Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 28 December 2014

Sharon Owens: Why breast may be best for baby, but not always for busy mothers

It was only a small article in a Sunday newspaper, but it seems that the Government has added a new target to their ‘snoop and condemn’ method of ruling over us. Yes, it's fat babies who are the next in line for an awareness campaign, or so it would seem.

Oh, and their mothers too, for they are the ones who couldn't be bothered to persevere with the breastfeeding, do you see?

No, these crafty mothers were far too quick to make up the bottles of infant formula, just so they could enjoy the luxury of perhaps getting dressed and venturing out of the family home more than once every six months

But now there's a ‘severe cultural problem’ in the UK where chubby babies are regarded as cute and healthy — and not the ticking timebombs that they truly are.

Overweight babies are more likely to become overweight adults, with a myriad of health problems to go with their elasticised waistbands. Oh dear.

The World Health Organisation plans to use only breast-fed babies this year, to draw up their statistics; meaning that most bottle-fed babies may now be regarded as fat.

Well, it's a funny old world, isn't it? My generation was given bottled formula from Day One.

Our mothers believed that only those poor, naked women in Africa had to breastfeed their babies.

And civilised mothers in the west were far better off with their sterile plastic bottles and their six ounces of factory-produced formula every four hours.

But I daresay all that running and playing about as children kept our weight down? These days, we finally understand that breast really is best! Breast milk is the cleanest, healthiest way to feed a baby.

It passes on vital immunities and benefits to the baby, and it helps to get mum's figure and hormones back to normal. The WHO recommends that all babies be breast-fed exclusively by mum for, wait for it, six months. Oh dear, again.

Now, I happen to have some experience in this field, as a mother-of-one who did breast-feed exclusively — but only for six weeks.

And even though the emotional benefits were fabulous (amazing feelings of bonding with my baby and of general smugness and happiness) I have to admit that at times it was incredibly painful and time-consuming.

Cracked and bleeding nipples (yes, guys, deal with it, they won't show you that in your top shelf magazines) were an everyday occurrence.

Feeding also took approximately 30 minutes — out of every 60 minutes. And that was every single hour, of every 24 hours, for six entire weeks. I was advised by one lady to rub whiskey on my nipples for the pain. Needless to say, I didn't do it.

I wonder is this why so many Irish babies in the past grew up to become raging alcoholics?

Anyway, six weeks in and close to collapse with sleep deprivation, I sent my husband to the chemist to buy anything and everything he could lay his hands on, in the Mother & Baby aisle.

Within a day we had both become expert at measuring those little scoops of cream-coloured powder, using a bottlebrush and running six bottles through the steamer.

And thankfully, baby took to the formula immediately and all was well. We still fed on demand, though, never on a strict timetable.

It was our little way of trying to continue to do things ‘naturally’. I think it was four years before we got a full night's sleep.

I'm not saying we were the most perfect parents in the world (well, maybe I am) but at least our child turned out a nice, normal weight. (Touch wood.) We both still tend to fall asleep at night well before she does, and we're still both slaves to keeping that kitchen fridge well stocked with food and drink.

Poor old parents, huh? I wish somebody would give us a break. If it's not complaining about the cost of maternity and paternity leave to the economy, now it's griping about fat babies and how they're going to cripple the NHS in 20 years' time.

Yes, it'd be lovely (and much cheaper) to be able to breastfeed every child for six months, and then wean them on a diet of pureed carrots and organic peaches.

Yes, it'd be nice to have nothing else to do but sit in a rocking chair in the nursery, cuddling baby, and daydreaming of summer days and bunny rabbits.

But sadly, life isn't always quite so obliging. Less than 1% of UK mothers are still breastfeeding at six months, according to the Department of Health.

Well, watch out, you chubby cherubs and your devoted parents!

Because here's the scary part: the Department of Health says it will use the new WHO guidelines to ‘identify early signs of overweight and obesity and provide support’.

Indeed! I wonder will that ‘support’ be of the same high calibre as that given by the health service to overweight adults, smokers, drug addicts, the anxious, the depressed, the suicidal, those with a disability, those with autism or learning difficulties etc, etc, etc. I'll believe it when I see it.

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