Attachment parenting in a disconnected world

All The Very Best

Sometimes when you are passionate about something, it’s hard to remain objective.  Especially when the “thing” is something that only 1% of the UK population do, and when you wish everyone could do it because the benefits are so great.

I am proud to say that my second daughter is among the 1% of UK babies who have been exclusively breastfed to the age of six months.  This has been a journey for our family which started before the birth of Alt.D1, and which will continue until, for now, Alt.D2 decides she’s had enough.  

Yesterday I came across this article in the British Medical Journal, wherein the authors detail their findings in research on how the idealistic “breast is best for 6 months” message compares with familes’ experiences in the real world.  It’s a fairly hefty article, but the comments made by the women and their families (partners, mothers, sisters) make interesting reading.  The conclusion drawn by the authors is that despite the all pervading “Breast Is Best” message given to parents, there is not always the support available to enable breastfeeding to be confidently established and continued. 
I have to say that I wholeheartedly agree.  BBC3’s excellent documentary “Is Breast Best?” summed up the presenter’s own experiences:
“If you’re experiencing incredible pain, it’s not okay to go through that.  It’s not something you should just swallow and suck up.  I wish I had asked for help. I wish, I wish, I wish I had gone and asked for help and not just suffered in silence.”

It is noteworthy that this investigation centred on families, rather than just women themselves.  For me, and I know that if you ask Alt.Father, he will say the same, support for breastfeeding involves the whole family.  That is not to say that the decision necessarily involves the family, despite well meaning titbits of advice (no pun intended!) from elderly relatives!  What I mean to say is that the father’s role in a breastfeeding family should never be under-estimated.  Without the unending support of Alt.Father, I would not be where I am today.
I’d like to share the story of our journey, and you’ll see where I’m coming from.
My mum told me that when I was born, a nurse held me up and said 
“This baby will never breastfeed, look at the shape of her mouth!”
This was 32 years ago, to a stressed out, confused new young mother, who was trying and struggling to feed her new baby.  Yet despite this blow to her confidence, Mum struggled on and succeeded, managing to feed me for 9 months, and subsequently both of my younger siblings.
So it was with her in my mind that I tentatively pressed the buzzer in the hospital ward time after time during the first 24 hours of Alt.D1’s life.  I called for help, and each time someone different arrived at my bedside, giving me different advice, or no advice at all.
“Is this your first baby?” asked one nurse, “you’re very confident.”
I didn’t feel very confident.  I felt like I didn’t have a clue what I was doing!  My baby was waking every hour, making a noise in an overheated room full of other women without babies (mixed ante-natal and post-natal ward).  I couldn’t tell if she was getting anything from me.  I was sore, tired and lonely.  At 4am, when I hadn’t really slept for 2 days, a heathcare assistant asked me
“Have you got bottles at home?” and fed formula to my baby from a cup.  Alt.D1 slept.  In tears, I sent a text message to Alt.Father:

They just gave her some formula.  I didn’t want to do that.  I feel like the worst mother and she isn’t 1 day old yet.” 
In 30 years, nothing had changed.
I was lucky though.  The following morning, Alt.Father collected us from the Big Hospital and took us to our local midwife led maternity unit.  Still sore and sad, I was shown by my trusted community midwife how to hand express the rich golden colosturum and give it to the baby.  Over the next five days, I was given so much help and support by wonderful women who knew about breastfeeding.  I pressed the bell 100 times, maybe 200 times and I didn’t feel guilty, I felt supported.  I was struggling, but I was supported.
We left the unit with a medical grade pump and Alt.D1 on bottles of expressed milk.  As fast as I was pumping, she was drinking it.  We supplemented with formula, and I spent hours each day in tears, hooked up to a machine.  Alt.Father fed the baby, who cried a lot.
Then the day came of our local Breastfeeding Support group.  The three of us toddled along, and were made welcome, despite the bottles we were reliant on.  We tried “biological nurturing”, allowing the baby to seek out its own feed.  We all felt more confident.  Alt.Father commented at the time that it’s all very well telling us breastfeeding is best for your baby, but nobody had told us just how hard it could be.
With perseverence and the aid of nipple shields (sometimes controversial as they can affect milk supply) we mastered it.  Alt.D1 went on to breastfeed past her 2nd birthday, as if she had read the World Health Organisation guidelines herself!
By the time Alt.D2 was born, I had become involved with the breastfeeding support group, and had attended a training course for Peer Supporters of breastfeeding families.  I was armed and ready to feed my new baby from the moment she was born.  Every squeak she made, I latched her on.  She and I got the hang of it and never looked back.  This time, I proudly read the words “confident mum” written in my hospital notes at the maternity unit, and was pleased that I did indeed feel quietly confident with the breastfeeding aspect (if nothing else!).
So it was with a little sadness but without surprise that I read the BMJ article.  New mums, dads and babies need support.  Healthcare professionals need more training.  They need to care about this.  We are the “alternative” 1% of a population that exists because their forebears did something that like it or not is natural for 100% of the human species.  It’s up to us to encourage our children, daughters and sons alike, to get these figures up.  Let’s hope that in another 30 years’ time, something will have changed.

If you are reading this blog and wondering where you can get help near you, here are some useful links:

NCT Breastfeeding Helpline:  0300 330 0771
Open 8am – 10pm, 7 days a week
Association of Breastfeeding Mothers helpline:  08444 122 949
Open 9.30am – 10.30pm, 7 days a week
Breastfeeding Network Supporterline: 0844 412 4664
Open 9.30am – 9.30pm, 7 days a week

La Leche League: 0845 120 2918


Comments on: "All The Very Best" (5)

  1. I agree that lots of support is crucial to succeeding. I consciously didn't buy any formula so there was nowhere to hide when it got really hard – mastitis, sore cracked nipples & exhaustion from all the night feeding. I was lucky that my husband supported my desire to breastfeed & each time I was ready to give in he convinced me to leave it one more day… I also had lots of help from my local breastfeeding support group – one particularly bad night, my local BAPs leader came to the house at 11.30pm after dropping her daughter at a local night club as I was in such a state! In fact all she did that night was prescribe a large glass of wine & tell me I was doing brilliantly & to hang in there, which I did. The next challenge is coping with sharp little teeth using me as a teether!

  2. I was lucky to take to breast-feeding like a duck to water, and for the first 4 months everything was fine. I enjoyed feeding my son and it felt like the most natural thing in the world. However after a succession of difficulties: thrush, a confidence knock and the silly purchase of nursing top which was too tight; problems started to crop up. My GP said to immediately give up breast-feeding and put the baby on formula. No support, no suggestion of finding a solution to the difficulty, just give up and formula feed. Thankfully I ignored her and sought further advice, and soon I was back on track. I was amazed though recently when I saw an alternative GP who just assumed that I would be bottle-feeding. Is it that unusual or 'alternative' to breast-feed your child?

  3. Wow – you have done brilliantly, you are such a confident Mum I would never have realised that you had had any problems feeding alt.D1.I remember my time in that big hospital, those dark hours without my husband to help me or my mum to offer support or advice, a crying baby in my arms and no-one to help or support me to be the mum I so desperately wanted to be. The rosy antenatal dreams of slipping easily into breastfeeding my lovely baby were shattered and I felt trapped in a nightmare that seemed to last for ever. After one night I insuisted on being released to the local midwife-led unit. A lot of my confidence had been shattered but over the next days and weeks, with the help and support of the wonderful community midwives we are so fortunate to have in our area, it was rebuilt. I see the surprise on the faces of doctors and health visitors as I tell them my 10 month old is still breastfed, and I am torn between feeling proud that we have got this far together, and inexpressably sad that so many babies and mummies are missing out on this wonderful, natural bonding experience. I would never have got this far without my breastfeeding support group, and I just wish that we could reach every new mum and offer her the support and friendship that has been lavished on me.

  4. We were lucky and me and li'l miss took to breastfeeding well by ourselves, so well in fact we didn't want to stop, but that's where I felt needed the extra support. I got so bored/embarrassed by the question "What, you're STILL breastfeeding??!!" and trying to justify it, that we just started to pretend we had stopped :-(Even my midwife, who had been so supportive of us breastfeeding in the early months, told me I should wean her when she was around the 9 month mark. Apparently it was the reason for her clingy behaviour! (I, a bottle-fed baby, was equally clingy so we're not sure what the reason for that was!)We tried cold-turkey weaning at 12 months, lasted a week, and then went back to what felt right.Now we've just accepted we do things differently to, it appears, everyone else over here and try to find fellow 'unnormal' parents online!!

  5. The support is so necessary, others having faith in your ability to breastfeeding and supporting you to do so is essential. I was also lucky with Jess' daddy, he didn't involve himself in my decision to breastfeed but supported it 100%. The early days of feeding I didn't have a clue and we were readmitted to hospital when Jess was 4 days old, dehydrated and jaundiced and I was distinctly lacking milk. I remember sobbing while I poured formula from a cup down her throat as she was wrapped in a towel. A bit of support, knowledge and time to sort things out and she breastfed exclusively for 6 months and continued until she was about 18 months and my god, I was proud of that!

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