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.
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!