Tomorrow marks the start of National Breastfeeding Awareness Week (Sunday 24th June – Saturday 30th June 2012). The week will see groups of breastfeeding mums, local support groups and national organisations across the UK sharing information, raising awareness and doing lots of weird and wonderful things in the name of celebrating breastfeeding!
My breastfeeding journey
As of tomorrow, I will have been breastfeeding my daughter, Eva, for exactly 2 years, 2 months and 18 days! It’s something I’m very proud of! I always knew I would breastfeed. It’s one of those questions people always ask you when you’re pregnant (the other most popular question being which pushchair you intend on buying) – “so are you going to breastfeed or not?”. I remember answering, “Oh yes, I’m going to try”. But I knew that I would more than try, whatever the hurdles, however hard. Breastfeeding was really a ‘non-choice’ for me – not something I consciously chose to do but something that just instinctively felt right for me and my baby.
My personal breastfeeding journey has had its ups and downs! Some people find breastfeeding easy, others, like me, have a few trials along the way. We didn’t get off to a bad start – I remember thinking after a week or so that we seemed to have the whole feeding thing sorted. I was so captivated by the act of breastfeeding, by nature – amazed and proud that my body could provide everything my daughter would need in terms of nutrition and all of the other amazing health benefits, all from my breastmilk. But in our third week of feeding we hit a problem. Eva developed a bad case of oral thrush which she then passed to me – this made feeding excruciating for both of us! Unfortunately, due to poor advice from my Health Visitor and GP about how best to treat the thrush, we ended up having it for 6 long weeks. I can remember sitting on the end of my bed in the early hours of the morning trying to get Eva to latch on, grimacing with pain. But I was determined to keep going. I eventually found an amazing homeopathic remedy which cleared up the problem for both of us in a matter of days. And breastfeeding became magical again.
We passed many of the big breastfeeding ‘milestones’ – 6 months, a year… Then breastfeeding suddenly started being painful again. Both of my boobs seemed to hurt, even between feeds, but my right breast was especially painful and seemed to have a weird line on it. At a referral to a local Breast Clinic, I was diagnosed with Mondor’s Disease. Although a very rare condition (with only around 400 reported cases worldwide), it actually sounds a lot worse than it is. It’s basically just trauma to the breast tissue. Most cases of Mondor’s have occurred as a result of breast surgery, such as in breast reductions or enlargements, or after the removal of cancerous tissue. But mine had another cause. When Eva was almost 14 months old we realised she had an upper lip tie (or ‘maxillary labial frenulum’ if you want the posh title). Because of Eva’s lip tie, she could not open her mouth wide enough to get a deep latch, causing the trauma to my breasts. This had not been such an issue before Eva had teeth, but the more teeth she developed, the harder it was to sustain a wide latch. The consultant I saw at the Breast Clinic was amazing and reassured me that, although painful, my condition was not serious. I was advised that the best thing I could do was to continue to breastfeed (I was so pleased he was so supportive of breastfeeding) and that it should get better once the cause of the trauma was removed. Unfortunately, the cause of my trauma was Eva and she didn’t seem to want to stop breastfeeding anytime soon! 🙂 But with some amazing support from local breastfeeding specialists and the unwavering love of my family, I learned new techniques and have managed to continue feeding, mostly pain-free. Most people are surprised that I am still breastfeeding at 2 years plus, problems or no problems – it’s unfortunately just not the cultural norm in the UK. I regularly get asked when I intend to stop feeding. But I intend to let Eva self-wean. I’m not sure when this will be (the worldwide norm for when children naturally self-wean is anything between 2.5 and 7, with the average being about 4 years of age).
I didn’t actually know that much about breastfeeding back in the early days. Since the birth of Eva on 6th April 2010, I have spent about a million hours reading, researching and learning about the subject! (A smartphone is a god-send when you’re feeding! 🙂 ) Then last year I began training as a Breastfeeding Peer Supporter and am now qualified to support other mums and babies with feeding. Along with 3 other local mums, I helped set up Full Circle, a Breastfeeding Support Group based in Caerphilly, South Wales.
It’s amazing how much duff info and advice there is out there about breastfeeding. I personally think this is to blame for our incredibly low breastfeeding rates in the UK, and in Wales especially. Mums and babies just don’t get the help they need. Unfortunately, in the UK, we just don’t see other people feeding (probably a combination of the fact that so few people feed and also because there is very much a culture of breastfeeding in private or ‘covering up’) and no-one seems to really talk about it that much. This is a huge contrast to other countries around the world where breastfeeding is a cultural norm – where breastfeeding is talked about openly, breastfeeding in public is accepted and welcomed, and new mums have support from a plethora of organisations, as well as their own mothers and even grandmothers, all of whom would have breastfed themselves. That’s why we decided to set up Full Circle – to increase awareness of breastfeeding, to provide new mums and their families with accurate information and, most importantly, the much needed support to help them achieve their own breastfeeding goals.
Some of the reasons I love breastfeeding
- It has loads and loads of health benefits for babies, namely decreased risk of many diseases and illnesses including asthma, coeliac disease, chron’s disease, various cancers, diabetes, diarrhoea, ear infections, eczema, gastroenteritis, heart disease, meningitis, multiple sclerosis, osteoporosis and hip fractures, and urinary track infections, decreased risk of obesity in later life, less risk of dental problems and less risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).
- And yet more benefits for babies…. breastfed babies have higher IQs, better hand-eye co-ordination, better speech and less behavioural problems than their formula-fed counterparts.
- It also has huge health benefits for the breastfeeding mum, including: reducing the risk of developing breast cancer, ovarian cancer, cervical cancer and uterine cancer. It protects the mother against developing other conditions including osteoporosis, diabetes, arthritis and postnatal depression. It helps the uterus to return to normal size after giving birth and helps the mum to lose weight quickly after the birth.
- Probably one of the biggest benefits of breastfeeding for both mothers and babies is that it allows an incredible bond to develop between a mother and her child. Due to the production of ‘mothering’ hormones, prolactin and oxytocin, the mother becomes highly responsive and nurturing towards her child. In research trials, breastfeeding mothers are far more responsive towards their children than formula feeding mothers.
- Breastfeeding is hugely convenient – the milk is available at exactly the right temperature, completely sterile, with no need for any bottles or fuss anytime, anywhere!
- Breastfeeding is environmentally friendly. Bottle feeding produces pollution; breastfeeding creates no waste whatsoever so is definitely the most eco-friendly option!
- Breastfeeding is free!
- Breastfeeding is a great way to soothe a distressed child due to the pain relieving and calming effects of the hormones contained in the milk, as well as the physical closeness with mum.
- In studies, breastfeeding mothers have been proven to get more sleep than formula feeding mothers, especially when breastfeeding is combined with bed-sharing.
- Because of all the huge health benefits for mother and baby, breastfeeding is great for society as a whole as it saves the NHS billions of pounds on treating the sick.
There are some amazing events going on around the country for Breastfeeding Awareness Week. Local events here in South Wales include a Breastfeeding Picnic on Sunday 24th June 10am-12noon at Roath Park, Cardiff. Breastfeeding mums and babies, past breast-feeders, and their families are all welcome – come and join in the fun! The event is hosted by Full Circle and Latch On Breastfeeding Support Groups.
Full Circle and other local groups will also be creating breastfeeding ‘walls of love’ – huge banners filled with beautiful photos, stories and hundreds of hearts written by breastfeeding mums, breastfed children, dads, grandparents and many others, explaining why they love breastfeeding. The walls of love will be touring round local venues including supermarkets, leisure centres and libraries, raising awareness of breastfeeding out in the community and generally spreading the love!
I would just like to finish (what has become a very long post – oops, I do get carried away when it comes to the subject of breastfeeding!) by saying I know that articles about breastfeeding always seem to be a little controversial. By sharing this information I do not intend to offend or criticise anyone else for their choices. Nothing I have written is intended to be judgemental, but rather to provide information, share my experiences, and hopefully, support others in their personal breastfeeding journeys.
I would also like to say a big thank you to everyone who has helped and supported me in my breastfeeding journey! In particular, my husband, James, my sister Jessica (fellow breastfeeder, Full Circle Chairperson, friend and inspiration), my parents, local breastfeeding specialists who helped me in my hour(s) of need, and of course, my beautiful daughter Eva.
For more information and support on breastfeeding, both locally and nationally, see the Full Circle website.