Friday, August 01, 2008

Reasons to Celebrate: World Breastfeeding Week Coincides with Our Own Breastfeeding Milestone

Today marks the beginning of the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) World Breastfeeding Week 2008! (August 1 - August 7) This year’s theme, Mother Support: Going for the Gold, calls for increased support for breastfeeding mothers “in achieving the gold standard of infant feeding.” Such support can be invaluable to breastfeeding mamas, and in turn, their babies.

Violet's birthday, August 4, will fall right in the middle of World Breastfeeding Week, and fittingly, will mark our reaching my initial goal to breastfeed her for at least one year. While we’re still a couple days away from the big day, she’s still nursing - and at this point, my 300+ ounce freezer stash would see her through and then some even if that were to change - so I think it’s safe to say we’ll make it. And we’ll keep going after that.

Breastfeeding is something I’ve become increasingly passionate about since becoming a mother. There’s no dispute that human breastmilk is by far the very best food for babies. Not only is breastmilk perfectly formulated to meet the nutritional needs of the infant, it contains over 100 nutritional components that aren’t found in any brand of formula.

Breastmilk also provides other benefits to babies that formula can't. Breastfeeding decreases the incidence and severity of many infectious diseases, including bacterial meningitis, diarrhea, respiratory tract infections, urinary tract infections and ear infections. Breastfeeding also has been linked to reduced rates of SIDS in the first year, and type 1 and type 2 diabetes, lymphoma, leukemia, obesity, hypercholesterolemia and asthma in older children and adults.

Understanding that breast truly is best, I expected to breastfeed Violet after she was born. What I didn’t expect was how important to me it would become, not just for the reasons that can be supported by a scientific study, but also for the bond that it created between my baby and me. (Okay, there actually are studies that reflect a correlation between breastfeeding and secure attachment, but no amount of analysis can compare to the connection I feel when she is in my arms and nursing.)

I was fortunate in that breastfeeding came easily to Violet and me. With the gentle guidance of our doula, Jennifer Schepper, she latched on within minutes of her birth. I was prepared for pain those first few weeks, but other than some slightly cracked nipples the first day or two, none came. We escaped common breastfeeding obstacles like mastitis and thrush, and have dealt with only one clogged duct to date. A brief nursing strike when Violet was 7 months old scared me, but resolved itself within a couple of days. But even in the absence of much of the significant struggle that can accompany breastfeeding a baby, the support I received was critical to my breastfeeding relationship with Violet, which makes this year’s World Breastfeeding Week theme that much more personal for me.

Jennifer not only helped us in the first few hours of our breastfeeding journey, but returned to our home to provide additional insight weeks later, and I’ve called her more than once in the following months to tap into her expertise on the subject.

Eric was of course my biggest support system, from the first days (when he fixed me elaborate and delicious meals I’d eat from the recliner I never seemed to make it out of for long) through this day, when he will join me in celebrating something we both believe in – breastfeeding our baby. His appreciation for what I’ve done - am doing - is support in its truest form.

And where would I be without my beloved friend Mandy? A breastfeeding mother of two, I consulted her nearly daily for months, on this and other topics she had exponentially more experience with than I did. And she never scoffed at my obsessive concern about my supply, for which I will be forever grateful.

The value of providing any type of support to a breastfeeding mothers simply can’t be underestimated. I hope to offer much of it myself to other mamas, starting right here. A woman’s success with breastfeeding is so dependant on her exposure and access to accurate information. Without it, she may be misled to believe that breastfeeding isn’t the best thing for her baby, that she simply can’t breastfeed, or that her baby is done breastfeeding (‘weaned himself/herself’) at an age when no baby would voluntarily wean. I’d like for this blog to be my forum for providing support to breastfeeding women in the spirit of World Breastfeeding Week: look for future posts dispelling breastfeeding myths and addressing other breastfeeding issues. And feel free to ask any questions of your own about breastfeeding - if I don't know the answer, I'll be happy to hunt for it.

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