Breast is… National Breastfeeding Week

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Pre-Pearl, ‘Breast is Best’ is literally ALL the nutritional knowledge I possessed in relation to breastfeeding and its benefits. Appalling really, considering not least because I’ve a masters degree in pharmacy, but also because I’m female, with boobs, with the ability to bring life into this world and with the ability to feed said life thereafter.

In the early stages of my pregnancy, I more or less presumed I would formula feed. My partner wanted in on the feeding action with our child (which is hilarious to think of now as he feigns selective narcolepsy any time I mention doing a night feed with some pumped milk).

To be honest, my perception of nursing was drenched in negativity – mastitis, latching issues, (even) less sleep, hungrier babies, the struggle for your baby to gain weight, the PAIN, the hindrance of nursing in public…  In my head I was planning to give it a go but presumed formula feeding would rise to the top. As in, why would you even bother?!

Thankfully, I changed my tune before delivery day. Pearl is now nine weeks old and has been exclusively breastfed since the get go. And I am absolutely loving it – the way she stares at me with her big blue eyes mid-feed, the closeness, the constant skin-on-skin contact with my beautiful baby girl, the way she cries for only me (the narcissism of it all!)… It genuinely is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done, already.

Unfortunately for some mothers breastfeeding isn’t an option. Maybe this is due to their low supply of milk, or their baby’s tongue-tie, or whatever – Maybe it’s just a lifestyle choice. And with that each to their own. Whatever works as parents to keep their child fed and watered, and happy and healthy is obviously what’s best. Obviously. Breast isn’t best, breast is just… breast. One of two options. But it shouldn’t be the silent choice.

So silent is breastfeeding on a national level, that Ireland has lowest level of breastfeeding in the world. (What the actual hell?! – cue the monkey covering its eyes emoji). We’re talking bottom of the barrel out of 196 countries. Is it the catholic shame of past where breasts were shameful and to be shunned? Or is it because our teeny tiny country supplies a colossal 10% of all  infant formula globally? Hmmmm.

I’m two months into my nursing-mama status, and hopefully will be able to breastfeed without any hiccup until Little Pea needs to move on. I’m therefore blatantly pro-breastfeeding, but I’m forever pro-choice with it. I cringe uncontrollably at the Breast verses Bottle debate among mothers, at that crude Breast is Best mantra, and of course at the  bottle feeding guilt from the Breastfeeding Mafia…

It all needs to stop. It’s such a personal choice. I’m bleedin’ scarlet over here.

I remember towards the end of my pregnancy, listening to Eimear Varian Barry (an Irish mother/blogger/model/photographer/slashie) passionately harp on about the benefits of breastmilk. She had the start of an eye infection, which cleared up (pretty much overnight if I recall correctly) with the use of some breastmilk as eye drops. I was gobsmacked (cue love heart eyes emoji face). Never mind the mastitis, these are the kind of facts that should be spread about breastmilk.

Or how about the baby spit back?! (Not as vile as it sounds). Did you know that a baby’s saliva is sucked back into the mother’s nipple during a feed (okay maybe as vile as it sounds but wait for it) whereby the mammory glands can subsequently read the baby’s immune status. Should they detect infection, they produce infection-fighting antibodies. Should they detect inflammation – they release anti-inflammatories. Therefore making nursing literally a private prescription/conversation  between mother and child.

Incredible!

For the record, breastfeeding is very painful initially. Torturous at a time when you’ve just endured the most intense laborious pain you’ll ever experience, and are viciously sleep deprived. But the pain does come with an expiration date. For me, the pain fizzled out around the end of the first week. It’s also worth noting that the first couple of days of nursing aren’t too painful, whilst your baby feeds on colostrum. Your milk comes in usually around day three/four-ish, which (for me anyway) was when the soreness started. So all in all you really only have a handful of days of pain. Let that be the light at the end of your tunnel!

With regards to breastfeeding speeding up the old baby weight-gain weight-loss, I haven’t experienced such benefits. At week nine postpartum I weigh the same as I did on week two. Although I’m munching on an endless bag of chocolate chip cookies as I type this, so, you know…

As for mastitis, I’ve thankfully dodged that bullet thus far, and as for my baby not gaining enough weight, Pearl is perfectly thriving and piling on the ounces day by day, with text book precision. (She’s like her mum and loves her food – a trait she may regret inheriting in the future).

And as for breastfeeding in public, you just gotta do what you gotta do. I’ve been pumping the odd bottle or two since week two postpartum, which are always handy to have when out and about, but I’ve also nursed in public many’s the time at this stage…

The silence of people not looking is always deafening, but as long as you’ve a scarf (or something) to avoid some major skin on display it’s actually grand – it’s awkward but it’s natural and normal and the oldest page in the book. Or so I kept telling myself in Wexford when a miserable auld bitch asked to move tables away from me as I fed Lil Pea in the Seafield…

Here’s to normalising the breastfeeding stigma in dreary Ireland – Breast milk is organic, free-range, kosher, gluten-free, dairy-free… All it needs is the hipster fitfam movement!

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