Blame it on the Breastfeeding

As a mother I’ve got lots of advice from others, and breastfeeding is no exception. From the practical (wait and see what you need otherwise you will buy things you won’t need), to the profound (read your baby, not a book) to the downright painful (if you want to breastfeed use a nail-brush to toughen up your nipples). Yes, you read that right, and I ignored that nugget because I thought if I did it would most likely put me off breastfeeding altogether. A quick poll of the Can I Breastfeed in It UK members found plenty of gems that were actually land-mines on the breastfeeding journey.

1) Formula is the safe and healthy option, the benefits of breastfeeding in the developed world are far less.

It is true that formula is much better than it used to be, but lets face the bar was so low it would not take much to improve on it. Even today the manufacturers are struggling to put the same nutrients in the formula as there are in breast milk and in the way the baby needs them. Research has shown that even in affluent countries with progressive healthcare systems the use of formula is linked to a higher infant mortality than breastfed babies. I’ve regularly heard the comment ‘I bottle-fed mine and it didn’t cause any harm’. But then you probe a little further and they agree that little one had lots of little bouts of sickness which might have been prevented with the immunity provided by antibodies in breast milk. Also breastfeeding is now believed to help with allergies – a curiously western disease.

whats-in-breastmilk-poster-canada

2) Babies go longer between feeds when on formula so not only do you get sleep they get more nutrition.

Formula fed babies don’t appear to get hungry quite so quickly, but this isn’t really a good thing. Current theoriesnewborn-220142_640s on the cause of cot death are linked to babies’ breathing patterns being interrupted during sleep. There is evidence that the artificially deep sleep caused by the hard to digest formula is a risk factor. Human milk changes all the time and has sleep
inducing ingredients to help baby sleep while mum gets a rush of oxytocin to calm and relax her. I can honestly say I get woken regularly, but I am back to sleep in a matter of minutes. I don’t have to make a bottle, fuss with colic relief or soothe either of us back to sleep. And my experience isn’t unique. Plus there are no arguments with hubby over whose turn it is while baby screams louder and louder. In fact sometimes I reckon I have boob in his mouth before he’s awake (my baby’s mouth, not my husband’s).

3) I’ve spent nine months tee total, watching what I eat and unable to take my usual medicines. I want my life back, and there is no way I am not wearing deodorant.

I for one am delighted to have my life changed forever, but you’d be surprised how much you can keep doing. Firstly, alcohol leaves your milk as quickly as it leaves your bloodstream. I’m not advocating heavy drinking or regular binges but if you’re safe to drive you are safe to nurse, and let’s face it, how often do you have the money or energy to go on an all-nighter in the early months. A recent advertising campaign about eating healthily while breastfeeding which seemed to suggest a burger goes straight from your lips to baby’s turns out to be indirectly sponsored by a leading formula manufacturer  and is misleading. While you need to eat an overall healthy diet, you can eat far greater variety than when pregnant, and for me at least baby quite literally sucked the fat out of me. I was eating guilt free desserts instead of calorie counting to lose the baby weight. As for medication, while many healthcare professionals are unsure and say no, most medical conditions are compatible with breastfeeding, you just need to get the right information and possibly be a bit flexible. Oh and deodorant is fine, if you can remember to put it on. You might struggle enough time to launder your clothes, shower or shave when you are a mother so let’s face it you need all the help you can get. That is nothing to do with breastfeeding, all mothers feel that way and I am told things get back to normal when the youngest leaves for university.

4) I want my partner to get the chance to bond with my baby.image1

Sometime this means exactly that, sometimes it means I want to share the chores. Firstly, you should see how my son interacts with his Uncle. No food has been passed between them (except for a little vomit but uncle was very apologetic) but they adore each other.  Here are 50 different ways Dad can bond with baby. Now because I feed my baby to sleep (including daytime naps) rather than risk waking him, hubby cooks, cleans and leaves us to snuggle. Plus there’s always ‘Oh honey, you need to spend time looking after your son so you can bond properly, so why don’t you change his nappy’. Yes, it does works.

5) I’m worried out feeding outside of the house.

I get this, it was really scary the first time, plus the actual mechanics of getting a tit out in public. All the media stories had me thinking that every trip would involve people making a scene andmeme-zombies-cell-phones just a load of unpleasantness. But we live in a generation of smart phones, tablets and a fear of making eye contact with strangers. People don’t notice or care.

But what about the practicalities of feeding a baby away from home? A boob doesn’t need to be sterilised, heated to the right temperature, cooled to the right temperature and thrown away after 2 hours if it isn’t completely drained. I don’t have to pre-measure the right amount of fluid or powder, or spend money on a pre-paid carton. No need to ask a surly waitress for a jug of water and hope she returns before the baby version of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. These points go double or triple for overnight trips.

6) It is so painful to breastfeed, it just seems so difficult you won’t last more than a week.

Yes, there were points when it was more painful than labour. I don’t care what those 50 shades books say I get no satisfaction from nipple pain, but there are ways around this. Breastfeeding is a learnt skill, for both you and baby and just as learning to ride a bike there are bumps and scrapes along the way. Sometimes the pain is more than just getting started and this is where breastfeeding support groups come in. A peer supporter or lactation consultant can check your latch, rule out tongue or lip tie, or suggest the right sized nipple shield. If you don’t have a La Leche League in your area there will be plenty of breastfeeding support groups. Most NHS trusts do at home support, but make sure you get specialist support as not all midwives and health visitors are equal.

7) You’ll get saggy boobs, in fact you need to get into an exercise regime as soon as you can or you’ll stay fat forever.

You can breastfeed and exercise, you may find your regime changes, not least of which because you need to be more careful of your joints, but I would power walk around the park and stop to cuddle and feed baby when we needed it. Susan O’Brien hit the news for drinking her own milk after getting lost in the wilderness but behind the headlines she is a personal trainer and was competing on a trailrun.

As for saggy boobs – Miranda Kerr’s continue to defy gravity so maybe breastfeeding isn’t as much of an influence as general lifestyle and good genes.

A post shared by Miranda (@mirandakerr) on

8) You can’t breastfeed with big boobs, small boobs, flat nipples, pale nipples.Perverted_thoughts_-)_(3067714590)

What? Your nipple colour defines your ability to breastfeed? People of every ethnicity and in every country on the planet breastfeed. Your cupsize has very little to do with your ability to nurse as this is based on the amount of fatty tissue between the milk glands. These glands barely change size from woman to woman. You may use different hold positions to help your baby latch depending on whether yours are more Gala or watermelon but this really is about finding what works for you.

9) When I expressed I produced a small amount of watery milk, no wonder baby was always hungry.

Human_Breastmilk_-_Foremilk_and_HindmilkYes, formula looks so creamy and nice, and your milk will look thin next to it. But that doesn’t mean formula is better, in fact all that fat is pretty difficult to digest.  Even the best breast pump is no match for your baby’s suction power which changes depending on whether the light foremilk or richer hindmilk is needed. There will be days when you have a bowling ball sized leech attached to your chest, but this won’t necessarily mean baby is unsatisfied. They could be building your supply for a growth spurt, or in need of some love.

10) Breastfeeding made my hair fall out and my skin became spot prone – I must have been deficient in some sort of nutrient and this would have affected my milk. You may not have noticed but when you were pregnant your everyday hair loss was reduced and your skin had a healthy glow – it wasn’t just all that sweat from an internal hot water bottle. Someone told me once this was evolution making you that little more attractive so your partner stayed invested during the relationship. The crazy mood swings, noxious gases being emitted from both ends of the digestive system, the inability to groom certain areas (if I could reach it I couldn’t see it, if I could see it I couldn’t reach it) are all outweighed by your thick and shiny hair. When your baby comes your hormones means your hair and skin goes back to their usual states, but of course human nature means you think it is worse than before. In fact, even during times of famine a mother’s milk has everything a baby needs.  Far better to get a new cut and facial, you deserve it, plus you want to look your best for all those mother and baby photos.

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: