In Celebration of Breastfeeding

Jessica & Bruno.png

It is World Breastfeeding Week, so here are some reasons why I love breastfeeding (some but not all are evidence-based!):

  • Copious amount of data on health and development benefits for baby (e.g. protects from death - in high income countries from SIDS and low/middle income countries from episodes of diarrhoea and respiratory infections; might also make your baby smarter and protect against overweight and diabetes later in life)
  • Stacks of health benefits for mum too (lowers the risk of breast cancer, might reduce risk of diabetes and ovarian cancer)
  • It is SO convenient – you always have it with you and don’t need any extra stuff (once you start weaning you really realise how this simplified life in the first 6 months!)
  • Cheaper – you might want a pump/creams to help but it’s a lot less than formula
  • A great way to bond with baby - not the only way or best way, but a great way
  • It soothes baby when they are sick, feeling needy, in a transition period; can also help with ear popping and quietening on a plane!
  • Can ‘buy’ extra sleep time (my baby wakes at 5, on the boob we get an extra 1.5 hours of sleep - priceless!)
  • Helps you lose weight (though goes really well with eating cake, so ….. )
  • Better environmentally - no waste, greenhouse gas or water footprint, unlike formula

I was surprised to read that the UK is the 'world's worst' at breastfeeding, in that of the 81% of mothers who tried breastfeeding at some point, 34% were breastfeeding at six months and 0.5% at 12 months. In the US, 79% started, 49% were still going after six months and 27% after a year; many low and middle income countries have much higher rates especially at +12 months.

The Lancet Report (2016) highlights:

"Despite its established benefits, breastfeeding is no longer a norm in many communities. Multifactorial determinants of breastfeeding need supportive measures at many levels, from legal and policy directives to social attitudes and values, women’s work and employment conditions, and health-care services to enable women to breastfeed”. 

One researcher blamed a widespread misconception that the benefits of breastfeeding only relate to poor countries. If this is the case, we really must ensure that everyone knows more about the benefits of breastfeeding.

I am sure there are other reasons for the low numbers of women continuing to breastfeed in the UK. As one of the 0.5% of British women still breastfeeding at +12 months, I can identify a specific set of circumstances that enabled this:

  • I enjoyed great support services at the hospital and in the community provided by the borough of London I live in
  • I am lucky that I have not had any serious/unresolvable difficulties breastfeeding my son;
  • I have always felt comfortable breastfeeding in public and in 13 months of doing so, have never experienced negative attention.

Many women have had very different experiences from me. Some mums can’t breastfeed, can’t breastfeed in public, have work or other obligations that make it hard to breastfeed, and so on.

Unfortunately, I also know some UK mums who have felt judged and discriminated by the same service providers I found helpful for mixed/formula-feeding their babies or tortured themselves (physically or mentally) in efforts to continue when it was very hard due to over-pushing of breastfeeding. All women, as with any matter of their sexual and reproductive life, have the right to choose what is best for them, and should be supported whatever their decision.

While women’s choice should always be respected, national and local governments should be working harder to identify and remove barriers that prevent women who want to from (continuing) breastfeeding.