 weeks to really establish feeding and yet so many women give up before that.

The only women Cherry showed who had positive breastfeeding experiences were mums who were already well established with feeding and she didn't ask, or at least it wasn't broadcast, what their initial experience was like. I'm sure these women didn't just pick up their new born and have the little one latched on just like that. It is a new skill for mum and baby to learn. Where on earth do women get the idea that it's supposed to be natural and easy?

I was particularly shocked/suprised/in total disbelief that breastfeeding would have to be made out as 'cool' in the media for young people to do it! I mean are we really that shallow and uneducated in our society that a celebrity has to do it first before we follow suit. Some of the girls were saying they never see anyone in the media or in a public place breastfeeding so they wouldn't think to do it. Well they know it exists (coz it's been done since the beginning of time) but they have discounted it. I completely understand that as a teenage mum in public with her baby she may get looks and feel people are judging her because of her age, so to face further judgement for breastfeeding would be too hard. Surely by choosing to breastfeed your baby you're saying 'I may be young but I want to do the best for my child'. I've just been discussing this point with Mr R and he says 'well that's the mature view and these are teenagers'. Well, these young girls were at a support group. Surely it's someones job to empower these girls and give them the confidence to go for it. Instead the feeling I got was them saying 'you're right it'll be too hard, you'll be the only one so you go for a bottle and don't feel guilty'.

Where do we get the idea that it's illegal to do it in public? You are feeding your child! We're in the 21st century! And they kept calling it 'getting your boobs out'. That's not going to help any mums watching who are considering it. In actual fact you don't have to get your boobs out. With a little practice at home you can get a good technique and be very inconspicuous.I've fed on a bench facing the floor to ceiling window of a busy Starbucks, in a meeting with my mortgage advisor, anywhere my baby needed fed I did it. Or would people rather the baby screamed? I didn't once contemplate going into a toilet, it would never have crossed my mind.

So, after that rant you may wonder what my breast feeding experience was like. My mum breastfed me and my younger sister so it was always in my mind that I would breastfeed my kids too if I could. I didn't know what was involved in it, didn't have friends doing it before my first was born so when my wee boy was born it was all new to me. I had a section so I didn't hold him for quite a while after he was born and we didn't get skin to skin straight away. While I rested after the surgery a member of staff fed him a bottle without asking. So the scene is, I'm pretty much confined to hospital bed with baby in cot beside me and doing my best to try breastfeeding when he cries. I call for help anytime I need to. Midwives do their best to help me get baby latched on. Day midwives were much more helpful than night time ones. So after about two days of this we are being assessed to see if we can go home. It turns out that baby has lost more than the 'normal' 10% of body weight after birth so we have to stay in an extra day to get his weight up. I've manged to get baby to latch on but he wont suck so on the 3rd night luckily I had an amazing midwife who stayed with me for what seemed like hours. She said to me 'If you're really determined to do this we'll crack it tonight'. We tried for ages and exhausted and crying in my hospital bed she asked me to hand express some colostrum. I remember I got 7ml! A tiny amount but she fed it to baby in a syringe and said it would last him til morning. Somehow in the morning I latched him on and he started sucking! Now we had the task of getting his weight up. Our new schedule was this: breastfeed every 3 hrs, after feeding Mr R would take baby, change him and put him down for sleep. Meanwhile I would express more milk to give as top up after each breastfeed then try and get some sleep myself. This is very hard in a busy maternity ward during the day. So, feed, top up feed, sleep and so on for 24hrs. His weight still wasn't up enough so we continued this for another 24hrs. Mums out there will be able to imagine how exhausted and emotional I was but I felt that if this is what it takes then I will do it. Luckily I got away without cracked or bleeding nipples. I was in hospital for 6 days before we were allowed home but once we were home we were breastfeeding. The fun didn't stop there though. Baby still fed all the time for an hour at a time sometimes more. And all through the night. Little and often coz their tummies are so small. The first few sucks were always nippy, I was with baby all the time coz no one else could feed him. I got very good at doing things with one hand while I was feeding. Basically you are giving your whole self to your newborn. But isn't that what being a mum is? After a couple of months he fed less often and so on as the months went on. I joined a local breastfeeding group when baby was 2 weeks old that my midwife told me about and made great friends there who shared tips with me. I fed him til he was 1yr old. With baby #2, I had a natural birth and she started feeding straight away. I hadn't long stopped feeding my wee boy so my nipples were still tough old things. But I still faced the all night feeding and no time away from baby and entertaining a toddler at the same time. I fed my wee girl til she was one as well. It was not easy, there were tears, times of thinking 'should I just give up' but I persevered and came through it.

The bottom line is that it's not easy in the first two or three months and sometimes beyond. How can we, as a country and a society give women a realistic view of what breastfeeding is all about and the knowledge to be able to do it? On the one hand I feel it's such a shame more mums don't have the proper information, guidance and support to breastfeed. On the other hand the information is there if you look and you don't have to look that hard. Call your midwife, google it for gods sake. Perhaps we need a massive ad campaign which not only targets expectant mums but all of society so that it is seen as the norm. We need TV ads, bus sides, bus stops, billboards, adverts which show various techniques and positions, public breastfeeding and, dare I suggest it, BOOBS!

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