Wednesday 6 June 2012

Keep Britain Breastfeeding - 1: Why I Breastfeed

DISCLAIMER: I am glad that formula exists - my girl would have starved without it. I believe that scientists who work to make it "closer to breastmilk" do care about babies and want them to be healthy, but the companies do seem to be solely profit-hunting. I am not judging women who choose not to breastfeed, though I admit that I struggle to understand why they don't.

Benefits of Breastfeeding
This week's theme is 'Benefits of Breastfeeding' which ought to be the easiest thing to write about. There are hundreds of benefits, but they're out there already for everyone to read at their leisure. Why should my repeating them be any better at spreading the word? So, I thought, how to make it more personal, more relevant? I asked myself the following - Why did I choose to breastfeed?

My Breastfeeding History
Mary breastfeeding Jesus
It's normal and natural
I grew up in a breastfeeding family, so to me it has always been normal. The slogan "Breast is Best" really bugs me. It's not best; it's normal and natural; anything else is substandard and unnatural. Hey, even Jesus was breastfed! That slogan is loved by the formula companies because it makes formula seem normal, and breastfeeding better. Who needs better, when normal will do? 1 But, I digress. We're here to talk benefits of breastfeeding, not the disadvantages and risks of formula feeding, although they amount to the same thing. There are many risks involved in formula feeding.
My mum was a La Leche League counsellor. I have great memories of meeting with LLL families and playing with the other children while our mums sat chatting and nursing our siblings. And I remember going to women's houses and waiting while Mum helped them with feeding their tiny babies. It wasn't until I was a teenager that I really realised there was another way to feed a baby.

Why Did I Choose to Breastfeed?
I chose to begin breastfeeding because, in my mind, there was no other option. While I was pregnant I read everything I could about breastfeeding. I had no plan B, so I needed to be prepared. The more I read, the more amazing breastmilk turned out to be. I looked after my body during pregnancy - I ate well, didn't drink, walked. I wanted to give the little person growing inside me everything good. I was her food source - it had to be good and healthy. So, as I learnt about the almost magical properties of human milk, and, conversely, the damaging properties of formula, I was adamant that my baby would continue to get only what was good and healthy for her. Why would I spend 9 months being careful about what went into her, just to give that up at her birth?

First breastfeed
The first feed provides antibody-rich colostrum
So, what are these magical properties? Aside from the fact that human milk is perfectly designed for human babies' growth and brain development, God added a number of amazing ingredients to it, including:
  • Lactoferrin - the baby's source of iron, it is antibacterial, fungicidal, antimicrobial and antiparasitic, supporting baby's immune system which is not fully developed until at least 3 years old. It protects against staphylococci and E. coli. It has a role in healing wounds.2 Heck, it makes breastmilk brilliant for clearing up a gunky eye, a bit of eczema, cradle cap, nappy rash, cracked nipples, cuts and scrapes, and much more. 3
  • Docosahexanoic acid (DHA) - an omega-3 fatty acid needed for the development of a baby's nervous system and visual abilities, and for proper brain function. Breastmilk contains significant amounts - some formulas contain DHA, but this will come from fish oil or seaweed, and the long-term effects are not yet known.
  • Arachidonic acid (AA) -an omega-6 fatty acid needed for the repair and growth of skeletal muscle tissue and for early and continued brain development. In a study cited in Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology (March 2000), infants given supplemental AA demonstrated significant improvements in intelligence. Human milk makes your kid smart! Some studies also suggest that AA improves insulin sensitivity, providing protection against diabetes.
  • Lipase - an enzyme that breaks down fat. Human milk contains fat for brain development. The lipase allows baby to digest it easily.  The quantity of fat increases during a feed too.
  • Linoleic and linolenic acids - these help the body to develop high-quality myelin for coating the nerves, allowing them to transmit messages throughout the brain and body.
  • Lysozyme - an enzyme that can kill salmonella and E. coli bacteria.
  • Pancreatic Secretory Trypsin Inhibitor (PSTI) - protects and repairs the newborn's intestines.4
  • I could go on and on, but the list is so long. If you want to see a comparison of the ingredients in breastmilk and formula, click here.

Human milk is alive. It's made from your blood supply, so it contains billions of white blood cells known as macrophages. They consume germs. It's also full of immunoglobulin A (IgA), which coats the intestines and stops bacteria from getting through, and prevents food allergies by stopping molecules of 'foreign' foods from entering the blood stream. Bacteria that baby comes into contact with are passed to you during a feed. Your body then creates the antibodies needed and passes them back through the milk.

There is no need for sterilisation when it comes to breastfeeding, which saves a lot of time and hassle. Believe me - I hate washing and sterilising bottles! Breastmilk is already sterile, and, remember, it contains all those antibacterial properties. Additionally, the Montgomery glands (small bumps on the areola) produce a natural oil which contains a bacteria killing enzyme, so your nipples are always clean and ready for baby.

Breastfeeding is free. That was a big plus for me. There was no way I was going back to work to look after other people's children while I paid for someone else to look after mine, so we needed to save money wherever we could. Natural and Attachment Parenting are the cheapest parenting styles out there,5 and breastfeeding is as natural and cheap as they come.

Why Did I Choose to Continue Breastfeeding?
We battled cracked and bleeding nipples, tongue tie, dehydration, an appalling hospital stay, breast thrush, low supply, insufficient glandular tissue and mammary hypoplasia, but I am still breastfeeding my 9 month old daughter. Why? Wouldn't it have just been better for us both, easier even, to quit breastfeeding and give her formula? From 4 weeks old she had to have several bottles a day anyway to top up the half-supply of milk from me and stop her continued weight-loss. Why bother continuing? I'd done my best, and after all, she'd had the colostrum. She'd got all those good antibodies, and 3 weeks of breast milk. There would be no need to feel guilty.

But, I was still making milk. What was the point of letting that go to waste? I read of a woman who had such a low milk supply that she produced less than a tablespoon of milk a day. All the same, she had given that to her baby each day after her formula as 'medicine.' "According to the Iowa Extension Service, every teaspoon of breastmilk has 3,000,000 germ killing cells in it; so if a baby gets even one tsp. a day, it is very valuable!"6 So I was determined to remain a breastfeeding mum. My daughter would get the benefit of whatever milk my breasts could make for her, and my body would benefit from continued breastfeeding. Benefits including protection against breast and ovarian cancers and against osteopirosis, and it would soothe my troubled and anguished soul. I wrote a blog post when I was at my lowest point (Desert Time), grieving over the loss of exclusive breastfeeding. I think I've reached the acceptance stage now! But knowing that I could continue to feed her myself as well allowed me to heal. I was still giving her antibodies and protecting my body too. And each feed produced oxytocin - the love hormone that makes you feel gooooood! Wonderful benefits.
Happy breastfeeding baby
She loves it!

And breastfeeding is so much more than food. The term 'nursing' helps to explain it. Breastfeeding is comforting to baby. More than that, she loves it! She giggles when she sees my breasts, smiles while she's feeding.

My daughter nurses to sleep. Breastmilk has ingredients that induce sleep, and the action of suckling helps too, as well as helping mum to get back to sleep at night:

"One gastrointestinal hormone, cholecystokinine (CCK) signals sedation and a feeling of satiation and well-being. During suckling, CCK release in both mother and infant produces a sleepy feeling. The infant's CCK level peaks twice after suckling. The first peak occurs immediately after the feeding. It peaks again 30 to 60 minutes later. The first CCK rise is probably induced by suckling; the second by the presence of milk in the GI tract. The drop of infant CCK levels 10 minutes after a feeding implies a "window" within which the infant can be awakened to feed from the second breast or to reattach to the first side for additional fat-rich milk. Waiting 30 minutes after the feeding before laying the baby down takes advantage of the second CCK peak to help the infant to stay asleep."7
Milk drunk baby
Milk drunk
In the middle of the night, when she wakes, there is no rush downstairs to prepare a bottle, no screaming, no trying to stay awake. Instead, I roll over, pull my top down and latch her on. Then I fall back asleep while she satisfies her hunger or thirst and sucks back to sleep. Peace for all of us. I hardly wake; she gets her needs met immediately; and Daddy is snoring away, blissfully unaware. (For info on safe co-sleeping click here.) And in the day time, we get that wonderful milk drunk look and an easy, calm nap-time.

When my baby fell on her face and gave herself a fat lip, I picked her up and nursed her straight away. The screaming stopped. Almost immediately! Similarly, when she had her vaccinations, I nursed her during the injections and didn't hear a peep. Some research found that, "Breastfed babies appeared to experience less pain than those who were swaddled, given a dummy, or a placebo."8 However it works, it's truly amazing!

Benefits in Brief
  • Normal and natural, and perfectly designed for human babies
  • Antibacterial, Fungicidal, Antimicrobial, Antiparasitic
  • Kills salmonella, staphylococci and E. coli
  • Makes antibodies to order
  • Free and sterile
  • Cures all kinds of ailments
  • Enables development of nervous system, visual abilities, proper brain function, and repair and growth of skeletal muscle tissue
  • Makes your child more intelligent
  • Improves insulin sensitivity - protects against diabetes and obesity
  • Easily digested
  • Protects the intestines and prevents food allergies
  • Alive
  • Protects mum against breast and ovarian cancers
  • Produces oxytocin in mum
  • Aids baby's sleep
  • Natural painkiller for baby

The Future
I intend to continue breastfeeding my daughter. My goal is to reach the WHO guidelines' minimum of 2 years. As babies grow into toddlers, the benefits of breastfeeding remain. Find out more here.

What benefits have you discovered?

    If you have enjoyed reading, you will find more articles about breastfeeding at these locations:

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    2 Lactoferrin and its Role in Wound Healing - Yoshiharu Takayama








    1. (Part 1)
      As a non-woman (or man, as I prefer to call it), I may not be best placed to comment on this.
      I agree that breast-feeding is great, breast milk is a spectacular substance and that breast-feeding should be encouraged by those involved with pregnancy (doctors, midwives, etc...) and that mothers should be able to feed without encountering any resistance or reproach.
      I do have to take slight issue with the disclaimer and your struggle to understand women who don't breast-feed. I would imagine there are countless reasons why women chose not to breast-feed, whether it's due to medication they require that might be harmful to the baby passed on through milk, whether the mother is unwell, physically or mentally and cannot provide for their child in this way, or whether some other commitment prevents them. Even easier to understand (I would think) are why many women chose to abandon breast-feeding and move to formula feeds. Breast-feeding for a lot of people is difficult. As you point out there are many struggles on the way and because all women are different they all have their different breaking points.

    2. (Part 2)

      For us, we made the move relatively quickly. Like a lot of women we know, breast-milk was our unthinking choice. We knew it was better. We had no bottles, no steriliser, no formula in the house when our daughter was born - we weren't going to use it after all. On the third day check from the midwife we were already concerned. Our little one was only ever in two states: tired and unresponsive or awake and clearly unhappy. We were told that she had lost too much of her body weight and had to go straight away to the special care baby unit. Very worried we watched as on arrival Harriet was laid down and they performed a heel-prick test. She didn't respond at all. The doctors told us that she must have some formula, we gave her some and we were so happy to see her actually eat something. I seem to remember crying when we saw her actually bring some of her feed back up - it just hadn't happened before.
      We were told it would be good to try combination feeding for a time. We had advice at the hospital, from the midwives and from the local breast-feeding expert. We tried putting the advice to use and still found it very difficult and Harriet never got anywhere with breast-feeding. At the same time as we struggled with, this Natalie was also struggling in general. She had come off anti-depressants before we got pregnant and had remained off them throughout the 40 weeks. By the end of this time I was very worried about her. So when Harriet was born, she found the early days of motherhood very difficult. She didn't find it easy to be around our daughter, although she would make extra efforts when it came to feeding. She was getting to the stage where she resented our daughter and didn't want anything to do with her. When we made the decision to go to formula, it was the best thing we could have done.

    3. (Part 3)

      Some mothers may feel the need to abandon breast-feeding after less struggling and some may endure more struggling before making the change. I would imagine that ALL of them share in the sense of guilt that comes from moving to formula feeding. Mothers are excellent at feeling guilty, and feeling like they are doing the wrong thing for their child, especially when it comes to doing something as obviously black and white as feeding. Breast-feeding = good, formula = bad, and no amount of reassurance from midwives, etc, that their decision to move to formula was a good choice is enough to counter this guilt in anything but the most superficial way.
      The best thing for a mother who is struggling with these guilty feelings is to make the most of the benefits of bottle feeding, rather than dwelling on their sense of shame and guilt for giving their children food that is 'substandard and unnatural.'
      It's good that you are not intending to judge mothers who do not breast-feed. However, whenever anything like this appears on the internet, it does serve as a reminder and a rubbing in the face for all the people who haven't been a fortunate as you.

      1. Thank you for your comments. I'm sorry that you've found this post offensive, as I never intended it to be that way. It is meant to be a celebration of the benefits of breastfeeding, as a run up to National Breastfeeding Week.
        I feel that had this post been written by someone you didn't know, then you would not feel so badly done to by it, but as a friend you perhaps feel I should be more understanding. I would apologise for not understanding why some women choose not to breastfeed, but I don't believe that not understanding something is an offence. I would also point out that the reasons you give for not breastfeeding do not amount to 'choice' - harmful medication, illness, etc, are beyond our control, and as such prevent breastfeeding, whether or not a woman wishes things to be that way.
        If you read my post, and earlier ones, properly, you would understand my breastfeeding journey. I chose to exclusively breastfeed, but that choice was taken away from me by a deformity and a hormonal disorder. I did not choose to formula feed - that became a necessity. But I chose to ensure B and I got as many benefits as possible by continuing to breastfeed in addition to the bottles. I can fully understand why some women do not breastfeed, that they are unable to, that they are given poor advice or little support - this is my situation and experience too. What I do not understand are those who decide they will never even try.
        I experienced guilt - it was a healthy stage in grief over losing the breastfeeding relationship I had so looked forward to.
        One thing I struggle with, however, is the fact that only a tiny percentage of women truly cannot physically breastfeed. In countries such as Norway and Sweden about 98% women breastfeed successfully. That tells me something about this country - in the UK we believe a lot of myths about breastfeeding; we give up too easily; and there is an appalling lack of support.
        But, like I have already said, medication, illness, etc, are different - they can prevent women in any country from achieving their breastfeeding goals, and as such, do not enter my mind when I talk about choice.

      2. I wouldn't say I found it offensive, although certain bits jarred a little. I realise that it is meant to be a celebration and not a condemnation. I do feel there is a tricky balance to find between celebrating successful breast-feeding and showing up those who haven't had the same success. For me, it's a little like when a new parent understandably begins to gush to anyone and everyone about how amazing their new child is. It's so easily done and so understandable but at the same time it can cause great upset to anyone who has been trying for a long time to have a baby and for whatever reason hasn't been able to.
        I can't say whether I would have felt as badly done by the post if someone I didn't know had written it. I think I probably would do, but just would not have read it in the first place.
        You are right, some of those things I listed do remove the element of choice. Like you, I think it would be good if every mother did give breast-feeding a try. Although I do think that we can become too concerned with and focussed on the benefits of breast-feeding. Harriet was essentially non-breast-fed. She is intelligent, social (if a little on the shy side!) and at no point do I look at her and think 'I wish she had been breast-fed. Think of the difference it would have made.' Whether it would truly have made a noticeable difference, I guess we'll never know, but my suspicion is not. I think other parental decisions such as, how much time to spend with your child, how you speak to them, how consistent you are with them, how you discipline, etc are so much more fundamental to a child's development. My own view would be that these things are much more important to the future generations' well being than raising the number of breast-fed children.
        Often the best thing for the child is also what's best for the parent. We may not understand the choices that some parents make, but maybe we don't have to.

        Appreciate your reply! Hope you, B and C are all ok.

      3. I just want to say it's really nice to see a man be so supportive of his partner.

    4. Hiya, I attempted to breastfeed with my first here's where it went wrong. This still pains me.
      However I am still breastfeeding my second and we are at 8months. Welldone for wanting to breastfeed until 2 my Goal is 1 year and I don't want to go over that :)
      Hannah x

      1. Thanks, Hannah. I read your blog. I'm glad your journey the second time round has been more successful.

    5. Thanks for sharing, I find for me the biggest benefit is time, with a toddler and a baby I have more time to play and have fun and sleep because I breastfeed than I would if I formula fed.

    6. Hi I breastfed my first til just over a year old and would have gone further but she didn't want it and it was hard for me to accept that that part of our relationship had finished. Now expecting my 2nd and can't wait to explore my new bundle through the amazing closeness of breastfeeding. I also struggle to understand why some women who have no reason not to breastfeed don't give it a go and I hope blogs like this will encourage more to try and last out those first few awkward weeks and get to the really enjoyable part. My 2nd child will be breastfed until they're ready to stop too as it seems the easiest route less stressful for me and baby/toddler.
      Hugs, Sam

      1. Thanks, Sam. I'm not looking forward to B weaning - I love our milky snuggles - but she seems pretty obsessed at the moment, so hopefully it won't be for a while!

    7. Lovely post, and I didn't find it offensive in the slightest. I couldn't breastfeed my first as she wouldn''t latch on but I expressed for six months as I was so determined to give her the best milk for her. She didn't have any formula for six months and for that I am very proud. The best benefit is the knowing your baby is having all the antibodies and goodness that they need

      1. Wow! What awesome dedication! I expressed too, to make sure B got some extra bm as part of her top up, but I hated it! I stopped expressing at about 6 months. I think that actually made life easier for us, and babies are much more efficient than pumps, so B is probably getting as much, if not more, as before. I am so in awe of women like you who make the time to pump exclusively. You must have been exhausted!

    8. I can identify with why you continued. We also had a tongue-tie which led to low milk supply and had a real struggle. But as long as I could breastfeed even a bit, I didn't really have a reason to stop.

      It's great that you've gone into detail about the science behind breastmilk. I think one of the reasons people end choosing to formula feed is that they don't understand how different the two substances actually are.

      As for a benefit: I love that breastfeeding allows me to make sure she's getting fed when she's ill and goes off everything else.

      Adele Jarrett-Kerr

      1. I can echo that - B was poorly recently, and wouldn't eat, but she continued to nurse, so I knew she was getting the goodness and staying hydrated.

    9. Great post, I totally agree with you. Love the 'milk drunk' photo too - my two seem to look like that most of the time ;o)

    10. Wow, you are so determined, going through so much and still sticking to whats best for your child! You can really be proud of yourself!

      My favourite benefit is that you are always prepared, you cant forget anything, you cant get the temperature or mixture wrong and you dont have to walk around the house when you are half-asleep to get a night feed set up.

      Carolin x

      1. Tell me about it! Since having a baby I would forget my head if it wasn't screwed on. I have to write lists and reminders for everything.

    11. The health benefits for both your little one and you are priceless and i love that special time you get together!

      1. I know - snuggling in with B is just the best.