This week I settled my youngest two in at Nana’s (thanks Mum!) and managed to arrive at the Sure Start Centre early enough to catch a cup of tea before we began. I can’t say I was bright-eyed & bushy-tailed though, as I had been up at 5am feeding my two & a half year old. This was the morning our ID card photos were taken and there was nothing I could do about the bags!
Unfortunately, the session began with an informal chat which left me feeling quite alienated for a few moments. Our instructor this week was chatting about a recent episode of ‘Supernanny’ which had involved the abrupt weaning of a three and a half year old breastfeeding girl and commented on how Supernanny, Jo Frost, had stated that there was no need for a child to breastfeed after the age of 3, as there is no nutritional benefit in it, and that the little girl was controlling and manipulative.
I suddenly felt quite alone in my feelings about – and experience of – breastfeeding toddlers. I have recently read the wonderful book by Norma Jane Bumgarner, ‘Mothering Your Nursing Toddler’, which is a very positive, empowering book about the mother-toddler breastfeeding relationship. The book confirmed what already felt right to me – that a mutually agreeable relationship between the breastfeeding child and mother has a myriad of benefits for both.
Although I didn’t watch Supernanny, I really wonder what is the benefit of a TV programme which encourages us to look at breastfeeding as only being beneficial in a nutritional sense and to consider children as young as 3 to be controlling and manipulative?
Unfortunately I found myself unable to express my upset on Monday (and so it has been saved for this blog!), although I do hope that breastfeeding toddlers will be discussed again at some point.
Given my lack of sleep and my initial upset, I found this week’s subject quite a challenge: Anatomy of the Breast and Hormones of Lactation. We were given lots of handouts and diagrams detailing the many parts of the breast and the ways in which both pregnancy and baby’s sucking stimulates the production of the hormones required to stimulate milk production (commonly known as ‘the Let-Down Reflex’). As we discussed these physical processes, some interesting points came up.
It is the nerves in the breast which make it sensitive and the instructor explained that, in some women, stress and anxiety can inhibit this sensitivity (which is essential to stimulate milk production). We were warned not to underestimate the power of this very real, and debilitating, difficulty that some women experience.
At the opposite end of the scale, one of our group members described having a near-constant flow of milk. Although that may appear to be a godsend to some, it made breastfeeding in public and at night especially awkward and she felt unusual for never having experienced the feeling of milk let-down.
I explained a technique, which I picked up from somewhere, of applying pressure to the breasts to stop the flow of milk when it was not required (the basis of the design of Lilypadz) – although we all thought that applying pressure might not be advisable in the first few weeks, or at anytime when engorement might develop, as it could lead to a blocked duct.
Another member of the group said that she had experienced excruciatingly painful let-downs and warned us to be aware that a mum who described the sensation as painful may in fact be suffering from the condition which she’d had – ‘deep thrush’. It took many years (and a few babies!) for her to discover the cause and find a treatment for it, as there were none of the common visible symptoms associated with thrush.
We had all had different experiences of after-pains as well. Some women had experienced none at all, one had experienced less with each baby and others, like myself, had experienced the classic increase of after-pains after each successive birth. I explained that these pains had been so strong after my 4th child that I involuntarily physically shook with them and couldn’t hold my baby. I felt thoroughly miserable about it and within days had resorted to keeping myself topped up with painkillers, which I had promised myself I would avoid. When I was pregnant with no.5, I researched some alternatives and used the homeopathic remedy Arnica (in tablet form) – one tablet half-hourly for the first 4 hours, hourly for the next 8 hours, etc. – and I was amazed to have hardly any pain at all.
It was really interesting to hear such different stories from the mums in the group – all the time reminding me that everyone is different and I couldn’t possibly predict the difficulties a mother might come to me with as a counsellor. I would really like to hear more stories from you. If you have anything you would like to share, please leave a comment.