Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Pregnancy, breastfeeding and making decisions

As most people who read my blog or follow me on twitter will know I am “still” breastfeeding my 14 month old toddler. It’s not been an easy journey and at times it has been lonely, but it is one I am proud of. Before my daughter was born I “hoped” I would be able to breastfeed and armed with my NCT breastfeeding class I thought I would be fine.  I wasn’t.  Fortunately the support I received from my family and midwives carried me through until I became properly informed and built up a proper support network.

There are 2 side effects to this: I know a huge amount about breastfeeding for a lay person (and more than many medical professionals based on what I have heard) and every time I see a small baby being fed formula I get upset.

I support every parents right to choose how to look after their children, but out of everyone I have ever spoken to about breastfeeding very few have made the decision to not breastfeed or to stop breastfeeding after being fully informed (about the benefits of breastfeeding and the risks of formula feeding) and given correct advice and support at the right time. This is what upsets and frustrates me.

The results of the 2010 Infant feeding study were published yesterday and although more women are trying to breastfeed (81%) the figures drop off pretty quickly: 23% are exclusively breastfeeding at 6 weeks.  What this means to me is that the message is out there that people should try to breastfeed, but people don’t receive enough information about what they should expect and there isn’t enough timely support available.
If 1% of mums are exclusively breastfeeding at 6 months (the minimum recommended by the NHS), how many are still breastfeeding at 2 years (the minimum recommended by the WHO)?

Every week at the moment someone I know announces another pregnancy.  After I stop the jumping up and down with excitement one of the first things I want to do is talk to them about breastfeeding. I don’t want to scare them, I don’t want to put them off and I don’t want to them to think I am a some crazy boob pusher (lets face it there are some pretty nasty names breastfeeding advocates are called including “the breast is best Gestapo”, thanks the Daily Mail). But I do want to try and ensure every baby is given the best start in life, and when that comes to breastfeeding my window to successfully influence this ends around the time the first bottle of formula is introduced (there is evidence showing that once this happens the breastfeeding relationship is likely to be short lived).

So what do I want to say to pregnant ladies?

Breastfeeding can be hard: my daughter’s total dependence on me for the first few months was the most relentlessly hard thing I have ever done in my life.
But it is worth it.

It is totally normal for newborn babies to want to feed hourly, and for an hour or so at a time.  Yes this can mean that in the early days they are feeding more or less constantly. In the womb they had food 24/7 don’t expect that to change straight away.
It gets better: they get more efficient at feeding and feeds space out

Find out what support is available to you before the baby comes, trust me googling in the middle of the night with a screaming baby that wont latch on is not fun.

The number of people that genuinely can’t breastfeed is thought to be around 3% have confidence that you and your baby can do this.  It is what you were designed for: to nurture your child. If you have problems get help.

Get a second, third and forth opinion until you find advice that you are comfortable with.  Especially if anyone less qualified than an IBCLC (lactation consultant) tells you to introduce formula.  Truth is a lot of doctors, midwives, nurses and health visitors are really poorly informed about breastfeeding, and worse still many are misinformed and give advice which can actually reduce the chance of breastfeeding getting established.  Hand expressing, syringe feeding, even donor milk should all be considered as short term options before formula is introduced.

Find out about the benefits of breastfeeding, and realise that formula increases risk to babies. They are not comparable; formula is just food, breastmilk is so much more.

If you decide breastfeeding is not right for you after finding out everything, or after getting all the right advice and support be confident in that decision. No parent should feel guilty. The relationship between you and your baby is THE most important thing. You should not let how you feel about breastfeeding damage that.

Check out and for reliable and useful information about breastfeeding and everything related to it.

I am proud to breastfeed my toddler but few make it this far. Are people making an informed choice to stop breastfeeding or is it because of lack of support?


  1. Thanks for this, I enjoyed it. And I agree with you about support and the importance of reaching women antenatally with realistic and accurate information about what to expect. I'm a peer supporter and recently started attending a pregnancy yoga class to talk about breastfeeding: it was brilliant, the women had lots of questions and it felt as though they were happy to open up about it to someone who wasn't a health professional. I've also had loads of great feedback from readers about a book I've edited called 'Breastfeeding: stories to inspire and inform' which is a collection of more than 20 women's real-life experiences of breastfeeding, designed to give women a real sense of the reality of the breastfeeding relationship. Mums who've read it say it's really helped them deal with challenges in the early days - yay!. It's all about finding ways to reach people but it's hard when our culture is so unsupportive of breastfeeding. Keep up the good work!

    1. hi Susan, thanks for your comments. It's great that your book has helped people. I have the book and I hope to read it soon, but I've only read 4 books in the last year so it night take a while. K

  2. nice post. I particularly identify with "formula is just food, breastmilk is so much more" - I'm one of the small percent of mums who can't exclusively bf (indeed an IBCLC told me formula top-ups are completely necessary in my case), but I give my baby (and still his toddler brother) what I can. The antibodies and comfort that they get from bfing makes all the faff of mixed feeding so worth it :)

    1. Sorry, my reply vanished. Sticking with mixed feeding can be really hard, but as you say: it's worth it


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