It takes a village: World Breastfeeding Week 2017

With a background in international development, I was encouraged to learn that as of 2016, World Breastfeeding Week (WBW) has been linked to the Sustainable Development Goals. ‘Sustaining Breastfeeding Together’ is the overarching theme of this year’s WBW event, celebrating ‘working together for the common good, which produces sustainable results, greater than the sum of our individual efforts.’ A pretty apt topic for this site, then, since we do love a bit of sustainability and greater good talk around here.

As Mum to a cheeky chappy three-year old boy and a mischievous 13-month baby girl, I first embarked on my breastfeeding journey after the birth of my son in September 2013, and – bar a 6-month hiatus during my second pregnancy – have been going ever since, which takes me to a total of 41 months of breastfeeding (with approx. 2.5 years dedicated to bambino number 1, and the rest to his younger sibling). Maths has never been my strong suit, so how many hours or minutes that translates to of having a small human attached to my person in the quest for nutrition, comfort or love (or all three of the above) – well, it’s tricky to tally up, but it’s certainly quite a few.

One common assumption about breastfeeding is the solitary nature of the act itself: the idea that it’s wholly the responsibility of the new Mum to crack on with the deed at hand as best she can, with the idea being that as much as well-meaning Dads might wish to help share the load when it comes to child-rearing responsibilities, their lack of booby ownership rather puts a spanner in the works on the milk provision front, or at least in the early days.

Indeed, throughout my 3.5-ish years of experience on the mama milk train, I’ve certainly felt, on more than one occasion, some of the not-so-warm-and-fuzzy feels as a direct or indirect consequence of breastfeeding – loneliness, isolation, embarrassment and frustration are just a few of the sentiments that come to mind.

Loneliness, for example, during the 3am feeds, when – in my first-time Mama head, and with husband snoozing next to me ‘like a baby’ (HA!) – I felt convinced I was the only person in the entire world to be awake at this ungodly hour.

Isolation, for example, when I’d have to excuse myself from lunch-time chats with colleagues gathered round the kitchen table in the office, scurrying upstairs for one of my daily pumping sessions. My then 9-month old son was still a keen guzzler of the heavenly white stuff, and keeping up with his demand during his hours at creche meant serious commitment to the pumping schedule.

Embarrassment, because – as much as my rational, educated, less ridiculous side screams out at me that, when we’re talking priorities, tending to the nutritional needs of my infant child sits way above worrying about getting my boobs out in public – well, I’m British, and whilst I think I mastered the covered up, subtle breastfeeding look early on in the game, heaven forbid I might make somebody in my vicinity feel a tad uncomfortable due to an unwonted nipple flash during latch-on time.

Frustration during those rare but nevertheless memorable occasions when adequate support – be it from family members, medical professionals, or even by-passers on the street – was, in my humble opinion, sorely lacking. “You’re feeding him again?!”, my well-meaning but concerned aunt would ask, failing to mask her abject horror at the apparent ‘over-feeding’ of my milk monster three-month old. “Have you tried breastfeeding him more often at night? I’m sure he’ll sleep better then!”, sung the cheery, though – as the beauty of hindsight has since taught me – somewhat misguided, health visitor (queue months on end of round-the-clock feeding, leading to a no-holds-barred boob addict toddler and a seriously sleep-deprived Zombie-Mum. Thanks again, Mrs. Health Visitor!). “What… you’re still feeding him? At his age?” (Err, yes, and yes again, thanks for asking, well-meaning-but-is-it-really-any-of-your-business friend of a friend).

On the surface, then, one might be forgiven for thinking this breastfeeding lark is a bit of a mug’s game. Sleepless nights; judgy-pants comments in the name of (unsolicited) advice from all and sundry; putting hobbies and anything vaguely fun that clashes with feeding time on the back-burner until further notice… At times, yes, breastfeeding can be an admirable but undeniably tough gig.

Which is exactly why I learned to call in the cavalry fairly early on. Reflecting back on my almost 3.5-year breastfeeding journey to date, sure, there have been some pretty low patches (I’m looking at you, mastitis rounds one, two and three). But to counteract the naff times, there have also been oodles of positive experiences. At various points along the way, the guidance, support, knowledge and/or kindness of professionals, loved ones, colleagues or community members have each played their own vital role in helping me to keep going, to keep charging forward, even during the hardest times when I was ready to call it a day and run for the hills. On numerous occasions, my desire to continue breastfeeding for as long as possible for the nutritional and emotional benefit of my little ones came up against internal conflicts (hellooo sleep deprivation) or external pressures or sheer logistical barriers… Yet time and again – oftentimes unbeknown to them – my network of unsung heroes came to the rescue.

Thus, in keeping with WBW2017’s theme of ‘Sustaining Breastfeeding Together’, I’ll dedicate this week to showering some long overdue but thoroughly deserved praise on my personal crew of ‘breastfeeding heroes’ – the professionals, the pals, the fam-jam members and so many others who’ve gone above and beyond duty to help me and my mini ones charter the choppy and often unpredictable seas of breastfeeding. If you or somebody you know would be interested to learn more about how #workingtogether has served to support my breastfeeding goals and our family’s well-being, come over and join me in the conversation on Twitter and FB over the next few days. Look forward to seeing y’all there!