If you have been to buy a new pair of trainers in a Sports Direct store somewhere in England, chances are you have bumped into a group of protesters sitting on the floor (and quite deliberately in the way) while openly breastfeeding their babies. We can only congratulate these ladies on making a stance that has long been overdue!
The Madonna Litta is 500 years old, and as we can see, people seem to have been far less squeamish about exposed breasts than we are these days. Talk about cultural progress, which I think doesn’t exist anyway, or at least only in rudimentary form. Most of the time progress in one sector such as technology or medicine is only possible to the detriment in another. In a society still trying to encourage more mothers to make the healthiest choices for their baby, this beautiful portrait of a young mother and her child makes us painfully aware how much we have YET to learn and re-learn. This is mostly because breasts have become so over-sexualised which is not necessarily the case in all cultures around the globe. As a matter of fact, breasts (or teats rather), are mainly there to serve one purpose: they make milk. That is what they do, their prime function. There are some arguments that the human females’ enlarged breasts serve an evolutionary purpose connected to our walking on two legs. We are, as it is, pretty unusual members of the primate family tree.
So, what is my point of view, judging from my present situation? To some, it might seem quite bewildering that I still breastfeed, now that my daughter is 7 months old. The truth is, I haven’t even thought about stopping, despite starting her off on solids, such as mashed up fruit and veggies. I am now thinking about introducing a few soft portions of cereal and tiny bits of meat. She has been eager to try our food and really enjoys soups. That said, the number and amount of time we spend per single (breast-) feed have been greatly reduced. But it is so easy, it is the best way to calm her down if a little fractious or tired and it is still the main part of her diet.
And yet, when you look around, a lot of us give up after only a couple of weeks due to alleged inconvenience, soreness or simply because they feel they can’t manage.
I believe one of the greatest problems is the general attitude to these things and also the need for curtailing the “breast is best” campaign in order to boost formula sales even in countries where people can hardly afford the extra cost it involves and have little access to clean enough water and sterilising equipment to make it safe enough for their babies to drink. It is worthwhile having a look at some of the campaigns run by the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN).
As we can see in this photo of two women in Rajasthan (probably grandmother and mother) and a toddler, breastfeeding continues for a lot longer in other countries and in a far more natural way. Because it is by no means just the nutritional aspect that counts.
For us, however, things that are considered essential, such as a woman’s career prospects, make all of this very difficult, along with the fragmented family structure with relatives very often separated by long distances. These problems are far too complex to deal with them all at the same time.
Still, to perhaps make some of it easier, let’s have a brief look into some of the crucial points that can be of help to get you off to a good start. Even if it is medically indicated to help you along with the birthing process (and with a hospital birth this is more than likely that a reason will be found however small) not all is lost if thought is given to the following:
- The “magic hour”: Unlike just one or two generations ago, babies are left with their mother in most hospitals these days, unless a medical emergency prevents this. It means that the process of separation is less sudden and is known as “rooming-in” as opposed to being whisked off to a nursery or removed to be measured and weighed to soon, i. e. after 15-20 minutes. There is no reason why this can’t wait for another hour if there is no medical emergency to prevent this. Newborn infants are also instinctively programmed to find the “teat”. You don’t need to do anything else (and you probably won’t be able to anyway). Baby is capable of doing all the work, they literally crawl up to the breast. This phenomenon known as the breast crawl was first described in 1987 at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden where they were able to establish this with women who had given birth before and their babies were placed on their legs directly after birth. Some of this has been recorded and is accessible on Youtube.
- Right attachment: Breastfeeding consultants, nurses, midwives – everybody will talk to you about this. It basically means that your baby should take in as much of the breast as they can into their tiny mouth, not just the nipple. What they effectively are supposed to be doing is to massage the milk ducts, that is what squeezes the milk out, not the sucking and pulling on the nipple. This will also prevent soreness, although you are bound to feel some real discomfort to start with – don’t despair, it will subside.
- Feed when the baby shows cues: These cues are known as routing, stirring and latterly crying: if at all possible don’t let it come to crying. In real life that is not always possible but that is another idea why it makes sense to keep your baby close. It is often referred to as demand feeding, I prefer baby-led feeding. For this, you need to be able to interpret your baby’s cues and you shouldn’t be trying to feed them according to a superimposed schedule. Until a generation or two ago, and sometimes even to this day, young mothers were told to feed every four hours and switch from one breast to the other after ten minutes. This is not advisable for various reasons. The thought, however, was very likely the division into 8-hour time slots to enable women to go back to work more easily or to free them up for social engagements if higher up the social ladder.
- Feed as long as baby wants to: Yes, please do. What would you think if you were constantly interrupted having your favourite meal, the plate snatched away from you right in front of your eyes? Be positive: This will shorten over time as well as the number of feeds in a 24-hour period. But that way they get the good stuff. The first bit is the thirst quencher and then the pudding. That is what makes them grow and fills them up, so you wouldn’t want to switch them over after 10 min that deprives them of a proper feed. If they want the other side they will let you know. I found a ring I could wear on either my right or my left hand depending on which side I had last fed my baby very helpful as a reminder. A little ribbon on your bra strap might work equally well.
- Learn to feed in different positions/holds: that is not just lying down propped up with hundreds of cushions. Try and do it just holding them perhaps with a simple cushion for support under your elbow sitting cross-legged on the floor, lying on the side on a bed or a duvet on the floor even when you gently walk about or just sit and hold a book or text (yes, that’s alright too). It’s all about not ending up sitting in a chair all day. As the feeds become shorter and perhaps fewer and both of you more accomplished at it then this is the way to go.
After all of this, I can only encourage you to persevere. There is support out there for you. You will find some of the most helpful links below.
And if you think this is of no concern to you because you haven’t got kids, you are to busy etc. think again. Exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months and then beyond that in conjunction with solids might very well be one of the keys to solve our obesity epidemic and common health problems such as diabetes, allergies and other food intolerances.
Good luck and enjoy!