world breastfeeding week: the benefits of breastfeeding by kate tunstall

When I was a kid I had a really annoying habit; my brother’s birthday falls a few weeks before mine, and every year as the date approached I’d start planning celebrations for my own party, effectively overshadowing my brother. And every year my mum would tell me to stop. I didn’t deliberately hijack his day, I just had my own agenda and my own priorities, and I put them above all else.

Of course, there was room for both of us; I needed to learn to be patient, that my time would come. Despite being without malice, attempting to usurp my brother’s birthday was not appropriate; there’s a time and a place for everything, and I was yet to comprehend the gravity of turn-taking in Britain.

mum breastfeeding her child

It’s World Breastfeeding Week. For me, that means highlighting breastfeeding and why it’s so wonderful for both mum and baby. It does not mean an opportunity to promote a "fed is best" rhetoric, which too often sabotages important campaigns to normalise breastfeeding. Breastmilk is biologically-tailored nutrition, designed and perfected to nourish our babies; and it’s the only substance which should be considered the norm for infants, with other options being just that: alternatives to the normal mode of feeding.

Right off the bat I may sound anti-formula - but I want to assure you that’s actually not the case. Formula absolutely has its place, which I’ll be talking about more in my follow-up post. But not today, and not this week.

This week belongs to breastfeeding, so I’d love to see it dedicated to educating and influencing the next generation of mums, so they want to have a go at nursing. I’d love to see the focus taken away from the ‘us versus them’ propaganda, and instead for a light to be shone on the positive aspects of breastfeeding, specifically the fact that it can be beneficial for perinatal mental health.

the benefits of breastfeeding

In case you’re unaware, there are a plethora of reasons to breastfeed. These are some of the miracles nature performs thanks to the ‘simple’ act of breastfeeding:

1. Healthier Baby (short and long-term)
2. Reduced risk of SIDS
3. Helps womb contract after delivery
4. Less likelihood of obesity - for both of you
5. Helps mum return to pre-pregnancy weight
6. Reduces risk of some cancers - for both of you
7. Breastmilk changes composition according to baby’s needs; it’s dynamic
8. Protective effect against postnatal depression

(Note: I haven’t included the strong emotional attachment breastfeeding is recognised for promoting, because that’s unhelpful and actually quite patronising to those mums who cannot or choose not to breastfeed.)

Oh, and it’s free too. It’s also really easy to prepare, and sanitise, and heat - your body does it all for you. And my personal favourite: it’s the best possible excuse to hide away with your newborn when overzealous in-laws visit for a game of pass the parcel.

postnatal mental health and breastfeeding

A research study published in 2014 showed that mothers who planned to nurse and who went on to breastfeed were around 50% less likely to become depressed than those who had not planned to, and who did not. Mothers who planned to nurse but who did not go on to breastfeed were over twice as likely to become depressed as mothers who had not planned to, and who did not breastfeed.

I’ve personally suffered with severe anxiety since becoming a mum, and that’s not unusual. The fact that breastfeeding can help protect new mums against depression and anxiety is significant, and a really important conversation to be having. (Alongside a chat about how to avoid losing all sense of style whilst nursing. The struggle is real.)

improving breastfeeding rates in the uk

Being pro breastfeeding does not make me anti other options. But it does mean that I will fight for this breastfeeding awareness week to retain its intended message, by challenging the well-meaning but ultimately unhelpful messages which otherwise dilute and undermine a necessary drive. While this ‘opinion’ often proves unpopular, the bottom line is that it’s sound - as evidenced by UNICEF and the World Health Organisation: UK breastfeeding rates are not as high as other European countries and it’s in our interest to try to turn things around.

My personal belief is that there’s only one way to tackle the problem, and that’s to start young. We need to bring education surrounding the benefits of breastfeeding into schools, from a young age. For as long as breastfeeding is stigmatised, we’re going to struggle to make improvements.

In order to create positive change, we need to alter its perception; it needs to be viewed as the norm by the next generation.

If we want to see increased rates of breastfeeding then we need to see more women choosing to breastfeed, and that’s no mean feat. The truth of the matter is that unless you’re very lucky, breastfeeding is not easy to establish. This needs to be a big part of the conversation going forward so that fewer mums give up when something seems ‘wrong’. Initial teething problems (actually, they come later!) are par for the course. In most cases, they can be overcome with the correct support and a lot of determination. Again, this is an unpopular argument, but it’s in black and white on the NHS website - a widely respected and reliable source of information.

Of course, there are always exceptions to every rule (though not as many as Joe Public would have you believe when it comes to this particular subject). Next time I’ll be chatting about when things don’t go according to plan.

world breastfeeding awareness week

So this week I hope to see lots of positive posts building up the fantastic women who choose to nurse their babies, against all odds (like having a dairy-free diet which is hard). I hope to see posts which recognise the accomplishment, without adding unnecessary caveats.

And if you don’t believe in this campaign, that’s okay - just don’t blow out the candles on a birthday cake that’s not yours. Please, let us have this week.

Ultimately, every new mother deserves all the support she needs, whatever that may be for.

Kate Tunstall

Cynic; Jedi Master; connoisseur of cake: Kate Tunstall blogs at The Less-Refined Mind and Huffington Post, and is the BritMums Current Affairs Round-up Editor. From petty peeves to politics, Kate doesn’t shy away from telling it like it is. As an inevitable role-model to her daughters, she even throws in the odd ‘inspirational’ post in an effort to quell her cynicism and promote positivity.

Kate resides in rural Essex with her champion husband and their young daughters, affectionately known as the ‘Devil Pixie’ and ‘Elfin Angel’ - only one of whom lives up to their moniker…

Sometimes caustic - but always candid – Kate loves a provocative subject matter almost as much as she loves (good) coffee and (great) cake.

Join the mischief on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.

Kate Tunstall


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