World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated every year from 1 to 7 August in more than 170 countries to encourage breastfeeding and improve the health of babies around the world. It commemorates the Innocenti Declaration made by WHO and UNICEF policy-makers in August 1990 to protect, promote and support breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding is the best way to provide newborns with the nutrients they need. WHO recommends exclusive breastfeeding until a baby is six months old, and continued breastfeeding with the addition of nutritious complementary foods for up to two years or beyond.
Malnutrition is responsible, directly or indirectly for about one third of deaths among children under five. Well above two thirds of these deaths, often associated with inappropriate feeding practices, occur during the first year of life.
Nutrition and nurturing during the first years of life are both crucial for life-long health and well-being. In infancy, no gift is more precious than breastfeeding; yet barely one in three infants is exclusively breastfed during the first six months of life. Source WHO Promoting proper feeding for infants and young children.
WHO recommends that infants start breastfeeding within one hour of life, are exclusively breastfed for six months, with timely introduction of adequate, safe and properly fed complementary foods while continuing breastfeeding for up to two years of age or beyond.
Obviously, for some people this just isn’t possible. For many reasons. For me it wasn’t. Littlebit was born 10 weeks early, her tiny 2lb 4.5oz body couldn’t tolerate my breast milk within the first few hours of her life. Add to that the fact that I was 40 miles away in a different hospital with no baby, no cries (not of my baby anyway), no smell of new baby, no “normal” stimulus for my milk to “come in”.
I asked for a breast pump as soon as I was able, whilst still in HDU, and I pumped to within an inch of my life. Every 2 hours, like clockwork. I set alarms on my phone.
Poor hubs spent the first 3 days of our beautiful, fragile daughters life driving up and down the A14 between Nuneaton and Kettering with tiny amounts of the “liquid gold” that was so very important to our girl.
It was the one thing I could do for her. Have you ever watched the animation film “Finding Nemo”? If you have you’ll know the phrase that Dory says, her catch phrase if you like, “Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming”.
Well, I had that in my head but replacing the word swimming with pumping. Over and over again. I’d hook my boobies up and “Just keep pumping. Just keep pumping. Just keep pumping, pumping, pumping. What do we do? We pump, pump, pump!”
It was the worst time of my life. But it was also the best time of my life. Knowing that I was making and giving her this life saving elixir.
Our breastfeeding relationship was established in those days, even though I didn’t go on to actually feed her from my breast until she was around 6 weeks old. It lasted until she was 15 months old.
It was the help of the midwives on labour suite at George Eliot Hospital and Rowan ward at Kettering General Hospital, the NICU nurses at Kettering General Hospital and the SCBU nurses at George Eliot Hospital and my wonderful Health Visitor Louise that we established our breastfeeding and lasted so long. I will be forever grateful to them.
The photo to the right was our first ever successful feed, when Littlebit was around 6 weeks old. I have never felt such pride, in her and in me! Oh and my boobies are really not that big, she was still only about 3.5lb there poor love, no wonder it took us so long!
People, general public and medical professionals alike, will often pass comment that Littlebit has done really well. She was so tiny and so early and yet, apart from her eye problems, she has no lasting effects of her premature start. I do honestly believe this is due, in part, to that liquid gold.
Of the 136.7 million babies born every year, only 32.6% of them are breastfed exclusively in the first six months. There are, no doubt, many reasons for this but policies and programmes have an important part to play in helping more women breastfeed for longer.
This is why I feel it is so important that awareness be raised of just why breastfeeding is so very important. To small babies, to early babies and to all babies.
For more information take a look at the World Breastfeeding Week 2012 Facebook page.