Your Body Created Life… So Why Don’t You Give It A Break?

by Gwen Aktinson

Duchess of CambridgeI won’t be the first person to talk about the mixed messages women receive, and I certainly won’t be the last. But when a woman decides to have a family, these messages come thick and fast. Let’s look at the world’s most famous mother right now: the Duchess of Cambridge, aka Kate Middleton. After giving birth to Prince George, she was both praised and lambasted for having the courage or audacity to actually look as she had recently given birth twenty four hours after she had actually given birth. Fast forward nearly two years later and the slightly differently stage managed introduction of Princess Charlotte to the world had Kate presenting a more figure flattering image. The criticism/praise still came thick and fast.

Fed up with the multiple celebrity look at me now photo shoots showing a flat stomach mere weeks after labour, I decided to photograph my post birth baby bump, to show what a reasonably fit and healthy, but mostly normal mum looks like (don’t laugh I said mostly normal). We naturally compare ourselves and I was sick of women feeling inadequate or even considering starting the diet before the baby has arrived. A combination of genes, luck, breastfeeding and really terrible hospital food meant I was back to my pre-pregnancy weight a week after giving birth and in normal jeans a week after that. I didn’t take any photographs; in my own special way I was disappointed my body didn’t behave as expected.

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My own little prince took a long time to arrive, and I had a number of health issues during that time. I was simultaneously told I was selfish for not yet starting a family and selfish for trying to conceive in less than perfect health, as well as being selfish for wanting help to get healthy and to conceive. I was told my medication for depression would harm my baby, but without it the risk of post natal depression was another danger. When finally our miracle happened conventional wisdom told me I should be unhappy with changes in my body. But this couldn’t have been further from the truth. I’d look at my expanding belly with awe and wonder knowing that something remarkable was happening inside me. Did you know that one of the first things you do is get thirstier than normal? This forces your body to make extra red blood cells so you can transport the additional oxygen your baby needs. Not even Steve Jobs could have designed something that simple to fix so complicated a problem.

Despite what the media would have you believe your body does some fantastic things in labour too. Oxytocin is the magical chemical that kicks off the contractions. It’s known as the love hormone and the huge amounts created helps you bond with your baby. But it also releases your milk and then with continued breastfeeding it helps your uterus shrink back to its pre-pregnancy size. Recent studies have shown what women should already know, that successfully breastfeeding helps prevent post natal depression, by keeping the extra oxytocin in your life for as long as possible. I am also convinced breastfeeding, or the lack of having to prepare formula through the night has meant I get a good night’s sleep. And there is a reason the Nazis used sleep deprivation as torture.

Oxytocin

The mixed messages continue throughout the breastfeeding journey. There is huge pressure to nurse, but very little practical support, and what little there is can actually undermine the new mother. I’d like to take the time to thank Milk Matters, La Leche League and The Breastfeeding Network for the fantastic assistance you gave me. But there were countless more: friends, family and complete strangers. Your ability to maintain eye contact and smile helped me more than you will ever know.

Next up is how long should you nurse for? Well as most commercial clothing is also a combination of nursing and maternity it seems to be about the two weeks it takes for your belly to stop looking pregnant. Or maybe for years it takes to work up the energy to do it all again. Six months appears to be a landmark that many mums aim for, but any less and you gave up too soon. Any more and you are ‘strange’. But breastfeeding is a journey and like all of them there is no fixed timescale or path. Whether it lasted minutes or years, every mouthful made a difference to your child. Whether you used formula, expressed, stayed true to the boob or combined any of the above. You are amazing, and you did so very, very well.

A common reason given for stopping nursing is ‘getting your body back’. This seems to be part of western society’s attitude that mums aren’t attractive. Thank god we no longer believe that having sex causes your milk to curdle, but women are known for multitasking. If we can do more than one thing at a time, why can’t we be more than one thing at a time and rock it too? The This Girl Can campaign which went viral through its wonderful message that women of all shapes and sizes be proud of what their bodies can do. I for one am struggling to think of something more empowering of first creating and then sustaining human life.

Where do clothes fit into this story? You don’t have to be a princess to feel pressure to look good. Even if you aren’t going to be photographed or beamed across the world, clothes send a message of how you want to be perceived. Can I Breastfeed in it? UK has followers who want to look and feel good for all sorts of different social occasions; we have business meetings, weddings, music festivals and heart-breakingly sad funerals. We are political, funny and fancy that cute one from The Wanted. We run races for charity and go on holiday to far flung places. We want and need clothes that reflect these situations and our personalities, as well as coping with the demands of our little muck magnet milk monsters. Too many of the retailers think of us as a one dimensional, one size fits all, narrow group of women. Our bodies have done and continue to do something amazing, surely our clothes should support and echo this message.

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Breastfeeding in Public is more than a Radio Rant

By Gwen Atkinson

I almost feel sorry for Alex Dyke. Earlier this week he decided (alongside his Producer Alun Newman) to broach the subject of breastfeeding in public in his push-the-envelope radio phone-in show. While I disagree with what he said and how he said it wholeheartedly, I don’t think he realised that he was taking on such a large, passionate and well organised group of individuals. He will have plenty of time to reflect on this as he has been suspended from BBC Radio Solent, despite apologising on air.

I did contact Mr Dyke and he gave me the courtesy of a reply, even asking me to contact the phone in show, and was prepared to speak to me off air before to reassure me of how my on air reply would be handled. For a number of reasons I declined and out of respect I won’t publish the details of a private conversation. I also did listen to the beginning of the phone in before it became unavailable. I switched off early as it made me very angry, so again out of respect I will only comment on what I heard. My personal interpretation was that his comments were not necessarily his own but deliberately inflammatory to get a reaction. He may regret what he said now, but here is my take on it nonetheless.

A common question is where is a woman allowed to breastfeed? The answer in England is anywhere she is legally entitled to be. This covers private venues because restaurants and gyms etc provide a public service. In the rest of the UK the guidelines are similar, and the forward thinking Scots have also made it illegal to prevent a woman from nursing. The exceptions to this are as follows: A small club with less than 25 members that provides no public service can legally state no breastfeeding, male-only clubs/organisations that provide a service aimed at that gender and places where it is unsafe to feed, such as industrial areas. I think even the most passionate lactivist would agree that this is fair and reasonable.

I’ll let you into a little secret, babies can’t speak. When you become a mother you become very sensitive to your little person’s body language, and by default everybody else around you. You become conscious of the little sideways glances, stiffening of jaws and other tell tale signs of discomfort. Very few people react that way, but for those of you that get uncomfortable with me feeding in public, I don’t want to make your day awkward and you are entitled to your opinions and feelings. But here is secret number two; my baby’s hunger, fear and pain take a higher priority. Add into this the fact no-one wants to hear a baby scream for longer than is necessary, so please respect that what I am doing is actually aimed at making things better for my child and, because of your proximity to us, you as well.

Mr Dyke said he thought breastfeeding mothers should keep to a private nursery and to a certain extent I agree with him. Caring for your child is such a personal relationship I want to focus on my baby without the judgemental stares of strangers or the well intentioned but utterly frustrating comments from friends and family. At home I have a comfortable chair, a nursing pillow, a drink handy and no distractions. Unfortunately, life means I do have to leave the house. There are bills to pay, appointments to attend and sometimes a quick run out to the shops, pretending to be a human being, is what stops me from losing what little of my mind I have left. Our contributors travel across the world, attend sporting events both as spectators and participants, rock on at music festivals, or go on family outings. The thought that women stop having a life once they give birth ended a good generation ago. The suggestion that we should time our excursions to in between feeds shows a complete lack of understanding of a baby’s needs. I challenge Mr Dyke or anyone with his views to leave the house with a child, use public transport, run the errands expected of us and return home in the allotted time. Add to this that the gaps between feeds are often as little as an hour or two and are subject to change without notice (demanding little lovable so and so’s).

Nursing in Public

There are very few places out and about that provide a suitable private setting to breastfeed. Most mother and baby rooms are in toilets and I have no desire to spend twenty minutes smelling someone else’s excrement. The chairs have no armrests, and if you think that isn’t relevant, pick up a small animal weighing 15lbs and hold it to your chest for half and hour while it wriggles. Oh by the way, your stomach muscles are shot because of a recent pregnancy, so get someone to poke you to replicate the back ache most new mothers have. Whilst they’re at it, your non-nursing boob leaks, so create a few embarrassing wet patches. It takes more confidence than you would think to nurse in front of others and I would like to thank the many people, but mostly men, who encouraged me and supported me to do this. Many of you may not realise you did this, and you are now officially as cool as Keith Richards; in my eyes at least.

A common suggestion, often well meaning, is to cover up, either with a muslin or a purpose made cover. Firstly, lots of women do this and if they prefer it, wonderful, but it was something I never considered. You may find this shocking, but some of the covers marketed at mothers are dangerous, they are made from heavy material so it gets dangerously hot for baby. Some block eye contact and this means mum can’t keep checking baby is safe. It can also interfere with the early communication lessons a baby receives by interacting with their mother at feeding time. I regularly refer to breastfeeding as a relationship, this is because the baby is a key factor in the decisions women make. One contributor talked about the baby getting stressed under the cover and refusing to feed; the flailing arms and cries of discomfort actually drew more attention to her feeding than if she hadn’t used a cover. Others object to covers, purpose-made or draped muslins, on principle. It could be argued that attempt to hide breastfeeding stops it from being normalised and every effort to nurse in public makes it easier for the next mother.

Mr Dyke also asked why we don’t use formula. I can’t help thinking the reason why the original broadcast is not available is because any suggestion that formula is almost as good as breastmilk breaches numerous laws. I’ll let the people who know more than me on that subject pass judgement. Suffice to say formula isn’t as good; not even close. Many people believe that the differences are neglible in the western world and more significant to families living where the lack of access to clean water to make formula dangerous and health in general isn’t as good. Not true. A study published in Pediatrics (Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics) stated:

If 90% of US families could comply with medical recommendations to breastfeed exclusively for 6 months, the United States would save $13 billion per year and prevent an excess 911 deaths, nearly all of which would be in infants ($10.5 billion and 741 deaths at 80% compliance).

To put this in context this is the same number of people who die each year in the USA from meningitis. Current advice on making formula from recently boiled water no less than 70 oC into a sterile bottle and disposing of it within 2 hours of making it up means it not that great when out and about either.

What about expressed breastmilk (EBM)? Surely putting that in a bottle is OK if formula isn’t? Well, some people (myself included) give EBM. It certainly means I can leave the house for non baby-related activities leaving him with a sitter. But again, this doesn’t work for everybody all the time. For example if I try to give mine EBM now, he refuses it point blank. For someone else to give him some, I have to leave the room and hide.  It also runs the risk of stopping the breastfeeding relationship altogether with the drying up of a mother’s milk or nipple confusion. The production of milk relies on the baby being attached to the nipple and the cues from the baby’s saliva and gulps guides the mother to making milk of the right combination of nutrients and antibodies to her child.  Mother’s milk changes morning, noon and night, throughout out the course of each feed to meet a child’s needs. This isn’t something out of the Stone Age, but evidence that we are highly evolved creatures.

Some of Mr Dykes more inflammatory comments were about what has been described to me elsewhere as ‘The cult of motherhood’; that only a certain type of mother breastfeeds. Maybe that is true, but this week David Beckham was criticised for his style of parenting when his four year old daughter was seen in public with a dummy. The rights and wrongs of either are irrelevant, his response to critics is:  “Why do people feel they have the right to criticize a parent about their own children without having any facts.” We don’t, I defend your right to parent how you see fit, and expect mine to have the same respect.

There were other comments about the attractiveness of mothers who chose to breastfeed; that a good looking women would be unlikely nurse a child (especially publicly). Well, the pictures published by Miranda Kerr, Giselle Bundchen and Angel Doutzen Kroes breastfeeding would contradict this. I’m not normally one for finding women attractive, but I’m assured that these women are. Certainly my American friends have commented their Victoria Secret catalogues going missing and appearing after a husband or other male relative has… ahem… perused them.

I will end my commentary with this thought: Underneath the comments from Mr Dyke and some of his callers seemed to be a theme that a woman’s primary role is to please a man. That their value is based on how they look and whether they have taken into account a man’s point of view when they make fundamental choices such as how they parent or dress. This is why a few throwaway remarks on a minor (sorry local radio fans) phone in show have relevance to women everywhere, why the story has started to trend on the internet and why Mr Dyke no doubt feels overwhelmed by the petitions, open letters and news stories. Again, the response is wider than just this blog and when looked at from that viewpoint has been given in another trending story this week:

Check out this slideshow to see what nursing in public really looks like:

Introduction

Hi there! Chances are if you’re reading this, you are most probably in the Can I Breastfeed In It UK Facebook group. This would mean you are well aware of what this blog is about and already reaping the rewards the group has to offer within its community 😊

I’ll quickly introduce myself! My name is Natalie. I’m a first time mum to my 9 month old, Brandon Thor. Since becoming a mum, I have become quite the breastfeeding enthusiast/advocate and consider myself a lactivist. I’ve actually never been big on fashion – always just had a static unique style which revolved around finding clothing that flatters my voluptuous size 16 curves. Since starting the Facebook group I’ve learnt a lot about fashion and have developed quite an interest in it. 

If by some twist of fate you have happened to stumble across this blog randomly or you have clicked on a link someone has shared, here’s a quick explanation:

On the highstreet today, there is no such thing as ‘breastfeeding fashion’. We have maternity clothes which have practical features for nursing, we have nursing bras which can kill your libido as quickly as David Cameron (if you are lucky enough to find your size) and we have expensive same-y nursing tops dotted about in specialist shops such as Jojo Maman Bebe. A lot of high street retailers seem to think a nursing mother will be using her maternity wear for the few months she plans on breastfeeding. Ok so yes, the statistics aren’t exactly in our favour (1% of women in the UK exclusively breastfeeding by the time their baby is 6 months) and natural term (2 years +) breastfeeding is considered a bit of a taboo and not really talked about with the exception of negative press, which means a lot of high street retailers are blind to our needs. Note how I haven’t actually mentioned online retailers yet – I’ll get to that later. 

It’s not that we want our own specialist range of nursing clothing with special gaps and zips (although it couldn’t hurt). It’s not JUST about having easy boob access. Hell, we could just all start wearing button down shirts! It’s about going into a shop (whether it be on the highstreet or online) and not having to scour the store for the odd top or dress that answers ‘yes’ to the question that constantly goes through our minds: “Can I breastfeed in it?” 

It could be as simple as retailers adding a nursing friendly filter on their online shops to make the experience that bit more straightforward and quick. The first retailer to figure out that little tweak will gain a nice influx of new customers. There is nice practical BF clothing there on the net – it’s just finding it which can sometimes prove tricky. 

Since creating the Facebook group back in mid March, in the space of just 3 months, we are now counting over 3000 members. If this isn’t a sign of a gap in the market, I don’t know what is! A place where experience, clothing finds, reviews, accessories, new (relevant) businesses and more can be shared with each other! The group is truly a credit to its members. 

A great BF friendly find could consist of many things – it might mean you can easily get a boob out over the top, it might be a top which provides the necessary modesty a new mum might need as she gets to grips with nurturing her child, it might be a dress for a special occasion which whilst being flattering on the mum-tum is also practical for easy boob access or something as simple as a pretty nursing bra.  

  
This is just an experimental post to see whether this is a blog worth putting time into! If it goes down well then I will be on the lookout for guest bloggers, reviewers and I might ask to feature a photo or two from within the group (with permission of course!). Do leave a comment to let me know what you think and whether you’d be interested in reading more 🙂

Thanks for reading!