Let’s celebrate the benefits of breastfeeding

21 June 2019 | Healthy living

Bethany Winning works at the Royal College of Nursing and is an infant feeding peer supporter with HENRY Waltham Forest. She shares her experience of breastfeeding.

This week is Breastfeeding Celebration Week; but for my toddler that’s every week!

When I was pregnant, I really hoped that I'd be able to breastfeed. I know it doesn’t always work out for everyone – for a variety of reasons – but I remembered the motto ‘breast is best’ and knew that my mum had breastfed me. At that time I didn’t really know all of the many reasons why ‘breast is best’, beyond breastmilk being a source of nourishment and antibodies for your baby.

My hospital organised a fantastic antenatal breastfeeding session that gave me loads of information about the benefits of breastfeeding. I learned that there is overwhelming evidence that breastfeeding has a protective effect against many common childhood illnesses and improves health outcomes. But the class was also realistic about the challenges that we might come up against, whether they be logistical (finding a position that works for me and baby) or societal (feeling comfortable breastfeeding in public even though it’s illegal to prevent it).

I was lucky. I wanted to breastfeed and although it took a bit of getting used to, with help from a maternity support worker at the hospital and the infant feeding team who I visited at a breastfeeding cafe in my neighbourhood, within a few weeks we’d cracked it! Before I started breastfeeding, I don’t think I had expected it to be an acquired skill that would take quite so long to learn; seeing as it's inherently natural.

Six months later, I noticed that the same infant feeding team whose breastfeeding cafe I’d visited were looking for mums to train to become peer supporters. I volunteered and attended eight two-hour sessions before starting to help out at the health visitors’ clinic where there was an infant feeding drop-in.

Breast is best for mums too

While doing my training I learnt about a broad range of topics, including: the biology of how breastfeeding works, how to recognise if feeding is going well, different positions, and all about formula and responsive bottle feeding. One area we explored that I hadn’t considered much before was the benefits to mums. Breastfeeding, especially in the early days, gives you frequent and lengthy periods of time in which you can just sit down and rest! What’s more, it saves you money (estimated to be at least £450 per year), and very importantly, it reduces your risk of breast cancer! There is even evidence that breastfed babies are less likely to become overweight or obese children compared with babies who weren't breastfed. And since being overweight or obese increases your risk of at least 12 different cancers, helping your baby to be a healthy weight by breastfeeding means you can help reduce their risk of developing cancer in the future.

Breastfeeding is a personal choice

My little boy is nearly 20 months old now, but breastfeeding is still a part of our daily lives. I’m hoping to be able to feed him a bit longer; the World Health Organization recommends continuing breastfeeding to two years old and beyond if you can. Whether you manage to breastfeed for two days or two years, there are so many benefits you’re giving yourself and your baby so let’s #CelebrateBreastfeeding.

Breastfeeding is a personal choice, and it was the right choice for me, but if you need more support you can call the following national helplines:

  • La Leche League 0345 120 2918 (24 hours)
  • National Breastfeeding Helpline 0300 100 0212 (9.30am–9.30pm)
  • National Childbirth Trust 0300 330 0700 option 1 (every day 8am–midnight)

Find out more about breastfeeding and cancer.

Bethany Winning | 21 June 2019