It’s been a loooong time since I last wrote a post on breastfeeding. I’ve been meaning to for a while, but other posts and other things in life have pushed it down my priority list. When Andrew turned 3 a few weeks ago, his birthday marked our 3 year breastfeeding anniversary, and that, I thought, deserved a write up of my thoughts.
Breastfeeding has become so much part of our daily family life that I often don’t think about it, it’s just something we do day in, day out. Not that I want to belittle it, actually it means a lot to me, but it’s certainly not something I stress about like I did in the early weeks, and therefore it doesn’t take up much of my brain space day to day. It’s only when I deliberately reflect on how far we’ve come that I realise just what an achievement it is to be sitting here writing this.
If you haven’t read how our story started, you can find it here. At less than a week old, I was having to supplement Andrew with formula, and in my new-parent-world-just-been-turned-upside-down-with-a-newborn state I had no idea how long we’d be able to carry on breastfeeding. Just getting to 3 weeks seemed like an impossible task, let alone 3 years. But we were blessed with good info from knowledgeable people – Cambridge is a great place to have a baby in terms of volunteer support networks in the early weeks – and a supportive family, and week by week we survived and Andrew began to thrive.
I was particularly grateful to have been shown an SNS (supplemental nursing system) by a specialist midwife in the hospital, and to have been given a new one when we ruined the original in the microwave steriliser – it was a local La Leche League (LLL) leader who rallied around at the weekend to find an ex demo one with a retired midwife colleague of hers. Without this, especially in those crucial first weeks of trying to maximise my milk supply, I know we wouldn’t have carried on anywhere near this long.
Once the hardest struggles were over, by around 6 months into his life, I decided to let him wean when he wanted to, and to my surprise, he was keen to continue even when he was well and truly eating solid foods in the later half of his first year. By his first birthday he was usually breastfeeding twice a day – once first thing in the morning and once just before bed.
Just after Andrew turned 1, and we were celebrating a whole year of breastfeeding, I found out I was pregnant again. As my milk supply had never been great, I was convinced that he would self-wean with the inevitable dwindling of milk production in pregnancy. But again he surprised me, and wanted to still feed up until and beyond Joel’s birth.
Breastfeeding was generally much easier the second time around, because I knew what I was expecting and was fully prepared. Or so I thought, until Joel had jaundice and was a very sleepy baby who needed much more encouragement to feed in the early weeks. But at least I knew who to turn to straight away for useful info and help from personal experience. He soon grew out of the sleepiness and has continued to breastfeed until now, over 1 year into his life. Like Andrew at this age, he usually feeds once first thing and once just before bed each day.
So here I am, still breastfeeding a 3 year old and a 15 month old. Andrew now only has about a minute’s worth of sucking before bed, and to be honest I think it’s just another one of his bedtime stalling tactics, knowing he can get an extra few minutes up with me and out of his room. But I said he could self-wean, and that’s what he will do one day, whatever his reasons currently are for continuing to breastfeed. We have joked that Andrew will probably outrun Joel in his breastfeeding stint, mainly because Joel is going through a biting phase (something that Andrew never did), no doubt linked to teething, and some days I wonder if my yelps will put him off for good. Who knows how long the biting or the breastfeeding will go on, but it’s up to him, with some gentle teaching from me that biting really isn’t on.
As we were approaching Andrew’s third birthday, I did something that I’ve been contemplating for a while: I bought a Breast Milk Keepsake. Claire, fellow mummy blogger with twin boys just a little younger than Andrew, has figured out a way to take pure breast milk and shape it into beads in various shapes then set them in resin to make pendants and other jewellery. All I had to do was provide 30ml of my milk and choose which design I wanted – I went for 2 stars to represent my boys, on a purple background in a 25mm silver pendant. This is the perfect way to represent the achievement that our breastfeeding journey has been, and I am so pleased with the result. I now have something tangible to remember our years of breastfeeding once they eventually wean, and a pretty piece of jewellery to wear that is also meaningful.
The keepsake arrived on the date that was exactly 3 years since we had to go back into hospital with Andrew and our future of breastfeeding looked bleak. As I held it in my hand and looked back to that day 3 years ago, I couldn’t quite believe how far we’d come and if you’d have said to me then that in 3 years time I’d be holding one of these, I would never have believed you.
Disclaimer: I received no incentive to write about Breast Milk Keepsakes, all opinions expressed are entirely my own and honest
It’s been a while since I wrote a post on breastfeeding. I’ve been thinking about writing one now that we’ve somehow got to a point where I’m tandem nursing 2 toddlers, but with everything going on, it’s not actually happened yet. However, something in the news this week has prompted me to write because I’d like to note and share my thoughts on this.
According to the BBC news article that I read at first, a trial scheme is being run in deprived areas of South Yorkshire and Derbyshire which will offer new mums £200 in shopping vouchers if they breastfeed their baby for 6 months; this is being funded through both government and medical research money. My first thought when I read this was “are they crazy?! is this a joke?!” The very fact that breastfeeding saves you more than £200 in formula milk per baby should be a financial incentive in itself.
And then I thought about it some more, in an attempt to understand it some more, and still came to the conclusion that it was a bad idea. Of course if money was no object to the government, then why not encourage mums to breastfeed with a sum of money, but as funds are limited, I believe this money would be far better spent on NHS resources to support breast-feeding mums in a useful way.
When we had issues breastfeeding, the best help that we got in the local community was from volunteer peer supporters – mums at our local La Leche League (LLL) group who give all their time and energy to help out struggling mums for free, out of the desire to help each mum reach their own breastfeeding goal, whatever that might be. If we’d have relied on overworked midwife and health visitor advice, I am convinced that I would not be sitting here writing this, despite my own determination, because we were given at best no and at worst factually inaccurate advice from health professionals whom we thought we could rely on. If money is to be spent trying to improve breastfeeding rates, this, in my opinion, is where it needs to go – providing more up-to-date and evidence-based training for (and just more!) midwives and health visitors who see these new mums on a regular basis before and after the birth of their baby.
What good will it do to get more mums to start out breastfeeding if there is little means of supporting them if they hit issues? I can imagine a scenario where a mum is encouraged by the financial incentive to give breastfeeding a go when her baby is born, but who then faces a problem which ultimately leads her to give up, because she is not given any support, or is told something that is not helpful, or worse not true, by people that she trusts (maybe a health professional, maybe a family member). The fact that she would then miss out on the £200 could lead to even more of a feeling of failure and guilt that many mums, in my experience, describe when they feel they have had no option but to give up breastfeeding even though they really wanted to.
Having said all this, as I thought about this trial more, and read more commentaries on it, I realised that I am of course looking at it through my middle class eyes. I grew up knowing that breastfeeding is the ‘normal’ way that a human infant is born to be nourished, though I also knew that formula is an option which many mums choose for whatever reason to use instead. I was breastfed, my brother was breastfed (not that I can remember either of those cases!), and my younger cousins were breastfed – I saw them and remember this. I also did well in a good school, went to university and got 3 degrees, and through this education and my own reading because I’m interested in finding out more, I have understood why breastfeeding is important.
If I had grown up in a family whose babies were all bottle fed by default, hung out with friends whose families all bottle fed their babies, and left school with few qualifications or general interest in reading, then things could well have turned out very differently. This is the situation in the more deprived areas of the UK, where breastfeeding uptake rates are much lower than in better off areas, because new mums just don’t know about the importance of it, and why would they if bottle feeding is the norm where they live? It is in some of these more deprived areas that the trial is taking place, specifically because for mums to succeed in breastfeeding, they’ve got to know that it is even an option in the first place. If these vouchers address the uptake issue then that can’t be a bad thing, although I would still be concerned about the lack of support once they’ve started. According to the Lonely Scribe blog, Derbyshire, one county in which this trial is taking place, already has a strong network of good breastfeeding support available to new mums, so this should not be a concern here.
This blog also points out that the media reporting of this trial hasn’t exactly been to clear – it’s NOT a government policy that is definitely going to be brought in across the country, rather it is a scientific study by researchers who are trying to assess how a financial incentive might impact public health and therefore whether it would be something the government could consider as they are ultimately in charge of the public health budget in this country. As breastfeeding has significant benefits to child and adult health, breastfeeding rates affect how much money will be needed later in babies’ lives in terms of their health.
As a researcher myself I understand the importance of setting up a study which will provide evidence for or against a certain hypothesis, and waiting for the results of the study before jumping to any conclusions. So that is what I should do with this trial too – wait and see whether it provides any evidence for or against the hypothesis that offering mums money to breastfeed increases breastfeeding rates in specific areas. I’m still not convinced that, even if evidence for this case is shown in the results, it could be generalised to other areas where breastfeeding uptake rates are higher.
A similar point of view of “wait and see” was expressed in the statement from Anna Burbidge, Chair of LLL Great Britain, on this study. She notes that LLL GB “will be looking with interest at this scheme to see if offering vouchers to mothers who breastfeed as a way of acknowledging the value of breastfeeding to babies, mothers and society, will increase the numbers of babies being breastfed.” If more mums breastfeed, then this would help make breastfeeding the norm, and help create a culture that encourages breastfeeding because it is the norm. So if this study shows that money can help in the areas where increasing numbers of breastfeeding mums is most needed, then great.
Breastfeeding seems to be one of those topics that reveals some very strong feelings in many mums – whether they did or didn’t do it. I’m sure that in the discussion of this voucher trial this week there have been many emotive comments from people’s experiences of breastfeeding, good or bad. My personal conclusion on what I’ve read about the trial is that it sounds ridiculous and far removed from how I myself see and experience breastfeeding, but I look forward to hearing about the results and whether this financial incentive could benefit mums in social circumstances different from mine. I’d be interested to hear what you think too.
It doesn’t seem long since it was the UK Breastfeeding awareness week back in June when I wrote a few posts for the Keep Britain Breastfeeding Scavenger Hunt. Here are the posts I wrote if you missed them or would like another read:
According to the World Breastfeeding Week website, this year’s theme is ‘Breastfeeding support: close to mothers’ – to highlight the importance of peer support for breastfeeding mums, which is key in trying to increase the number of mums who continue exclusive breastfeeding beyond the first few weeks after birth; many who hit issues don’t have the information and support to know how to overcome them. This kind of support used to be provided by the extended family, and still is in some cultures, but we no longer all live in the family communities that we did a few generations ago, where grannies, aunties, female cousins etc. would have all been there surrounding the new mum with support, particularly for things like breastfeeding.
I’ve said it before in previous posts, but I’ll say it again: support from other mums who are breastfeeding or have breastfed their children has been essential in our breastfeeding journey. So much so that I don’t think we would still be breastfeeding today if I hadn’t have come across our local La Leche League (LLL) group through going to one of the breastfeeding drop-ins in Cambridge. It would have been very easy for me to give up back when Andrew was tiny, and be part of that statistic of mums who no longer breastfeed after a few weeks. (Fair enough I didn’t manage exclusive breastfeeding anyway, but that’s a different matter and one that I have no control over.) By going along to meet-ups and talking with others about their experiences, I knew that I wasn’t alone and there was always someone I could ask for accurate information based on research, or who would just listen to me if I was having a particularly hard week. That’s the kind of support I needed and was so glad I found.
Having found this support myself, I am always keen to shout out about how important it is to find the support of other breastfeeding mums who know what it means to breastfeed successfully, in case you come across issues. In hindsight I wish I had sought a support group when I was still pregnant with Andrew, and therefore I would have already known where to turn when things got tough, so this is what I now suggest other pregnant mums do too if they are keen to breastfeed.
It’s not the case that everyone will have issues, but even if you don’t then it can’t harm to get to know other new mums too, especially if you are worried about feeling isolated after having a baby. What I like about LLL is that it’s not just about breastfeeding: it’s about mothering in general, and breastfeeding as an important aspect of that. So even if you don’t hit specific breastfeeding issues, it’s still lovely to meet up with other mums who are all different but who share a broadly similar way of parenting their children.
We go along twice a month to the LLL meet-ups that we’ve been going to since Andrew was just 4 weeks old. Now that I’m successfully breastfeeding two boys without any major issues ourselves, I see my role as a supportive one – I chat with other mums and in particular with those who have low milk supply concerns. I have thought about doing some from of peer supporter training myself, but at the moment I don’t feel I would have enough time without dropping one of my other voluntary roles (Editor of the local NCT magazine and Founder of Nappyness library and meet-ups). For now I feel that the less formal support that I can offer at LLL meet-ups is playing an important role in itself.
To draw this post back to a global perspective, World Breastfeeding Week also reminds me that in some ways we are fortunate in this country when it comes to breastfeeding. We may not have the extended family and community support these days, but we do have some fairly strict laws on formula marketing and we have safe drinking water supplies to make up powdered formula. I am glad that formula exists, because without it (or donor breast milk, but that’s a whole other post to write!) my boys wouldn’t be here. But I wish we had been able to get it on prescription as a medical necessity and I do not agree with the motivation behind the multi-national companies who sell it – that is to make as much money as possible, regardless of what that means for babies.
In many countries across the globe, formula is promoted much more ruthlessly than here and the mums who buy it often have to use contaminated drinking water to make it up and/or water it down because it’s expensive. It would be much better for their babies if they were breastfed and the mums had the support needed to do that. For these reasons I believe it’s important to raise awareness of breastfeeding on a global level during this week.
I don’t think that this post will make a big difference in the grand scheme of things, but as breastfeeding is a topic close to my heart, I can’t not write my thoughts down for this global awareness week.
Just one more thing to add is that Breastvest, who I ran a competition with during the national awareness week in June, are running some offers again this week. They’re selling off all their limited edition colours for £10 each to make way for the Autumn/winter 2013/2014 shades, and they have a 20% off promotion code: WBW20. If you’re interested, why not head over and take a look!
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.
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.
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….
I thought it was about time that I wrote a pregnancy post with an update about how breastfeeding Andrew is going and my thoughts on how it might go once baby is here. In early pregnancy, I wrote about my thoughts on nursling (self-)weaning. I then wrote a sort of update at 21 weeks, but I hadn’t come to any firm conclusion about how or when I would initiate weaning if Andrew didn’t self-wean. I guess I was trying to leave it as long as possible, to see if Andrew would self-wean, even if right at the last minute. Well he’s still going strong (as strong as he has been for the past 6 months), and feeding for about 20 minutes first thing in the morning and about 20 minutes last thing before bed, plus the occasional feed in the day if he’s upset or grumpy for some reason (for example, teething).
I’ve been reading the book Adventures in Tandem Nursing on and off for a while, so I now have lots of info about breastfeeding a toddler in pregnancy and once the new baby is born. This has been very helpful, but since I know that we’re a special case, given my hypoplasia (insufficient glandular (milk-making) breast tissue), I wasn’t sure that all of the info was completely applicable to us, because it doesn’t specifically mention mums with hypoplasia. So I decided that the best thing would be to get some expert advice, more than is available in books.
I spoke to the leaders at my local La Leche League (LLL) group where we’ve been going since Andrew was just a few weeks old. They have been an amazing support to us, and I knew they would do everything they could to help us with this situation too. One leader in particular was very helpful. As we talked and she helped to unravel my thoughts by asking me specific questions about what I was thinking, I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t against tandem feeding in itself, but what was stopping me from thinking it was possible for us was my hypoplasia and the memory of awful supply issues that I had when Andrew was a baby. (If you’ve not read from the beginning of our breastfeeding journey, you can find it here.) I realised that IF supply wasn’t an issue (a big IF) then I’d have no hesitation in tandem feeding both Andrew and baby – I was up for that. But of course, like I said, it’s a big IF, because it’s likely that supply will be an issue again with baby. My concern would be that Andrew, although he’d help make more milk by feeding (the more he takes the more I make), would also take milk, and I wouldn’t want him to take what would be better drunk by the newborn.
My helpful LLL leader understood what I was telling her, and agreed that it’s an unusual situation to be in – there can’t be many mums out there who have hypolasia and are considering tandem feeding, or are actually tandem feeding. She recognised that our unusual situation went beyond what she had personally read as part of her LLL leader training and experienced with other mums through her role as an LLL leader. So she offered to post our question to the online national forum of LLL leaders, to see if anyone else had experienced a similar situation, either themselves as a breastfeeding mum, or from other mums they had met through their role as leader. What was our question though? Essentially it boiled down to: Is it possible to tandem feed with hypoplasia?
Within a couple of weeks, I had three very helpful leads as a result of my leader’s post to the national leader forum. One was from a mum who hadn’t had supply issues herself, but who had recently been to a conference for lactation consultants (people whose job it is to support breastfeeding mums), where there had been a paper on insufficient glandular tissue and possible ways of helping increase supply. The main focus of her emails to me was on herbs that act as galactologues (substances that help increase milk supply in breastfeeding mums). She gave me some links to resources on these, including those that are apparently safe to use in pregnancy, because relatively few of them are. I’m not entirely convinced about taking herbs in pregnancy, because Andrew is still feeding now and helping to keep my supply going, and the herbs are pretty expensive to keep taking every day over extended periods. As money will be even tighter once I leave work, I have to weigh up all the pros and cons of dealing with supply issues.
Another email correspondence I had was (indirectly via my LLL leader) with Diana West, author of The Breastfeeding Mother’s Guide to Making More Milk. She’s done some research herself into insufficient glandular tissue, and, as you can tell from the title of the book she wrote, is an expert on supply issues in general. Nothing like going straight to the top lady for advice! Her reply was very to the point: in her opinion it is possible for a mum with hypoplasia to tandem feed, though she would need to take some steps to make sure she is making as much milk as possible, such as taking herbs, expressing and using an at-breast supplementer if supplements are needed for the newborn – all the stuff you can read about in her book, which was relevant to me as a first-time mum breastfeeding just one child; the toddler would also help to boost supply. She said there was no reason that I couldn’t be treated like any other tandem-feeding mum and any other mum with low supply, in terms of the support that my LLL leaders could give me. That was encouraging!
But even more encouraging was to hear from an LLL leader who’s a mum who has personally experienced tandem feeding with hypoplasia. She gave it a go, and it worked out well for her and her children, who have a similar age gap to the one that Andrew and baby will have. She said that she definitely noticed that she had more milk with her second baby, though it’s hard to tell whether this is just the result of having a second child (generally mums have more milk with subsequent babies) or whether the breastfeeding toddler actually helped improve her supply even more than if she hadn’t have been feeding still. She also gave me some tips on herbs that she used, and told me that she always made sure that the newborn fed before the toddler did. Like us, she used a supplemental nursing system (SNS) in the early months for both babies, and she said that with her second baby she stopped using it a lot sooner than with her first, because her supply was better. She said that her toddler acted like her ‘breast pump’, by feeding after the newborn to remove even more milk from the breast so that more would be made for the next newborn feed. One thing that she highlighted, as I often do, is that breastfeeding is not just about food, and that the tandem feeding was a way for her children to bond with each other, and it helped her toddler through the transition of having a new baby in the family.
So my assumption that it’s not possible for us to give tandem feeding a go due to the hypoplasia and supply issue has turned out to be wrong. That’s not to say from what I’ve heard from these contacts that it would be easy, but I’m not one to avoid a challenge just because it sounds hard. I would never have continued to breastfeed Andrew if I wasn’t determined, despite how hard it was, to give him as much of my milk as possible, and in the end we’re still going now at 19 months. When I think about how much milk he’s had from me over those 19 months, I bet it’s not actually that far off what some babies get in 6 months of exclusive breastfeeding who are then weaned onto formula. Breastfeeding in early pregnancy was tough too, because I was so sick, but we’ve got through that and I’m feeling much better and glad that I was able to persevere in the hard times when I really didn’t feel like letting Andrew feed.
You can probably guess that my thoughts are now not so focussed on the necessity of weaning. My current thinking on breastfeeding is that I’m happy to let Andrew continue, if he wants to, and see where we end up. If he self-weans before baby arrives, that’s fine; there’s still plenty of time, given that weaning in pregnancy can be quite abrupt, and who knows what he’ll be like next week even if he’s going strong now. Or if he’s still feeding when baby arrives, that’s fine too. As he is pretty predictable in his feeding pattern (i.e. twice a day for main feeds and occasionally other small ones), it should be fairly easy to judge when to offer the newborn the breast before allowing Andrew to feed. If the newborn is anything like Andrew was, for which of course there is no guarantee, then he/she will feed most of the day on and off anyway, inter-dispersed with lots of activity and alertness; it would be harder if he/she is a sleepy baby, as I would then need to be more watchful as to when he/she needs to feed, especially in relation to Andrew. Or if Andrew decides to self-wean once the newborn is here – maybe because there’s less milk for him? – then that’s fine too. If breastfeeding helps him to accept the new baby and not feel jealous or like I’ve got less time for him, then I’m definitely up for tandem feeding as a means of meeting the needs of both my children.
It’s a nice feeling knowing that I have so much more info and support for breastfeeding already in place this time. At 31 weeks of pregnancy with Andrew, I had barely even thought about reading up on breastfeeding and was just getting round to booking my place at an antenatal breastfeeding workshop, which in the end was OK, but didn’t give me any info other than the textbook case, which of course we turned out not to be. I look back and wish I’d been more aware and able to get more info and support antenatally with Andrew, but it’s one of those things that is easy to say with hindsight, and Tom has reminded me that we did our best with the info and knowledge we had at the time, and that’s all we could do. At least this time we have been given another chance to learn from our first experience.
That’s all for now, except to say that this week saw Tom and I celebrate our 4th wedding anniversary. It’s amazing to think how much has happened in those four years, and I can’t believe that there are now nearly 4 of us instead of the 2 who started a journey together on our wedding day four years ago. Andrew is definitely a mixture of the 2 of us – I love looking at him and thinking of how he has bits from me and bits from Tom. I’m looking forward to discovering in what ways the new baby is another mixture of the two of us 🙂
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
‘That’s it, I’ve become one of those crazy ladies who breastfeeds their walking toddler!’ I said to myself (tongue in cheek) as we walked back from our first La Leche League (LLL) toddler meeting yesterday. LLL is a network of mum-to-mum breastfeeding support groups, which exist in many countries across the globe. We meet to have a chat about breastfeeding and other things in life, and it’s a great way to share experiences and tips, and generally feel like you’re not the only one breastfeeding your baby/toddler. Once every 2 months the meeting is specifically aimed at those mums who are feeding their child into the second year of his/her life, and yesterday was the first of these ‘toddler meetings’ since Andrew and I fell into that description.
When I first walked into an LLL coffee morning with my 4-week-old babe-in-arms, I admit I was surprised to see several mums breastfeeding toddlers who were 1 or 2 or even older. At that point I was really struggling with breastfeeding: Andrew was slow to gain weight, we were having to supplement with formula, and I was having a hard time reconciling in my head the fact that I desperately wanted to breastfeed him, I enjoyed having him so close and bonding with him in that way, but knew I wasn’t physically producing enough milk – the baby scales said it all. (If you haven’t read our breastfeeding story from the start, have a read of this previous post.) So I thought it would be amazing if we could make it to the NHS-recommended 6 months; it never even crossed my mind that we’d still be going beyond a year. I thought that I could never be, wouldn’t want to be, and wouldn’t even need to think about whether I should be, one of ‘those’ mums. How wrong I was. So it is with my tail between my legs that I come to write this post, looking back at how I judged others on that first LLL day.
In my defence though, I would say that I soon realised that these ladies were in fact lovely, intelligent, friendly and welcoming mums, and the initial feeling of surprise and awkwardness on my part soon faded. The vibes I was getting from the NHS, through contact with health professionals and reading the ‘Birth to Five’ book that everyone gets given, were that breast is best full stop, that formula feeding is OK if you’re a breastfeeding failure, and that mixed feeding is…no hang on, what on earth is that?! On the contrary, LLL immediately made me feel welcome, accepting me into the group with open arms, despite the fact that I brought formula to the meetings. It did help that I used a supplementer rather than bottles though (again, see previous post), so I was in fact breastfeeding, just with a little extra help.
(NOTE: one of the lovely LLL ladies has brought it to my attention though a nice comment that this last sentence could be misinterpreted from what I meant. I did not mean that LLL would not have welcomed me if I had turned up with formula and bottles. On the contrary, I knew after I’d been that this was not true. What I meant was that this was my (and maybe a general?) preconception about breastfeeding support groups. I felt awkward at first, but soon realised I was wrong. I meant it helped me that I didn’t have to go with bottles the first time until my preconceptions were gone. Hope I didn’t give the wrong impression on this in the meantime.)
Every month (unless we were away), Andrew and I turned up at the regular meetings twice a month. I got so much moral support and helpful advice, and I believe the LLL ladies have played a big part in helping me continue to breastfeed until now. Was there any guilt tripping involved, like would I have felt bad about giving up when these ladies are so pro breastfeeding? Not at all. In fact I would say I would have felt less guilty about giving up in front of them and less of a failure than I would have done in front of many other people, including my midwife, GP and health visitor. And the reason? Because the ladies there know just how hard it can be, just how emotionally exhausting it can be when things aren’t going right, and how there is way more to it than simply getting food from mum to baby. That’s where the health professionals got me down – for them breastfeeding was all about Andrew gaining weight. And that’s where I came to realise, through LLL, that I could still have all the other amazing bits of breastfeeding, alongside the physical act of getting calories from mum (or formula tin) to baby.
It was very clear to me from the start that my friends at LLL are all intelligent ladies, who want to do the best for their child(ren) and have read up on breastfeeding and related issues. They’re not just feeding their babies beyond 6 months for no reason, or to be deliberately provocative to their numerous critics (believe me, we would rather not have to deal with criticism). They know that breastfeeding until the child weans him- or herself is normal when you step out of our society for a minute and look at things from a more global or human evolutionary perspective.
Did you know that the World Health Organisation recomends ‘exclusive breastfeeding up to 6 months of age, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond‘? Somewhere in the NHS recommendation on breastfeeding the second part of the WHO’s statement has got lost. I suspect too that the large increase in bottle feeding a couple of generations ago also played a part in changing our society’s view on what is ‘normal’ when it comes to the age we should wean a child. As a researcher myself, I always look for references in peer-reviewed publications when anyone makes a claim about something that should be tested with ‘scientific’ methods, and that includes breastfeeding. As well as being a mum-to-mum support network, LLL has many publications about various aspects of breastfeeding, all of which are backed up by referenced research conducted by scientists and health professionals around the world. This makes me 🙂
A quick search on the LLL international website for what is a ‘natural’ age that a child weans from breastfeeding gives an interesting article citing various studies. Some have suggested that a natural age is to do with when the child triples or quadruples their birth weight (average 27-30 months); others have suggested it’s to do with attaining one third of their adult weight (4 to 7 years); others have suggested it’s to do with our gestation length (i.e. 9 months) (average 4.5 years); others have suggested it’s to do with the eruption of adult molar teeth (around 5.5 years). In other words, quite a while then.
That is not to say that I do not respect other mums’ decisions to either not breastfeed at all or to impose their own time-constraint on weaning. Every mum and baby pair is different, and believe me I know how hard it is to establish breastfeeding – it took us that first 6 months to really get going, so I totally understand why so many stop. (I think the words ‘give up’ sound too negative, and I don’t want to invoke feelings of failure because there is enough of that around as it is.) I also understand that not every mum enjoys breastfeeding so doesn’t want to carry on longer than she feels she has to, and that does not mean she is any less of a good mum. As I said we’re all different, with different personalities, different experiences, different situations and different ideas about what we think is the best thing to do at any given time.
In our case, one of the reasons why I love it so much now is that it was so hard back then – I appreciate good times more when I have a contrast with bad times. Ironically, if I hadn’t have had the problems at the start, I might not have gone to LLL and therefore might not have learnt that children self-wean when they are ready (this is often after when is generally acceptable in society), and I might have already weaned him. Every cloud has a silver lining. In a way, because it’s not always been for us just about ‘food’ for growth, it makes even more sense to me to carry on for as long as Andrew would like to get the comfort and pure mummy-time that he’s always got from it.
At the moment he feeds for about half an hour first thing in the morning (in bed with us so we all get to stay in bed longer – no bad thing all round), half an hour last thing in the evening before bed which sends him to sleep, sometimes in the night if he wakes (though he’s generally a very good sleeper), and sometimes in the day if he’s upset or tired. I know exactly when he wants to feed from me, because he’s very good at doing the milk ‘sign’ (we’ve done baby signing, I really must blog that one day) and pulling my top down! He must have a need for it, otherwise he wouldn’t ask for it. As a mum I want to meet that need for as long as necessary, because that’s my role in life, and I’m proud of it 🙂
And as it turns out, I’m not that crazy for feeling this way about toddler breastfeeding, when I talk with those who feel the same. Does anyone else have experience of breastfeeding beyond a year? Do you think it’s too old to still be breastfeeding? I’d love to hear what you think, whether you agree with me or think I’m crazy.