Breastfeeding beyond one is not “just” for mum

The toddler walked up to his mother, climbed into her lap and asked for milk. She lifted her shirt, latched him on and continued to chat with us. “How old is he?” I asked. Two. That seemed too old to me a few years ago.

I thought breastfeeding beyond one year was weird and pointless. It was a thing some mothers did but why? I couldn’t tell. To be honest, I wasn’t too keen on the way breastfeeding seemed to attach children to their mothers to begin with. It seemed so limiting for women. They couldn’t go anywhere. Why would you prolong this?

Then I got pregnant. As my baby grew I realised that attachment was in our biology. We were meant to be close from the beginning. Of course I would breastfeed her. I went to an NCT antenatal course and came away with a flyer on the benefits of breastfeeding. To two years. You mean, a recognised body had cause to call “extended” breastfeeding normal?

Then I had the baby and though breastfeeding was difficult, it felt right. Breastfeeding for a year made emotional and logical sense. Then breastfeeding got really, really, really complicated and I desperately wanted to do it. At least for three months. At least for six months. At least until next month. Oh if we could only get to a year.
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Why learn to hand express?

It’s National Breastfeeding Awareness Week here in the UK. It’s got me thinking about why breastfeeding awareness is important and what it’s important to be aware of.

Call it a bit niche but I think women need to know more about pumping and hand expressing because chances are, if you’re lactating, you may need to do one or both of them at some point.

In fact, I honestly can’t think of why they’re not given so much as a mention in most antenatal breastfeeding classes other than that teachers have enough of a challenge trying to convince women to give breastfeeding a go without mentioning something that sounds like hard work.

A lot of women have a hard time expressing. It’s never going to be quite as effective at emptying your breasts as a healthy full-term baby with a full oral function will be. Yet many women find that, with the right conditions and some decent practice, they can get things going.

I’ve pulled together a few ideas on why I think all pregnant and breastfeeding women should get some information on hand expressing.
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Win a Babybeads breastfeeding necklace

As part of National Breastfeeding Awareness Week 2012, I’m giving away a Babybeads breastfeeding necklace. It’s also a smaller giveaway I’m running as part of the Keep Britain Breastfeeding Scavenger Hunt. “What is breastfeeding necklace,” I hear you say? Well, take a look at this…

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What breastfeeding support isn’t

Support. We keep hearing how important it is. Research – and logic – would tell us that most women physically can breastfeed. A lot of the women I’ve met want (or wanted) to. Yet for so many, the story just does not play out that way. Support. It seems to be the missing piece of the puzzle. But what does it even mean?

I finished training to be a breastfeeding peer supporter a couple of months ago and have been volunteering at my local breastfeeding group. My own breastfeeding experience over the past year, my short time spent supporting and other women’s stories have hugely impacted my understanding of what breastfeeding support means and why it’s so valuable to protecting breastfeeding relationships. (See why I think support is so important in Six ways to prepare for breastfeeding)

It’s also given me a pretty clear idea of what it isn’t.

Breastfeeding support isn’t aggressive
Get enough parents in a room and you’re likely to hear at least one story about feeling “bullied into breastfeeding”. It will usually involve the Breast is Best tagline. I cringe whenever I hear that phrase. It may have worked once upon a time but we no longer need to hear a message which idealises breastfeeding (if breast is special then maybe it’s only for some – the rest of us have to make do with formula).

What’s worse, ask the questions “Did you feel listened to? Did you feel empowered with information to make your decision?” and the answer is usually “No.” We have to wonder who benefits from this kind of approach – slating parents if they don’t keep going but then not actually helping them find the solutions to do so.
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Theatre in the Yeo Valley gardens

“Bless you, latecomers!” the man dressed in a white tutu exclaimed, humorously. He wrote something down on his clipboard. We ducked nervously into the tent and got settled on the straw bales. I hadn’t realised we were late, actually. And we weren’t the last.

Even after he began, Jimmy Whiteaker skilfully and comically paused to point latecomers out and catch them up with what was happening. In fact, throughout the two 50-minute one-man performances I, Peaseblossom and I, Caliban, he displayed alarmingly quick wit in the way involved his audience.

It was a surreal experience, sitting out in the gorgeous Somerset countryside at the Yeo Valley gardens. I’d been to visit recently and they’d invited me back to enjoy some outdoor theatre.
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Six ways to prepare for breastfeeding

“I wish I’d prepared in advance for breastfeeding.” I’ve lost track of how many times I have said this over the past year. People usually respond: “You can’t really get it until the baby comes.”

To an extent, they’re right. It’s one thing to familiarise yourself with an NCT diagram and another to actually introduce your newborn to your breast. Yet I disagree. You can prepare for breastfeeding. In fact, I think you should if you want to give yourself the best chance of meeting your breastfeeding goals.

My own breastfeeding success is a mixed story. I would rather not have introduced formula supplements from two months until six months but I’m grateful for being able to continue to breastfeed. I don’t beat myself up about this but being completely realistic, I could have benefited from some preparation.

In a perfect world, we would not have to prepare for breastfeeding. It would just happen. For many women it does. It probably could be that simple for more of us if we saw more women breastfeeding, preferably – dare I say it – with breasts exposed.

We’re certainly not helped by the fact that we no longer trust our bodies, or our babies, to do what they’re designed to do. I thank a number of things for that but off the top of my head, thank you, formula advertising and misogyny.

Here are a few suggestions for what pregnant mothers can do to prepare, in no particular order. Please add yours in the comments.
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A dress for my brother’s wedding and something just for me

I hardly ever buy clothes for myself these days. That’s what I realised as I browsed Zalando trying to find something to wear to my brother’s wedding.

Almost every purchase I’ve made over the past three years has been for someone else, save some maternity buys and that’s only because my mum read about my uniboob and decided I needed to be rescued. Even then it was mainly second hand clothes from charity shops.

So it was a bit of a treat to buy something new for myself. And, well, I’m a bridesmaid for my sister-in-law to be. I think the only pink thing I own is a cardigan with a hole in the armpit. She’ll kill me if I wear that and if she doesn’t, the sun in Trinidad will.
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