Breastfeeding is a subject that divides opinion.
What is this all about I hear you ask – a man writing about breastfeeding?!
Well, two reasons actually. Firstly, I work in the NHS and am in all sorts of health-related discussions on a daily basis and secondly, my wife is a champion breast feeder. The first week in August represents Breastfeeding Awareness Week and I decided to do a spot of research.
Now, here’s why I felt the urge to do this. My thinking about breastfeeding has transformed dramatically since our little Betty was born two years ago. I never had anything against it, but I did feel somewhat uneasy around mums who breast fed in public. I wasn’t offended at all – I just felt uncomfortable. I was immature because I had never bothered to understand the reasons behind it. In mitigation, without kids at that stage of my life, why would I? It was a feeling now that I’m not proud of.
This is not a preaching article whatsoever. Live and let live is my approach. There is no right or wrong with this. But what I can do is talk about my experience.
From what I’ve seen, breast milk is magic. Mel still breastfeeds Betty today – although far less than when she was a baby. And she breastfed my stepdaughter, Evie, until she was almost three.
When I think about it, I can count on one hand the number of times Betty has been unwell since she was born on April 10, 2015. And when her barriers have dipped, her recovery rates have been rapid. She has a fall and breast milk relieves the pain, she wakes up and breast milk eases her back to sleep (a real bonus for us dads!) and when she’s upset, breast milk puts a smile back on her gorgeous face. I appreciate that now I’ve gone public with this Betty is bound to pick up the bloomin’ lurgy!
Of course, I can’t take an ounce of credit for this. It all goes to Mel who, whatever the time of night and whatever the circumstances, has provided this magic tonic on a plate.
It wasn’t plain sailing. The first two months or so after the birth were an almighty challenge. Milk supply was low, Mel was understandably shattered and Betty struggled to latch on. It was painful too. But every time I assured her Betty would ‘be fine with bottled milk’, Mel powered though admirably - determined to give our daughter the best possible start in life.
When doing my research, what surprised me the most were, not the health benefits for the baby, but the mum herself.
Interestingly, breastfeeding reduces your risk of cardiovascular disease, various cancers and obesity. Yes indeed, breastfeeding is renowned for its high-calorie burning. I could do with some of that myself.
For the baby, breastfeeding reduces the risk of infections, minor illnesses such as colds and diarrhoea, sudden infant death syndrome, obesity, type two diabetes and cardiovascular disease later in life. Any quantity of breast milk has a positive effect on both baby and mum but research shows the longer you breastfeed the longer the protection and benefits last. Almost three in four mums start breastfeeding. Only 17 per cent of babies are being exclusively breastfed at three months. This is a statistic that proves how challenging those first weeks are for mums.
My experience means I can’t recommend breastfeeding enough. Betty and Evie have both grown into wonderfully healthy and bright girls (touch wood).
Mel has been inspirational in this and I know this once-immature and giggling young man has done a lot of growing up in the last two years and will now only ever be eternally grateful.