A well timed research paper in JAMA Pediatrics Journal published last week has shown breastfeeding to be linked to higher IQ scores at age seven and better receptive language skills at age three. The authors say the longer parents fed, the higher the scores. Well, that unleashed a storm when published in Daily Mail UK. Within 24 hours there were almost three hundred responses, and many of them were pretty angry.
Im a bit sad we cant talk about feeding our babies without all the strong statements that seem to make some people feel superior, and the others feeling judged and guilty.
I always get excited by research that acknowledges just how complex the human body is. Its all pretty miraculous really. My one call right now is to go gently with this information. Please don't use it like a whip and lash yourself. Lets go gently with one another and value the selfless act of parenting, the magic of breastfeeding, and honour all those people who have given up and given in to the demanding role of the parent. Parenting deserves a first class medal for bravery and effort - with or without breastfeeding.
World Breastfeeding Week is being celebrated in all sorts of ways, with public pit-stops for breastfeeders and world record setting for the biggest 'latch-on'. In many maternity hospitals there will be celebratory morning teas with exotic breast-shaped cupcakes with jelly bits on top.
Im a sucker for chocolate, so I think this is by big chance to knock myself on Bacci's. The perfect shape and wrapped with a message of love.
Thats the thing about breastfeeding. Its a love thing. Its nutrition, but also a very selfless act of love when a most delicate body part is handed over to the hungry jaws of a baby. When a mother is desperate for sleep but shakes herself awake at 3am to meet the hunger needs of her newborn. Thats love. Having nipples that peel, dripping rock-like boobs that ache with pain, lumps, infections - thats love! Then there are times of feeling all touched-out by a cuddly toddler and craving just five minutes of time-out, and instead stripping down and receiving more touch - a wet mouth on the nipple, a head butt, exploring fingers, a play with face and hair. Its beautifully natural yes, but no walk in the park! Making the commitment to breastfeed is not without its challenges. Mums can prepare, seek support, put in 100% effort to make it work - but here's the thing - not everyone manages it. Whether it is Mum's breasts, her level of coping, the babies latch, concerns about sleep, digestive issues or maturity - it doesn't always work out.
So whats happening here in Australia? Well, the last government report published in 2010 indicated that we start out with about 97% breastfeeding at birth, and it drops to 39% by 4 months and 15% for six months. This tells me there must be some compelling reasons why women are finding it hard to continue breastfeeding, and I'm always open to better understanding a mother's unique challenges.
If you are about to start out. I would urge you to give it a red hot go. It may take up to 6 weeks for breastfeeding to become pain free - that's what I've often heard amongst child health nurses. Its not meant to scare you, just help you set some realistic expectations.
Its nutritious and beneficial for your babe in many ways - the research keeps coming out with more and more benefits.
Its simpler, more efficient, less costly and despite the challenges I mentioned earlier, I have a heap more happy memories from breastfeeding that outweigh the challenges I experienced.
The one memory that I would have repeated countless times is the moment when I collapse into a chair, put my feet up, and latch my baby on. There is a moment there. No words needed. Bliss. Exquisite satisfaction radiates from the child as they connect emotionally and receive a nourishing full tummy. Connection. Satisfaction. Peace. Mum might be in the middle of moving house, a busy day of work or at the doctors surgery. But the hectic environment fades away, and in its place, a blissful bubble of contentment, just mother and babe. I can attest that this is one of life's finer moments. A moment of presence to be savoured.
It is a treasured memory that will never leave me or my children. All the smell, feel, sounds have also been stored up in the limbic system of my three children's brains, giving them a warm sense of security that is not conscious but foundational to their wellbeing and resilience. Im sure its much the same for formula fed babies too. That may explain why a cuddle from Mum or Dad is so restorative, even for the adult child.
My children may never thank me for the effort I put into cuddling and feeding but I do know it has shaped them. That's the essence of parenting and it is not defined by the breast-bottle debate. Its defined by the intent to selflessly serve another, to give up your agenda and care for a more vulnerable other. Its the circle of life that enriches our families and builds our communities. Thats the soul story to feeding. There a lot of ego stories out there that may make you feel judged or guilty or even pious. Lets not go there. Stick to the soul stories in life - as they're life giving for everyone, no matter what personal position you hold.
The Australian Breastfeeding Association offers groups, forums and mum-to-mum phone support. I would walk over hot coals to help any parent to breast feed. I know its good for the child, and once over the intial settling-in period, it's much simpler for parents too. Do make contact if you need support through your feeding experience.
For expecting parents FamilyWorks offers an Expecting Masterclass where we will discuss the joys and challenges of breastfeeding in more detail.