World Breast/Chestfeeding week was always going to throw up some emotions, but I (Steph) want to mark it with a reflection of our personal journey and some things I’ve noticed on our breast/chestfeeding journey so far.
I sit here looking back on our breast/chestfeeding journey so far, wondering how I’ve managed nearly 12 months of feeding Alice. Anyone who knows me will know that I’m a massive advocate of breast/chestfeeding. Even before I got pregnant, I knew that as long as it was safe to do so, I’d breastfeed for as long as possible.
Has it been easy? No, and if anything, far from it. I’ve only gotten this far because Alex has been my biggest cheerleader from the get-go. Even when someone tried to give Alice formula after she was born, he made it clear she was being breastfed. Whilst I was pregnant, I had conflicting info to fight, my neuro team at St George’s told me I had to breastfeed or express for a minimum of 6 months or risk Alice going into baclofen withdrawal, whilst others told me it would be impossible due to several factors including my hormone levels (joys of high testosterone!). I’ve had to deal with some pretty unsupportive and frankly awful comments about how I choose to feed Alice, but knowing I’ve got loads of support around me has seen me through those times. Even with my EDS and despite the misinformation around testosterone levels and feeding, we have somehow managed it!
Did you know that WHO recommends exclusive breast/chestfeeding to 6 months and then continuing to feed alongside solids until at least 2 years old!? So that 2 years is something I’m aiming for. But my personal experience of breastfeeding in a country with one of the lowest levels of breastfeeding in the world made me realise why so many don’t do this.
Breast/chestfeeding parents have a massive lack of support. We were extremely fortunate to have had a fantastic team of people around us who supported me in initiating breastfeeding and have continued to be a huge help when the goings got tough. Alice stopped breathing during her first ever feed. Most people would’ve given up at that point. Thankfully, Alex, my dad, the nurses in NICU at Frimley, and several midwives (you all know who you are) sat with me and helped me through those first weeks where every single feed, I was scared Alice would stop breathing again. Our health visitor has been nothing but incredible, too (I know HV’s; I usually get the stick, so we’ve been lucky!).
The NHS pushes the ‘breast is best’ mantra but doesn’t offer support when needed most. Lactation consultants are either very expensive or not in your area (tip: find a breastfeeding hub, there are a few in NE Hampshire/Surrey that I know of and have personally used who have some fantastic counsellors!). Additionally, god forbid the breast/chestfeeding parent needs to go to the hospital – I’ve personally had to refuse to be admitted because the hospital wouldn’t let Alice be fed on the ward after letting me feed her in a&e with no issues! And don’t get me started on the lack of services for disabled parents/LGBTQIA+ parents etc.!
If there could be some positive things that come from World Breastfeeding Week, it would be for there to be more support for those who want to breast/chest feed their little ones, and for the NHS to offer lactation consultants/information and support on expressing/pumping for all parents (not just those in NICU), SNS feeding options etc. rather than making parents feel like a total failure and forcing them onto formula! Even better would be for the NHS to start supporting non-birthing parents who want to initiate breast/chestfeeding – it can and has been done!