This week’s session was about the benefits of breastfeeding. We had a delayed start, which I think was due to my children (particularly my youngest) taking a long time to settle in the creche. Once we were all ready, we had a discussion about the benefits of breastfeeding – both for the baby and the mother.
This turned into an interesting conversation, not only because the benefits are huge (many of which I’m sure most people reading this will have heard of before), but also because we were reminded by our instructor that many breastfeeding statistics are based on global figures, which could distort our view of how those statistics relate to us. The figures will often highlight the hazards of bottle-feeding, which appear alarming and, in our supportive roles, may be best not to emphasize. For instance, we were told that, globally, breastfed babies are six times more likely to survive their first three months than bottle-fed ones. But how relevant is that to a British mother, when it takes into account poorer levels of sanitation and healthcare in developing countries?
So, whilst it is useful to be aware of current research on the benefits of breastfeeding, as counsellors we also need to be aware of the effect that information may have on mothers seeking help.
I find statistics a little bit difficult to deal with. Firstly, I find that, whenever I try to quote statistics, I can’t remember the figures (‘…was that one in 500, or one in 5000??), but also, I can see how research is often used to prove theories which could just as easily be disproved by other research. So, generally, I’m happier to stick with what ‘feels right’ to me – and perhaps this goes back to what was said last week about supporting mums in finding their own solutions. If they find a solution (a style of parenting) which feels right to them, then the statistics don’t really matter.
Saying that, as a mum, it is always handy to be armed with a couple of ‘facts’ when entering a heated discussion with someone who is not pro-breastfeeding – but maybe the best fact of all is, ‘Well, this works for us’.
During our discussions, I revealed that, as a baby, I was fed on cow’s milk (yep, straight from the bottle!). I didn’t go on to say, ‘and I turned out alright’, but I suppose the implication was there. How many of the hazards of bottle-feeding did I suffer? Well, a few, but I also have some of the traits of the long-term positive effect of breastfeeding. This led me to wonder how many of these benefits are purely related to breastfeeding. Taking improved brain development as an example, a breastfed baby receives lots of skin contact, eye contact and night-time contact with mum. This improves the mother-baby bond, the communication between mother and baby and maybe this, in turn, influences brain development. I don’t doubt for one second that breastfeeding is best, but of course bottle-fed babies can have skin contact, eye contact and night-time contact with mum in abundance.
This left me thinking of how this information may be helpful in supporting mums who may be feeling guilt or grief over the end of their breastfeeding relationship (when it comes too early for them). However, I guess there is always the risk that I’ll become over zealous with attachment parenting principles, after convincing myself not to be too pushy with breastfeeding advice!
At the end of the session, we watched a wonderful DVD called: ‘The Mother-Baby Dance’.
( http://www.lllgbbooks.co.uk/go_shopping/videos_and_dvds/baby-led_breastfeeding_dvd )
The film was made by Christina Smilie M.D. and Kittie Franz R.N. and it shows them encouraging babies to seek their mothers’ nipple. The mother begins by relaxing her baby and then holds him, skin-to-skin to her chest (in an upright position). We then saw the baby moving into an optimum feeding position. It really was quite amazing to see such an instinctive journey.
Some of the babies were very young and some were already established in breastfeeding. However, there were a couple of babies who were up to 12 weeks old and who were bottle-fed, yet they had not lost the instinct to seek mum’s nipple! Wow!
I have seen a similar film on You Tube, which shows a newborn baby in India doing the ‘Breast Crawl’.
( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zrwfIcPB1u4 )
Unfortunately, my youngest didn’t settle in the creche at all well this week and he was quite upset afterwards. He’s just not used to being without mum, dad or nan I suppose and I think I will have to leave him with his dad (and his older brothers) next week. It’s not the first time one of our children has responded like this to childcare and I sometimes think we must seem a little strange to others in the way that we deal with these things – but I guess there’s a whole other blog in that!
A couple of interesting questions came up in this week’s session and it would be really good to hear what your experiences are (please leave lots of comments!). Firstly, what made you want to breastfeed? and Secondly, did breastfeeding work as a contraceptive for you?