It’s the start of National Breastfeeding week, and that means the start of the Keep Britain Breastfeeding Scavenger Hunt! You can find out more about the hunt in general and where to find more posts from participating bloggers on the main hunt website. The idea is that you read blog posts to find out more about breastfeeding, and there you will also find ways to enter individual competitions as well as the main prize draw in which you can win lots of breastfeeding-related and general baby goodies.
For my first post I’m writing on the theme of the ‘benefits’ of breastfeeding, or, as I prefer to think of it, simply what I love about breastfeeding. Breast milk from mum is the normal food that human babies are biologically designed to eat for the first months of their life, so it makes sense to think of this as the norm and instead what might be the ‘disadvantages’ of formula milk which comes from a cow (or soya bean).
For those of you who haven’t followed my breastfeeding journey until now (there are plenty of older posts on the blog in the ‘bump and breastfeeding bits’ if you’d like to read about it), I have actually had to supplement my own milk with formula milk for both my boys as babies, more for my first (Andrew, 28 months) than my second (Joel, 7 months). This is because I have hypoplasia or insufficient glandular tissue (IGT) in my breasts to make enough milk for a baby before they eat solid food. This was diagnosed my a Lactation Consultant, and is not just to do with size but rather shape of breast too. I have still managed to breastfeed though, mainly with the help of an at-breast supplementer (the SNS) – Joel, although he has had a fair amount of formula over the past 7 months, refuses to take a bottle (like many exclusively breastfed babies) and has had all his intake of milk directly at the breast. I’ve written about this before in various posts (if you search ‘SNS’ on the blog they will come up).
There are many things I love about breastfeeding, all of which have encouraged me to carry on in the face of struggles with IGT and the faff of having to supplement. Before I had Andrew, I only thought of breastfeeding as a way to feed a baby, to get calories into them so that they grow. Of course this is a part of it, but for me the things I love about breastfeeding are the non-nutritive bits!
As I sit here and type, I have a baby snuggled up to me, half asleep, half sucking, all cosy and content. This is a lovely feeling, and I feel as though I have a very close bond with my two boys which has been formed over time whilst feeding them. Even when I was struggling, I couldn’t imagine not having a baby sucking fro me for much of the day (it’s a great excuse to rest on the sofa when you’re shattered!) My toddler still doesn’t think he is too old for Mummy milk, and I love the time that he takes to snuggle up to me before bedtime because we can reconnect after a busy day during which he is very independent. Even though I spent a lot of time feeding his newborn brother in the early months, the fact that he could still have some Mummy milk meant that neither he nor I missed out on some quality time together when there was a new person in the mix. And I’m sure that tandem feeding (not often at exactly the same time) has helped build a bond between the two brothers so far.
One thing I didn’t expect to get through having kids was better quality sleep. For most of my adult life before children, I wasn’t the best sleeper – it only took a small (or big) amount of stress such as worrying about my studies, exams or work and I would have sleepless nights, lying in bed awake for ages and not finding it at all easy to drop off. Of course my boys have had me up in the night many times, but the difference is that when my head does hit the pillow I’m out for the count until I’m next woken up. We know that the hormones released when a mum breastfeeds help her to get off to sleep, and I am convinced that this has been responsible for such a big shift in my sleep.
It is noticeable how little my boys have been ill. They’ve had minor colds like we all do, but they’ve rarely had temperatures – I think we’re only on our second bottle of paracetamol and ibuprofen suspensions in nearly 2 and a half years of having children. We’ve hardly ever needed to go to the doctor with them, and when we did it was more to be cautious with little ones and they didn’t feel there was much they could do. We do mix with lots of other children as we go to lots of groups, and Andrew went to a childminder for 11 months when I went back to work part-time before having Joel. Breast milk has antibodies which I as mum produce that then get passed on to them as they feed. These help their own developing immune systems to fight infections quickly and effectively. No matter what claims formula milks make about what they contain, they cannot contain this living stuff! The way I look at our situation is that I’m providing the immunological help and the formula is providing the extra calories that I cannot physically produce enough of.
There are also some longer term reasons why breastfeeding is good for both me and my boys, which are nice to think of even if they aren’t tangible on a daily basis. The more I breastfeed, the lower my risk of developing breast and cervical cancers. Breastfed babies tend to have higher IQs than formula fed babies, are less likely to develop allergies, and are less likely to become obese. Of course this is a generalisation over a whole population – my husband Tom was bottle fed and has always been a tall beanpole despite having a large appetite, probably because he is very active and as a family we are very active too, which will no doubt influence our boys’ weights.
These are the main reasons why I love breastfeeding. There are others that I can think of, but the fact that I’ve had to supplement with formula means that I haven’t been able to enjoy all of them. For example, breastfeeding is convenient as there is no faff of sterilising and making up milk and getting it to the right temperature – you just latch baby on and away you go, which means it’s easy to go out without having to think about how much milk to take.
I’ll be back with another post on Tuesday, but for now I’ll leave you to read some posts by others and have a go at entering the main competition below. Don’t forget you can also still be in with a chance of winning a Breastvest here.