Breastfeeding toddlers & beyond: not as weird as you might think – #KBBF2014

The theme for today in the Keep Britain Breastfeeding Scavenger Hunt is “Breastfeeding Beyond a Year”. I still remember the feeling when Andrew, my eldest son, got to his first birthday and was still breastfeeding. At the time I wrote a blog post on it called the not-so-crazy world of toddler breastfeeding. After all the struggles we’d had in the early weeks and months (as I explained in my last KBBF post, I have IGT – insufficient glandular tissue – so can’t exclusively breastfeed a baby), I could hardly believe that we’d got to 12 weeks let alone 12 months. But he was still keen to feed, or nurse would be a better term as it really wasn’t about the food anymore but about the comfort and routine. And I always said that I wanted him to decide when to wean and it wouldn’t be me who would initiate the weaning process. So we carried on beyond the time that most mums I knew were breastfeeding.

Apart from his lack of interest in weaning, there are other good reasons to have carried on nursing a toddler (and now preschooler). I think that it’s helped in the fact that he’s still hardly ever been ill. Nursing has been fundamental in his daily bedtime routine for a long time, along with a bath and reading books. He likes to have that routine and I think it has helped him know that it’s bedtime before he could understand properly what was going on. Nursing has also helped when he’s been upset or tired over the years, to calm him down, though these days he only really has some milk before bed.

 

When Andrew was around 13 months old, I found I was pregnant again. This brought with it all sorts of thoughts and feelings about breastfeeding, for example: I had bad vomiting and nausea throughout the pregnancy and wondered if I had the energy to carry on and how I should initiative weaning in that case; I wondered if Andrew would self-wean anyway, as many do during the pregnancy of a sibling; I wondered if/how it would work out with tandem nursing if he did want to carry on. I wrote about these thoughts at various times in my weekly pregnancy diary blog posts, such as this one.

Well we both made it with the breastfeeding through pregnancy thing, and when Joel was born, we became a tandem nursing family. I had lots of support from my local LLL group, and one leader in particular had gone out of her way to help put me in contact with another LLL leader from elsewhere in the country who had tandem nursed with IGT. She made the good point that the toddler is an excellent breast pump substitute in terms of giving the breasts extra stimulation after the newborn feeds (of course you can’t get the milk back from the toddler though, like you can from a bottle of pumped milk, and give it to the baby, but I never got much from a pump anyway.)

As Andrew was basically down to just having one feed before bedtime, I made sure that Joel had had good feeds himself up to that point, and then he had time with Daddy whilst Andrew and I had milk time. He probably was getting very little actual milk by that point in the day, but as he’d nursed through pregnancy, when milk supply drops naturally even in mums without IGT, he was used to that. He just liked the time with me, and I think the tandem nursing helped him accept Joel into the family, although he was young enough to not really care that much anyway. Sometimes Andrew would ask for milk while I was sitting feeding Joel in the day – an increased interest in nursing can happen with older siblings, even if already weaned, so he wasn’t unusual in this, and would usually be happy with a few sucks from the other side, just to mark his ground more than anything I think. There weren’t many times that I would actually have one feeding from each side at the same time – tandem nursing refers to breastfeeding 2 (or more) children in the same time period, not necessarily precisely simultaneously.

Joel seemed to get more breast milk than Andrew did at the same age – I could tell partly from the fact that he needed less formula supplementation and partly because his poos looked so much more breastfed than Andrew’s ever did pre-solids! Many mums, with and without IGT, report increased milk supply with subsequent children. So even if Andrew was taking a little of the shared supply when Joel was a baby, I was happy that over the span of their nursing years, they were getting their own fair share.

Before I knew it, we somehow managed to get to a whole year of tandem nursing; it dawned on me that I was tandem nursing 2 toddlers, and nowadays a toddler and a preschooler.  Neither of them nurse for very long these days, but both of them still enjoy Mummy milk before bed. I think Andrew is slowly on the stopping straight because he doesn’t ask for it every day now, but I’ve heard that this is how self-weaning at this age can happen – a slow process that you look back on and can’t pin point an exact time that they stopped, the breastfeeds just go down from once a day to once a week to once a month etc. We often joke that at this rate, Joel will stop before Andrew, because he’s probably less interested in it than Andrew was at this age, but who knows! (Only they know.)

I look back now and can’t quite believe that I’m sitting here writing this, given our shaky start in the world of breastfeeding. But I’m glad that we persevered through the hard times to get to this point. When I think about how much breast milk that my boys have had over their nursing lives, it’s probably similar to how much some babies had who were exclusively breastfed for the 6 months that is seen as the ‘standard’ amount of time to breastfeed for. Some people may think that breastfeeding or nursing toddlers is weird, and pre-schoolers even weirder, but it works for us and I’m happy to carry on for as long as they require, which may turn out to be not much longer.

Others who are writing about breastfeeding beyond a year today include….. (please go and visit their blogs too).

Sorry about the mess

Circus Queen

Hex Mum

My thoughts on things

Baking Betsy

And another WAHM like myself taking part in the hunt is

Cherub Chews

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Why I Chose to Breastfeed – #KBBF2014

The theme for today in the Keep Britain Breastfeeding scavenger hunt is ‘Why I chose to breastfeed’, which I thought was a great title to write to. The so-called ‘benefits’ of breastfeeding are often talked about when people are trying to explain what’s so good about breastfeeding, and indeed there are many reasons why breastfeeding is a good thing. But I think each individual mum who chooses to breastfeed has particular ones among these many reasons that mean something to her personally. So why one mum chooses to breastfeed (or not) is not necessarily the same as the next mum’s reasons, and that’s why a title that acknowledges a personal story is, I feel, very important when it comes to the ‘benefits’ of breastfeeding.

And for me, this is a very good question – why did I choose to breastfeed? Well, if you’d have asked me this before my eldest son Andrew was born, when I was pregnant with him, I would have said something along the lines of “I’d like to breastfeed because I know it’s the natural way of feeding a baby, but if I hit problems and it’s too hard, then nevermind, I’ll just bottle feed instead.” Only after he was born and I hit major problems breastfeeding did the determination to carry on arise from somewhere inside me (hormones? natural instinct? back of my brain?).

I’ve told our story in full in previous posts, so I won’t go into too much detail here. The best post to read about how our breastfeeding story started in the first months of Andrew’s life is this one. It turned out that I have IGT (insufficient glandular (breast) tissue) or hypoplasia, and would never produce enough breast milk to exclusively breastfeed a baby. It’s estimated that only a tiny percentage of women have IGT, and therefore pro-breastfeeding literature is keen to point out that it is ‘rare’ to be unable to physically produce enough milk to breastfeed. And I think it’s important to point that out, of course, because there are many other reasons why mums might have (or perceive they have) a low milk supply – for example feeding to a schedule (rather than on demand), giving some bottles & skipping some breast feeds, baby isn’t growing the way the charts say they should, breasts don’t leak or feel full once feeding is established etc. etc., when actually things could be done about all of these and the mum could produce enough milk. But for me, it feels disappointing to be among the unlucky few who can’t produce enough milk, even if we try really really hard at doing things to increase our supply (though there is something special about being a ‘rare’ case).

 

However, just because I can’t exclusively breastfeed a baby, doesn’t mean I can’t breastfeed, and between us, Andrew and I figured out how to use a supplemental nursing system (SNS) to allow him to breastfeed as much as possible, whilst getting top ups of formula milk at my breasts. I’ve written more about this ingenious device here. It wasn’t always easy, and combination feeding like this is a bit of a minefield in terms of working out how much supplement to give and managing demand-led feeding alongside scheduled top ups in the early weeks. Many times I wondered why I was bothering to do this, when it would be easier to just give him bottles and give up trying to breastfeed.

So why did I choose to carry on breastfeeding, despite all the struggles? First, sheer determination is something that I’m well known for – once I get my mind set on doing something, I like to see it through, and I didn’t realise just how much I wanted to breastfeed until I started, and then stopping wasn’t something I was going to do without a fight. This is my personality, and I know not everyone is the same, for me it was a very personal choice to continue in this sense. Second, I learned through breastfeeding that it is not simply about getting calories into a baby to nourish them physically, despite how the medical professionals saw it like this whenever we saw them. Breastfeeding is part of my mothering, and I realised that I enjoyed it: I enjoyed being that close to my baby, calming him down when upset, soothing him off to sleep, letting him know that I was there whenever he needed me, and he seemed to like it at my breasts too, even if he wasn’t immediately hungry and just needed the comfort. I wouldn’t have had this amazing mothering tool if I had given up and turned to bottles.

KBB Scav Blue 14

That small baby continued to breast feed, even when he showed interest in solid foods and then took to them very well. In fact, when he got more calories from the solid stuff, the formula top ups went down and eventually he just breast fed alongside solids and water/other drinks. That little baby whom I struggled to establish a breastfeeding relationship with at the start, is now a lively 3.5 year old who still to this day likes some Mummy milk before bedtime, even if just a minute’s worth of sucks. Clearly he doesn’t need the calories in the milk (his appetite for food and drink is healthy!), but clearly he feels the need for the routine and the comfort (and probably the effect of stalling bedtime for another minute or two, he’s a clever chap!), and I’m happy to fulfil that need for as long as he requires it, it’s part of how I parent. I’ve also done the same for his little brother, who is now 19 months old and enjoying breastfeeding before bedtime still, plus the occasional other feed if he’s upset or in the early morning.

As well as the major reasons in my choice that I’ve outlined above, there are several other reasons that I was glad I was breastfeeding, like the antibodies in my milk (both of my boys have hardly been ill at all) and the need to buy less formula which is so expensive and produced by unethical companies. I wish I didn’t have the faff of sterilising the SNS and having to think about how much top up milk (if any) I needed to take out just in case we stayed out longer than I was planning – these are other reasons why I would have loved to exclusively breastfeed, but I didn’t have that choice.

So this is why I chose to carry on breastfeeding, I’m so glad I did – looking back now at how far we’ve come makes all the early struggles worthwhile. I’ll write more about breastfeeding beyond a year, including tandem nursing 2 children, in my next hunt post, so stay tuned 🙂

There are lots of other bloggers taking part in the hunt, so please head over and read some of their posts too. And don’t forget to enter the rafflecopter below to be in with the chance of winning some fab prizes!

Diddle Diddle Dumpling

Keep up with the Jones Family

My baby boy and me

Being Mum

My thoughts on things

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Keep Britain Breastfeeding scavenger hunt 2014

I can’t believe another year has passed and it’s nearly time for the annual Keep Britain Breastfeeding scavenger hunt again. I enjoyed the past two years that I’ve taken part in it, and as breastfeeding still seems to be going strong in our household, I’m glad to be back taking part again this year. You can read my posts from previous years here…

2012

What’s so good about breastfeeding?

Mum-to-mum sharing: at breast supplementation

Breastfeeding support

Small steps add up to a long breastfeeding journey

2013

What I love about breastfeeding

Where to turn when breastfeeding gets tough

When will I stop breastfeeding?

Not only am I blogging about our experience this year, but I’m also taking part as a prize donor – this Sewn Down Purple Lane wet bag that could be used to store cloth breast pads or CSP (or anything else!) is up for grabs as part of the hunt’s prizes. The design woven into the fabric is a chemical diagram of an oxytocin molecule, a very important hormone for breastfeeding and new mums in general.

Oxytocin wet nag for kbbf

I’ll be writing two blog posts over the week of the hunt (Friday 20th to Thursday 26th June) – one on why I chose to breastfeed, and one on my experiences of breastfeeding beyond a year (x2 children). The aim of the hunt is to raise awareness of breastfeeding throughout National Breastfeeding week (the week that the hunt is running). It is NOT about making anyone feel guilty about not breastfeeding – whether a mum chooses to breastfeed or not is her own choice, and one that others shouldn’t judge, everyone has different circumstances, but I believe that this choice should be an informed choice, based on access to correct information on how breastfeeding works and where to turn to find useful and knowledgeable help if things don’t go smoothly. And that is what this hunt is about – lots of mums sharing their own experiences with the view to informing other mums who read them. Mum-to-mum support or peer support is such a big part of many mums’  successful breastfeeding stories.

I’m looking forward to reading lots of other great posts on breastfeeding and hearing all about others’ stories, as well as sharing our own experiences. If you’re interested in breastfeeding, I hope you will join in too.

 

When will I stop breastfeeding? – #KBBF2013

I don’t know the answer to this, only my boys do. From early on in Andrew’s life, I said that I wanted him to self-wean rather than me leading. In general I’ve taken a very baby-led approach to parenting, letting them settle into their own rhythms and not setting a routine – though Joel has had to conform a bit more than Andrew did, as his older brother’s pattern (that was drawn on a blank slate) was already set, but he seems to have been easy-going enough to cope with this. Breastfeeding is one aspect of my parenting, and an important one at that.

When I said that I would let Andrew self-wean, I didn’t think for one moment that he would still be enjoying mummy milk at nearly two and a half years old. I assumed that as my supply had been so rubbish in the first 6 months of his life, he would soon give up on me and that would be it. But as he quickly took to solid food, breastfeeding became something he did for comfort, not calories, and therefore it didn’t seem to matter to him that there wasn’t a huge amount. I then thought that he would self-wean during my pregnancy with Joel, again thinking that if my supply had been so rubbish before, then it would be even worse as the hormones caused it to dwindle in preparation for the new baby. I wrote a fair amount about this in my pregnancy diary posts every week on the blog (for example here and here). But he carried on, and it is still important for him now, nearly 8 months into his baby brother’s life.

My boys and I on our tandem nursing adventure
My boys and I on our tandem nursing adventure

Andrew doesn’t have loads of milk, and some days it’s more than others, but before bed every night he will have a cuddle and some mummy milk and then Daddy will read a story and say a prayer with him before leaving him in bed to drop off to sleep, which he is very good at. I think this regularity helps him unwind and know that it’s bedtime, and if it’s been a busy day, it’s one time that I know we can reconnect and talk about how the day has been for us.

Joel is now at the stage where solid food is taking up more and more of his daily calorie intake, which seems to be quite a lot as he’s also crawling everywhere so needs lots of energy. He too has taken to solid food well, and the amount of formula that I need to supplement with has gone down drastically in the past month or so. He’s feeding less in the daytime, and has most of his milk intake 5am-7am and 7pm-8pm, as well as a few small feeds here and there in the day alongside his solid food.

As with Andrew, I will let Joel decide himself when he wants to stop breastfeeding. There are some days when Tom (my husband) and I joke that at this rate Andrew will be feeding longer than Joel, mainly because Joel is in that stage of feeding quite a bit less now that he’s on solids so it doesn’t feel like I’m constantly feeding him any more and there is a big difference in how that feels to me.

Well done! You've found another hunt logo - you can enter the competition again at the bottim of this post.
Well done! You’ve found another hunt logo – you can enter the competition again at the bottom of this post.

When I look back at how breastfeeding started with Andrew, it’s hard to believe that we’ve ended up where we are – I have two boys who have healthy appetites and are still enjoying mummy milk. How on earth we ended up here I wonder with amazement, things could have turned out so differently. Before Andrew was born I had no idea that it was even possible to breastfeed a toddler, let alone through another pregnancy, and it didn’t even enter my head why anyone would want to do that. I guess if we hadn’t have hit problems and therefore found help through LLL, I might not have even learned that I don’t *have* to wean my baby at 6 months when they start eating more than milk, like all the prominent books and advertising would have us believe.

Everyone has their own breastfeeding goals, and what is right for one family is not the same as what is right for another family. Different mums and babies are ready to wean from breastfeeding at all sorts of different times and for different reasons. This is just our story. At one point I said I would be glad to get to 6 weeks, then I said I’d be glad to get to 6 months, then to 1 year, then through pregnancy, then to 6 months of another baby, then to whenever they both want to stop. My goals have shifted as I’ve lived with one and then two nurselings. I hope that anyone reading this is able to achieve their own breastfeeding goal, whatever that might be.

There’s still more time to enter the main competition of the scavenger hunt, with more than £1000 worth of prizes in the kitty. Just fill in the rafflecopter below! You can read more posts about breaastfeeding at the following blogs…

The Brick Castle

In the Playroom

Pea Musings

Faded Seaside Mama

Let’s Walk Together for a While

And here’s a company where you can find all sorts of baby things, not just breastfeeding stuff (I love their babywearing items for example)

Natural Nursery

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Where to turn if breastfeeding gets tough – #KBBF2013

As I’ve written before, I probably wouldn’t be here writing these posts for the Keep Britain Breastfeeding scavenger hunt if it wasn’t for the support of several people. I know I am pretty determined, so that also plays a role in why I was stubborn enough to plough on in the face of adversity, but I know that it could have turned out so differently had I not met the right people at the right time. I’m going to focus in this post on the people who gave me specific breastfeeding support, but I can’t forget to mention the strong support of my husband Tom and our families, who were very encouraging and helped out with so many things in the early weeks after the birth of both my boys so that I could concentrate on feeding; without them I would have found things much harder than they already were.

When we went back into hospital with Andrew at 6 days old because he was dehydrated as my milk hadn’t come in (and the community midwife team hadn’t had the staff to come and see us between day 2 and day 6, despite our phone calls for help), we were visited on the ward by the maternity hospital’s infant feeding specialist midwife. She was fantastic, and knew just what to say to me and how to listen to me, clearly an emotional wreck, feeling like I’d failed as a mum in less than a week of being put in charge of a baby. She assessed us both and how he was feeding, and she suggested some things we could do – I didn’t feel like she was pressurising me to carry on breastfeeding him, but was offering support if I did want to. It was this midwife who first introduced us to the SNS, which was key in our breastfeeding journey. I will never forget just how important the information she gave us and her ability to listen to my concerns were to us.

After that I started going to the weekly breastfeeding drop-in clinic not far from our home. This is run by volunteer health visitors and breastfeeding peer supporters like La Leche League (LLL) trained mums. Cambridge is probably quite unusual to have a regular drop-in like this almost every day of the week, and anyone is welcome to attend for support. Half the appeal is just to be able to sit down and have a hot drink made for you and have a chat with other mums who are also not finding it all plain sailing. Again, the ability of the supporters to just listen and let you tell them exactly what’s going on is amazing, and the information they give is accurate because they have a special interest in breastfeeding. I found that my assigned postnatal community midwife and health visitor knew very little about breastfeeding, because this is such a small part of their training unless they do more on their own initiative; I had some what turned out to be very inaccurate advice from my midwife, which could have been a lot worse if I hadn’t had access to more accurate info elsewhere.

Well done! You've found another hunt logo - you can enter the competition again at the bottim of this post.
Well done! You’ve found another hunt logo – you can enter the competition again at the bottim of this post.

It was through the regular drop-in that I got to know a lovely lady who is one of the LLL leaders in Cambridge. She encouraged me to go along to a meeting where I could meet more mums who could offer me support and friendship. So I went along to our first meeting when Andrew was 4 weeks old, not sure what to expect, and we’ve been going pretty much every fortnight for the last nearly 2 and a half years! Before I went I wondered whether I would feel odd in the group as I wasn’t able to excessively breastfeed, but I was soon welcomed into the group and never felt embarrassed that I had to take formula along in my SNS – they were happy to help and it didn’t matter one bit that we had a more unusual breastfeeding story, as everyone in the room had a different story. There was also no pressure to breastfeed at all, they were just there for me if I wanted to persevere, it was my choice.

Now we are very much involved in the group: I’m on the committee, we go to every meeting that we can, and I have been able to chat with other mums who are going through issues similar to what we have experienced and give them some support too. This is exactly what LLL is about – mum-to-mum support. Apart from my milk supply issues, we’ve also had experience of breastfeeding through pregnancy and tandem breastfeeding (I’ll talk about these more in my next hunt post), both of which I’ve been able to share with other mums who are thinking of having another baby. Although I’ve often wished that I didn’t have IGT and had a ‘why me?’ attitude for much of the first half year of Andrew’s life, I have now come to see that I can turn this into something positive by offering other mums support based on our difficult experiences – it’s only because we had issues that we sought support and ended up getting involved with LLL, so if it hadn’t have been for our problems, I might well have not had the opportunity to do this.

invention

It was also through LLL that Andrew’s tongue tie got spotted. One of the leaders noticed his tongue was a little anchored when he smiled at her, and as she wasn’t an expert, she said that it might be worth getting it checked out my someone who specialises in tongue tie snipping. I tried to ask two GPs at our surgery if they could refer us to the nearest hospital with a specialist, but they didn’t want to know (I wrote about this here). So we decided to pay for a Lactation Consultant to come and assess him. She said that he did have a posterior tongue tie, which was quite hard to spot, so she snipped it and things did improve for us as Andrew started to gain more weight from that week on. But it wasn’t just the tongue tie snipping that was good – she spent about 3 hours one-to-one with me talking through all sorts of things to do with our breastfeeding story so far, going into so much detail both in the questions she asked me and the info she gave me. Of course that’s her job and that’s what we paid her to do; I just wish this level of help was available for free on the NHS.

I wouldn’t wish our breastfeeding situation on anyone, I’d far rather not have the faff of topping up with formula, but I do hope that through my writing about it other mums will be encouraged to seek support in places that will really help. Local drop-ins are usually advertised in places like health visitor clinics (or asking your health visitor), maternity hospital postnatal packs, NCT newsletters and children’s centres. Organisations such as LLL, NCT and ABM have details of local groups on their websites. Lactation Consultants are listed by area on the Lactation Consultants of Great Britain website. You might find that your own midwife, health visitor and GP are more helpful and knowledgeable than ours were – it depends how personally interested they are in breast-feeding. I hope this has been informative, and I’m always open to questions about my supply issues, use of an SNS, feeding in pregnancy and tandem feeding.

Today, as well as the main competition with over £1000 worth of goodies in the prize kitty, I have a competition running to win 5 pairs of washable breast pads hand made by the lovely Leah at I Sew Green. Leah is a work at home mum trying to make the world a greener place to be by making all those things you normally throw away. She has some lovely breast pads, cloth sanitary products and cloth nappy-related products that you can see through her Facebook page. To enter both competitions, follow the Rafflecopter instructions below.

And finally, why not pop over to some other blogs and companies who are participating in the hunt….

Circus Queen

Diary of a First Child

The Secret Life of Kate

Oh So Amelia

Hinckley Yummy Mummy

Breast Milk Keepsakes

a Rafflecopter giveaway

What I love about breastfeeding – #KBBF2013

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).

First time........ Second time
Andrew……Joel

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.

Well done! You've found another hunt logo - you can enter the competition again at the bottim of this post.
Well done! You’ve found another hunt logo – you can enter the competition again at the bottim of this post.

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.

Life with Pink Princesses

In the Playroom

My Thoughts on Things

The Secret Life of Kate

Life, Love and Living with Boys

Pixie Pants Cloth Nappies

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Competition time! Counting down to National Breastfeeding week

Back in April it was cloth nappies, and next week it’s breastfeeding – two things that I am so glad we do as a family and therefore would like to raise awareness of, particularly during the weeks when they are made prominent nationally. That’s why I’m taking part in the Keep Britain Breastfeeding scavenger hunt next week, along with lots of other bloggers and companies who are interested in breastfeeding, for National Breastfeeding week.

Each day next week there will be lots of posts published on a particular theme of breastfeeding (e.g. what’s so good about breastfeeding?, breastfeeding beyond the first year). The idea is that as people read these posts, they find the hunt logo on the various websites and can then enter competitions, both small ones and the larger main competition to win a big goody bag of all sorts of breastfeeding-related and general baby stuff – I heard recently that the total value of all the prizes for the hunt is now over £1000!

Through all this reading, the aim of the hunt is to raise awareness of breastfeeding, to get accurate information out there based on real people’s experiences of breastfeeding, and to try and dispel some breastfeeding myths. I try not to take it for granted that I was in the right place at the right time to get fantastic support from knowledgeable people when I was struggling to breastfeed Andrew, and I know that had we lived somewhere different, I may well not have been here writing these posts.

Last year I took part in the hunt and had a lot of fun reading others’ posts about their experiences and entering the competitions. You can read the posts I wrote here…

What’s so good about breastfeeding?

Mum-to-mum sharing: at-breast supplementation

Breastfeeding support: accurate info, practical help, listening ears

Small steps add up to a long breastfeeding journey

This year I will be writing again about what’s so good about breastfeeding, the importance of good support, and breastfeeding beyond the first year – I feel these are the closest things to my heart when it comes to breastfeeding. I’ll try not to repeat myself too much for those who have already read these posts. So if you’re interested, watch this space!

To get us in the mood for the upcoming fun, the lovely people at Breastvest have offered both a discount code for this week, the week before the hunt begins, and a prize for me to give away. There aren’t many products that I feel I really need as a breastfeeding mum, though of course it’s sometimes nice to be bought gifts that you wouldn’t otherwise buy yourself if you can make use of them. But one thing I did do for clothing in the early weeks of breastfeeding was wear a vest underneath a flowy top, as I found it worked well to pull the vest down and lift the top up, so not revealing much of me at all (more concern over the post-baby tummy than my chest region actually!) I happened to have some vests that I’d got quite a while before having kids that had extendable straps, but even these were sometimes a squeeze to pull the vest down and not lose its shape after a while. But the Breastvest is a clever design, made with extra long straps that make breastfeeding like I do (or at least did until the weather got warmer and my boys have fed less and less when we’re out) much easier.

Breastvest
A Breastvest in action

Here are a couple of ways that you could get your hands on a Breastvest… If you enter the competition below, you are in with a chance of winning one of these clever vests in your colour and size of choice. Or if you don’t fancy the wait until the end of the competition, why not head over to their website right now, choose a colour and size, and enter BSH25 at the checkout to get a 25% discount on your order. This discount is valid from 12.01am on Monday 17th June 2013 to midnight on Sunday 23rd June 2013. You can keep up to date with their future offers by following them on Facebook and/or Twitter.

You might also be interested to know that for the rest of June, Breastvest are selling limited issue grey breastvests in aid of the Lullaby Trust, which supports grieving parents whose babies have been lost to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and also provides safe sleeping information. All of the profits from the sale of grey breastvests during June will be donated to them.

See you again soon for more breastfeeding reading 🙂

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Breastfeeding support: accurate info, practical help, listening ears

I am absolutely convinced that every mum needs support if she is going to reach her breastfeeding goals. Breastfeeding involves many factors (physical, hormonal, emotional, social, psychological etc.) that come together to create the unique journey of a breastfeeding pair comprised of mum and baby; the same mum can even have a completely different experience with two (or more) different children. Sometimes these factors create a very favourable situation, making the breastfeeding journey relatively straightforward, but in other cases these factors cause issues that make the journey a very difficult one.

The mums who do have a difficult time obviously need support, and I’ll come on to where you can find this in a moment. But even those who have no major issues need a certain amount of (perhaps subtle, in the background) support in the form of, for example, a helpful partner and/or family who understand why breastfeeding is important and how it works. As a society, we can all give moral support to all breastfeeding mums by making them feel welcome and normal in public places, not making them feel self-conscious and like they have to hide away. This is one of the most fundamental ways of supporting breastfeeding mums in general.

But on an individual level, what if you do encounter problems? What can you do about it, and where can you go to get support? The first thing to remember is that you are not alone – many mums experience issues ranging from relatively minor/temporary/easily fixable problems to more overwhelming/long term/unbearable problems. The second thing to remember is that there are sources of support out there, even though you might have to be quite pro-active in searching them out at a time when you’re already feeling exhausted. Our experience of breastfeeding could have been a lot worse and a lot shorter if we had not been lucky enough to find the right support at (more or less) the right time. I see breastfeeding support as encompassing three different aspects: accurate information, practical help, and listening to emotions.

Well done, you've found another scavenger hunt logo! Keep reading for more tips, blog links and chances to win some cool breastfeeding-related prizes!

The obvious place you might think to look for support would be your midwife and/or health visitor. In our experience they were mixed in how helpful they were, and I know that this very much depends on the individuals and how much breastfeeding-specific training they have had and how recently they completed it. I gave birth in a midwife-led birth centre, and it was a very positive and empowering (as is currently the buzz word in birthing) experience. I cannot fault the support of the midwives there to get breastfeeding off to a good start: they allowed me to have a completely natural birth with no pain relief except a pool; Andrew was delivered straight onto my tummy and breastfed almost straight away by latching on of his own accord; we were not hurried onto the post-natal bay and were allowed lots of skin-to-skin time; they checked on us a lot during the night after he was born, constantly asking if I needed help with feeding, and even suggested I wake him after he’d slept so long without a feed – this was really important to stimulate my milk supply.

But we were only in hospital for about 12 hours after the birth. The problems came when I went home and we were in the care of my community midwife. She was (unfortunately) on annual leave during Andrew’s first week. Of course everyone needs a holiday and I’m not complaining about that, but when we rang her team because we were concerned that feeding wasn’t going well, we did not get the support we needed. Later that week he was admitted to hospital with dehydration and significant weight loss, and I felt let down by the community midwife team care.

When we came out of hospital the second time, and I was trying my hardest to give breastfeeding a go as well as continuing the formula supplements that the paediatricians had started, my community midwife told me that I should only keep him on the breast for 20 minutes at a time every three hours and then top-up with a bottle, to give my breasts time to ‘fill up’ again. At the time I believed her, but having read more about how breastfeeding works from La Leche League (LLL) resources, I know that this is rubbish! Breast milk is constantly being produced as soon as some leaves the breast – it’s more like a continuous stream than a bucket you have to fill, then empty, and then wait for it to fill again before taking any more out. Our health visitor wasn’t much better – with her it wasn’t so much the inaccuracy of her advice rather the lack of her visits. She came a couple of times, checked I was in a fit state to look after my baby, and then left us to get on with it. I could have made the effort to ring her, but by that time I had started to get support from my local LLL group and thought that was much more worthwhile than keeping in touch with a busy health visitor – these mums had time for me whenever I wanted advice (more on this in a moment).

However, the most crucial support we received in the first week was from the infant feeding specialist midwife at the hospital when we were on the paediatric ward. Looking back, it was, ironically, good that we went back into hospital. She introduced us to the SNS (at-breast supplementer that I talked about in my last post). Without this way of supplementing, with Andrew still getting as much breast milk as I was able to produce, I don’t think we’d still be breastfeeding today. This midwife’s support was helpful and, most importantly, she gave us accurate information.

So the moral of the story with health professionals is, in our experience, don’t be afraid to question their authority and seek a second opinion – in many cases their training on breastfeeding is very basic and often out-dated because it does not feature prominently in current training (even for midwives and health visitors). If you’re anything other than a perfect textbook case, you might find they give, out of ignorance, inaccurate or downright misleading information.

As I just mentioned, I got amazing support from my local LLL group. This is an international organisation represented in many countries across the world. In Great Britain there are groups who meet in various cities, towns and villages across the country. The mission of LLL is ‘to help mothers worldwide to breastfeed through mother-to-mother support, encouragement, information, and education, and to promote a better understanding of breastfeeding as an important element in the healthy development of the baby and mother.’ This is exactly what I found when I went to my first coffee morning, after I was lucky enough to meet one of the volunteer leaders at a breastfeeding drop-in clinic who encouraged me to come along as she knew I was struggling.

A flyer for our local LLL group, with lists of meeting and coffee morning dates inside, hanging on our notice board so I know where to meet each week 🙂

From what I’ve heard said by others, breastfeeding support organisations like this and others (e.g. NCT) in the UK can be seen as an exclusive group of well-off ladies who bang on about ‘breast is best’ and look down on those who feed their babies formula without persevering through difficulties. In my experience, nothing is further from the truth! I took formula (in the SNS) to meetings and was not shunned; I’ve seen mums take bottles to meetings and were not shunned. In fact it is mums like me that are made to feel particularly welcome, because mums at LLL meetings who have overcome problems themselves know exactly how it feels to be under all the different pressures and prejudices associated with how you feed your baby. All these mums wanted to do was help me in how I chose to feed my baby, by giving me accurate information, practical help and a genuinely interested listening ear when I was in floods of tears. At no point did I think that I would have been thought less of in that group for bottle feeding Andrew. Now they are some of my most respected mummy friends. I always look forward to seeing them once a week for continued support now that we’ve overcome our initial breastfeeding struggles and are into the toddler feeding stage, which comes with its own difficulties, such as the judgement from others that it’s not normal (it is normal – I’ll write more about this next week).

So the moral of the story with breastfeeding support groups is don’t be afraid to go – whatever your circumstances, your age, your income, your background, your breastfeeding journey (or lack of) so far, there will be other mums who would feel privileged to be able to help you in the way you need it most to meet your breastfeeding goals. It’s not just LLL groups (that’s what I had access to here in Cambridge); there are all sorts of other local groups run by mums for mums. Other organisations with such groups are the NCT and the ABM. Children’s Centres are a good place to look for these groups, as many of them meet there, or have links with the centres who put their leaflets/posters out. A google search would probably bring up a few hits in your local area. Or your midwife or health visitor might be only too pleased to pass on information about such groups if they are rushed off their feet with a huge caseload!

Last, but not least, I could not write a post about breastfeeding support without giving pride of place to Daddy and grandparents. I definitely could not have got through the hard times without Tom, my amazing husband. He has done everything possible to support me whilst breastfeeding, including practical help like making sure I had drink and food in the early weeks when I was constantly feeding, and emotional support by being my person to cry on at any time of day or night (he got very wet in the early weeks!) and making it clear to me every step of the way that he would be behind me 110% with whatever decision I made about feeding, whether I chose to persevere with breastfeeding or switch to bottle feeding. He never pressurised me either way, and has found many ways to help me and bond with Andrew without doing the feeding, for example bath time has always been Daddy and Andrew time. He understands how breastfeeding works (mainly from how much I rabbit on about what I’ve read about breastfeeding!) and is happy that I still feed Andrew now at 16 months – he knows it’s a natural thing because he sees on a daily basis how much Andrew and I get out of it. He also knows that I am now very passionate about sharing our experience of breastfeeding and supporting others, and doesn’t complain when I talk at him about it in the evening after a hard day at work 😉 Basically, Daddy is the best! He’s the most important source of support that I had and still have for breastfeeding.

Daddy with Andrew (aged 6 months)

But if your baby’s dad isn’t around for whatever reason, there’s no reason why you can’t have another person, for example your mum or another family member or close friend, to be that rock of support. I am also blessed to have very supportive parents who have been behind my decision to breastfeed despite tough struggles every step of the way. I guess they know me so well that they know there’s no point getting in the way when I’m determined to do something. In the early days and weeks they helped by doing lots of practical stuff for us, like housework, shopping and cooking, and they still do these things when they come to visit every few weeks on average. They too understand how breastfeeding works – it helps that my mum breastfed my brother and me at a time when there was much less support for it than there is now. This was particularly important in the early days: they weren’t the kind of family members who would come round and insist on constantly cuddling baby and questioning when I knew he wanted feeding; instead they of course enjoyed cuddles, but respected that I was the primary person who Andrew needed access to, to stimulate my milk supply and feed him as much as necessary. They knew that doing the housework themselves was more helpful than taking Andrew off my hands so that I could do it. Having people around you who understand these things is very important. Support is only helpful if it’s the right kind of support.

Granny and Grandad with Andrew (aged 14 months)

I hope that this post based on our experience of support for breastfeeding has been informative. Why not hop over to some other blogs and read about other sources of support that mums have found helpful? There are some links below, and more on the main website, where you can also find out more about the Keep Britain Breastfeeding Scavenger Hunt 2012. Don’t forget to enter the competition below to have a chance of winning the grand prize.

Breastfeeding in England – Breastfeeding support groups

Mama Geek – Breastfeeding Support – Why it’s important and where to find it!

My gorgeous boys – Breastfeeding: Where to get support

Breast 4 babies – Ten Things My Midwife or Health Visitor Never Told Me About Breastfeeding

Diary of the Milkshake Mummy –  Together everyone achieves more

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Mum-to-Mum sharing: at-breast supplementation

In this post I’d like to share my experience of using a little-known ingenious device for supplementing breast milk with formula milk. I haven’t met many mums who have used such a thing, and as far as I can see there isn’t much info out there about it compared to other breastfeeding-related ‘equipment’, so I’m hoping this will be a really informative post for anyone who this might be useful to.

Before I go any further though, let me first talk a bit about low milk supply and the possible need for supplementing with formula. Much of the useful information that I have taken in about breastfeeding has been through La Leche League (LLL), and, more specifically, the book published by the organisation called The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding (which I’ll call WAB for short). The information in this book was written by mums with years of breastfeeding experience, and is backed up by medical professionals and scientific research into various aspects of breastfeeding; plus it is constantly being updated (currently in its 8th edition).

A common anxiety that many mums-to-be and new mums have about breastfeeding is ‘will I (or do I) have enough milk?’ WAB’s answer is that most mums are able to make plenty of milk; some do have difficulty making enough, but often the reasons are fixable if the mum gets the right support and information at the right time. So what might cause a deficient milk supply? WAB puts it like this…. The baby might not be taking enough from the breast (leading to a declining supply because breastfeeding works on the principle of the more milk taken the more is produced); this could be due to issues such as position at the breast, the frequency and length of feedings (not often enough, too short), prematurity, tongue-tie, muscle weakness etc. Or mum might have hormonal issues which lead to lower milk supply, such as thyroid problems, polycystic ovary syndrome and other fertility issues, or structural issues with her breasts, such as previous surgery or insufficient milk-making tissue. There are many possible factors involved, and the combination of factors is different for each breastfeeding pair (mum and baby).

In the case of Andrew and I, there was a mixture of both mum and baby issues which lead to our supply problem (you can read our full story here, but I’ll summarise for you now). I don’t have a huge amount of milk-making tissue, which is evident from the shape and size of my breasts (it is important to note that small breasts does not automatically mean insufficient milk-making tissue, nor indeed does big breasts automatically mean loads of milk-making tissue – there could be lots of fat tissue too which doesn’t make milk; shape is also key in this. For more info, I’d recommend reading p381-382 of WAB or the LLL book Breastfeeding Mother’s Guide to Making More Milk). Also, Andrew was born with a tongue-tie. This was a particularly tricky one to spot, and we didn’t get an official diagnosis until he was nearly 10 weeks old, at which point it was snipped and this did make a difference to his weight gain (the indicator that he was getting more milk).

And finally, before I actually get on to at-breast supplementing after this important deviation into low milk supply, let me mention a few points (from WAB) that might explain why a mum thinks she isn’t making enough milk (when in fact she is). She might not realise that babies need to feed as often and for as long as they do (though they all differ in exact requirements) – what seems like all day every day canbe completely normal. She might have someone else asking her ‘are you sure your baby is getting enough?’ – that’s enough to make any new (or not so new!) mum doubt herself and her instincts. She might not be letting the baby lead the way by letting him/her feed whenever and for however long he/she wants to, and instead following a schedule imposed by herself or a parenting book.

Well done, you've found another scavenger hunt logo! Keep reading for more tips, blog links and chances to win some cool breastfeeding-related prizes!

If you along with your health professionals and breastfeeding supporters have ruled out all the potential causes of low milk supply (actual and perceived), and tried to fix any that could be at play, but baby is still not thriving as he/she should (usually indicated by poor weight gain, at least that’s what medical professionals look for, though there are other things like lethargy, dry mouth/eyes/skin, not reaching milestones), then supplementing baby’s milk intake is a necessity for his/her well-being.

At this point I would like to point out that, despite the impression that some people including medical professionals give, baby feeding does not have to be black and white: either you breast feed (exclusively) or you bottle feed. I successfully combined breastfeeding with formula supplements until Andrew was on a balanced and varied solid food diet, at which point I dropped the formula and continued to breast feed. Don’t let anyone tell you this isn’t possible!!! WAB also makes the same point. Another thing to point out is that there are ways in which mum can try and increase her supply as much as possible, for example by expressing milk to give to baby as well as feeding directly at the breast and taking herbal supplements (I won’t go into this here, but again I’d recommend WAB or Breastfeeding Mother’s Guide to Making More Milk).

One thing that helped us a lot with our supplementing (and increasing my supply as much as possible) was the at-breast supplementer that we were given (and then later bought one of our own) by our local hospital’s infant feeding specialist midwife when Andrew was admitted with dehydration and major weight loss at 6 days old. It’s called a ‘Supplemental Nursing System’, or SNS for short, by Medela. This ingenious device is quite simple really – it’s a bottle, into which formula or expressed breast milk is poured, which hangs around mum’s neck with a thin tube coming out of the bottom that mum sticks to her breast with tape so that the end of the tube sits just on the nipple; when baby sucks on the breast, he/she not only gets all the breast milk available, but also the milk in the bottle via the tube.

SNS (supplemental nursing system) - a bottle that hangs round mummy's neck by a cord, and out of the lid (which is at the bottom when hung) comes a length of thin tubing, which is taped for each feed to the breast, so that the loose end of the tube sits on the nipple. As baby sucks on the nipple, he gets all the mummy milk available, plus the formula in the bottle. Quite ingenious if you ask me!

The reason why I liked this was that Andrew was still breastfeeding all the time that he was also getting the top-up. He did have a bottle every now and then – basically when we were out somewhere that I couldn’t easily prepare and use the SNS – but I would always offer him both breasts first and then the bottle. He didn’t miss out on any of the milk that I was able to make, and I enjoyed the feeling of having him sucking from me and felt like I bonded very well with him in this way. I am convinced that without the SNS we would not still be breastfeeding today, at 16 months! So, ironically, it was a good thing that we went into hospital at 6 days old and were given very good advice by the feeding specialist.

Andrew (4 months) and mummy enjoying a feed, with the SNS around mummy's neck

Sure it was fiddly using the SNS to begin with, and it did take some time to get to know the best ways to use it. Here are some of the things I learnt about what worked for us:

  • If Andrew was very hungry by the time I got ready to feed him, it was sometimes easier to get him latched on first and then stick the tube in at the side of his mouth, rather than try and latch him on with the tube in place at the nipple, as this often ended up with him knocking it out the way during the latching process! Ideally I tried to feed him when he wasn’t already fussing, but this was sometimes impossible.
  • As he got older and I found I needed to support him less than in the early days, I found it easier to hold the bottle or put it down next to me instead of having it hanging round my neck which sometimes got in the way when he was bigger.
  • There are different thicknesses of tube, and working out which one was best at each stage was a process of trial and error: as he got older I thought it was logical to go for thicker tubing to get a faster flow which he could then cope with, but then I realised he got used to that and was more fussy about sucking from me without the SNS (i.e. without the artificial immediate let down of milk), and I reverted to the thinner tubes.

But these issues that we learnt to deal with were nothing compared to the help it gave us, and I would recommend it to anyone who is facing a situation of low supply and the need to top-up. Although we put formula in the SNS (because I was unable to express much with a pump or by hand), it is also possible to put expressed breast milk in it as a way of increasing supply – i.e. you express and baby feeds from you, to maximise the milk output from the breasts.

I’ve tried to remember all the information about low supply and supplementing that I think would be useful for others, but if you have any more specific question, please leave a comment and I’d be happy to tell you more about our experience. For a while I felt like a failure for not being able to produce enough milk and desperately wanted to be able to exclusively breastfeed, but I came (a) to realise that I’m not the only one who struggled with low supply, (b) to accept that this is just the way I and Andrew are (after lots of determined trying to increase supply and put everything right), and (c) to see myself as a breastfeeding mum who gave her baby a bit of calorific help from formula in the early months. Now that Andrew breastfeeds happily without top-ups, but of course a good diet, I’m so happy I persevered through feeling like a failure, because I know now that I most certainly am not! In fact the longer Andrew feeds, the more likely it is that I’ve developed more milk-making tissue to be able to feed the next newborn with less (or no) supplementing. Most of all, I hope that our story inspires others to not feel like a failure when breastfeeding is not going like it does in the textbooks – this is the real world.

Why not hop over to some other blogs and read other mums sharing their experiences? There are some links below, and more on the main website, where you can also find out more about the Keep Britain Breastfeeding Scavenger Hunt 2012. I’m sure there will be lots of other tips and stories to inspire and encourage. Don’t forget to enter the competition below to have a chance of winning the grand prize.

Bumps 2 Babies – The Beauty of Breastfeeding

Mama Geek – Getting Started with Breastfeeding – My Top Tips

Life, Love and Living with Boys – Breastfeeding Friendly Chester, An Update, A Guest Post AND a Competition! – A Babi-Mam Bib-Bob giveaway

Little Scribbles – Sharing

Breast 4 Babies – Ten Things your Midwife or Health Visitor Never Told Me about Breastfeeding and a BoobieMilk giveaway

Diary of The Milkshake Mummy – From One Breast Friend to Another

Blooming Lovely Jewellery has joined the Hunt with their beautiful Bola Pendants

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What’s so good about breastfeeding?

You don’t have to look too far in the antenatal bumpf, sorry I mean ‘literature’, that we’re given these days to see a list of the ‘benefits of breastfeeding’. When I first read these during my first pregnancy, I was encouraged to see that I would be able to take advantage of many good things, for both my baby and me, if I breastfed him. But it wasn’t until Andrew arrived and we started breastfeeding that these really struck me, even though it was by no means all plain sailing (you can read our breastfeeding story here if you haven’t before.)

But before I go into details about what particularly struck me, I’d like to just share a thought that was shared at my local La Leche League (LLL) breastfeeding support group. The perspective that the good things about breastfeeding are ‘benefits’ or ‘advantages’ is a sign of the society we live in, in which feeding formula milk in bottles became the norm and breastfeeding was the less common alternative option, though many people are now working to reverse this by pointing out the ‘benefits’ of breastfeeding over bottle feeding. If we step back from this society, and imagine that breastfeeding is the norm, the perspective is different: what we see instead are the ‘disadvantages’ and ‘risks’ of bottle feeding as the alternative option if breastfeeding, the norm, doesn’t happen (for whatever reason), and the ‘benefits’ or ‘advantages’ of breastfeeding are simply what’s ‘normal’ from a biological point of view. I hope that makes sense – I’ve found it useful to have that change in perspective when thinking of the good points about breastfeeding.

The most positive thing about breastfeeding Andrew that I have noticed on a practical level is how little he has been ill. He’s had the odd runny nose and cough, but nothing that’s particularly bothered him. We’ve only got through one bottle of paracetamol suspension in 16 months, and that’s been used mainly for teething-related minor temperature and pain. Twice there has been a classic tummy bug with vomiting and diarrhoea in the house, but both times Andrew got away very lightly with just one vomiting incident each time and a quick bounce back to normal, whilst Tom was incredibly sick for a couple of days and I was somewhere in between my boys in terms of how sick I was. (Note that since I wrote this – typical! – Andrew has had one more vomiting incident which was probably a bug but Tom and I weren’t very sick (apart from my usual pregnancy sickness) and Andrew has seemed absolutely fine in himself otherwise.) We are convinced that this lack of illness in Andrew is down to the breast milk that he has, and in the case of the tummy bugs, both he and I, the breastfeeding pair, fared much better than Tom.

Breast milk contains antibodies that pass from mum to baby, and these help to fight off illnesses; this is something that formula milk just does not provide – antibodies are something that can only come directly from another human, i.e. mum! The even more amazing thing that I’ve learned through reading about the good things about breastfeeding is that when an ill baby sucks on the breast, traces of the pathogen (what’s causing the illness) are left on the breast, and this prompts the mum’s immune system to make even more antibodies, which then get passed through to baby when he feeds later. It’s like a tailor-made medicine ordering service, which happens without us even realising it. As a brand new newborn baby, Andrew drank the colostrum, the first milk full of antibodies, from my breasts, and this gave his immune system a good start in life outside the womb. Since then, as I continue to feed him breast milk, he continues to receive antibody help from me, and I think this has been a great help particularly in the second year of life, when he’s come into contact with lots of bugs as he mixes with other children at groups and with the childminder. So this help with immunity is just as important for him as a toddler as it was as a baby.

The second positive thing that hit me about breastfeeding compared to formula feeding is the cost. Breast milk is absolutely free, and formula is soooo expensive! When Andrew was a baby I did have to supplement my breast milk with formula, because my supply was not sufficient for his needs (this was caused by specific factors in our breastfeeding journey, and was advised by medical professionals as well as an independent lactation consultant; you can read about this here). In our case, I really resented having to pay for formula because it was so expensive and I knew I was contributing to a business that ultimately does not support breastfeeding. I would have given anything to be able to exclusively breastfeed, and the way I saw it, any way that I could increase my supply meant that we would spend less and give less money to the formula companies. Babies cost a lot of money in general over the years, so I really didn’t get why I would want to pay for something that my body could make for the baby for free, and make a better job of it at the same time (it’s just that my body didn’t make enough of it for Andrew).

Besides the physical benefit of good health and practical benefit of saving money, I have definitely appreciated the emotional side of breastfeeding too, far more than I realised I would. Before Andrew was born, my take on breastfeeding was something like: ‘I know it has lots of good things about it, and I’ll give it a good go, but if it doesn’t work out then nevermind, I’m sure we’ll both cope without it.’ But after the birth and into the first days with Andrew, it was like some kind of instinctual emotional hormonal switch was turned on inside me, that made me feel very passionately about wanting to breastfeed him. I’m not normally one for such ‘airy fairy’ ideas, but it was something that just happened in my thoughts and actions, and I don’t know the where/why/how of where it came from, I just know it was suddenly there! There was something about having him so close and sucking from me that seemed so natural, like what was supposed to happen, and when he was feeding, I felt so happy, even though it wasn’t always easy – it’s hard to describe.

But I’m not weird (honestly!): this feeling is also reported by other breastfeeding mums, and we know that it comes from the hormone oxytocin being released whenever the baby sucks at the breast. I knew I didn’t want to give up on this amazing feeling that nothing else could give me, which is why when we knew we had to supplement with formula, I was so glad that I was shown a way to do it that meant Andrew could still suck from me – I’ll talk more about that in my next breastfeeding post. This emotional positive has meant a lot to me as mum, so it shows breastfeeding is not all about what’s good for baby. Now that Andrew is getting old enough that his emotions are easier to figure out (most of the time) compared to when he was a baby, I can tell that breastfeeding means a lot to him emotionally too. It’s what he turns to whenever he’s feeling tired, grumpy, hurt, or sad in any way. And as his mum I can definitely recommend it as an effective way to help him get through these occasions – to be honest I don’t know what I’d do without it sometimes and I know I will have to confront this and find alternatives when his brother/sister takes over the role of breastfeeder in the family 😉

Now that you’ve read my experience of what’s so good about breastfeeding, why don’t you head over to some other participating blogs and read what they have to say? Below are some links for you. There are some common themes, but not everyone has the same experience of what’s good about breastfeeding, so you’ll find things other than what I’ve written here too. For example, I know lots of breastfeeding mums say how it helped them lose the ‘baby weight’, which wasn’t the case for me as I didn’t put on loads and what I did put on I’ve kept, probably because I was previously underweight and my body has said ‘hold on, I’m keeping all I can in store for the nursling in case you decide to lose it again!!’ We’re all different, and that’s one thing I find fascinating about hearing others’ experiences of breastfeeding. Anyway, have fun reading them! And don’t forget to enter the competition below to have a chance of winning the grand prize!

Circus Queen

Really Rachel

The Secret Life of Kate

Life Happens so Smile

My Mummy’s Pennies

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