Give Me Back My Boobs! (Or Why We Need Sure Start)
So, here we are again. My daughter is four and a half months old, happy, healthy, beautiful. We’ve come a long way since the beginning of December – huge weight loss, projectile vomiting, colic, bacterial infection ….
And then it all stopped. She established a sleeping and eating routine which had become pretty reliable. I don’t remember my son ever having a routine for feeds – he was breastfed on demand and he demanded as and when he felt like it. My daughter is also breastfed on demand, but she demands at similar times each day – usually around 6am, again at around 8am, 11am, 2pm, 4.30pm, 6pm and then cluster feeds until midnight. The evenings are hard work, but then we get six precious hours of uninterrupted sleep. Glorious.
This, it turns out, was a false sense of security. We’ve hit that growth spurt. The one we hit with my son at around the same age. My daughter, just like my son did before her, has today changed her routine. She has been feeding almost every hour today. The first inkling came at 3am when she woke for an extra feed. She still woke for her usual 6am and 8am feeds. And then she’s fed almost every hour throughout the day. She just can’t get enough milk today. I’m exhausted, just like I was when we went through this with my son. Only this time it’s different.
Last time around, I didn’t have a knowledgable breastfeeding support network. I didn’t have any prior knowledge or experience and I didn’t have the confidence I have this time. Last time, people told me my son was a big baby and clearly he needed more than I could give him since he had started to feed so often. I was encouraged to start him on solids. He was almost five months old when we started to give him solids – just a teaspoon a day to begin with, until after he was six months old. I still breastfed him until he was just over two years old, but I started him on solids earlier than I wanted to.
This time around though, I have the knowledge, confidence and support. I attend my local Sure Start breastfeeding group, where there are women with children of all ages who all support each other. There are people there who know what it’s like and have been through the same. There’s Laura, the Breastfeeding Champion, who offers both practical and emotional support. This time, I have the confidence to ride out this growth spurt and keep going with exclusive breastfeeding until six months before we start thinking about solids. I know my daughter is beginning to look forward to that time – she loves sitting at the table with us, and is showing lots of interest in the food on our plates, but this time I don’t feel that I need to bring that time forward.
And that’s why we need Sure Start Centres and why we need to fight to keep them. Breastfeeding rates in this country are not as high as they ought to be and they vary widely from area to area. There are lots of reasons women choose not to breastfeed, and there are lots of reasons women give up shortly after starting. If we take away the support networks that are in place, then more women will feel that they can’t begin or continue with breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is a natural process, but it is a learned process – it rarely happens by magic. Without a friendly, knowledgable face to help when problems occur, to reassure, offer support, advise on technique, when needed, then the breastfeeding rates in this country will drop further.
Instead of taking away funding for breastfeeding support, we should be increasing the funding. We should be expanding the support networks, making it easier for new mothers to access the help they need in the first few days, when that support can mean the difference between a satisfying, fulfilling breastfeeding experience for mother and child, and a guilt-ridden one for a new mum who felt overwhelmed and didn’t know where to turn.
I feel lucky to have had the support my local Sure Start centre offers. I’m about to complete my training as a volunteer Breastfeeding Peer Supporter and I hope that I will be able to pass on some of this support in turn to another mother who needs some reassurance.