25 Jun

Emma’s breastfeeding story

Emma is a mum of two girls and juggles motherhood with running two small businesses with her husband. She wrote this post about breastfeeding a little while ago.


There. I’ve said it.

This post is all about boobs.

I spend a ridiculous amount of time with my boobs out at the moment. Not because I’m a weirdo, or a life model or even a glamour model; but because we chose to breastfeed both our children. For me, it was the only choice I felt comfortable with and I was fortunate that both my girls took to it fairly easily.

It’s not been easy though. First time around I had problems with positioning early on and suffered pain from cracked nipples, mastitis and also sheer embarrassment at feeding in front of people. I remember sitting up in bed crying with pain and talking about giving up and trying a bottle but still we kept going to my goal of 6 months. Then we hit weaning and feeds were dropped and before we knew it, we reached a year.

When my first child was 18 months old, I had an early miscarriage. I am pretty sure the combination of breastfeeding and jet lag was to blame. We didn’t tell many people and we ‘buried’ the feelings. It wasn’t meant to be. My daughter still needed me, I was just getting started in the businesses, so there was plenty to take my mind off things. I don’t think we dealt with it very well.

I actually ended up stopping feeding my first at 27 months but I think my daughter would have kept going for longer had I let her. I felt I needed this little bit of my life back – although it was only once a day by that point. We also wanted to try for another baby again and thought a little break between feeding and pregnancy would be nice…

Within 3-4 months, I was pregnant again. Our second baby is now 5 months old and again she is being exclusively breastfed. I’ve been surprised by how hard I’ve found it this time. I’ve had mastitis three times and problems with oversupply. Currently my daughter is so distracted during the day, she chooses to feed mainly at night, so I’m not getting much sleep. Coupled with the fact that I am so tied to the baby as no-one else can feed her, other areas of my life are being neglected somewhat.

I’ve had to feed in business meetings, in school meetings, whilst reading bedtime stories, during mealtimes, in cafes, churches, on beaches; and I’ve spent a stupid amount of time lying down in darkened rooms with only a baby, my naked chest and my thoughts for company.

I am SO over breastfeeding now but I will continue until we both decide we have had enough. Whilst this is me doing this, my husband and I are both in agreement that this is the best thing for us all right now despite the difficulties. I love it and can’t stand it in equal measure but I know I will look back in time and feel so glad that I did this.

20 Jun

Book Review: The Hormone of Closeness, by Kerstin Uvnas Moberg

The Hormone of Closeness: The role of oxytocin in relationships, is the second book I’ve read by Kerstin Uvnas Moberg on the subject of oxytocin, the hormone involved in childbirth, bonding and so much more.

Moberg posits an explanation of attachment theory wherein oxytocin underpins the child’s sense of security through enhanced wellbeing, increased calm, and a sense of satisfaction. She terms the innate and evolutionarily necessary need for closeness and contact with others as “skin hunger,” to equate it with hunger for food. This casts touch and its effects in a useful new light, showing how breastfeeding is about so much more than the transfer of milk, for the mother and the baby.

While much of the evidence in the book is drawn from lab studies on rats, her arguments are logical and compelling. Lay readers might skip the scientific stuff about what goes on in the brain, and read instead the fascinating description of the mother-baby relationship in the first place, which is then drawn into the wider context of our social interactions, stress levels, and the way we live.

Looking forward to the implications of the development of synthetic oxytocin, Moberg acknowledges that artificially increasing oxytocin levels, thereby increasing the tendency to trust, might not always be a good thing, particularly in a setting where we would not naturally be trusting. Evidently it would be better for the individual, and for society as a whole, to find natural ways to increase the world’s oxytocin levels. To illustrate this, she looks at the doula phenomenon, where a trusted woman present at birth can have a positive outcome, by allowing the birthing mother to tune into her body and allow levels of oxytocin to rise, facilitating labour and bonding with the new baby.

She finishes by looking at the possible consequences of our increasingly separate lives, and with a call on behalf of future generations to consider how to bring back social closeness, that “all of us on earth could live in peace and harmony with one another.” [p157]. This is an enlightening and affirming read.


To order The Hormone of Closeness with a 25% discount, just follow the link and use the discount code KH25 at the checkout.

[Disclosure: review copy provided by publisher]

14 Jun

Breastfeeding in front of other people

Emma is a mum of two girls and juggles motherhood with running two small businesses with her husband. She has kindly shared some of her thoughts about breastfeeding in public.

Breastfeeding in public isn’t always easy. I’ve breastfed both of my daughters. I breastfed my eldest until she was 27 months and I’m still breastfeeding my youngest at 22 months. Up to around 5 months both times, I had letdown problems – mainly because of oversupply. I produced a lot of milk and would find I would spray, leak or soak a muslin or several breastpads with the milk I was producing. Breastfeeding discretely wasn’t always easy. Once my girls got to about 3-4 months they would come off my breast mid feed and look around, leaving me spraying everywhere. I preferred to use quiet breastfeeding rooms if I could to minimise the distractions. With my second baby, I found I had to lie down to stop the milk flowing so quickly so feeding in public was very difficult as you can’t exactly lie down in the middle of a cafe! Once I was trying to feed her in a very noisy, busy restaurant in the middle of Cardiff (Jamie Oliver’s actually). Our table was in the middle of the restaurant and there was a draft blowing on us and people kept walking past. She wasn’t really old enough for solids yet so her only source of food was milk. I ended up going upstairs and sitting on a stool in a quiet corridor outside the disabled toilet (which was occupied). I felt like a total idiot when a man came out of the toilet with his son. It was that or sit on the toilet in the ladies – not very pleasant!

I stopped breastfeeding in public both times around 9/10 months in, once most of the daytime feeds had been replaced by solids and restricted feeding to quiet moments at home or in a friend or family member’s home. This is partly because both of my daughters were quite inquisitive and would detach from my breast and have a look around. It was also because they were more likely to help themselves and the position they were feeding in was more toddler like. This made me feel uncomfortable.

I have mostly found cafes, restaurants and so on to be quite accommodating if you ask if there’s somewhere quiet you can go. I’ve not always felt comfortable asking and sometimes others with me have felt more awkward than me around me breastfeeding.

Things that annoy me:
Signs for feeding that imply bottle feeding like a bottle icon – as seen in lots of motorway service stations.
Places that don’t have a breastfeeding/bottle feeding room.
Breastfeeding/bottle feeding rooms (I don’t mind being mixed together) that smell of poo and aren’t clean.
Separate rooms for feeding choice – seems a bit weird to do that but perhaps it’s because people other than mothers can bottle feed and breastfeeding mothers can feel uncomfortable?
The implication that because your baby is over 6 months you should move over to a bottle. The adverts on tv for follow on milk don’t help this. I know many do choose to and have to if they are going back to work but for those of us making the choice to carry on, it makes it harder.

10 Jun

Baby Boxes or Tickboxes?

This lovely article was all over twitter on Tuesday Why Finnish Babies Sleep In Boxes:

For 75 years, Finland’s expectant mothers have been given a box by the state. It’s like a starter kit of clothes, sheets and toys that can even be used as a bed. And some say it helped Finland achieve one of the world’s lowest infant mortality rates.

The box contains baby clothes, breastpads, nappies and other essentials for the first few weeks, and comes with a mattress that fits in the bottom so it can be used as a crib. A graphic in the article shows the dramatic drop in the infant mortality rate since the box was introduced in 1938, attributed to, amongst other things, the decreased rate of unsafe bedsharing* and increased rate of breastfeeding that the box has helped bring about. 99% of Finnish mothers initiate breastfeeding, compared with 81% in the UK. While these are quantifiable factors that are known to have positive health outcomes, the underlying message to parents that they and their offspring are valued and important must surely also have some impact on early parenting.

Compare this with the pitiful situation here in the UK. Our equivalent state-sponsored freebies come from an organisation called Bounty, which promises free samples in return for your personal details, and then inundates you with adverts and misinformation in the form of a chatty little booklet called Emma’s Diary. New parents receive a small sample of nappy cream, one nappy, and a sachet of detergent (or something similar). The government pays Bounty £90,000 per year to distribute the freely-available Child Benefit Form in amongst all the adverts. Bounty reps collect new parents’ personal data and sell it on to other advertisers.**

What message does this send, in contrast to the Finnish government’s warm welcome to new babies? That mothers and babies are only worth their economic value. That they should be encouraged to buy the nappies and creams and household products that appear to have government, and by reason of being brought to you at your hospital bedside, NHS-approval. That love for your newborn baby can be measured by your willingness to buy a photograph from a stranger. That parents must hurry back to work in order to keep the economy afloat, and can do so thanks to lowering the standards of nursery care but probably not the cost.

The social impact of the Finnish baby box undoubtedly goes beyond impressive breastfeeding rates to make parents feel cared for:

This felt to me like evidence that someone cared, someone wanted our baby to have a good start in life.

Both giveaways are aimed at improving outcomes by bringing families into contact with health services. It would be interesting to compare the social return on investment in Bounty Packs, taking account of their negative messages about birth and breastfeeding, with the investment in a few articles of baby clothing and a nice blanket.

*That is, sharing a bed in unsafe conditions; not bedsharing per se.
**The petition against Bounty reps on maternity wards is here.

Further Reading
Come for the box, stay for the life saving services
Alice Roberts: Why are Bounty reps allowed on maternity wards?
Profits from pregnancy: how trusted organisations sell out women to commercial interests

06 Jun

Precious Vessel

The media week started well, with the heartwarming story about Finnish baby boxes, which I’ll write about later. And then it all went downhill with the release of an amazing report from The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists on Chemical exposures during pregnancy.

The RCOG “encourages the study and advancement of the science and practice of obstetrics and gynaecology.” On this occasion, they have taken this to an extreme, by advising women to avoid any possible exposure to chemicals, which may or may not have a harmful effect on their developing baby. While they do explicitly state that none of these harmful effects are proven, this is not how it comes across in the media. Dr Michelle Bellingham, co-author of the report, goes a step further on Radio 4 by asking what harm it does to follow this advice, to err on the side of caution.

So what harm does it do, to tell women not to use cleaning products, shower gel, or make up; not to buy new furniture (presumably including cots and car seats); not to eat any processed or packaged food? Astonishingly, this is presented as “practical” advice. The message it sends is that women themselves are of little importance compared with the package they are carrying. Our job is to breed, and we had better do it well, and if this means no deodorant for nine months, suck it up. In a world where we are made to feel uncomfortable using our breasts for their original purpose and we are expected to glow throughout pregnancy; we are now expected not to wash.

And as the report itself states, there is little or no evidence that any of these items actually do any harm, so this controlling advice is utterly spurious, and the idea that it is supposed to be in any way helpful to women is disingenuous.

Meanwhile any useful evidence-based guidelines are more likely to be ignored by women overwhelmed with conflicting and impractical instructions. On the one hand: good, we are grown-ups, we can make up our own minds. On the other hand, this is a real fail for those of us trying to provide evidence-based support during pregnancy and early parenthood.

Further Reading
The NHS’ excellent Behind The Headlines series takes the report apart here.
Sense About Science dismisses the usefulness of the report and the media coverage here.
Fran Yeoman responds as a new mother, in The Independent.
Risk Sense asks Is everything a risk when you’re pregnant?

04 Jun

What’s wrong with this poster?

2013-05-29 14.13.44

Walking past the Tesco store in Beverley, in the East Riding of Yorkshire, I glanced through the window into the cafe, and saw this huge poster. “Here to help,” it says, in big friendly letters. “Hungry baby? We’re happy to warm your milk for you.” There’s a smiley face, and the name of the ten year old who designed it.

That’s kind, you might think. They’re giving out free jumpers, which on a miserable drizzly day seems like a nice thing to do. And then you would realise that the poster assumes that you are bottlefeeding. And statistically, they may well be right [let’s trot out those stats again: 81% of mothers initiate breastfeeding, 58% are still breastfeeding at six weeks, 12% at four months].

While the poster does not explicitly state that breastfeeding mothers are not welcome, and under the Equalities Act 2010 they are required to accommodate breastfeeding mothers, the underlying assumption that anyone with a baby in the cafe will have a bottle of milk with them simply undermines breastfeeding, and that contributes to the rapid drop-off in breastfeeding rates in the UK. There is no poster welcoming breastfeeding mothers; there would not be room for one anyway, as the bottlefeeding poster takes up the entire wall. And it would make no sense to put up a poster stating that both breastfeeding and bottlefeeding mothers are welcome. That, however, was the response from @UKTesco, when I tweeted about the poster: please be aware, breast feeding is always welcome at the store 🙂

You might think I’m getting a bit stale if I continually bang on about not dividing up the breastfeeding mothers and the bottlefeeding mothers into separate camps. The statistics above tell us that a huge proportion of breastfeeding mothers also bottlefeed, so the distinction is very vague anyway. How hard can it be to make all mothers feel welcome, and advise them that facilities are available for whatever kind of feeding they need to do?

However there is another problem with this poster, which is that it implies bottles could be made up in advance and warmed up. This contravenes NHS guidelines to make up each feed as your baby needs it, because of the risk of food poisoning bacteria in the formula. Perhaps they could go back to offering hot water (over 70 degrees) instead. And perhaps not get ten year olds to devise their policies.