Monday, 1 August 2011

Do events like World Breastfeeding Week really work?

Today is the start of World Breastfeeding Week.

I recognise that World Breastfeeding Week is a hook to raise awareness of the benefits of breast feeding but I have this nagging feeling that it will only be preaching to the converted – one week of awareness raising cannot change the world overnight.

I did breastfeed my daughter but that doesn’t mean I’m a preachy breastfeeder. I believe everyone should make the choice that’s right for them and right for their baby. In my antenatal group there were six mums, three of us breastfed, three formula fed, but it was everyone’s personal choice and today we’ve got six very happy bouncy children to show for it.

I do think it’s a shame however that the number of mums in the UK who choose to breastfeed are on the decline or give up early because they say they did not receive enough support or information to help them.

I know there’s a particular issue with young mums preferring the bottle over the boob and this is where I think campaigns like Be a Star really work. They’ve been developed having first gained an understanding of young people’s barriers to breastfeeding and this campaign sets out to glamourize it - it’s positive reinforcement rather than criticism for those who don’t, and I think that’s important to remember for all first-time mums, whatever their age.

I remember my own experience of having a baby who was a sleepy feeder, wouldn’t latch on, I was exhausted, she was exhausted and starving and I could so easily have given up. Fortunately, a very close friend who is also a midwife helped me and gave me the support I needed. But that support hadn’t been available to me at the hospital as the poor over-stretched midwives raced from one mum to the next and it’s probably in that first hour after giving birth when mums really need help, not days later when they’re exhausted and feeling completely useless (as I was!).

One thing I really have a bug bear with though is that mums are told breastfeeding doesn’t hurt. And that’s rubbish. I don’t know any breastfeeding mum who has escaped pain free and I for one had a few absolutely excrutiating, tear-inducing days when I would have been much happier chopping off my legs without an anaesthetic than go through with another feed.

Even though I breastfed I wasn’t terribly happy to get them out in public so was very quick to hunt out the places I could go when out and about to discretely feed my baby. Today I've seen lots of mums using baby nursing shawls to provide that extra bit of privacy for the not-so-bold mums like me – I do wish they’d been on the market six years ago.

To wrap up, I had lunch at a fantastic cafĂ© called Ethel’s Kitchen in Hove yesterday and on their menu they state that mums are welcome to breastfeed. It’s lovely that they want to be so welcoming to mums but I think it’s a sad indication that other places aren’t so welcoming, as was highlighted in an example just last week by on their blog.

Mums have a right to feed their babies anywhere. Maybe if more businesses worked on welcoming breastfeeding mums, coupled with the availability of the nursing shawls for that bit of extra privacy, more mums may feel confident about breastfeeding in public?

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