Monday, October 08, 2007

Clarification of my views on breastfeeding!

There's an apocryphal story about a famous speaker/writer (Evelyn Waugh, perhaps?) being contacted and asked whether he could do a talk on breastfeeding. Apparently, he was a little puzzled at being asked, but being a "trooper", as thesps say, did his research, and duly did the talk. Afterwards, the person chairing the meeting thanked him for his talk, but expressed puzzlement as to why he should have spoken on breastfeeding, rather than the subject he had been invited to speak on, which was "press freedom".

I'm sure that can't really be true.

My earlier post was not really about breastfeeding, but this seems to have arisen as an issue as a consequence, so I felt I ought to make a few points of clarification.

Firstly, I think breastfeeding is a GOOD THING. If it is at all possible for a mother to do it, then she should. I don't need to rehearse the reasons why. Our children were all breastfed for more than the average amount of time, although we did use a bottle to top up at night from early on - about which more later.

Secondly, if people are able to help mothers breastfeed, then that is also a GOOD THING. In fact, for a couple of people, we (ahem - well, more particularly my wife, actually) have done what we can to help - how to get the baby on in such a way that it doesn't hurt when the mother is still getting used physically to feeding her baby, and so on. If there were better support from overstretched health service staff or from the voluntary sector, I have no doubt that this would do a lot of good.

Finally, if you are able to get up as required in the night for as long as it takes to survive demand-feeding with no ill effects, that's great. But my concern is for the parents who can't - not without the sort of support that most simply don't have - and the point I was making is that there are other patterns of bringing up small children which also work. The motivation for the post that I wrote is that the large bucketful of guilt - because parents don't understand what their baby wants, or because the mother is so exhausted that she can't meet her baby's needs, or because the mother can't carry on breastfeeding - is something that a tired and hormone-full mother can really do without. Just because you can't do what the health visitor is saying doesn't mean that your child will grow up to be a juvenile delinquent. People have been brought up successfully in all sorts of ways. Perhaps the recommended way is the best. But second best is not the end of the world. And in any case, next year the advice will probably be reversed - even in the time that we had small children, the advice about how to lie children in cots was changed several times, as was the advice about how long you should wait before introducing solid food to a child's diet. Too often, health visitors place impossible burdens on the backs of new parents, and then don't lift a finger to help them. It's not intentional - in fact, their intention is to help, not to harm. But that can be the effect.

So, what did we do (and yes, we were both involved)? Last thing at night, when we went to bed, we used a bottle to "top up" feed, my wife having first breastfed the children, to make sure that they went to sleep full. From about three months, when the children woke in the night, I would carry them around, singing to them and talking quietly to them, and in many cases, after grumbling for a while, they would go back to sleep. That was how we coaxed our children to go for longer at night without a feed. All three of them slept through the night (11pm to 5am to start with, fairly rapidly moving towards 10pm to 6am) from around three months. Life was an awful lot easier to cope with once we were able to get a decent night's sleep. And the children have all slept very well at night ever since.