On Sunday morning, I bought a newspaper: The Observer.  A rare purchase  for someone with a house with parts still resembling a building site plus two small children to entertain and care for, and a hopeful, entirely pointless,  throwback to the days when reading the Sunday papers was a weekly, leisurely occurrence.  But buy it I did, with the intention of doing a spot of feet-firmly-up inaction later on in the afternoon while said children were either asleep or happily glued to a 'bit-a-beebies'.   

Having bought said newspaper, an optimistic glance at the magazine's front page evoked a sense of the mysterious, the wondrous, the unknown: a close-up of a human eye with the words, 'The closer we look the more we discover'.  Ooh exciting!  I momentarily pondered what exploratory and intellectual delights might await me. Anticipation turned rapidly to confusion as I read the following line:  'New Aptamil with Pronutra+TM Follow On Milk.'  Eh?  I read it again.  Aha, I thought, it must be an article exploding the myths and ideas that formula companies have used in the past to make a ridiculous amount of money, not only here in the UK, but globally.  A closer look perhaps, a discovery, an examination of the facts.  Maybe it's an eye-catching (ha), major article looking at the issues surrounding formula advertising and the impact it has had, and continues to have, on this planet's mothers and babies.  Er, no, its a advert.  For Aptamil's New Follow On milk.  My jaw dropped.
Now, why, some might ask, would this advert bother me? Even slightly?  Or indeed surprise me?  Newspapers need money, and adverts generate revenue to fund the production of the paper I want to read.  Women, parents, carers, are allowed to buy formula, there is arguably nothing wrong with formula in certain situations - we are actually lucky to have it in some ways - and if a company wants to advertise a product, why shouldn't they? Why such a strong reaction to something which isn't illegal, isn't hurting anyone, and in fact is encouraging and enabling women to make a choice about how to feed their baby?

General disdain for formula advertising aside (often in developing countries where their tactics are a shocking issue when investigated), let me explain a little further - why exactly has the use of this advert shocked me into writing the first blog post in quite a while?   Why does it make me almost want to boycott The Observer?  And why does it make no sense to me whatsoever that The Observer would agree to advertise Aptamil's new product?  Because the current situation with infant feeding in the UK and around the world is unacceptable, and because the situation is horribly one-sided in terms of the cash spent on advertising artificial infant milk products and how great they are, rather than cash spent on advertising how easy and convenient breastfeeding can be when you know how.  Why does it make no sense to me that The Observer would agree to advertise this product?  Because many women in this country (and round the world!) WANT their babies to breastfeed, and many are not managing it, for a multitude of social, familial, and personal  reasons that often have nothing to do with their initial  intentions to breastfeed.  Because these women and babies are failed.  Every single day.  By unreliable and inaccurate breastfeeding information.  By formula companies.  By the people that are paid to look after them.  And instead of supporting this, by agreeing to use a front and back, double sided advert for an apparently new and improved formula product, papers like The Observer could say no, actually, we are going to help to change this.  We are going to support women and babies and help them to meet their goals.  
Now let's be clear.  A national newspaper has no obligation to support women and babies to breastfeed successfully and for as long as they intend.  Indeed you could argue that in using Aptamil's advert they are supporting the majority of women in the UK who end up formula feeding - they are in fact supporting women in their choices. Now this would be great, commendable even, except many women who 'choose' to use formula aren't actually choosing.  They are being forced into a 'choice' by circumstance, and that is not a choice but simply an unfortunate outcome dressed up as choice.  It is not a 'choice' to feed your baby formula if you haven't had any help with positioning your baby to maximise milk transfer, and your milk supply dwindles when you are encouraged to offer formula top-ups to encourage healthy weight gain.  It is not a choice to feed your baby formula if nobody told you about biological nurturing (to use Suzanne Colson's phrase) and your baby never latched properly.  And it isn't a choice to feed your baby formula if your baby is tongue tied but an appointment to perform a simple physical operation isn't arranged until day 21 post-partum.  Sadly, these situations, and more, happen all the time, to all sorts of women and babies, many of them having every intention to breastfeed exclusively.  And this is wrong.

Now obviously, The Observer is not responsible for these unfortunate outcomes and doesn't have to support women in their struggle to do what nature intended, but wouldn't it be great if they did?  Wouldn't it be amazing if we saw four page adverts in different papers and magazines with photographs of mothers and babies breastfeeding saying things like, 'Skin to skin in the first hour can help your baby breastfeed,' or 'It is normal for babies to feed 10-12 times in 24 hours,' or  'Lots of breastfed infants don't sleep through the night until well into their second year and that's ok.  Here are some things that some women have found helpful'.  And it doesn't have to be just breastfeeding adverts, with a total ban on formula advertising:  a bit more of a level playing field would make me less inclined to feel, in buying my favourite Sunday paper, like I am funding a global multinational's arguably dodgy intention to dominate the infant feeding market.

In giving breastfeeding more airtime, the media would be helping to empower those many women who intended to exclusively breastfeed reach their goal.   They would be helping to change outdated views about infant behaviour, and helping to turn the sometimes horribly polluted tide that formula companies rely on for business.   They would be helping to re-instate the age old practice of a baby breastfeeding by making it normal, and seen, and supported.  Yes, it's normal.  No, it's not easy. Yes, mothers need help to do it.  And wouldn't it be a result if papers like The Observer played a positive part in making this happen?
 
 
Many mothers want to carry on breastfeeding when they return to work whether that is after six weeks, six months or eighteen months, but it is a commonly held belief that it is not something that is doable. This doesn't have to be true. Whatever age your baby is, breastfeeding and working is definitely doable.  This page is full of information about various options you have if working is something you need or want to do. 
 
 
Oh the joy. My almost four month old has decided the world is for exploring and getting him to sit still and have some milk is getting more and more difficult.  Except at night. Yawn.

This pretty much sums it up, particularly the bit about wanting to feed then deciding against it just as the let down happens?!
 
 
You hear that you are supposed to empty your breasts of milk in order to maximise milk production but how to do this is sometimes not so clear, particularly if you have a sleepy newborn or a distracted four month old who has no patience. Jack Newman advises breast compressions to help the baby empty one side and perhaps even be satisfied with one side. His explanation is very clear. This video also explains how very young babies like a flow of milk to help them stay awake. He explains how you can help your baby drink effectively using breast compressions. Emptying your breasts effectively also helps to establish and maintain a good supply, and enables the baby to get extra milk that gets fattier and fattier as the drinking continues. Everyone's a winner.

I tried this just now with my three month old and it really worked! Especially the bit about releasing the pressure when the baby starts sucking again - that really made him do some big swallows. And I was pretty sure he'd done a good job of emptying it already - I was surprised at how much milk there was left from when I started doing the compressions to when he finally seemed to have finished!
 
 
How your labour and birth goes can really affect breastfeeding.  The blog post on breastfeeding statistics explains more about why.

In this day and age, with some highly medicalised labours and a health profession that focuses on saving lives and fixing, or avoiding, problems instead of enabling an entirely normal event to unfold, labour can be a frightening experience for some women, bewildering for others, and fast and furious (and a bit shocking) for still others (few I have met have found it a walk in the park although of course there are many that manage to have a straightforward labour and birth, let's not forget that!).  There are many ways to experience what could be described as an enormous life-changing event.  But it doesn't have to feel out of control if you get your health professionals to treat you appropriately. I love these phrases from Mary Cronk - apparently you only have to use a few to get a more respectful attitude from those looking after you.  

This is a fantastic website, not just for those wanting a homebirth but for those wanting as natural a birth as is possible in a hospital environment.  I'd also recommend the VBAC Handbook for those wanting a natural birth after a previous caesarean and Ina May's Spiritual Midwifery for those who want birth story after birth story of natural, well managed births. 
 
 
This is a really hard one: we seem to be living out a strange contradiction when it comes to all things breastfeeding.  Formula companies and bottle makers are making squillions while undermining many a woman's attempt at doing something which is supposed to be physiologically normal - some societies have few problems, and deal with them with minimal fuss, and a few untouched communities I have read about appear to have no problems whatsoever.

Furthermore, a few select 'unqualified' self proclaimed breastfeeding experts have cornered the market (mainly London, although one in particular manages to spread her myth-reinforcing message round the country via the TV, book deals, and other media engagements) in helping (allegedly) mothers and babies to breastfeed.  Meanwhile, breastmilk, although worth squillions, is donated by selfless women all over the world, and many other women are working tirelessly, under the supervision and guidance of nationally and internationally recognised breastfeeding institutions, to genuinely help and support women and babies to feed their babies the way nature intended.  And they are doing it for free. 

Now how does this add up exactly?  And why so some get so angry about it?  And what is it about these private enterprises that people in the voluntary breastfeeding support world find so galling?  And why does the media support so-called experts to broadcast these misconceptions when they have the power to challenge them for good? 

The women voluntarily supporting others to breastfeed do so out of an awareness and understanding that breastfeeding is not rocket science if you have the right expectations and information before you start, that many women can breastfeed if they are given good support early on, and that every mother and baby has the right to this support without having to pay for it.  Sadly, those unqualified and operating privately consistently seem to perpetuate the myth that breastfeeding is something which only a few can do without all sorts of 'breastfeeding aids' and supplements, and expensive consultations, that breastfeeding is something that many women will struggle with, and that if you value it enough, you will pay lots of cash (lots!) for the help you need.  

Now on the face of it, this seems fair enough in a way - why shouldn't women be able to pay for a service that they require?  Breastfeeding is a struggle for many women, and lots of women do fail because it is too difficult to sustain while juggling all manner of life situations: why shouldn't they be supported how they wish in their endeavours to breastfeed however they can?  Well, they should, but perhaps what is so galling for those in the supervised and qualified breastfeeding support sector is that women should get that support as a given, as a right, as a priority, when they give birth and just after, and if they want to pay for support for issues that are sometimes more complex, that support should be qualified and breastfeeding friendly.  Private, unqualified breastfeeding support outfits, perpetuating the very myths that those in the voluntary sector are rightly trying desperately to debunk, do nothing for the bigger picture, do nothing for a social change in attitude and appear to do nothing for those women that want to breastfeed exclusively until around the middle of the first year, as per the current guidelines.  And they get paid for it.  


As for the media insistence on using these unqualified feeding 'gurus'.  Who knows?  Perhaps TV channels and newspapers do not want to alienate a massive percentage of their readership or viewers by using experts that say that breastfeeding is totally possible for most women, given that most women don't breastfeed for very long.  On the other hand, this implies that they are either staggeringly unaware of the irony that the very misconceptions they are perpetuating by hiring these 'experts' are the ones that are stopping women breastfeed successfully in the first place, or they are choosing to ignore it.  I don't know which is worse.

So maybe the answer is regulation.  After all, women should have the right to pay money for a good service if they so desire.  And you could say that those in the supporting roles have a right to have their time valued economically, either from the women themselves if that is their desire and they are able, or from the NHS budget.  We have this in most sectors, from dentistry to physiotherapy - there are private and public operations.  Indeed, in Speech Therapy, I am told that Speech Therapists in private practice are advised not to be too cheap - it is important not to devalue the profession.  Regardless, breastfeeding support should be a trustworthy service, one regulated by a central body, and one governed by central principles originating from the Baby Friendly Initiative and the WHO guidelines.  When will those in power decide that infant feeding is a section of the health service that is worthy of this?  Sooner rather than later, I hope, or I fear not much will change.  


 
 

This is a fantastic mini-library of resources covering basic positioning and attachment articles, animations and videos.  This helpful information is helpful for mums and those helping breastfeeding families.  Thanks La Leche League of Broad Ripple, Indianapolis :) 


This is Jack Newman on latching.  I think the explanations are a bit over whelming at times, over-complicating the process, but the graphics are extremely helpful and illustrate an asymmetrical latch, a really good thing to try if you or your baby are having trouble. 
 
 
This is a very good animation of a baby being positioned at the breast to ensure an effective latch: 
 
 
Biological Nurturing is a fantastically simple way of relaxing with your baby while feeding them, and a surprisingly successful way of encouraging a baby to latch who hasn't previously. 
 
 
The Peer Support tag is a series of posts dedicated to raising awareness about peer support and its potential.  It is also somewhere for peer supporters to investigate and explore links and information that will help them with their work with mums and babies :)

To start off
, an interesting evaluation of the NCTs peer support system, which outlines the benefits mothers have experienced from being supported by other mothers who are breastfeeding, or who have breastfed.  Scroll down to the 'Breastfeeding Peer Support report' one of the listed PDF files. 
 
    All information in this blog is the result of my own research, reading and personal experience of breastfeeding.  It should not be taken as professional advice, nor be associated with any organisation that I give my time to or represent.  

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